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January 31, 2008

Whoa: Media Big and Clinton State Department Official (and Hillary Adviser) Strobe Talbot Accused of Being Soviet Intelligence Source By Defector

Let's get some disclaimers out of the way: a charge is not proof.

A defector's word is not necessarily the gold standard.

Someone who prefers capitalism to communism might just want to make a lot of money after a lifetime of want.

Further, the book's charge is not that he was a bought-and-paid for spy by conscious decision, but rather an unwitting, gullible dupe. A media lefty whose ego could easily be stroked, and who thought he was "among friends" when chatting amiably about American foreign policy decisions and intentions with KGB agents.

Friends who, of course, just thought he was such a super, super smart guy that they would never betray his trust by reporting his words to their Soviet spymaster superiors.


Still.

The Media Blog has the link and the teaser:

How should the media handle sensational allegations that one of the most esteemed members of their profession, former Time magazine journalist and top Clinton State Department official Strobe Talbott, was a dupe of the Russian intelligence service? How should they deal with hard evidence that one of their sacred cows, the United Nations, is penetrated by Russian spies?

The answer is that most of them will ignore it.

This is the fate they're giving to Comrade J, a blockbuster book about Russian espionage written by former Washington Post reporter and author Pete Earley.

Comrade J is about a Russian master spy, Sergei Tretyakov, who defected to the United States because he was disgusted with the Russian/Soviet system and wanted to start a new and better life with his family in America. He identifies former Clinton State Department official Strobe Talbott, a current adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, as having been a trusted contact of the Russian intelligence service.

Back in 2000, when Talbott was named head of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, he was described as "a key architect of U.S. foreign policy" during the Clinton years. He now heads the Brookings Institution, a liberal Washington, D.C. think tank.

But Tretyakov has some impressive credentials of his own. He wasn't just a low-level official. He is described as the highest ranking Russian intelligence official ever to defect while stationed in the U.S. and handled all Russian intelligence operations against the U.S. He served under cover from 1995-2000 at Russia's Permanent Mission to the United Nations but was secretly working for the FBI for at least three years.

Talbott denies the charges, calling them "erroneous and/or misleading," and his denials are featured on page 184 of the book. He says that he always promoted U.S. foreign policy goals and that the close relationship that he had with a top Russian official by the name of Georgi Mamedov did not involve any manipulation or deception.

This is not the first time that Talbott has come under scrutiny for his alleged contacts with agents of a foreign intelligence service. In 1994, when he was being considered for his State Department post in the Clinton Administration, he was grilled by Senator Jesse Helms, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, about his relationship with Victor Louis, a Soviet "journalist" who was actually a Soviet KGB intelligence agent. Talbott had been a young correspondent for Time magazine in Moscow.

...

Romerstein, a retired government expert on anti-American and communist propaganda activities, said the Earley book is valuable because it documents that the Russian intelligence service picked up where the KGB left off, and that operations against the U.S. continued after the end of the Cold War.

But he said the information about Talbott needs further explanation from Talbott himself. "Talbott really has to explain more than he did to Pete Earley what his relationship was to Mamedov, and he should tell us about his relationship with Victor Louis," Romerstein told AIM.

An intelligence source, it is claimed, but not a conscious one:

...

The book cites Talbott as an "example of how a skilled intelligence agency could manipulate a situation and a diplomatic source to its advantage without the target realizing he was being used for intelligence-gathering purposes." It says Mamedov was "instructed" by the SVR to ask specific questions to get information about certain matters.

"The point is that there are many ways to get intelligence," Earley explained. "And one of the best ways is not by stealing secrets but by becoming friends, getting people to let their guard down, massaging egos, and getting them to tell you helpful information."

However, the book says that Talbott was so compromised by his relationship with Mamedov that the FBI asked Secretary of State Madeleine Albright not to share information with Talbott about an espionage investigation at the State Department because Mamedov might learn about it and tip off Russian intelligence. Earley says he confirmed this account but that Albright has refused to discuss the incident.

Click on the Media Blog link to go to Accuracy in Media and read the whole thing.

Eh, it's not a big story. Not sexy or important or scandalous or anything else that would justify coverage.

I can of course see why our courageously curious media simply can't be bothered to dig into it.

It's either true or it's not true, of course. The media could probably help figure out which, but really, isn't it really better to not know? I mean, digging into it could lead to bad facts, and no one likes bad facts.

Our wise gatekeepers, The Deciders, are right to just hide this from us.


Thanks to CJ.

NPR Interview With Tretyakov: See-Dub of Junkard Blog says this NPR interview with the defector is very interesting.

And interesting for this reason, too: Not a single question about the explosive charges against Strobe Talbott. Fancy that!

I suppose I'll just throw out the possibility that it's possible that this lefty was a CIA asset for a long time, deliberately feeding the KGB what American intelligence wanted them to hear. A double agent.

And of course that would make Talbott a hell of a guy. Such a hell of a guy that he maintains his cover when repeatedly questioned about his suspect KGB pals.

I'm guessing that's not the case, though. The FBI advisory on him either means they were out of the loop (possible) or staged that incident to convince the Soviets Talbott was legit (also possible).

It's also quite possible this is precisely as high-ranking spymaster Tretyakov thinks it is: an arrogant fool who may have thought he could "reach out" to Soviets spies (probably posing as moderates looking to change the system from within) and concoct between them their own private path to detente.


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posted by Ace at 07:53 PM

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