Declassify the Envelope

May 30 · 15 min read

It was recently announced on May 23, 2019 by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders that Attorney General William Barr had requested the ability to investigate the various intelligence agencies’ surveillance activities during the 2016 United States presidential election. This request was granted by President Donald Trump, and with it came authority to declassify information related to the investigation.

“Today, at the request and recommendation of the Attorney General of the United States, President Donald J. Trump directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election. The Attorney General has also been delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation, in accordance with the long-established standards for handling classified information. Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions.” — White House

It is with this in mind that there is only one piece of evidence that should be declassified and released in its entirety to the public: the “eyes only” envelope provided by former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, to President Barack Obama and his three aides, most likely Susan Rice, Avril Haines and Denis McDonough.

As previously discussed, the white envelope was classified as “eyes only” by the Central Intelligence Agency and was sent from the intelligence agency to the White House only for those mentioned above to read. This later led to the creation of a specific set of Deputies Meetings, held in the White House Situation Room from the first week of August 2016 to the middle of December 2016.

The information within the envelope was most likely captured by a department within the Central Intelligence Agency known as the Counterintelligence Mission Center.

The Counterintelligence Mission Center is managed by a veteran female officer with experience in Europe, East Asia and Russia, and the main author of an internal review over a bombing in Khost, Afghanistan which killed seven employees of the Central Intelligence Agency in 2009. The internal review was written after December 2009 and finalised between October 18–25, 2010.

It was the Counterintelligence Mission Center which helped to trigger the investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia, also known as the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, which was officially opened on July 31, 2016, as the department served as a conduit to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The intelligence came from a key informant, a person close to President Vladimir Putin who had been cultivated by the Central Intelligence Agency for years, with enough time passing for the informant to rise through the ranks and attain a position that could provide information about interference operations during the 2016 United States presidential election.

The most prominent of the C.I.A.’s sources of intelligence on Russia’s election interference was a person close to Mr. Putin who provided information about his involvement, former officials have said. The source turned over evidence for one of the last major conclusions that President Barack Obama made public before leaving office: that Mr. Putin himself was behind the Russia hack.

Long nurtured by the C.I.A., the source rose to a position that enabled the informant to provide key information in 2016 about the Russian leadership’s role in the interference campaign, the officials said.” — The New York Times

Informants close to Putin are very rare, according to current and former officials. The United States, in recent years, has had only a few, and at times been reliant on only one or two for the most important insights on Mr. Putin, according to former officials. If those people go silent for their own protection, it can make it very hard for the agency to look inside Moscow.” — The New York Times

The informant provided a select piece of information that assisted the American intelligence agencies: that President Vladimir Putin himself ordered the interference operations during the 2016 United States presidential election.

“The president raised questions about C.I.A. involvement in the origins of the Russia investigation, and other officials said Mr. Barr wanted to learn more about sources in Russia, including a key informant who helped the C.I.A. conclude that President Vladimir V. Putin ordered the intrusion on the 2016 election. Mr. Trump also invoked two close allies, Australia and Britain, telling reporters he wanted the Attorney General to examine their roles in sharing intelligence about Russia’s interference.” — The New York Times

Not only did the envelope state that President Putin made the order, the specific instructions within had an objective: damage Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump.

“Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objects — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.” — The Washington Post

The information about President Putin’s order was received at a time, coincidentally, where Donald Trump secured the Republican Party nomination, which occurred on July 20, 2016. It was also described to the Central Intelligence Agency by the informant.

The CIA breakthrough came at a stage of the presidential campaign when Trump had secured the GOP nomination but was still regarded as a distant long shot. Clinton held comfortable leads in major polls, and Obama expected that he would be transferring power to someone who had served in his Cabinet.” — The Washington Post

The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.” — The New York Times

It was after this information was received that Director Brennan, in the first week of August 2016 and after the creation of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, contacted Avril Haines via telephone to discuss the intelligence.

After this, a white envelope which contained “eyes only” instructions was then sent by courier from the Central Intelligence Agency to the White House. As mentioned above, the contents of his envelope were shown to four people.

  • President Barack Obama
  • Susan Rice
  • Avril Haines
  • Denis McDonough

Director Brennan also briefed the above four people in the Oval Office on the intelligence received.

Director Brennan also considered the information sensitive enough and the source valuable enough to keep both out of the President Daily Brief. This was partly due to the fact that, by 2013, the Presidential Daily Brief was being received by over 30 recipients.

“And ultimately, several human sources had confirmed Mr. Putin’s own role.

That included one particularly valuable source, who was considered so sensitive that Mr. Brennan had declined to refer to it in any way in the Presidential Daily Brief during the final months of the Obama administration, as the Russia investigation intensified.

Instead, to keep the information from being shared widely, Mr. Brennan sent reports from the source to Mr. Obama and a small group of top national security aides in a separate, white envelope to assure its security.” — The New York Times

The above would also suggest that the key informant provided multiple reports from July 2016 onward, without President Putin’s knowledge.

After this, Director Brennan formed a working group at the Central Intelligence Agency made out of multiple analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with their work hidden from the intelligence community. The analysts also signed non-disclosure agreements to gain access to intelligence from the other participating intelligence agencies.

Director Brennan’s Working Group then worked for two sets of customers.

  • President Obama and less than 14 senior officials within the United States Government.
  • A team of operations specialists at the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau Investigation

More information about the Working Group can be located in the article “Brennan’s Working Group”.

As mentioned previously as well, the white envelope and the Oval Office briefing also led to Susan Rice, Avril Haines and Lisa Monaco founding the Deputies Meetings within the Situation Room to discuss Russian interference, with a number of attendees, which expanded as time went on.

  • Director John Brennan, Central Intelligence Agency
  • Director James Clapper, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
  • Attorney General Loretta Lynch, United States Department of Justice
  • Director James Comey, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Vice President Joe Biden [Joined later.]
  • Secretary Jeh Johnson, Department of Homeland Security [Joined later.]
  • Secretary Ashton Carter, United States Department of Defense [Sent agendas.]
  • Secretary John Kerry, United States Department of State [Sent agendas.]

More information about the Deputies Meetings can be found in the article “The Deputies Meetings”.

However, the intelligence received by the Central Intelligence Agency was not completely accepted by other members of the Obama Administration and other intelligence agencies. More specifically, the National Security Agency did not view it confidently.

Despite the intelligence the CIA had produced, other agencies were slower to endorse a conclusion that Putin was personally directing the operation and wanted to help Trump. ‘It was definitely compelling, but it was not definitive,’ said one senior administration official. ‘We needed more.’

Some of the most critical technical intelligence on Russia came from another country, officials said. Because of the source of the material, the NSA was reluctant to view it with high confidence.” — The Washington Post

It should be noted that, within this first week, Director Brennan also contacted Director Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal Security Bureau to warn him about interference in the 2016 United States presidential election.

When Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s internal security service, told me during an early August 2016 phone call that Russia wasn’t interfering in our presidential election, I knew he was lying. Over the previous several years I had grown weary of Mr. Bortnikov’s denials of Russia’s perfidy — about its mistreatment of American diplomats and citizens in Moscow, its repeated failure to adhere to cease-fire agreements in Syria and its paramilitary intervention in eastern Ukraine, to name just a few issues.
When I warned Mr. Bortnikov that Russian interference in our election was intolerable and would roil United States-Russia relations for many years, he denied Russian involvement in any election, in America or elsewhere, with a feigned sincerity that I had heard many times before. President Vladimir Putin of Russia reiterated those denials numerous times over the past two years, often to Donald Trump’s seeming approval.” — John Brennan, The New York Times

In mid-August 2016, Director Brennan shared intelligence with Director Comey, which showed that the Russian Government was actively interfering in the 2016 United States presidential election. This led to the Crossfire Hurricane team being integrated with the larger intelligence agency effort to combat Russian interference.

The F.B.I.’s thinking crystallized by mid-August, after the C.I.A. director at the time, John O. Brennan, shared intelligence with Mr. Comey showing that the Russian government was behind an attack on the 2016 presidential election. Intelligence agencies began collaborating to investigate that operation. The Crossfire Hurricane team was part of that group but largely operated independently, three officials said.” — The New York Times

Later, in May 2017, Director Brennan testified that he was confident in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

There was intelligence that the Russian intelligence services were actively involved in this effort. And having been involved in many counterintelligence cases in the past, I know what the Russians try to do. They try to suborn individuals, and they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to act on their behalf, either wittingly or unwittingly. And I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons.

And so, therefore, by the time I left office on January 20, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion.

And so, therefore, I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well founded and needed to look into those issues.” — John Brennan, May 27, 2017

The intelligence was also relayed during Director Brennan’s personal briefings to the eight members of the Gang of Eight to Senator Harry Reid on August 25, 2016, where he informed Senator Reid that the hacks seemed to assist Trump’s efforts to win the 2016 United States presidential election, and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation would be covering the investigation domestically.

In an Aug. 25 briefing for Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, Mr. Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the briefing.
The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisors to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election. The F.B.I. and two congressional committees are now investigating that claim, focusing on possible communications and financial dealings between Russian affiliates and a handful of former advisers to Mr. Trump. So far, no proof of collusion has emerged publicly.” — The New York Times

For reference, Director Brennan’s personal briefings with the Gang of Eight occurred from August 11, 2016 to September 6, 2016, and they were with:

  • Senator Harry Reid (August 25, 2016)
  • Senator Mitch McConnell (August 27, 2016)
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein
  • Senator Richard Burr
  • Speaker Paul Ryan
  • Representative Nancy Pelosi
  • Representative Devin Nunes
  • Representative Adam Schiff

The intelligence also led to a discussion of a plan in October 2016, which included Ben Rhodes, to have a number of former United States Government Cabinet officials, Republican Party members and former Presidents of the United States inform the American people, in the event of a Hillary Clinton victory, that the election was not rigged and that the Russian Government pushed for Trump to win the election.

In October 2016, senior staff in the Obama White House discussed what they should do if Hillary Clinton won the November election and Donald Trump refused to accept the result as legitimate. They had cause to be worried. At that time, Trump had openly speculated that the election might be ‘rigged.’ During his final debate with Clinton on October 19, he said that his opponent ‘should never have been allowed to run’ and declined to answer the question of whether he would concede. ‘I’ll keep you in suspense,’ the Republican nominee said.”

The Obama White House plan, according to interviews with Rhodes and Jen Psaki, Obama’s communications director, called for congressional Republicans, former presidents, and former Cabinet-level officials including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to try and forestall a political crisis by validating the election result. In the event that Trump tried to dispute a Clinton victory, they would affirm the result as well as the conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russian interference in the election sought to favor Trump, and not Clinton. Some Republicans were already aware of Russian interference from intelligence briefings given to leaders from both parties during the chaotic months before the election. ‘We wanted to handle the Russia information in a way that was as bipartisan as possible,’ Rhodes said.” — New York Magazine

The information within the envelope, or at least parts of it, was eventually told directly to President-elect Trump during a two hour meeting at Trump Tower, where he was briefed on the Intelligence Community Assessment by Director Brennan, Director Comey, Admiral Rogers and Director Clapper on January 6, 2017.

“Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.

The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.” — The New York Times

However, as discussed in a number of previous articles, the Intelligence Community Assessment was not always unanimous. Also, as mentioned earlier, the intelligence received by the Central Intelligence Agency was not completely accepted in August 2016 either.

Throughout December 2016, after President Obama ordered the intelligence review on December 9, 2016 to be carried out by American intelligence agencies to research and review Russian interference in United States elections from 2008 to 2016.

This led to the following chain of events:

‘Earlier this week, I met separately with FBI [Director] James Comey and DNI Jim Clapper, and there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election,’ Brennan said, according to U.S. officials who have seen the message.” — The Washington Post

As noted within the Intelligence Community Assessment itself:

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.” — Intelligence Community Assessment

The white envelope is also valuable enough that The New York Times published the article “Potential Clash Over Secrets Looms Between Justice Dept. and C.I.A.” on May 24, 2019, the day after the recent declassification order, and directly mentioned it as a concern.

The most prominent of the C.I.A.’s sources of intelligence on Russia’s election interference was a person close to Mr. Putin who provided information about his involvement, former officials have said. The source turned over evidence for one of the last major intelligence conclusions that President Barack Obama made public before leaving office: that Mr. Putin himself was behind the Russia hack.

Long nurtured by the C.I.A., the source rose to a position that enabled the informant to provide key information in 2016 about the Russian leadership’s role in the interference campaign, the officials said.” — The New York Times

The information received in the envelope essentially caused the following:

  • The Deputies Meetings, which lasted from August 2016 to December 2016
  • Partially opening the Crossfire Hurricane investigation
  • The merging of the Crossfire Hurricane team with other teams in other intelligence agencies
  • The Intelligence Community Assessment’s prime conclusion

As such, any and all mainstream media articles during this time were also a result of the above.

“When it became clear to me last summer that Russia was engaged in the very aggressive and wide-ranging efforts to interfere in one of the key pillars of our democracy, we pulled together experts from CIA, NSA, and FBI in late July to focus on the issue, drawing in multiple perspectives and subject matter experts with broad expertise to assess Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. Presidential election…

The purpose was to ensure that experts from key agencies had access to information and intelligence relevant to Russian actions so we could have as full an appreciation as possible on the scope, nature, and intentions of this Russian activity.

The experts provided regular updates and assessments through the summer and fall, which were used to inform senior U.S. officials, including President Obama.

The work was also leveraged for the Intelligence Community Assessment that was completed in early January under the aegis of the Director of National Intelligence.” — John Brennan, May 23, 2017

Whoever the confidential human source is within the Russian Government, they went silent around August 2018.

“In 2016, American intelligence agencies delivered urgent and explicit warnings about Russia’s intentions to try to tip the American presidential election — and a detailed assessment of the operation afterward — thanks in large part to informants close to President Vladimir V. Putin and in the Kremlin who provided crucial details.

But two years later, the vital Kremlin informants have largely gone silent, leaving the C.I.A. and other spy agencies in the dark about precisely what Mr. Putin’s intentions are for November’s midterm elections, according to American officials familiar with the intelligence.” — The New York Times

Declassify the envelope.


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