OpEd: Rooting out whether a Trump-Russia connection exists is critical to our national security and democratic independence

We recently learned that the FBI is investigating a curious link between a Russian bank and a Trump Organization computer server. According to cyber security experts, the Russia-based Alfa Bank computer electronically looked up the contact information for the Trump Organization server more than 2800 times from May 4th through September 24th last year. This alone accounted for 80 percent of the lookups to that domain. With just over 700 lookups, Spectrum Health, owned by the Secretary of Education Betsy Devos’ husband, came in a very distant second place, according to research from Camp.

Alfa Bank insisted that it has no connections to Trump, telling CNN that it is trying to identify the person or entity who disseminated the information. Just last week, Alfa Bank, through its attorneys, sent a “Notice to Preserve Evidence” to computer expert L. Jean Camp, one of the researchers who first analyzed the data, essentially threatening a lawsuit.

This all doesn’t prove that there was established communication between the Trump Organization and parties in Russia, but it adds to the growing list of questions about the Trump team’s connections to Russia which may only be resolved once we see his complete tax returns. After all, as Nixon famously responded in 1973 when asked about the release of his tax returns: “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook.”

Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak attending Trump’s address to a joint session to congress.

What we do know is that a number of individuals from the Trump team met with the Russian Ambassador, in the recent past. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, J.D. Gordon, Carter Page, Walid Phares, Michael Flynn, and Paul Manafort are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Why should we care? Let’s ask Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, who also became the victim of a Russian blackmail attempt last year. Congress, and those in the intelligence community, are delving further into the White House’s ties with Russia in order to safeguard our national interests against these types of vulnerabilities and compromised individuals within the administration. Flynn’s removal and Attorney General Session’s recusal from the investigation are important steps to that end—but I feel that the problems go much deeper.

The Manafort hack shows us that personal phones can be used as a platform to blackmail individuals. President Trump’s unsecured phone, from which he so often tweets, could be hacked and consequently used to track his location. The hackers could also gain access to the camera and microphone. They might then even try to maliciously infect the White House microwave to gather surveillance data, according to their own counselor Kellyanne Conway.

In all seriousness, however, Trump was reviewing sensitive and potentially classified information with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while in full public view at his Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago Club last month. At this same event, some of the guests were seen taking selfies with the nuclear football holder. Individually, each of these issues is worrisome, but taken as a whole, one wonders whether anyone has briefed POTUS on information security protocols. And if they have, is this simply willful disregard for a system that he still struggles to understand?

We have known for quite some time that POTUS doesn’t feel he needs to hear the daily intelligence briefings because he’s a “smart person.” He’s repeatedly gone after the intelligence community, who now seems to no longer trust a White House that is “leaky, untruthful and penetrated by the Kremlin.” And when the DOJ warned the White House in January of this year that Flynn may already be compromised by the Russians, Trump and his team decided to keep him as their National Security Advisor anyway.

Why was “extreme vetting” not used to uncover Flynn’s ties to Turkey? Because the current administration values loyalty over competence. POTUS failed to expand his umbrella of supporters beyond his party, and in doing so, he has severely limited his talent pool. Moreover, as we can see from the Flynn debacle, he has a tornado of landmines surrounding him. Diversity is, in fact, a strategic imperative, and this administration is alienating itself from some of the brightest minds in our nation. Where would Microsoft or Apple be today if they decided that immigrants were a threat to their business? Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is a bad business decision on so many levels.

Our enemies are watching carefully while this administration struggles to learn the inner workings of both government and diplomacy. Our tools of national power are only effective when they are wielded by an administration that understands them. In a recent documentary, CNN declared Russian President Vladamir Putin as “the most powerful man in the world” because, as Fareed Zakaria, explains, “The power of the head of state is determined both by the country’s strength and the capacity he or she has to exercise that power, unilaterally, unconstrained by other institutions, parties, and political forces.”

Senator McCain has repeatedly called Putin a “killer…a butcher, a thug, a KGB Colonel.” On several occasions, Senator McCain has voiced his concerns about Russian interference in our political processes, calling for a full bipartisan and independent investigation into Flynn’s ties with Russia, not simply an inquiry into the leaks that exposed him.

This week FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers testified at the much anticipated hearing by the House Intelligence Committee seeking answers to these questions. Both confirmed that Russia did, in fact, interfere with the 2016 election. Director Comey also confirmed that the FBI is currently investigating alleged links between Russia and the Trump campaign, and whether criminal activity was committed. Comey emphasized that as the investigation is ongoing, he is limited as to the level of detail that he could go into. He declined to comment about Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Carter Page, Rex Tillerson, former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn, or any individual that may be the subject of the investigation.

Image FBI Dir James Comey and NSA Dir Mike Rogers testify before House Intel Committee MAR 20
FBI Dir James Comey and NSA Dir Mike Rogers testify before House Intel Committee, March 20, 2017

From the Congressional Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein has demanded President Trump’s full tax returns, stating that, “tax returns become a primary lead into a Russia connection—and that would be Russian money in his businesses. He’s visited Russia six times by his own voice on television. Who knows what the situation is?”

In the days ahead, we must assert that our national security depends on rooting out all moles still hiding in the shadows of the White House so that we can once more project a vision of democratic independence, inclusivity and justice.

LTC Kamal S. Kalsi is an ER doctor and a U.S. Army officer who deployed to Afghanistan and has served in the military for 16 years. He currently serves in U.S Army Reserve at Fort Dix, New Jersey, as a disaster medicine expert. He also serves as a member of Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. The opinions expressed above are his alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Army. Follow Kamal S. Kalsi on Twitter @KamaljeetSKalsi


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