WASHINGTON - The CIA has categorically denied reports that they were fleeced by a mystery Russian who promised compromising information on US President Donald Trump.
The secretive agency rarely issues any kind of comment, but came out on Saturday (Feb 10) to deny the report in The New York Times and a similar one in The Intercept, an online journal focusing on national security issues.
"The fictional story that CIA was bilked out of US$100,000 is patently false," the Central Intelligence Agency said in a statement sent to AFP.
"The people swindled here were James Risen and Matt Rosenberg," the CIA said, referring to Times reporter Rosenberg, who wrote the story, and Risen, who authored a similar report in The Intercept.
Both articles appeared on Friday.
The president tweeted approvingly that the The New York Times article shows a need to "drain the swamp" in Washington.
In a story worthy of a John le Carre novel that included secret USB-drive handovers in a small West Berlin bar and coded messages delivered over the National Security Agency's Twitter account, CIA agents spent much of last year trying to buy back from the Russians hacking programs stolen from the NSA, the Times reported.
The seller also repeatedly pressed US agents with offers of compromising materials, or kompromat, on Trump, the Times said.
The seller, reached through a chain of intermediaries, reportedly wanted US$1 million after quickly dropping his first price of aboutUS$10 million.
The US$100,000 was an initial payment by US agents still dubious he really had what he was promising.
In its report, the Times cited US and European intelligence officials, the Russian, and communications the newspaper reviewed.
US intelligence officials say Russia interfered with the 2016 election to help elect Trump, and continues to use disinformation to sow confusion in the American political system.
The Intercept reported that the "off-the-books communications channel" with Russia created rifts in the CIA, which is led by Trump loyalist Mike Pompeo, but has many staffers still smarting over Trump's repeated harsh comments about the intelligence community's role in the Russia meddling investigation.
Trump on Saturday referred to the Times article about a Russian who "sold phony secrets on 'Trump' to the US," and noted the operative reportedly lowered his price from US$10 million to $1 million.
"I hope people are now seeing and understanding what is going on here. It is all now starting to come out - DRAIN THE SWAMP!" he tweeted.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible links between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Moscow, as well as possible obstruction of justice.
Trump denies any collusion with Russia.