In terms of scandals, the sordid saga of Jeffrey Epstein has it all. Mysterious gaudy fortunes. Jet-setting debauchery. Lots of pretty girls—including very young girls. Sex and more sex, not necessarily legal or consensual. Add a battalion of VIPs, including billionaires, A-list celebrities, royalty and no less than two American presidents.
The only thing missing was espionage… and it’s not missing anymore.
This week, the Epstein story took center stage for all the reasons listed above. The surprise arrest of the 66-year-old admitted pedophile on Saturday night at New Jersey’s Teterboro airport, as he was headed home from Paris, reopened it all. The case had jumped in and out of the news since 2007, when Epstein admitted his affection for underage women to the Department of Justice, in exchange for lenient treatment.
The media has been agog since the weekend, as details of Epstein’s shocking private life are emerging. Public horror has followed—another alleged victim came forward just today, claiming Epstein raped her in 2002, when she was 15—and more seems certain to come.
The Justice Department unsealed its new indictment against Epstein on Monday, which focuses on that 2002 to 2005 period, when Epstein allegedly ran a secret empire devoted to moving underage girls between his New York and Florida residences, in order to sexually exploit them. Epstein’s life will never be the same.
But what was that life, really? That’s a key question which nobody has been able to publicly answer. How Epstein maintained his fantastically extravagant lifestyle has long been a topic of speculation and mystery. He claimed to have made his vast fortune as a financial guru to the super-rich, but nearly all of his clients were unnamed. Moreover, in a business where overwork is standard, Epstein seemed to have unlimited free time to pursue his avocation of obtaining “massages” from young women.
A major hint was dropped this week by Vicky Ward, the intrepid investigative journalist who has tried to expose the ugly reality behind the Epstein facade longer than anyone. In a report for the Daily Beast, Ward shed light on the Justice Department’s 2007 non-prosecution agreement with Epstein, that sweetest of sweet deals, since it got Epstein a laughably lenient sentence—for crimes which any normal person would have gone away for decades after admitting to.
Alexander Acosta, the current U.S. Labor Secretary, is in the hot seat, since a dozen years ago he was the U.S. Attorney for South Florida who cut that deal with Epstein. Ward explained the background of that deal, which is now a noose for Acosta. Specifically, she elaborated that the Epstein issue came up when Acosta was appointed to the cabinet by President Donald Trump. Ward writes:
He’d cut the non-prosecution deal with one of Epstein’s attorneys because he had “been told” to back off, that Epstein was above his pay grade. “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone,” he told his interviewers in the Trump transition, who evidently thought that was a sufficient answer and went ahead and hired Acosta. (The Labor Department had no comment when asked about this.)
So, Acosta, according to himself, backed off on prosecuting Epstein back in 2007, despite the possession of ample evidence proving his guilt, because he “belonged to intelligence.” Whose intelligence, exactly? is the first of many questions that arise here.
This claim was met with an appropriate degree of skepticism, and Acosta had a chance to explain what he meant in a press conference this afternoon. On camera, Acosta maintained that he did the best he could with that case, while admitting that it hardly looks like a fair punishment now.
The intelligence issue came up, and Acosta’s response was bizarre. He punted on setting the record straight, instead proffering this strange word salad when asked about Ward’s reporting:
So there has been reporting to that effect and let me say, there’s been reporting to a lot of effects in this case, not just now but over the years and, again, I would hesitant to take this reporting as fact. This was a case that was brought by our office, it was brought based on the facts and I look at the reporting and others, I can’t address it directly because of our guidelines, but I can tell you that a lot of reporting is going down rabbit holes.
To anyone acquainted with our nation’s capital, that’s a non-denial denial of an epic kind. Given the chance to refute Ward’s report, specifically that the Epstein case involved intelligence matters, Acosta did nothing of the sort. Indeed, he functionally admitted that it’s true.
What then can we conclude at this point? It appears that Jeffrey Epstein was involved in intelligence work, of some kind, for someone—and it probably wasn’t American intelligence either. The U.S. Intelligence Community is lenient about the private habits of high-value agents or informants, but they won’t countenance running sex trafficking rings for minors on American soil, for years. While it’s plausible that Epstein was sharing some information with the FBI—many criminals do so to buy themselves some insurance—it’s implausible that he was mainly working for the Americans.
Who are the suspects then? It seems awfully coincidental that Epstein’s best pal and business partner for decades has been Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite and daughter of the late Robert Maxwell, the media mogul who died under mysterious circumstances in 1991. Something of a Bond villain turned real life, Maxwell loved the limelight, despite being a swindler and a spy. British counterintelligence assessed that Maxwell was working for the KGB, while pervasive allegations that he was working for Mossad too are equally plausible.
Since the lines between Russian intelligence, Israeli intelligence and organized crime can get remarkably blurry in practice, as I’ve explained previously, assessing whom Epstein’s been working for may prove difficult to answer with any precision. But we have a suspect list to start asking questions.
What’s not in doubt is that a sex trafficking ring centered on minors, which involved numerous global VIPs in compromising situations, would be of high interest to quite a few intelligence services. The Epstein saga seems certain to get even more unpleasant and interesting.