Making something secret inherently raises its perceived value and raises its cost, not just the cost of protecting the secret – logistics, personnel, bribes – but the cost in embarrassment if the secret is revealed.
Take for example, Attorney General William Barr’s meant-to-be-secret missions to Rome. Why would flying to Rome be such a big deal? Must have been the secret agenda. Why else would the AG himself be asking new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppi Conte for off-the-record access to his top intelligence and national security people, if he didn’t have something of the utmost importance to quiz them on.
No surprise, it didn’t take long before Barr’s secret security conclave was leaked to one of Italy’s most influential newspapers, Corriere della Serra of Milan, which reported that Conte had handed Barr off to Gennaro Vecchione, head of Italy’s Department of Information Security, and that once was not enough, Barr and John Durham, his special investigator of how the FBI case on the Trump campaign got started slipped back for a second tete-a-tete with Vecchione and some of his top executives.
But Corriere della Serra didn’t just reveal Burr’s secret mission, it revealed its secret agenda, investigating Josef Mifsud.
On the surface, Mifsud was a caricature of a cliché. Of Maltese background, he made his way in the United Kingdom as a second-rate academic and first-rate socializer specializing in European diplomacy, most of it connected to Russia. It has been reported that Mifsud’s academic base in London was financed by Russians. Former FBI Director James Comey called him either a Russian intelligence officer or an agent of influence.
Mifsud’s claim to fame is that he was the source who tipped off Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to the fact that Russia had hacked thousands of emails they were prepared to use to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances.
Just the sort of tip you’d expect from a Russian agent in service to the mission clearly identified by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, Kremlin manipulation of a key American election.
Once Mifsud’s role as Papadopoulos’ Russian source was revealed, he went to ground. He has since disappeared entirely, leaving behind as his mouthpiece only a lawyer with as long a record of working for Russia as Mifsud himself.
But – and it is being widely speculated that this is the conspiracy theory that is what lies behind Barr’s Roman circus – what if all that surface of Mifsud is just a Deep State cover story? What if Mifsud, who also taught at an Italian university with links to the CIA, was really a double-agent, a tool of the FBI or CIA or the Obama White House sent to play with and discredit the rising young Trumpite Papadopoulos? What if this were all part of an international conspiracy to defame Donald Trump?
You might find that hard to credit, but we know one fellow who believes it: “I was investigated,” says an aggrieved President Donald Trump. “I was investigated. And they think it could have been by U.K. They think it could have been by Australia. They think it could have been by Italy.”
The same Italian intel aces who entertained AG Barr on two occasions are now being treated to this accusation from Barr’s boss: “they” say they tried to knife me in the back.
That should make for great American-Italian intelligence cooperation in the future.
Josh Campbell is a CNN law enforcement analyst. Prior to joining the network, Campbell was a supervisory special agent with the FBI and served as special assistant to FBI director James Comey. His career included conducting high-profile terrorism and kidnapping investigations, serving overseas in multiple diplomatic and operational assignments, and managing the bureau’s interagency communication response strategy following crisis incidents. He received four FBI Combat Theater Awards for his work embedded with military special operations and CIA teams abroad. Campbell has an MA in communication from Johns Hopkins and a BA in government from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a term member with the Council on Foreign Relations and teaches national security at the University of Southern California.