There are many reasons why Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey could be interested in the Hillary Clinton-Huma Abedin emails on Anthony Weiner’s home computer. The majority of those reasons for Comey’s involvement have been laid out across the media spectrum.
But there may be another reason. Since we are spending so much of this election cycle on the Russians, let’s think like Russian intelligence officers. What if this is not partisan? What if Comey is looking for spies?
Professional intelligence officers do not risk international incidents to play the equivalent of pranks on nation states, say by embarrassing the Democratic National Committee with leaked documents months before an election. That’s Wikileaks-level stuff. No, when you want to rig an election, you rig an election. Have a look at the way the CIA historically manipulated elections – assassinations, massive demonstrations, paid off protesters and journalists, serious stuff directly affecting leaders and votes.
Now have a look at the National Security Agency documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the incredible efforts the NSA goes to gather information. It is not to play political tricks. The world of real intelligence gathering is all about “the take”: information. Russian President Vladimir Putin (or Barack Obama, or...) doesn’t likely have on his desk a proposal to risk cyberwar to expose a CNN contributor for handing over debate questions. He wants hard information he can use to make significant decisions. What is Obama thinking, what are his plans, what are his negotiating points ahead of the next summit... information at a global, strategic level.
That’s worth risking retaliation, maybe even a confrontation, for. How do you get to that kind of stuff?
How intelligence gathering works is in the end very simple: who has access to the information you want, what are their vulnerabilities, and how do you exploit those vulnerabilities to get the information. In other words, what does the target want (attention, sex, money, an appeal to patriotism or vanity, or in Weiner’s case, most likely simply a new person to sext with) and how can you give it to them?
As secretary of state, Clinton had access to extraordinarily sensitive material, both classified and unclassified. Abedin is arguably the most powerful person in Clinton’s circle, and had access to much or all of that information. What Abedin knew would have been of great interest to Moscow.
How to get the info? Abedin’s husband has admitted that he is a compulsive sexter. He prowls online message boards, and seemingly does little to hide his identity while doing it. He is the kind of dream package of vulnerabilities an intelligence officer waits a whole career to have fall into their lap.
Baiting the trap appears to be easy. As recently as August Weiner was in a flirty chat with someone he thought was a woman named Nikki, but was actually Nikki's male, Republican friend using the account to troll him. (Weiner later claimed he knew he was being set up.)
For the Russians, contacting Weiner would have been as easy as posting a few fake sexy photos and waiting for him to take a bite. Placing malware on his computer to see what was there was as easy as trading a few more photos with him. He clicks, he loads the malware, National Security Agency 101 level stuff. An intelligence officer then has access to Weiner’s computer, as well as his home wireless network, and who knows what else. An internet-enabled nanny cam? A smartphone camera? Abedin’s own devices attached to that same network? It seems an easy, cheap, predictable kind of fishing expedition.
To be fair, I doubt any intelligence officer could have believed their own eyes when they realized Weiner’s computer was laden with what could be official United States government documents. Somebody in Moscow may have gotten a helluva promotion this year.
Now remember, this didn’t come from “several anonymous government officials.” It’s all made up, just like a spy novel. Because no real Russian intelligence officer could ever have put these pieces together like this.
Full disclosure: Following the publication — during Clinton’s time as secretary of state — of my book critical of the State Department’s role in the Iraq War, the department unsuccessfully carried out termination proceedings against me. Instead, I retired voluntarily.
(Peter Van Buren, a 24 year State Department veteran, is the author of “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.” His next book is “Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan.” @WeMeantWell)
The views expressed in this article are not those of Reuters News.