On an airplane as large as Air Force One, there have to be lots of places to hide because during the nine days international man of mystery Jared Kushner spent jetting around the Middle East and Europe recently, the traveling press corps caught only glimpses of him at photo ops and didn’t hear even a peep from him personally.
As it turned out, reporters back home were also looking for him and they were the ones who actually found him — or traces of him anyway — in events that transpired in Trump Tower in December of last year. Kushner is a nimble-footed guy. He’s moved from managing his father’s real estate business in New Jersey to leadership of an empire headquartered at 666 Fifth Avenue, from dating preppy little things on the Common at Harvard to marrying Ivanka Trump, from living the high life in Manhattan social circles to a West Wing hideaway where he serves as an unpaid and never-heard-from senior adviser to the president of the United States.
There are those who think that the only reason Kushner has been able to pull off this dizzying series of moves is because he was born into great wealth and married into even more of it. But it’s clear from recent news stories that our fleet-footed young man of mystery is a much more important and accomplished figure than we had previously assumed. He’s so important and accomplished, in fact, that Trump apparently relied on Kushner when looking to set up a top-secret private back channel to his friend Russia's President Vladimir Putin.
I mean Trump had his pick of guys he could have tapped for the sensitive job of establishing secure communications between himself and the man who had helped to elect him. He could have talked to Mike Pence, for example. Pence was the head of the whole Trump transition team at Trump Tower and, of course, the man he apparently trusted enough to tap to be his vice president.
Trump could have picked Reince Priebus, whom he was already considering for the job of White House chief of staff once he took office. He could have huddled with Steve Bannon because Russians like Putin just love strategy, and Steve was the strategist in chief widely credited with having brought Trump’s campaign back from the dead and driving it through to his election. He could have spoken with his good friend and top supporter Rudolph Giuliani, who was seen scampering around Trump Tower during the transition like a subway rat, and Giuliani was well-known around New York as an expert in practically everything.
Trump could have even sought out his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who lived right there in Trump Tower only a few floors from Trump’s office and someone with whom Putin was certainly well acquainted because of Manafort’s long association with characters from the former Soviet republics and because he had already been on the receiving end of millions of Russian rubles and Ukrainian hryvnia.
But no, Trump wasn’t satisfied with any of the men he had surrounded himself with. He wanted someone who really knew what he was doing. In fact, he wanted two someones who were certified experts in stuff like foreign relations and espionage and big-time overseas business transactions. He wanted international man of mystery Jared Kushner and the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn. Only these two could handle the sensitive task of putting him directly in touch with his friend Vladimir Putin in such a way that no one would ever find out about it.
Kushner and Flynn met first with Sergey No. 1, Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower on Dec. 1 or 2, a meeting that was kept secret because Kislyak wasn’t paraded through the lobby like the rest of Trump’s visitors, but rather snuck in and out on a private elevator. In fact, news of this meeting wouldn’t leak out until much later, and Kushner would leave it off the paragraph involving contacts with representatives of foreign governments on the form he filled out to get his top-secret security clearance once he was hired as an adviser to the president.
Their subsequent meeting with Kislyak and the chairman of the state owned Russian government-owned bank Vnescheconombank, Sergey No. 2 (Sergey Gorkov), was similarly kept secret and omitted from official forms filled out by Kushner. Maybe this meeting was kept secret because the bank was one of the financial institutions sanctioned by the Obama administration when Russia invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea. Or maybe it was because the same bank had been used by Russian intelligence to place espionage agents in the United States, with one of them tried and convicted right there in Manhattan only a year before.
Whatever the reason, it was obvious that neither Trump nor Kushner nor Flynn nor Kislyak nor Gorkov wanted news of the two meetings at Trump Tower to leak out because we now understand the purpose of those meetings: arranging the top-secret back channel between Trump and Putin.
There are several curious things about the Trump Tower meetings between Kushner and Flynn and the Russians. The first is why they saw a need for a secret back channel in the first place — and especially whose idea it was. Supporting the theory that Putin was behind things is the fact that Kislyak had been nearly ubiquitous around the Trump campaign, showing up at an event before the Republican National Convention, at a speech Trump gave at the Mayflower Hotel and apparently speaking on the phone with Flynn repeatedly.
So if Kislyak had already been in regular touch with Trump’s people — and he presumably had been reporting these contacts back to his boss, Sergey No. 3 (Sergey Lavarov), the Russian foreign minister, who then presumably reported what Kislyak told him to Putin — an informal back channel of sorts already existed. The second is why any of them thought they could keep any of these contacts secret because, as we now know, the National Security Agency had Kislyak under what appears to have been 24-hour surveillance and listened in on everything he said.
Kushner and Flynn appear to have attempted to address this issue by insisting that the secret back channel make use of the Russians' top-secret communications capabilities via their embassies in Washington and New York. But as we now know, the NSA had those communications wired, too, which included the ability to listen in on encrypted conversations between Kislyak and his bosses in Moscow.
But whoever came up with the idea, Trump apparently had secret things to discuss with Putin and he didn’t want anyone in the United States government knowing about what they said to each other. There has been much speculation about what the two might have wanted to talk about, set off by stuff like the involvement of Vnescheconombank in the secret Trump Tower meetings. Maybe Trump wanted to talk to Putin about the Russians' making investments in businesses controlled by Trump or those close to him through, say, an outfit like the bank. That’s one subject of speculation. Maybe Putin wanted to talk to Trump about lifting sanctions on Russian oil drilling and financial institutions as soon as Trump got into office. That’s another subject of speculation.
But we don’t know Putin’s end of things — why he would have his man Kislyak talking to guys like Kushner and Flynn so much — because none of the sources for any of the stories published so far are Russian. All we know is that Sergey Kislyak was very interested in our international man of mystery and his partner, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
One recent night, I was trying to puzzle out why the Russians might have been so eager to meet with Kushner and Flynn when my eyes fell upon a slight tome on my bookshelf, "The Craft of Intelligence" by Allen Dulles, published back in 1963 after he had left the CIA. Dulles was the director of central intelligence from 1953 to 1961, the third director of that agency after Walter Bedell Smith, who had been Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's chief of staff during World War II.
I figured Allen Dulles might know a thing or two about spying on the Russians and how the Russians spy on us. Additionally, I was curious about what Dulles would have to say because I have a personal recollection of the time when my grandfather, Lucian K. Truscott Jr., worked for him in the CIA. I spent the summers of 1958 through 1963 at my grandparents' house in Washington, and one of my jobs, beginning when I was about 12, was to serve as Grandpa's bartender when he held what amounted to a salon on Friday afternoons on his screen porch after work.
Grandpa would come home from the CIA early on Fridays and put on his old Army khakis and he and my brother and I would work in his garden for a couple of hours. Then we would get cleaned up, Grandpa in fresh khakis and me in a pair of chinos and a white button-down shirt, and Grandpa would sit on the screen porch as his guests arrived: Richard Helms, who was Grandpa's deputy at the time and who would succeed Dulles as CIA chief; Gen. Ben Harrell, vice chief of staff of the Army at the Pentagon; Gen. Bruce Palmer, whom Grandpa had known in the cavalry before the war and who served as a Pentagon liaison to the White House under Eisenhower. And, of course, Allen Dulles was there sometimes.
My job was to sit just inside the door to the screen porch in my khakis and white shirt. Whenever I heard Grandpa bellow, “Boy! Get me another goddamn pitcher of martinis out here,” my job was to run out and grab the pitcher and run into the kitchen and mix up a new batch and run it back out to the screen porch and then take my place on a dining room chair beside the door and wait for him to bellow again.
It’s probably useful to understand how a 12- or 13-year-old boy could be entrusted with mixing martinis. Well, it’s because Grandpa, who was a general in the war, wanted his martinis mixed the way he drank them then, when there was plenty of vermouth but very little gin. So I took a measuring cup and measured out the gin and vermouth 2 to 1, and I didn’t have to use ice because Grandpa got used to drinking them warm during the war, so I served them at room temperature, which in the summer in Washington was probably about 90 degrees. (I supplied a bucket of ice on the side for those so inclined, but few took advantage.)
I now realize those martinis must have borne a resemblance to cough syrup, but no one complained, including Dulles, because when you went to the General’s for martinis, you drank them the way the General drank them. So while I never actually talked with Allen Dulles, I at least served him martinis a few times, and I quietly listened in as he and Grandpa and the others talked about what was going on in the world.
My grandfather and Dulles had an odd relationship. His predecessor at the CIA, "Beetle" Smith, was a friend of my grandfather and they served together during World War II. After the war in 1951, Smith hired Grandpa to run the CIA in Europe. When Ike was elected in 1952 and was inaugurated as president in 1953, the mandarins of the Republican Party, to whom Ike owed his election, prevailed upon him to hire Allen Dulles to run the CIA and his brother John Foster Dulles as secretary of state. The famous "Dulles brothers" had been Wall Street lawyers during the war and were essentially water carriers for the businessmen who ran the Republican Party.
It didn't take Eisenhower long to realize he couldn't trust either of the Dulles brothers once they set foot outside the Oval Office, which is to say he couldn't trust them at all. So Ike placed one of his friends in the State Department to keep an eye on John Foster, and he brought Grandpa back from Europe in to keep an eye on Allen at the CIA. According to one of my grandfather’s aides I’ve spoken to since, that Grandpa was essentially Eisenhower’s spy was known to Dulles, and because it was out in the open, he accepted the arrangement, which probably accounts for the fact that Dulles occasionally attended those afternoon salons on the screen porch.
So I was thinking of Dulles in those days when I opened his book and read a few chapters, and what did I encounter on Page 61, in a chapter titled "The Task of Collection" but this:
"If an intelligence service cannot insert its own agent within a highly sensitive target, the alternative is to recruit somebody who is already there. You might find someone who is inside but is not quite at the right spot for access to the information you need. Or you might find someone just beginning a career which will eventually lead to his employment in the target. But the main thing is that he is a qualified and ‘cleared’ insider. He is, as we say, ‘in place.’”
My goodness, but that Allen Dulles knew a few things about spying, didn't he? I mean, he had been a spy himself during World War II when he was the Office of Strategic Services man in Zurich, and he had Eisenhower’s spy, my grandfather, working directly under him! He could have been describing himself or Grandpa. Hell, he could have even been describing a couple of people we know!
Too bad they didn't make "The Craft of Intelligence" required reading at Harvard, huh? Or leave a copy sitting around some of our intelligence agencies? Maybe international man of mystery Kushner and Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, wouldn't be in the trouble they find themselves in today.