The Russian Honeypot


Photo of Vladimir Putin by Jedimenta44 via Flickr

[I wrote this article about Russian efforts to cultivate Donald Trump as an asset last week for a Korean newspaper where it was published on Sunday. Little did I know that news would break this week of allegations that Russia has a file of damaging information it can use to blackmail President-elect Trump. In that file is information about Trump’s dalliance with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. The allegations come from a former British intelligence officer, and the Trump camp denies them. The information was “widely known among journalists and politicians in Washington,” according to The New York Times, but aside from a piece in Mother Jones, it remained under wraps.]

In the world of espionage, the “honeypot” is trap in which someone seduces an unsuspecting diplomat or embassy employee. Then the seducer – a “swallow” (woman) or a “raven” (man) – blackmails the dupe. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed a certain expertise in using honeypots to extract information from CIA operatives, FBI agents, and ambassadors.

Russia is in the news at the moment for a more high-tech spying operation – its alleged hacking of Democratic Party e-mail accounts. The Obama administration claims that it has proof of Russian fingerprints on this operation and thus its influence on the November presidential elections. The White House has imposed a set of additional sanctions against Russia and also expelled 35 Russian diplomatic personnel.

These charges are serious and should be investigated. But they are a distraction. The real operation Russia is conducting in the United States is an old-fashioned honeypot trap. But it’s not a conventional version of the scheme in which an attractive woman makes eyes at a lonely intelligence officer.

Rather, the “raven” in this case is Vladimir Putin. And the dupe is Donald Trump. By romancing the Republican candidate, the Russian president has gotten much more than mere information. He is acquiring the most influential ally imaginable. And he doesn’t even have to wait until the inauguration. When the Obama administration announced its retaliatory moves, Putin declined to escalate. Trump, rather than standing behind his president, praised Putin and promised to “move on.”

Let me be clear. I don’t think Russia directly tampered with the vote in November. Nor do I think that the revelations connected to the alleged Russian hacking made the difference in the election. Trump won for other reasons; Clinton lost for other reasons too. I’m not even sure that Putin wanted Trump elected. The Russian president probably just wanted to sow some confusion and discord in the U.S. political system.

Nor do I want to see a new Cold War develop between the United States and Russia. I’m not a fan of Vladimir Putin or current Russian policies in Ukraine or Syria. But Moscow and Washington can certainly identify common interests such as reducing nuclear weapons, preserving the landmark agreement with Iran, and negotiating some new agreement with North Korea.

But the honeypot that Russia has used to trap Trump will have much more serious ramifications than a few email accounts hacked or disinformation spread around the Internet.

First of all, Putin will get some immediate foreign policy benefits. The Trump administration is likely to lift all economic sanctions against Russia, which will provide a nice bump up for the Russian economy. The United States will accept the Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea and roll back its complaints over Russian meddling in Ukraine. Trump has already expressed reservations about NATO, so his administration will not likely welcome new members around Russia’s perimeter. And the new administration will cooperate with Russia in attacking the Islamic State and pull away from backing rebels who want to oust Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

All of that is worth a great deal more than the name of a few spies or a cache of secret Pentagon documents.

But Vladimir Putin has even grander plans, and Donald Trump could play a role in those as well.

In a 2013 speech, Vladimir Putin chastised the Euro-Atlantic countries for “rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.” He went on to excoriate “political correctness” and “unlawful migration.” He added, “One must respect every minority’s right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into question.”

Here are all the themes of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign two years before Trump even launched it. More importantly, these themes can found in the campaigns of most far-right-wing political parties in Europe. It’s no surprise that Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary are all part of Putin’s widening circle of admirers.

Putin aspires to create a new global alliance founded on conservative values, religious principles, and autocratic leanings. The Russian leader is comfortable working with outright racists, xenophobes, and Islamophobes. He aims to unravel the European Union and has provided support to European movements that share that goal. He has nothing but contempt for civil society unless it slavishly follows his political line. He no longer appears to believe that global warming is a hoax, but he still presides over an economy dependent on fossil fuels that does some of the greatest damage to the environment.

Again, Donald Trump fits right into this picture. The honeypot scheme doesn’t involve sexual propositioning but ideological seduction.

The greatest threat over the next couple years is not that the Trump administration will simply step back and allow Russia free rein in the world. Russia, after all, has rather limited global influence beyond its ties with right-wing extremists and a few morally bankrupt autocracies. Rather, the real threat is that Donald Trump will help Putin create a noxious alliance that gives an international platform for all the most deplorable actors, from white supremacists to crusading Islamophobes.

The media makes a mistake by calling the relationship between Putin and Trump a “bromance.” That somehow implies mutual fondness. Putin doesn’t care about romance any more than the “ravens” and “swallows” of the Cold War era. The Russian president has laid a trap for Donald Trump. And it looks as though Trump will drag America into the honeypot with him.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the new novel Splinterlands.

  • FJMunley

    Mr. Feffer, you portray Trump’s desired detente with Russia as a zero sum game. Surely there are real benefits to US national security interests in having better relations with Russia. I agree that Putin’s “conservative values, religious principles, and autocratic leanings” are a real problem, but he has no monopoly on that in the world of current US allies. Remember “Peaceful Coexistence” pushed by a great Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov? Gratuitous US provocations of Russia over the past 20 years have brought us to a dangerous point. I wish it weren’t Trump doing detente, but it’s high time it was done.

    • johnfeffer

      As I wrote: “Nor do I want to see a new Cold War develop between the United States and Russia. I’m not a fan of Vladimir Putin or current Russian policies in Ukraine or Syria. But Moscow and Washington can certainly identify common interests such as reducing nuclear weapons, preserving the landmark agreement with Iran, and negotiating some new agreement with North Korea.” I can’t be any clearer than that.

      But please, let us have no illusions about Vladimir Putin and his agenda. In the past, detente was purely a pragmatic affair since there was no ideological mind-meld between Nixon and Brezhnev or Reagan and Gorbachev. By contrast, a detente between two conservative would-be autocrats, even if it produces desired results, should be treated with more than a little skepticism.

      • sierramaestra

        I doubt anyone has “illusions about Vladimir Putin”. The problem is that there are still too many Liberals and self-proclaimed Progressives who have refused to take their heads out of the sand. For too long, the so-called “liberal” politicians’ agendas have become what they themselves would have branded right-wing a short time before. This has accelerated precipitously since the first ruler from the Clinton dynasty. The second worried me as much, if not more, than the ascension of the Trumplodyte. One basic, simple reason is that she was such an insider and much more intelligent than the “winner” that she would have been more dangerous by design, not by bellicose ignorance.

        This had already been amply demonstrated by the O’Bomber who, if anything, advanced the rightist agenda beyond Queen George The Lesser’s gang (eg., sweeping his predecessor’s regimes’ and its Wall Street overlords’ crimes under the rug while making us pay for the damages; egregiously increasing and expanding spying on all of us; implementing more state secrets while persecuting whistleblowers more than all other presidents before him; instituting “legal” murders of even US citizens anywhere in the world, and his vast use of drone kills that carried out those crimes; etc.). Unfortunately and dangerously, there are still true-believer holdouts who refuse to accept these facts.

        Like so many Liberal pundits, Mr. Feffer’s own writings often reflect that faith in the fake liberal politicians. While never hesitating to ascribe malevolent intent to Washington’s enemies/targets for overthrow–be it torture, imperialism, rejection and punishment of any who disagree, domestic spying, censoring what is allowed to be reported–I’ve never read any such quick, blanket condemnation of his own rulers.

        This does nothing to inform, but a lot to enable more and worse imperialist crimes by assuming (pretending?) that these horrors are still not perpetrated by “our” rulers or, if they are, it’s somehow a “mistake”, not part of a constant, premeditated rush to full-out fascism. This relative moralism is ubiquitously practiced by the paragons of the Orwellian-labeled “Free Press”: the WaPo, NYT, AP, et al. Somehow that is supposed to be totally different from what is practiced by those “Communist-run” or “State-Sponsored” media in countries they want to destroy.

  • folktruther

    There is currently a coup in progress by those forces that want a war with Russia to discredit Trump with wild evidence-free smears. These forces include:

    1. the military-industrial complex who make money in these wars, as it did in the Iraq war initiated by the deception of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

    2. The intelligence agencies who spy on the American people and lie routinely as part of their covert operations.

    3. The media who now are largely propaganda organs for US power and produce preposterous absurdities routinely.

    4. Imperialist Progressives, including Obama, Clinton, and other leading Dems who are trying to make these smears credible.

    Mr. Feffer has joined this war cabal, which will continue. Kennedy was assassinated to prevent him from stopping the Vietnam war, and if Trump is, Pence, a right wing Repub will attain office, and give them their war.

  • sierramaestra

    Some of the characterizations of Putin could be just as easily ascribed to a number of politicos of the DC regime. Both Obama and Clinton, like their predecessors form both sides of the Capitalist Party, have supported and protected some of the worst, Neanderthal, extreme right-to-Nazi regimes that are far more retrograde than their Russian counterpart. To wit: the inbred knuckle-draggers of the House of Saud who have ruled “their” country with an iron hand for centuries, imprisoning anyone who dreams aloud about basic freedoms; hold weekly beheadings of “witches” (their word for people–including men, but mainly women–who step out of line) that far outdo any ISIS goon; carry out false-flag cover attacks against Yemen for the DC regime; etc. The neo-con Clintons–like the Repubs–are slavish backers and protectors of the bloody, racist, genocidal, all-around illegal Tel Aviv junta, drooling over the chance to start the next world war; Obama, despite his spats with the N-yahoo, lavishes our tax-paid weapons on the regime, $38 billion (the overt part) this last round.
    Think whatever you want about the Russian rulers, but, as has been the case over more than the last half century, Russia has actually been playing a catch-up game of boys and their war toys to defend itself from the DC imperialists. What would the DC’ers do if Russia or China or any other nation encircled the US with puppet regimes–uh allies–armed to the teeth with US weapons, told the US that “all options are on the table, including nuclear,” if Washington doesn’t accept the fact that Russia is the ruler of the planet and roll over for it. If China inserted its advanced navy on the US’ coasts and did all it could to provoke any reaction by the USN.

    One doesn’t have to be a Putin Bro or a Commie tool to see what the Dem machine is doing. After causing its own loss and demise by demanding that the neo-con Clinton win the primary “election” and rigging it to make sure, its leaders are turning on its former (let’s hope) supporters, blaming them for its proffering a roundly hated Wall Street errand-runner and war hawk that people who want real change rejected.

    Remember that it wasn’t just the Repub wing that barred Jill Stein from even participating in the presidential debates, along with all other parties; the Dems have gladly joined that anti-democratic stricture for decades. It’s making up conspiracy stories and it’s cheering every new, draconian law it thinks will aid its interests and its next round of candidates, including ones it professed to oppose.

    It has helped plant False News to assure the just-passed “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016”, aka “Ministry Of Truth”, to be controlled by the DC regime, that is used to “prove” oppression when alleged to be done by DC’s enemies. Yes, far-right congressionalistas wrote the law, but Obama signed it into law on the Friday night of December 23, when no one was watching, and the Dem leadership loves it. Does anyone really believe that the spotlight on the recent spate of False News stories is yet another coincident? That the corporate media–guilty of some of the worst terminally biased and whole-cloth fake articles–are accusing only the small websites of planting them while nice sheeple go on believing everything the NYT, WaPo, AP, Reuters, et al churn out?

    We have to stop being led around by the nose, stop blaming every evil on other nations, stop letting the DC regime and corporate media giants scare us into knee-jerk compliance with every anti-democratic, anti-privacy law, every new and illegal war they trick us into cheering on–against our best interests. All these lethal games are, at their foundation, machinations to further destroy our social welfare, while transfering more unmerited wealth from working people to the the Capitalist Military-Intelligence-Industrial Complex–the worst warmongers and crooks on the planet.

    • arthur brogard

      Yep. Over 300 executions by beheading in three years (2007-10) according to Wikipedia.

      I don’t know what’s going on. There seems to be some vast evil conspiracy in the USA to keep it supporting evil all over the world, to keep it bombing and killing, to keep its military machine flourishing and to keep its citizens in the dark.

      Why and how it got so coherent and widespread I don’t know, I can’t think. Petrodollar seems the only answer.

      Every single accusation they make in the USA about other nations ‘wrongdoing’ could be answered by citing the USA’s own wrongdoing right there vis a vis Saudi Arabia. Supporting a corrupt and medieval government. Supporting insurgents. Trampling on the rights of sovereign states. Bombing civilians. Destroying nations….

      If it were Russia doing 1/100 th of all this Russia would be denigrated, reviled, fiercely attacked in the press and the UN and there’d be a loud clamour for actual military action against Russia.

      The clear fact is that Russia does not do 1/1000th of the evil that the USA does.

      Clear. Fact. If I wanted to argue Russia is a monstrous nation I’d be scrabbling for something to base that on.

      If I wanted to argue that the USA was a monstrous nation I could find verification virtually anywhere.

      Of course the truth is neither are monstrous nations. The people in both countries are ordinary and busy with their own lives, without desire to invade, conquer, subjugate anyone, anywhere.

      But it certainly seems the USA has a vast governing ‘conspiracy ‘. In quotes because it is surely informal, not a little cabal who has secret meetings, but more an adopted modus operandi that is widespread. Just as, perhaps, in earlier centuries the aristocracy in the U.K. universally adopted habits of assumed superiority and ‘rights’ over all the peasants of the land and common citizenry of the cities

      It extends to their Intelligence networks. The most powerful organisations in the nation. More powerful than the military for the Intelligence organisations do not have a public budget, I believe. They spend whatever they want to spend on whatever they want to spend it on, without oversight, I think.

      So we see the astounding spectacle of a triad, or whatever, of these ‘chiefs’ telling the President to be, and the nation, that Russia is ‘up to no good’ and that the ‘best’ people in the nation are their own people, and that we all and the President especially ought to heed their words.

      War mongering, rabble rousing, patronizing. They had the temerity, the hubris, to patronize the whole nation. To declare, essentially, that it should adopt a warlike antagonistic posture towards a nation of a mere 150million people on the other side of the earth (well, 50 miles away across the straights, but across the world between the two hubs of economic/political activity).

      The high comedy! The black comedy! The farce! To say that Putin is ‘up to no good’ !

      As Yemen burns, as Afghanistan descends further into chaos, as Syria lies in ruins and Iraq is rubble, as American drones go about their daily business of assassination, as the CIA arms DAESH, as such as the Saudi regime murder at will and appropriate the wealth of a nation to their own coffers…….. they say Russia is up to no good?

      We, the people, have been branded ‘sheeple’ in recent times. We are indeed ‘sheeple’ if we can swallow this.

  • arthur brogard

    What a piece of rabble rousing junk. Basic premise is nonsense. Where’s the ‘honeypot’ aspect in all this? ‘Honeypot’ means embroil in a situation you don’t want revealed. Everything Trump does, would do in this scenario is fully revealed instanter.

    All these aims and ambitions ascribed to Putin necessarily without proof and automatically consigned to the ‘bad goals’ bin are simply scurrilous and abject journalism.

    The root of it all appears to be this constant issue of xenophobia. Anti immigration etc, and all its offshoots – muslimophobia etc.

    We get conned by this issue the way it is presented to us. As though reality was that we are all noble philosophers acting always from the highest principles.

    No. We are ordinary human beings. Acting largely from instincts dating back to our quasi animal past.

    No race/nation/group wants to be ruled by the ‘others’. By ‘outsiders’. That’s plain and simple.

    We group, have pride in our group, live within our group, cultivate the embellishments and complications and defining characteristics of our group from our social organisation to our scientific and artistic productions via our very speech and literature.

    Everyone can plainly see and heartily agree with the principal that we don’t want to be ruled by ‘the others’.

    Well immigrants, refugees, are ‘others’. Plain and simple.

    But they are not ruling us, you say.

    No. They come as powerless, insignificant, as ‘proper’ immigrants even with an expected potential for improving our ‘group’, making our group better the way we want it better.

    Where it all goes off the rails is quite simply as the immigrant becomes more and more powerful.

    However that happens.

    Whether they appear to be ruining the labour market.

    Or whether they appear to belong to a powerful inimical group that presents a clear threat.

    When they become ‘significant’ then ipso facto they are to some small extent ‘ruling’ the group for they make the group alter its conduct and its policies to make provision for them.

    And it is perfectly natural for their to be some protest about it.

    Perfectly natural, coherent, logical, reasonable. It follows from the predicate: that groups don’t like to be ruled by ‘the others’.

    It is not to be surprised about.

    And it is not to be condemned out of hand as bad at all.

    It is a natural and necessary, even, expression of the group’s desire to retain its integrity.

  • Madiso Mlotshwa

    The US and its Fake News machinery are so angry and frustrated over the Trump presidency
    and the increasingly possible Assad victory in Syria that they have launched a
    propaganda salvo to obtain what they cannot win on the battlefield. Putin’s Russia is attacked on the grounds that apply to Israel, the US, and Saudi Arabia in the 21st century. In contemporary America, a president can with impunity send Special Forces into Syria uninvited and drop bombs too on Syrian territory while no established social or political institution challenges the constitutionality of it. American power and prestige on the world stage is now on on a steep,irreversible decline.

  • BruceEWoych

    Honeypots are an interesting probability. But; The counterfeiting fictions of power are all hitting the fan now and everyone is scrambling to keep undercover and not expose the vicious political economy being orchestrated under asset seizing “globalization” and economic war. A swarm of individuated aggressive corporatism, all cross-checking under a false banner of free trade and capital liberalization, has exploded the rationality of the political arena and erupted in unexpected political bubbles. The framing portraits of a two thugs (Putin & Trump) rule the rhetorical lexicon and most people are trying to explain the regrouping of populous uprisings (tainted by misdirection and misinformation as these may be) with the compelling fact that hard right (fascist) strong men ideologies seem to dominate a recoiling pseudo-nationalism across the globe. It seems that everyone is in retrospective mode and explain what happens after it happens by reinventing rationalizations that complete the last broken puzzle with some coherence. A lot of short term explanations are viral, adjusted daily with the latest discoveries or revelations hitherto under raps.

    Let’s look at the larger frame. Noe-Liberalization has swarmed every economy globally with all its opportunists in tow. Political regime change with violent war and black out on news (and out right Orwellian fact twisting as a rule) has been the doctrine of the day, following a not so covert couple of decades that came under the well advertised heading of the New American Century. Containment has gone quasi-military and semi-nuclear talk is in the political stratosphere again (with concessional talk of putting off the threat World War III (and don’t think about a poke-a-dot green and yellow elephant …kind of mental frame). Since these heavy handed global goons running power backup are all colluding with their international financial cabals, the top heavy “elites” have pushed stakes to a new high (or low, as the case may be). Put this on the asset seizing rentier private equity strata of the parasite classes, and put the mafia squeeze of austerity pressure on entire populations, and what we have are desperation economics and detonation politics. If you look at those two terms you might notice that one ends with “ration” and the other with nation. That basically sums up why a chump thug like Trump can place an apocalyptic team of co-defendants together in Washington, while an apologetic party system licks its wounds and tries to explain in retrospect “what went wrong” and a Trump News era emerges that conflates propaganda with pure prankster fiction (Note that Putin uses the term Pulp Fiction lately).

    So a prostitute here or there with small talk under the table is really not the cause of what we are witnessing; and the honeypot of cloaks and dagger intrigue is more like a Global Hornet’s Nest…

    of Global mismanagement come home to roost.