FBI Director Jim Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017 was an eye opener and nothing to smirk at. The FBI is conducting a full counterintelligence investigation on the nature of contact between the Russians and members of the Trump administration. Let’s be clear about something, we are not talking about members of the Trump team having contact with the island of Trinidad and Tobago, we are talking about contacts with Russia, a country that is not our friend, a country that invaded Ukraine, recently moved missiles to threaten NATO, meddled in our last presidential election, and sent spies to live among us. That Russia.

But let’s be honest, when we talk about Russia, we are talking about Putin. Lest anyone forget, Putin grew up in a nursery known as the KGB, where democratic ideals were abhorred. His heritage is Stalin, Khrushchev, Andropov, the NKVD and the KGB. He was incubated in a system that created gulags, crushed dissent and sanctioned the assassination of a Pope. Putin and his cronies were rewarded along the way through promotions for their psychopathic level exploits as career KGB intelligence officers, not for being kind of heart. Let me be clear, Putin rose to where he is by treachery and mendacity; by being more anti-social and more authoritarian than everyone else.

Paranoid ideation and fear that Russia will be invaded drives Putin’s behavior toward the West. He has mastered the use of his intelligence services and diplomats to target Americans the way a predator targets its victim: purposely and assuredly with enmity in mind. The charging orders of the KGB and its re-named, but unaltered remnant, the SVR, remains the same when it comes to America: to steal secrets, undermine, destabilize, penetrate, corrupt, recruit, and influence at all levels, including government officials, politicians, members of the military, academics, members of the media and so on. Because of Putin, America remains the “number one adversary” and will engage America through what is, in essence, “war by other means;” be it cyber, disinformation, or other special measures.

To naively make any contact with Russian officials is to tempt a rattlesnake. No matter how nice you are to a reptile, given the chance, it will strike. Similarly, no matter how benign that contact may be on the part of an American, it is still an opportunity for the Russians to carry out their hostile intelligence agenda. They will take advantage of any open door, any contact, any phone number, email address, or scrap of information. Likewise, they will use anyone as an access agent, an introduction, a human portal for social engineering, or simply to assess for exploitable weaknesses. When you are up against the intelligence service of a nation state such as Russia, brinkmanship and danger lurks nearby. Naiveté and ignorance are no excuse, no matter how well intentioned, when dealing with Russian intelligence. They are the third rail that must be avoided.

Comey’s investigation will take months if not years. What we learn will depend on many factors. In the end, the inquiry will show that at best, officials from the Trump campaign were woefully amateurish or naïve; at worst, that they approached the Russians for less than honorable reasons. Either way, it was a misguided undertaking with only one beneficiary: Putin.

Copyright © 2017 Joe Navarro. Joe Navarro is a former FBI Special Agent who worked counterintelligence matters for 25 years and is the author of “Three Minutes to Doomsday; An FBI Agent, A Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breech in U.S. History” (Scribner 2017).

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