Walter Reed a Top Russian Spy Target

Moscow may have already bugged the hospital and recruited doctors and other medical workers, says former top CIA Russia hand. Trump's health is the target.

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Russian intelligence has long targeted Walter Reed Medical Center and is unquestionably pressing its spies to gather information on the state of Donald Trump’s health, a former CIA station chief in Moscow says.

“They are on full court press, just like everybody else, to determine what's going on,” Dan Hoffman, a retired former CIA clandestine services division officer tells SpyTalk. “They’re pulsing all their sources,” and “closely watching” Trump’s public appearances to size up his health. 

“I’m sure the message has gone out to everyone in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to collect on us,” Hoffman continued, as well as to intermediaries friendly to Moscow. 

White House physician Sean Conley has given conflicting information on the duration of Trump’s coronavirus infection, his treatment plan and the status of his recovery, adding to Moscow’s urgency to find out what’s going on.

The espionage task would fall primarily to the SVR, Moscow’s CIA, Hoffman said, “to go out and collect as much intelligence as they can on the president’s physical condition.” The Russians would also have an intense interest in White House “contingency planning, in the event the 25th amendment has to be invoked, for a short term even. All of those things, for sure, are going on.” 

Asked whether Russian spies would been tasked with somehow getting samples of President Trump’s bodily waste or other fluids to judge his health, as the CIA has been long rumored to have done with foreign leaders traveling abroad, Hoffman said, “I suppose anything’s possible.” 

“But what they'll do though is [wire] tap the crap out of Walter Reed,” he said. “They probably already have. They will have targeted doctors and anybody they could find at Walter Reed” for recruitment or blackmail.

Indeed, they would have “already done that,” Hoffman said. Recruitments take a long time, and Moscow’s intelligence agencies, like ours, plan long in advance and practice patience.

“Anybody who works at Walter Reed is under that kind of microscope, that kind of threat, a hostile intelligence threat,” Hoffman said, including by Chinese and other adversary spy agencies. “They’ve always been focused on Walter Reed. It’s a collection target. Why wouldn't it be?”

Frank Figliuzzi, who retired in 2012 as the FBI’s assistant director for counterintelligence, tells SpyTalk that U.S. security agencies are well aware of the threat to Walter Reed and take precautions, including “deep vetting of personnel who care for the president, strong IT security around his records, and thorough investigative responses to any suspected attempts to breach security or compromise personnel or systems.”

Moscow has probably targeted Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital since the dawn of the Cold War and never stopped, said Hoffman, who served as a CIA station chief three times during tours in the former Soviet Union, Europe, and war zones in the Middle East and South Asia. In addition, he served as director of the CIA’s Middle East and North Africa Division.

Moscow can also be expected to use Trump’s illness to launch wave after wave of “Russian social media bots to portray the United States as unstable and unable to deal with the virus,” Hoffman added. Message? 

“They couldn’t even protect Trump from the coronavirus.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in contrast, is “ruthless and so careful about not having anybody in his bubble,” Hoffman said. “You have to be quarantined for two weeks before you see him. He's not seeing anybody. He's just working out of his home in the suburbs of Moscow.”

Meanwhile, Putin’s interference in America’s elections continues unabated, Hoffman says, reflecting the consensus of U.S. intelligence and the Senate Intelligence Committee, which last August issued a bipartisan report on the matter.

“It's never stopped, he's not going to stop,” Hoffman said.

On Sunday, however, Trump White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said he met October 2 with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev, who told him “the Russians did commit to not interfere in the elections.” 

“We'll—we'll see what happens,” he told Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation.