My read, as someone who has been part of the U.S. intelligence community for more than four decades, is that Veselnitskaya is probably too well-connected to have independently initiated such a high-level and sensitive encounter. If she had, her use of known Trump and Kremlin associates (Aras and Emin Agalarov) to help make introductions and the suggestion, in Goldstone’s account, that she wanted to share “official documents and information” as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump could have gotten her into significant trouble. Her efforts to meet Trump associates would have surely come to the attention of Russian authorities at some point, given Russian government email monitoring and other means of surveillance. The Kremlin would look harshly on someone going rogue in a manner that would surely damage ongoing Russian intelligence operational efforts related to the U.S. presidential campaign.
A better explanation is that Veselnitskaya is far enough removed from Moscow’s halls of power to make her a good fit as an intermediary in an intelligence operation — as a “cut-out” with limited knowledge of the larger scheme and as an “access agent” sent to assess and test a high-priority target’s interest in cooperation.
The Twitter is all, um, a-twitter over this story, with good reason. One thing I’d add: once again we’re relying an on intelligence source. But we may learn more later. And to the author’s credit, he says:
We should be cautious about overestimating the significance of this episode in isolation. Russia may have extended other feelers to other Trump associates at other points in time. Indeed, the Steele dossier suggests that the Kremlin was trying to cultivate the Trumps as far back as 2011. But, based on the publicly available information, the June 2016 overture seems to have been a win for Russia. It helped set the stage for the possibility of subsequent contacts between Trump associates and witting agents of the Russian government. (Some of these contacts are now known, and others, perhaps not.) And it would have allowed Russian intelligence to be comfortable initiating the next phase of its operation — systematically leaking information on Clinton and trying to penetrate the U.S. voting process — with the knowledge that the Trump campaign was interested in such Russian government assistance.
This is all so … LeCarre. Which, if nothing else, proves how good LeCarre is.