Time has elapsed, and in the game of “Russiagate revelations,” mainstream news outlets have now named Stefan Halper as (probably) the FBI informant everyone has been dancing around for the last week.
As I have said before (without naming him), Halper never had an inside role in the Trump campaign, and can’t be considered an informant or “spy” from the inside, in that sense. There is a narrow limit to what his role could have been. But it is worth examining, since it sheds light on how the FBI was treating the Trump campaign as a target of surveillance.
Halper, a research professor at Cambridge University and formerly an official in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations, has been identified as an individual who contacted both George Papadopoulos and Carter Page in the summer of 2016. The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross wrote the canonical articles on these encounters (the first one, involving Papadopoulos, in March 2018).
The Washington Post reported on Friday, in an article that described Halper very exactly but did not name him, that in August 2016, Halper also contacted Sam Clovis, the co-chairman and honcho of hiring for the Trump campaign, and offered his services as a foreign policy adviser. The campaign did not take him up on that.
The sequence of events appears to begin with Halper approaching Carter Page at a symposium on the U.S. election held at Cambridge on 11-12 July 2016. Page was there at the invitation of another person, a doctoral candidate (unnamed in Chuck Ross’s report).
Page’s contacts with Halper look somewhat more extensive than with the other Trump campaign officials. Per Ross:
The conversation [with Halper at Cambridge] seemed innocent enough, Page tells The Daily Caller News Foundation. He recalls nothing of substance being discussed other than Halper’s passing mention that he knew then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. But the interaction was one of many that the pair would have over the next 14 months, through a period of time when Page was under the watchful eye of the U.S. government.
Their relationship included a number of in-person meetings, including at Halper’s farm in Virginia.
Later, at the end of August, Halper reached out to Clovis to offer his advisory services to the Trump campaign. He didn’t mention his prior contact with Page at the time.
Then, in early September, Halper contacted George Papadopoulos and offered him $3,000 to write a policy paper on Mediterranean natural gas, plus an expense-paid trip to London.
Papadopoulos took the offer. In hindsight, he finds it odd, according to Ross:
Papadopoulos now questions Halper’s motivation for contacting him, according to a source familiar with Papadopoulos’s thinking. That’s not just because of the randomness of the initial inquiry but because of questions Halper is said to have asked during their face-to-face meetings in London.
According to a source with knowledge of the meeting, Halper asked Papadopoulos: “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?”
Papadopoulos told Halper he didn’t know anything about emails or Russian hacking, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. The professor did not follow up on the line of inquiry.
Remember that Papadopoulos did know about allegations that Russians had hacked Hillary’s emails – because he had told Australian Alexander Downer about having that rumor passed on to him, when Downer met him in May 2016. So it appears Papadopoulos got a funny vibe from Halper’s question about it in September 2016. At the least, he decided not to be forthcoming in his answer to Halper.
Now, frankly, this whole Papadopoulos saga looks like one long set-up, with a tidbit about “Russia hacking Hillary” being planted with the kid in April 2016, Papadopoulos “happening” to meet Downer in May and making a drunken boast about the rumor, and Halper then contacting Papadopoulos out of the blue in September and asking him what he knew about it.
(In fact, one can’t help thinking about how contemporaneous this “goose” from Halper was with Christopher Steele’s reported frustration that his dossier wasn’t making bigger waves inside the U.S. government. As the narrative has it, Steele turned to the media in September 2016 – leading to the articles by Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff and Mother Jones’s David Corn – to get the story out, because of his impatience with the FBI and DOJ for apparently sitting on it.)
But however we read that aspect of it, here is the first factor that makes Halper look like a deployed asset. He initiated contact with each of the Trump team targets.
Not only did he initiate contact; he unerringly chose the two seemingly peripheral, short-resume’d individuals on whom other actors in the drama – like the FBI, Joseph Mifsud, and Christopher Steele – had focused their attention during exactly the same timeframe.
Papadopoulos and Page were not big wheels in the campaign, and they didn’t have high-level access. Nor were they established as “connected” movers and shakers in Halper’s world. It is very unlikely that either Page or Papadopoulos would have been of interest to Halper, outside of a commission to Halper from someone to cultivate them.
The second factor suggesting Halper was a deployed asset is his longstanding, if somewhat vague and open-ended, contractual relationship with U.S. government agencies. In 2015-2016, he had an active contract with the Department of Defense as an adviser to the Office of Net Assessment. Moreover, according to his biography at the Institute of World Politics (IWP), where he is a fellow, Halper was a “Senior Advisor to the Department of Defense and a Senior Advisor to the Department of Justice” from 1984 to 2001.
In that role, as in advisory roles held in the years since with federal agencies, we can read that Halper was under contract to provide expert services, such as analyzing political and programmatic issues, attending conferences, participating in working groups, and writing assessments.
Other observers have correctly noted that Halper’s recent contract with DOD, at a figure of over $900,000, is meaningful here. We can’t (and shouldn’t) rush to conclusions about what he was “really” being paid for. But given the number of years he has had this kind of contractual advisory relationship with federal agencies, we are justified in asking what exactly he was paid for in mid-2016, when he was in contact with three officials of the Trump campaign, two of whom have figured with such improbable prominence in the Mueller probe and the Russiagate narrative.
Here’s a detail that drives this point home. If you look at the payments to Halper for contractual work in 2016, two entries come up. One, on 27 September 2016, is described as being for an “India and China economic study.”
But the other, a payment on 26 July 2016, is labeled as “direct labor.” The key point about “direct labor” is that there is no auditable product involved. For the September payment, DOD would be expected to show an auditor evidence of an economic study on India and China, placed in the department’s possession in some form. For “direct labor,” that expectation is not inherent. (It often means attending a conference, among other group activities.)
Payments for direct labor are not suspicious in themselves. But a payment for direct labor that falls at just exactly the time Halper is contacting members of the Trump campaign – indeed, falls two weeks after Halper’s first contact with a Trump campaign aide; within a day or two of when Alexander Downer’s information about Papadopoulos is supposed to have reached the FBI; and five days before we are told the FBI’s “Russia” investigation officially started – requires explanation.
The third factor is Halper’s curious excursion into the banking industry, for which nothing in his larger resume appears to have really suited him.
Halper’s IWP bio includes the following reference to the years after he left the Reagan administration in 1984:
1984-1990 Chairman and majority shareholder:
The Palmer National Bank, Washington, D.C.
The National Bank of Northern Virginia, Leesburg, Va.
The George Washington National Bank, Alexandria, Va.
It is of more than passing interest that Halper, with no banking in his background, left the Reagan Defense Department in 1984 to co-found a bank (Palmer National Bank; see links below).
Each of these small banks merged with other banks in the years since. One could write a whole separate post about the three banks and their histories, with a number of the details raising eyebrows and suggesting rich material for further research. For example, the Palmer National Bank is reported to have sourced capital from a shadowy Louisiana figure alleged to have links to organized crime, and – according to researchers in the 1990s – to the Nicaraguan Contras and drug-running activities allegedly connected to Mena, Arkansas.
None of this means there is nefarious activity involving Stefan Halper. Parsing what is proven versus what is merely suspected out of that murky soup is a project for another time.*
But Palmer National Bank caught the attention of the New York Times in 1984, because it had no sooner started up than it became the go-to bank for a number of high-profile conservative PACs. Shortly afterward (in 1985), as documented in the archives of the Iran-Contra probe (see first Brewton link, above), money for one of Oliver North’s Iran-Contra schemes was routed by a third party through the Palmer National Bank.
Halper had left Palmer by then, and was installed at the National Bank of Northern Virginia. But he was later involved in setting up the legal defense fund for North, and was reportedly a close acquaintance, with his daughter and North’s being friends.
In conjunction with other aspects of his profile, Halper’s odd detour into banking in the 1980s is at least a dusty-brick-hued flag, if not a throbbing tomato-red one. It indicates there’s something to look for: a connection with friendly niche-customer banking of a specific kind, related to politics, government, and political people.
Then there’s the fourth factor.
Halper has published books, monographs, and articles with co-author Jonathan Clarke, a veteran of the UK foreign service, and, through at least 2004 – as a British citizen residing in the United States – the U.S. representative for the secretive, high-powered intelligence company Hakluyt.
UK-based Hakluyt is staffed mostly by former MI-6 personnel, and maintains a close, current relationship with MI-6. We met Hakluyt a few weeks ago, in an investigation of the British links to the Russiagate phenomenon. (More on some of the relevant connections here.)
One of the links that stands out – one of them; there are many – is Richard Dearlove, former head of MI-6, longtime associate of Stefan Halper, continuing associate of Hakluyt’s top officers, and an informal mentor, according to the UK Telegraph, to Christopher Steele in the fateful “dossier summer” of 2016.
Without going exhaustively into every connection, we can say simply based on the Hakluyt link that the circle Halper runs in is the one we would expect FBI informants who contact surveillance targets and meet up with them in the UK to come from.
Nothing in any of this story suggests that Stefan Halper did anything untoward. There are signs, however, of his being a longtime, multipurpose asset on a loose retainer. Not a “spy,” by any means, or an informant by vocation or preponderance of working hours. But clearly, not a fellow who just happened to answer the phone when it rang either. If the FBI – or someone – was asking Halper to buddy up to the Trump campaign, it was a serious and targeted effort, not a pick-up game.
* Peter Brewton, the journalist behind the Palmer Bank articles linked above, is a legitimate if sometimes controversial journalist who was teaching at Texas Tech as of 2015. He was a staffer for the Houston Post, which was bought out in 1995 and for which online archives are not maintained due to a Supreme Court copyright decision made in a separate, unrelated case in 2001. Thus, samples of Brewton’s work are available only through secondary archiving, like the rather colorful (but authentic) links in the text here.