The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley sent a letter Wednesday to the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment’s director requesting detailed information on contracts provided to FBI informant Stefan Halper, who was spying on three of President Trump’s campaign aids during the 2016 election probe.
The expansive nature of Grassley’s investigation is significant and coincides – but is separate – with an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice appointed prosector John Durham’s criminal probe into the matter, as first reported by SaraACarter.com.
Durham’s criminal investigation into the FBI, CIA, as well as private entities connected to the bureau’s investigation into the Trump campaign and now debunked theory that it colluded with Russia, has also expanded to the Office of Net Assessment. Known by its acronym ONA, the secretive office is run by Director James Baker, who has been in the role since being appointed by the Obama Administration in 2015.
In the letter to Baker Grassley asks a litany of questions as to Halper’s role within ONA, his contracts, his foreign contacts and whether the FBI, or other agencies, used the ONA office to pay Halper for spying on Trump campaign personnel.
“Can ONA state for certain that Halper did not use taxpayer money provided by DoD to recruit, or attempt to recruit, sources for the FBI investigation into the now-debunked theory of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia,” Grassley asks Baker.
Baker could not be immediately reached for comment.
According to sources familiar with the matter he has also been questioned by Durham’s investigative team. Grassley has also been looking into the matter since early 2019, when he requested that the “DoD Inspector General (IG) review allegations of mismanagement by ONA contracts for political, improper or wasteful activities.” The Senator “later sought information about ONA contracting processes following a DoD IG audit of the program, which found that ONA could not provide sufficient documentation that Halper conducted all of his work in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. The Pentagon issued a corrective action plan for ONA in august.”
Justice Department Kerry Kupec told this reporter that she could not comment on Durham’s ongoing investigation.
What we do know from Grassley’s office is that the investigation is focused on the ONA’s “contract compliance after reviewing troubling documents related to contracts awarded to Professor Stefan Halper.”
“Those documents call into question ONA’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars as well as its contract management and internal controls,” a press release on the matter stated.
This is where Halper’s role with ONA “becomes highly suspicious and his contracts coincide with his spying on the Trump campaign,” said one former government official, familiar with the matter. Halper was an integral part of the FBI’s investigation in 2016 into short-term Trump campaign volunteer, Carter Page and George Papadopolous. Halper’s Cambridge Intelligence Seminar was also connected to Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, when in April, 2014 Flynn, who was then head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was invited as a guest to London, England. Flynn would later be at the center of false stories accusing him of being a Russian asset and wrapping Russian born British academic Svetlana Lokhova into the false stories.
Lokhova, who recently spoke to The Sara Carter Show, said Halper did so because he is ‘the dirty trickster’ used to target, spy and spread disinformation in an attempt to target President Trump.
Lokhova also attended the dinner at the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar in 2014. It was there that she briefly met Flynn. She believes it was Halper who assisted in pushing and leaking the false stories later in 2017 that she and Flynn had an affair and that she was an asset of Russia. She is now suing the news publications and Halper for defamation.
Halper first made contact with Page at his seminar as well, in July 2016. Page, who was already on the FBI’s radar, was later accused falsely in news reports as being a Russian asset, when false information in former British spy Christopher Steele’s dossier was purposefully leaked in a disinformation campaign against Trump officials. The unverified dossier was also used as the bulk of evidence by the FBI to get a warrant to spy on Page. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s most recent report revealed the extensive malfeasance by FBI officials to obtain the warrant against Page and also revealed that the FBI failed to validate any information in Steele’s debunked dossier.
The ONA, which was established under former President Richard Nixon, is considered the Pentagon’s ‘think tank’ but has been highly criticized in recent years for what appeared to be a failure to produce assessments. For example, in 2016 Washington Time’s national security writer Bill Gertz published a damning article revealing that Baker failed “to produce more of its signature product, namely, top-secret net assessments.”
As stated by Gertz, the office, “has focused its $20 million annual budget mainly on producing outside research projects, some of them of questionable value, according to critics.” Under the Pentagon the ONA is supposed to be an “internal research organization that awards contracts for academic reports intended to assist the military in producing long-term trends and prospects of military capabilities compared to other countries to identify future threats.”
That’s where Halper comes into play. Halper garnered numerous contracts from the ONA totaling more than $1 million and many which coincide with the same timeline he was reporting on Trump aids to the FBI.
Grassley’s investigation, however, reveals that “reviews of Halper’s research proposals prompted criticism of the quality and necessity of his work product. Other contracts show that Halper listed a Russian intelligence official as a consultant for an ONA project.”
That Russian intelligence official is former Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Vyacheslav Trubnikov. Here’s what’s important. Follow the timeline.
One of the contract’s under question was “awarded in September 2015, Professor Halper lists former Deputy Foreign Minister for Russia, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, as a consultant and advisor to a paper delivered to ONA. Trubnikov is a known Russian intelligence officer, who was listed by Christopher Steele as a source in the now-debunked Steele dossier, which was used as a predicate to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Trump Campaign adviser Carter Page. It is unclear from the contracting officer file whether Professor Halper paid Trubnikov for his assistance in gathering information for this paper, or in what capacity Professor Halper interacted with Trubnikov during the course of performing work for this contract. Further, reports indicate that Halper offered George Papadopoulos $3,000 for assistance in completing an energy study and met Carter Page at a Cambridge conference. Given Professor Halper’s intelligence connections and government funding, it is reasonable to ask whether he used any taxpayer money in his attempt to recruit Trump campaign officials as sources.”
Trubikov is the same source Steele alleged he used in his dossier that allowed the FBI to spy on Page.
“Halper was also in contact with Page and another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, raising questions about whether Halper used U.S. taxpayer dollars to seek connections with Trump campaign officials,” stated Grassley’s office.
“The interactions also raise questions about what role, if any, Halper had in the Russian election interference investigation, which found no collusion with the Trump campaign.”
In the letter to Baker, Grassley “requested additional data on ONA contracts for the past five years, including details on their purposes, costs and efforts to ensure proper oversight and compliance. Grassley also questioned why ONA issued other contracts unrelated to Halper that appear to have no relation to ONA’s purpose and mission.”
Some Questions Grassley wants answered from Baker’s ONA (From The Letter To Baker)
In an effort to better understand ONA’s contracting practices, please answer the following questions, on a question-by-question basis, no later than February 5, 2020:
ONA is required to conduct a yearly Net Assessment of DoD’s military capabilities as compared to the military capabilities of other countries. When was the last time ONA completed a Net Assessment?
Please provide a list of all contracts issued for each year over the last five years, the title of each funded project, and the total cost of each contract to the taxpayer. Of those contracts, which ones called for classified research?
Please provide a list of the top five individuals or entities, in terms of dollar amount, over the last five years that have received awards, including the names of awardees, number of contracts awarded, dates of award, dollar amount per award, the project to be funded, and the authorizing official(s).
Please describe ONA’s process for how it evaluates research proposals and oversees the process of editing and managing the research paper. In your answer, please address the following:
What role do pre-award evaluations play with respect to ONA’s decision to award a contract to an individual or entity?
Does ONA conduct any assessment of the validity of citations or supporting research used in the research paper? If not, why not?
When entering into contracts, does ONA require that research papers be peer reviewed to assure that the views within the deliverable are adequately vetted and not affected by bias or outside influence? If not, why not?
Does ONA believe that, for a research paper to be of significant value to furthering ONA’s purpose of providing assessments of the standing, trends, and future prospects of United States military capabilities and military potential in comparison with those of other countries, statements within research papers must be accurate and adequately vetted? If not, why not?
Does ONA currently require contractors to provide the name and dollar amount contributed by third parties to ensure that a contractor’s work is in no way influenced by foreign individuals or entities, or any other potential conflict of interest? If so, please provide this policy. If not, does ONA intend to develop or institute such a policy? If not, why not?
For each of Halper’s contracts, did ONA perform a post-contract evaluation? If so, please provide each evaluation. If not, why not?
If a contract has an exercisable option, which individual within ONA makes the determination as to whether that option is exercised? If ONA has the discretion to exercise an option in a contract, is the strategic value to ONA considered when that option is exercised? If not, why not?
In response to DoD IG recommendation #3, ONA stated that “not every contract requires exhaustive or significant verification of the methods used to derive analytic content.” Further, ONA stated, relating to Professor Halper’s contracts, that “[t]he Government received deliverables that were high quality and conformed to the requirements set forth in the contract.” ONA further states that quality controls will be established, based on ONA’s minimum needs.
If a contractor does not actually interview individuals that they say they interviewed, or provide accurate sourcing, the deliverable does not meet contract specifications and the contractor should not be paid. Accepting and paying for a defective deliverable may be a violation of law. If ONA does not take any steps to verify a contractor’s work product, how can ONA rely on that contractor or deliverable to provide accurate information in order to make a net assessment?
What quality controls does ONA seek to establish in order to verify that contractors are adhering to, and fulfilling, every requirement in a given contract?
After a research paper is completed, are the papers shared outside ONA? If so, please describe the process by which research papers are shared within the federal government or private sector. If not, why not?
Did Professor Halper ever disclose his relationship with former Deputy Foreign Minister for Russia Vyacheslav Trubnikov to yourself or any other ONA official prior to completion of contract number HQ0034-15-C-0100 (The Russia-China Relationship: The Impact on the United States’ Security)? Does this relationship with a Russian intelligence officer suggest that there may be biased and unreliable information contained within the deliverable?
Can ONA state for certain that Halper did not use taxpayer money provided by DoD to recruit, or attempt to recruit, sources for the FBI investigation into the now-debunked theory of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?
Are you, or any other ONA official, aware of any other relationships Professor Halper had with foreign intelligence officers?
Go Here for the full text of today’s letter to ONA Director Baker.