Cambridge academic Stefan Halper, who was de facto outed as an FBI informant, is being sued for allegedly spreading lies to media about a supposed relationship between retired Gen. Michael Flynn and Halper’s Russian-born former colleague, Svetlana Lokhova.
Lokhova is a Cambridge graduate and UK-based historian with a focus on documenting Russian espionage during the Soviet era.
“Until she was egregiously defamed by Halper and his co-conspirators in 2016, 2017, and 2018, Lokhova enjoyed an untarnished reputation in the community in which she lived and worked,” states the complaint filed in a federal court in Virginia on May 23. She’s asking for over $25 million in damages.
According to the lawsuit, Halper fed falsehoods about Lokhova and Flynn to the media, including The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and MSNBC, in order to drum up a narrative that Flynn had a nefarious relationship with Russia.
Flynn was a campaign adviser, and later, national security adviser, to President Donald Trump. The Flynn-Russia narrative was used by Trump’s opponents to further allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Those allegations proved unsubstantiated after multiple investigations by Congress, the FBI, and special counsel Robert Mueller.
Since late 2016, legacy media outlets, one after another, ran articles that apparently left many people with the impression that Lokhova was a Russian spy who somehow got access to a high-level meeting in 2014, at which she approached Flynn, who was then the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, engaged him in a relationship, or possibly an affair, on behalf of Russian intelligence.
The articles drew on unidentified sources, which the lawsuit alleges were Halper and Christopher Andrew, Cambridge professor and official historian of MI5, the United Kingdom’s domestic counterintelligence and security service.
History With Cambridge
Lokhova has known Andrew since 1999, when she met him during her studies. “Andrew became Lokhova’s long-term, academic mentor and co-author,” the complaint states.
During her Master’s studies in the early 2000s, she traveled to Moscow and collected public information from the Russian state archive that holds pre-1952 documents of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. She used the materials for her Master’s dissertation on the founder of the Soviet intelligence service, Felix Dzerzhinsky.
In 2004, she moved on to finance, working for Morgan Stanley, Citibank, and others. Her last gig was at Troika Dialog UK, a branch of an investment bank with substantial business ties to Russia. She left in April 2012, alleging harassment and discrimination, a claim that ultimately earned her over $2 million in compensation (pdf). Days after she left, Troika Dialog was taken over by Sberbank, a large Russian state-owned bank.
It was in 2012 that Andrew invited Lokhova to join the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar (CIS), an ongoing series of meetings for intelligence community members, academics, and researchers co-convened at the time by Halper, Andrew, and Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of the UK’s MI6 intelligence service.
In January 2014, Dearlove and Andrew invited Lokhova to attend a group dinner with Flynn. “Dearlove had no concerns with Lokhova,” the complaint states. “Dearlove would never have allowed Lokhova to attend an event with General Flynn if Dearlove had had any concerns with Lokhova.”
The purpose of the dinner was to promote the program that was to become the “Cambridge Security Initiative” (CSI), a group chaired by Dearlove that Lokhova was later invited to as a fellow.
Approximately 20 people attended the dinner and, at the end, Andrew invited Lokhova to give a presentation about materials from the Soviet archive. She showed a picture of a postcard sent by Joseph Stalin. There was a picture of an “erotic statue” on the postcard and Flynn asked Lokhova to send him the materials to use as an “icebreaker” during his conversation with Russian officials, with whom he interacted as part of his job. They were never alone together during the conversation, according to the complaint.
Andrew asked Lokhova to stay in touch with Flynn, in the hope that “Flynn might speak again at the Seminar or do business with CSI,” the complaint says. She said she sent him several emails with Andrew copied in on all of them.
She continued to participate in the CIS and CSI activities.
“Neither Dearlove, nor Halper, nor Andrew … nor anyone else ever raised any concerns about Lokhova,” the complaint says.
In fact, Andrew offered to co-author with her a book based on the Soviet archive documents. He introduced her to his literary agents and she was offered over $200,000 in advance from two publishers.
In January 2016, Andrew invited her to a dinner with Halper to discuss the book, but she considered Halper “a loathsome character” who was, up until that point, purposefully avoiding her, the complaint says, adding that she declined.
Andrew wasn’t happy and, in April 2016, walked away from the book deal.
At around the same time, Lokhova was told by a colleague at Cambridge that Halper was, behind her back, “asking pointed questions about who Lokhova was meeting with, where and when.”
Two months later, Andrew told Lokhova that “ludicrous rumors were circulating” about her family’s links to Russian intelligence.
That same month, Halper left CIS. He said it was for personal reasons, but the complaint alleges it was because he was called upon by the FBI to snoop on the Trump campaign, which he did.
After Trump’s election, Halper set about seed to the media defamatory stories about Lokhova, the complaint alleges.
On Dec. 17, 2016, The Financial Times ran a story on claims by three CIS members, including Dearlove and Halper, that they cut ties with the CIS because Russians were trying to co-opt the group. Halper apparently reneged on his previous justification and claimed he actually resigned because of “unacceptable Russian influence on the group.”
“The Financial Times has been unable to independently substantiate their claims—and no concrete evidence has been provided to back them,” the paper noted.
Halper’s and Dearlove’s names were indeed removed from the list of CIS convenors sometime between September and October 2016, but Dearlove’s was back on the list by Feb. 4, 2017, and has remained there since.
“Halper’s misrepresentations and propaganda in the FT article were designed to seed the false narrative about Lokhova and stoke fears and paranoia about Russian subversion of the West and meddling in the 2016 presidential election,” the complaint alleges.
Sunday Times of London
On Feb. 19, 2017, Andrew published an article in the Sunday Times of London, in which he said that Flynn asked Lokhova to travel with him as a translator to Moscow on his next official visit and that Flynn signed an email to Lokhova as “General Misha.”
“Halper and Andrew knew these statements were false,” the complaint says. “Neither Halper nor Andrew ever heard General Flynn ask Lokhova to travel with him to Moscow as a translator or otherwise. Moreover, Andrew was copied on Lokhova’s email communication with General Flynn. General Flynn never signed a single email, ‘General Misha.’”
After the article, rumors started to spread online that Lokhova was a Russian agent and “honey trap” sent by Moscow to seduce Flynn.
The Wall Street Journal
In March 2017, Lokhova learned from a colleague that two Wall Street Journal reporters were asking around about a purported “affair” between Lokhova and Flynn. The complaint alleges the unsubstantiated claim was spread by Halper.
The paper ended up running an article on March 17, 2017, that didn’t explicitly make the claim, focusing instead on the fact that Flynn didn’t file a report with the Defense Department about meeting Lokhova in 2014.
Senior officials are indeed supposed to report when approached by unknown foreigners, but, in this case, it seems it was Flynn who approached Lokhova and asked her for an inconsequential favor.
“Two people who attended the Cambridge dinner and are associated with the event said that Ms. Lokhova approached Mr. Flynn at the start and that the two sat next to each other,” the article claimed.
Those two people were Halper and Andrew, the complaint alleges, further stating that Halper didn’t attend the dinner, she didn’t approach Flynn at the start, and didn’t sit beside him.
The complaint includes a picture that Lokhova took at the dinner that indicates Flynn didn’t sit beside her. In fact, it would have been a faux pas for them to sit together, since the dinner was a formal event with a seating order and Lokhova was likely the most junior participant, while Flynn was the guest of honor.
The article also repeated Andrew’s alleged falsehoods from his Sunday Times article, and incorrectly claimed that Lokhova worked for Sberbank.
The Guardian, Others
On March 31, 2017, The Guardian ran an article following the Flynn-Russia narrative, with the subhead “US and UK officials were troubled by Moscow contacts and encounter with woman linked to Russian spy agency records.”
The article assumes that Lokhova was granted access to archives of Russian intelligence, which she denies, and of which no evidence has been found.
The article also repeated Andrew’s alleged falsehoods from his Sunday Times article and, upon publication, further fed the rumors that Lokhova was a spy.
The Daily Mail and The Telegraph piled on with articles on March 31 and April 2, 2017.
MSNBC analyst Malcolm Nance even went as far as calling Lokhova a “Russian Intel asset” in a tweet, and MSNBC aired a segment with Nance that referred to Lokhova as “Russian intelligence officer.”
The New York Times
A year later, after blogger Jeff Carlson pointed out that “there’s a decent chance” Halper was an FBI spook, The New York Times ran an article on May 18, 2018, de facto outing Halper as such. Carlson became an Epoch Times contributor later that year.
The New York Times piece again repeated the alleged lies spread by Halper about the 2014 CIS dinner, this time with stronger language.
“According to people familiar with Mr. Flynn’s visit to the intelligence seminar, the source was alarmed by the general’s apparent closeness with a Russian woman who was also in attendance,” the article said. “The concern was strong enough that it prompted another person to pass on a warning to the American authorities that Mr. Flynn could be compromised by Russian intelligence, according to two people familiar with the matter.”
Lokhova’s complaint rebukes the article on several points. “The NYT Article falsely implied that Halper was at the dinner with General Flynn in February 2014. He was not. The Article misrepresented that Halper was ‘alarmed by the general’s apparent closeness’ with Lokhova. Halper was not ‘alarmed’ about anything. No ‘closeness’ was ‘apparent’ to anyone at the dinner because Lokhova was never ‘close’ to General Flynn. There was no basis for any belief that Lokhova had ‘compromised’ General Flynn, let alone on behalf of Russian intelligence, and no ‘warning’ was passed to ‘American authorities.’ This is all a concerted lie concocted by Halper and [New York Times reporter Adam] Goldman/NYT.”
The paper didn’t even attempt to contact Lokhova for comment, the complaint states.
That May, Lokhova was contacted by NBC producer Anna Schecter, who promised to “set the record straight” on Lokhova’s story “and right a wrong.”
“As a woman, and a professional woman, I shudder at the notion of a fallacious story about sleeping with Flynn and spying no less not just told around Cambridge but given to the press and reported as fact,” Schecter told Lokhova, according to the complaint. “I and my team in the investigative unit will take this story and its important implications very seriously and I believe our agencies (FBI and CIA) will be better for the fact that we shine a bright light on an unreliable and loose-lipped informant prone to inventing stories.”
That didn’t pan out.
Schecter later told Lokhova she believed her, but said a colleague at NBC with “25 years intelligence experience” was laughing and saying that “everyone at the CIA knows Flynn had an affair with Lokhova.”
“Schecter sounded distressed, and said she was being pressured by her colleagues,” the complaint says.
Halper, Andrew, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times of London, NBC News, and MSNBC didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for The Guardian declined to comment.
Halper has links to the CIA and MI6. He also served in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations.
Halper met with Carter Page, a volunteer adviser to the Trump campaign, at a Cambridge symposium held on July 11 and 12, 2016. Page had just returned from a trip to Russia a few days prior and said he remained in contact with Halper for a number of months after that.
Page’s trip became the core subject of the Steele dossier—a collection of unsubstantiated claims about Trump-Russia collusion put together by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele that was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The dossier was used by the FBI as the core evidence to obtain from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court a warrant to spy on Page several weeks before the presidential election
On Sept. 2, 2016, Halper also contacted George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign aide, and offered $3,000 and a paid trip to London to write a paper about a gas field in the Mediterranean Sea. Papadopoulos accepted the offer and flew to London, where he met Halper and his assistant.
On Aug. 31 or Sept. 1, 2016, Halper also met with Trump campaign co-Chairman Sam Clovis in Northern Virginia and offered help to the Trump campaign with foreign policy, The Washington Post reported.
Halper’s concern about Lokhova is portrayed as feigned in her complaint, since he seemed to have shown no concern for about two years after the 2014 Flynn meeting, only showing concern after Flynn started to aid Trump.
In fact, Halper appears himself to be rather close to Russian intelligence, having invited Vladimir Trubnikov, former director of Russian intelligence, to teach at CIS at least twice—in 2012 and in 2015—according to the complaint. Trubnikov obliged him both times.
Between 2012 and 2017, Halper was paid more than a $1 million by the Office of Net Assessment, a strategy think tank that falls directly under the U.S. secretary of defense.
Adam Lovinger, an analyst at the think tank, raised alarm about the contracts to Halper, but was punished for it, according to his lawyer.
Flynn was one of the most consequential post-9/11 intelligence officials in the world.
“Mike Flynn’s impact on the nation’s War on Terror probably trumps any other single person as his energy and skill at harnessing the Intelligence Community into a focused effort was literally historic,” wrote then-Brig. Gen. John Mulholland in Flynn’s 2007 performance review.
At the time, Flynn headed intelligence at the Joint Special Operations Command.
Mulholland, himself a former special forces officer, called Flynn “easily the best intelligence professional of any service serving today.”
In 2014, however, he was forced into retirement over disagreements with the Obama administration.
More than a year ago, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to two FBI agents about conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place when former President Barack Obama imposed additional sanctions on Russia in December 2016.
He also pleaded guilty to lying about asking Russia to vote against or delay the vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution.
Finally, he pleaded guilty to lying about his foreign lobbying disclosures regarding the extent to which his work benefiting the Turkish government was overseen by that government. Foreign lobbying paperwork violations are seldom prosecuted. Flynn said the work started in August 2016; he shut down his lobbying firm in November 2016.
In March, Flynn asked a federal judge to delay his sentencing to give him more time to continue in his cooperation with a case in Virginia against two of his former associates, who face charges for concealing that they lobbied in the United States on behalf of Turkey.
Flynn has extensively cooperated with government prosecutors on multiple investigations and further cooperation will give him yet more grounds to ask for a lenient sentence. Even before the delay, the prosecutors were asking for a lenient sentence, including no prison time, while the defense wanted no more than a year of probation and community service.