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Martin Schram: Intelligence role-playing – an interactive game for all ages

By Martin Schram Tribune News Service

Today, fellow spymasters, we must briefly interrupt our fascination with President Donald Trump’s latest Twitter binge of victimization – his weeklong claims that he and his presidential campaign were innocent victims of a scandalous FBI spy caper.

To help us evaluate our president’s self-pitying tweet week, we’re going to play our first-ever intelligence role-playing game – Spymaster vs Spymaster.

The rules are simple: You’re a senior official with the FBI. It is Campaign 2016 and I work for you. I’m reporting to you problems from the field. Then you must decide what we at the FBI must do to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution.

I’ll go first: Hey, Chief, we’ve got a huge problem. All our intelligence agencies concluded America has just been attacked – cyber-attacked – by the Russians, on orders of Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin hopes to undermine our democracy, make Americans lose confidence in our elections. They have a bunch of Hillary Clinton’s emails and others from other Democrats. Our intel sources all say Putin despises Hillary and wants Donald Trump to win.

But here’s where our problem gets big: The Russians contacted lots of Trump people. Putin himself bagged the biggest – Gen. Mike Flynn, who ran the Pentagon’s intelligence until Barack Obama fired him. Putin’s guys paid Flynn as a so-called consultant and got him to sit beside Putin at a Russia Today TV banquet.

Meanwhile top Russians have talked a bit with Trump’s other top people – Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has ties with Putin-connected oligarchs, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

And then there’s Trump himself. Every intel player in the world knows how connected he is with Putin’s top Russian oligarchs. Some have given Trump huge help. Ka-ching! Trump was always famous for going into massive debt to buy real estate. But in 2008 his son Donald Jr. said in an interview: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Now get this: In the last nine years before he ran for president, Trump wasn’t going into debt to buy properties – he just paid cash for everything. $400 million in cash, the Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, in June 2016, a Russian woman connected to the Kremlin got an appointment to see Donald Jr. in Trump Tower. The middleman who set up the meeting wrote an email to Trump’s son promising she had documents that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” The email added: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Minutes later, Trump Jr. emailed an ecstatic response: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” Trump Jr. and others all say they didn’t get any incriminating info.

But during this 2016 campaign, we still have to make sure we can defend America’s democracy against another Russian effort to sabotage our democracy.

This may be our best chance of finding out what Russia is planning: There are a couple of lower-level Trump guys who love to brag about how well-connected they are. They may know what Russia is planning. One is a guy named Carter Page; the other is George Papadopoulos, who was unknown until some journalists asked Trump to name his top foreign policy advisers and he mentioned Papadopoulos.

We’ve got a guy in London who’s a professor-type, an ex-Reagan and Bush guy named Stef Halper. Maybe he can get those two guys talking and bragging. If they know what Russia is planning, it may be our best way to figure out how to protect America’s democracy. It may be our only way.

So, Chief, should we let the professor guy try to get those two Trump guys talking? What should we do?

Game Over.

If you said yes, congratulations. In 2016, you may have given the FBI its best chance to safeguard our democracy. Tomorrow, unfortunately, you may be targeted for bullying by our 45th president, tweeting, more in panic than patriotism, from his bedside bully pulpit.