Michael Weiss is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. He is currently the Executive Consulting Editor of Coda Story and writes regularly about Russian espionage and disinformation campaigns. He lives in Los Angeles. (August 2018)
According Le Monde, the GRU has for several years maintained a rear base of operations in the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps. This Russian military intelligence unit, also responsible for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election, is now believed to have been liquidating the enemies of President Vladimir Putin throughout Europe. The idea of a gang of secret-agent assassins gathering at an Alpine retreat to plot the destruction of their sinister leader’s enemies might seem like the premise for an 007 plotline, but it has historical antecedents long predating Ian Fleming. A founding father of the Kremlin’s international assassination policy was the Bolshevik who organized the murder of Leon Trotsky: Leonid (né Nahum) Eitingon. The assassination program he masterminded survived not only him but the cold war itself.
ISIS’s breathtaking reach into other parts of the world—including distant corners few experts imagined it was capable of penetrating—is now so pronounced that it’s possible to imagine a day when the ISIS media apparatus could be based outside the Middle East entirely. Equally, the organization may separate into various satellites in multiple countries, the way international newspapers establish foreign bureaus. If that happens, ISIS will become a virtually borderless phenomenon and the difference between “inspired” and “directed” will lose all meaning.
The notion of Trump in certain precincts of the media as a Manchurian candidate, a Russian asset owned and run by the Kremlin, is ridiculous to Burton Gerber, a thirty-nine-year veteran of the CIA. He says, “Trump is basically a man with low self-esteem, which he has worked against by being a bully and a narcissist… The Russians would never want to recruit him, just continuously have access to him and be able to influence him.” Gerber compares Trump to Harry Hopkins, an architect of the New Deal whom the Soviets cajoled because of his closeness to Roosevelt, rather than to Alger Hiss, whom the KGB actively recruited as a spy within the US government. “If you’ve got someone like Trump, an agent of influence,” he asks, “why would you then try to make him more than what he is? It would be irresponsible from an intelligence point of view.”