Two years ago I ditched my cable TV contract and subscribed to streaming services. That introduced me to a new world of TV offerings. One was The Americans, produced by FX and streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a spy story, partially inspired by an actual spy case, the Illegals Program, which involved a Russian man and a Russian woman who took over the identities of two dead Canadian children and lived for years in the United States as Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley. Their route took them from Canada, where they assumed the identities of the dead children, to France, where Heathfield attended graduate school before the pair moved to the United States, where he enrolled in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. At that point the pair began work on their ultimate task, which was to spy on the United States government by way of identifying sensitive people in high position who could be compromised. During their time in Canada the pair produced two sons, who were never aware their parents were Russians. The couple never spoke Russian at home.
At the time Heathfield and Foley entered the United States in 2000 the FBI became aware they were spies, and the agency began intense surveillance, which culminated in indictments and expulsion in 2010. During this time there is significant divergence from the plot of The Americans. Heathfield and Foley were nothing more than spies. They performed their tasks and reported back to Russia. In the TV series the pair are Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, and they are not nice people. Despite being married, they use sexual persuasion to ensnare unwitting subjects. From the opening scenes of the pilot episode, Elizabeth, in blond disguise, has trolled a government official in a bar and is about to go down on him in a hotel room.
They also kill people. The series is punctuated by multiple instances of victims being shot at point blank range.
A counterpoint in the plot is FBI agent Stan Beeman, who coincidentally moves in next door to the Jennings and befriends them. Ironically, and critical to the plot, Beeman is working on the investigation of Soviet (during the Cold War) agents. Beeman is cast as a weak link in the agency’s investigation, compromising a cuddlesome clerk at the Soviet embassy and surreptitiously sleeping (a euphemism) with her. His loose ways unravel the agency’s attempt to thwart the Soviet plot.
The real world of Russian spies has a similar agent. He is Peter Strzok, and he worked the case from its inception through the prosecution of Heathfield and Foley and the expulsion of a mass of Russian spies in July 2010. He rose to head up the FBI’s counter intelligence operation and most recently supervised the investigation of the Hillary Clinton email probe and the probe into Russian influence on the Donald Trump presidential campaign. As with the fictional Beeman, Agent Strzok was undone by an extra-marital dalliance. About the time Donald Trump was running for office, Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page were having an affair. They were humping on the sly.
Bedding down with another government employee is not illegal, nor is it against office policy. Where the two went out of bounds was to use their government email service to communicate so as to keep their sub rosa business sub rosa. When Robert Mueller took over the investigation of the Russian meddling last year one of the first things he did was to learn of these surreptitious interchanges and to remove Strzok from the case. Not only was the private use of government email against office policy, the contents of some of the interchanges were unhinging. The two were vocal (electronically) critical of Donald Trump. Good policy: you can’t investigate a presidential candidate and at the same time be calling him an idiot and a threat to American democracy.
Republicans in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, have sought from the beginning to derail the Mueller investigation, owing to its devastating revelations concerning Trump campaign officials’ involvement with Russian agents. And that brings us to the topic for today: the Rachel Maddow Show from yesterday, 11 July.
Maddow, as usual, takes some time to warm up before getting to the meat. She displays the background of Heathfield and Foley at length. Here they are in better times in Canada with their children. They used their time in Canada to acclimate to western culture.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpIfLRqz0bgTheir unfortunate children were left without a country after their parents were deported.
By the time Heathfield was graduating from Harvard, the FBI was on the scene to snap a graduation photo.
If I were Heathfield I would demand my money back.
The FBI investigation was called “Operation Ghost Stories.”
Here are some details from the indictment:
The use of steganography to conceal messages is illustrated in an actual image used by the spies and posted on-line for all to view.
A real spy thriller was in the making.
The feds obtained a warrant and bugged the couple’s Boston townhouse.
They listened to Heathfield’s and Tracey’s most intimate conversations.
The two discussed how to make use of steganography.
The feds obtained a warrant and pried into a safe deposit box in Cambridge.
They found film depicting Foley in her early 20s.
An attempt had been made to disguise the origin of the film by trimming the film margins, where manufacture information would be printed. They overlooked one negative.
It had the name of a Russian film manufacturer, Tasma.
The feds also retrieved and photographed notebooks.
One page revealed the 27-character password to employ the steganographic software used to hide messages in images.
Investigations revealed the identities of American government officials targeted by the spies.
One person of interest had information about nuclear “bunker-buster” warheads.”
The FBI has a page on Operation Ghost Stories.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpIfLRqz0bgNow, the FBI official who ran the investigation of The Americans is under fire by Republican lawmakers, who challenge the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation, and, lacking hardly anything else, Peter Strzok’s text exchanges with Lisa Page are going to have to serve as their leverage.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpIfLRqz0bgCharges that Strzok engineered the investigation into Trump/Russia are ludicrous in the light of known history. The Brits spotted suspicious activity and passed it on to the Americans, where it settled into Strzok’s lap.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpIfLRqz0bgWith Mueller taking over the prosecution, the Strzok-Page exchanges came out, much to Republican delight.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpIfLRqz0bgSomething not widely pushed by Republicans, is the disdain toward the Russians shown in Strzok’s texts.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpIfLRqz0bgYou would not know it from Republicans in Congress, but Strzok was vocal about a range of politicians and candidates.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpIfLRqz0bgSurprisingly, his ultimate choice was a Republican.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpIfLRqz0bgPeter Strzok testified before Congress publicly today, having previously testified in a closed session. The Washington Post is shown stating,
…his political conviction that a Trump presidency would be disastrous for American national security is not based on his bias, it was based on information that was available to him.
In this conclusion, Strzok has been shown to be a sentient carbon life form rather than a political ideologue.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpIfLRqz0bgRachel Maddow illustrates some comments from Strzok’s lawyer, Aitan Goelman. These comments address Republicans’ objections that Strzok gave undue attention to Trump/Russia over the Clinton emails:
Not every FBI investigation is of equal importance to U.S. national security. There is simply no equivalence between an investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information, a relatively commonplace occurrence in the FBI’s…
…and credible evidence suggesting that the presidential campaign of a major party candidate was actively colluding with a hostile foreign power in a way that could undermine the integrity of an American Presidential [sic] election.
To require senior national security officials to profess fealty to this false equivalence is both short-sighted and dangerous.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpIfLRqz0bgA quick look at news coming out of Strzok’s testimony before Congress today reveals a circus beyond even my expectations: Vox has a bit from Texas’ own Louis Gohmert (District 1):
But Gohmert took things to another level when he brought up Strzok’s personal life.
“I’ve talked to FBI agents around the country. You’ve embarrassed them, you’ve embarrassed yourself. And I can’t help but wonder, when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife’s eye and lie to her about and —” Gohmert said, before being drowned out by objections from Democrats.
“Mr. Chairman, this is outrageous!” someone yelled, appealing to House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte to intervene. “Shame on you!” another person shouted. Someone else called the comment “harassment of the witness.” Another Democrat yelled at Gohmert, “You need your medication!”
Wacko really has come home.
There’s going to be more from me on today’s hearing. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.