Alleged Russian agent and femme fatale Mariia (aka Maria) Butina was arraigned in federal court the other day. But she’s either the most incompetent spy ever, or perhaps someone is trying to make President Trump look even worse than he already does.

The Russia meddling story was already weird, but it keeps getting weirder. However, a lot of the weirdness seems to slide right under the radar. Maybe that is because the media are just overwhelmed, and don’t know where to turn first.

Here’s the latest bizarro tidbit. And though it is a tidbit, it raises all kinds of questions.

It concerns the alleged Russian agent and femme fatale Mariia (aka Maria) Butina, who was charged with conspiracy and illegally acting as an agent of a foreign government. Although she was not charged with espionage, she apparently kept in touch with Russian intelligence operatives — whether wittingly or not.

The most fascinating part is buried in paragraph 9 of a New York Times report headlined “Maria Butina, Suspected Secret Agent, Used Sex in Covert Plan, Prosecutors Say”:

Her contact list included an email account associated with the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the Russian intelligence agency that is the main successor to the Soviet K.G.B., and F.B.I. agents who searched her apartment found a handwritten note that read, “How to respond to F.S.B. offer of employment?” She was also photographed with the former ambassador at the Russian Embassy in Washington.

Have you ever heard of a spy — or anyone wanting to be a spy — who would write a “note to self” like that, and leave it around?

What about all of her fairly open meetings and communications with figures connected to the Kremlin? It is like all tradecraft was tossed out the window. In no way is this how things are done.

The whole case, including her behavior (staged?), almost sounds like her job was to put Trump MORE on the spot, to create a kind of extra-obvious smoking gun so Trump is even more vulnerable, and more easily manipulated.

Either that — or this is the most comical operation ever from the Russians, known for their caution and skill in spycraft.

The only thing the Russians could have added to make sure Comrade Trump twists slowly, slowly, in the wind, might be to have called Butina “Butt-insky” — a barely subtle reminder that, yes, “we did butt in” to the 2016 election.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from note (WINNING INFORMATION / Flickr – CC BY 2.0) and Mariia Butina (Pavel Starikov / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0).


  • Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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Butina is not a “spy.” The job of a spy is to gather secret or confidential information and deliver it to an opponent. What Butina did was to facilitate transfers of cash and other assistance from right-wing Russian oligarchs and the Putin regime to the American right, including the NRA and the Republican Party. The only secret thing about this is that the public was not supposed to know what was going on (as well as the US government, because acting as the agent of a foreign government without registering as such is illegal), so your entire argument collapses. If Butina had registered as a Russian lobbyist she would never have been busted, though that would also mean that the registration would be public knowledge.


Maria Butina, accused of spying for Russia, did not keep a low profile according to fellow students at American University in Washington, D.C. “She vocally defended Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian interests, which prompted ‘very hot conversations’, one former classmate said. She sported a mobile phone case with Putin’s portrait on it and, for a while, her computer had Putin wallpaper set as her desktop background.” (CNN Edition, 19 July 2018)


she was also a ” honey trap”- Paul Erickson shacked up with her- who knows how much access to people and information that gave her. …so no she was not one of those Anna Chapman type spy that take on a false identity and live as an American for expansive periods of time. Maybe it serves some ends to operate the way she did. If part of putin’s intention is to show the weaknesses and failings of our political system,then having something relatively overt carried off in plain sight could serve that end. Try this on : it’s an article of faith among the gun lobby /gun enthusiasts that the last thing a tyrannical or authoritarian government wants is an armed populace. putin is a known authoritarian who does not want more expansive gun ownership in russia. If he did, it would be as simple as his say so and there would be no need to advocate for it. Groups and individuals who advocate for things putin does not want in russia are met with resistance, legal harassment, imprisonment or worse. The logical conclusion- one that is held broadly in intelligence circles- is that Butina’s Right To Bear Arms is a front for the russian government. Even it’s name is a cloying appeal to a specifically American audience. The NRA betrayed no wariness of the odd situation….in fact it looks like they were giving Butina and Torshin kudos and percs and stature within their community for seeking to expand gun rights and did not seem to have a moments hesitation about the context . it now appears that the NRA may have helped funnel illegal cash into the election – that they may have been induced to violate the law and betray the principles of free and fair elections core to the democratic process. If putin wants to show up one of the most influential players in American politics as blinded by monomaniacal self interest and divorced from earnest democratic principle , this would be one way to do that. ….oh, and use a novice to show that this was child’s play that didn’t require the top shelf FSB guys and the canny spycraft they are legendary for .Once the NRA folks are over the shock and humiliation, they can scratch their asses and wonder if they haven’t invited far more experienced and fastidious russian operatives into their midst….and so can a lot of other groups of their ilk…..just a thought.