The Trump-Russia investigation: Every day, we hear something new about Robert Mueller’s criminal probe—from rumors of Kremlin-connected money laundering to questions about why the president fired former FBI Director James Comey. Considering how polarized this country is, it’s understandable that much of the focus has centered on Mueller’s criminal probe.
But as the special counsel investigates possible coordination between Moscow and the Trump team, he’s not only looking at potential crimes. He’s also overseeing a counterintelligence operation, delving into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It’s this counterintelligence effort, not the criminal investigation, that will unravel why and how Moscow-connected groups spent at least $100,000 on Facebook ads during the campaign. Among other things.
Criminal investigators can’t thwart a foreign intelligence op or fix the gaps that allowed it go undetected. Both are the purview of the FBI’s counterintelligence division. These folks don’t necessarily need arrests to be successful. Take the 1989 case of Felix Bloch, a State Department officer suspected of being a Soviet spy. After attracting the attention of the FBI, the bureau’s counterintelligence officers spotted him meeting a known Soviet agent in Paris with whom he left a bag. Before the FBI could close in, however, an FBI spy named Robert Hansen tipped off Bloch, saying he was under surveillance. When the bureau confronted him about his spying activities, Bloch claimed he was simply passing stamps to the Soviet agent. He was fired, but a case against him never materialized. The good news: Soviet agents never worked with him again, and that was a win for the bureau’s counterintelligence officers.