Veterans of the U.S. spy corps say that seasoned political operator and former KGB officer President Vladimir Putin of Russia is likely to run circles around U.S. President Donald Trump at their meeting on Friday at the G-20 summit.
Spencer Ackerman of The Daily Beast spoke to a number of former agents who don't hold out much hope for America's thin-skinned "sociopathic narcissist" president against someone like Putin, who is known for his cunning, manipulative nature and his apparent ease at reading and besting opponents.
And Putin's biggest ally in getting the measure of the U.S. president, Ackerman said, will be "Trump’s massive, delicate ego."
Putin is certainly expected to flatter Trump. He is known for being charming and disarmingly friendly in one-on-one interactions, although once -- knowing she was afraid of dogs -- he brought a Labrador to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an effort to unnerve her and place her off-balance.
However, on his first approach with the former reality TV game show host turned U.S. president, spies predict he will cater to Trump's love of flattery and praise.
"(F)lattery is key to dealing with the 'sociopathic narcissist' tendencies one ex-CIA interrogator sees in Trump," wrote Ackerman. "Putin is likely to stoke Trump’s ire, encourage him against his perceived enemies and validate his inclinations -- particularly the ones that move U.S. policy in the directions Putin wants."
“Putin,” said ex-KGB general Oleg Kalugin to The Daily Beast, “he has been in power for so many years and, by character, he knows how to handle things and how to outsmart others, including presidents of the United States.”
White House aides and even Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY) have been frantically trying to help Trump cram for the encounter with the Russian despot, mostly to no avail. Trump is reportedly more worried that Angela Merkel will "scold" him for his reckless climate policies and withdrawal from the Paris Accord.
Russia's actions in Crimea, its meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and the multiple investigations swirling around the Trump White House and its relationship to Russia -- and efforts to block those investigations -- have "created a political maelstrom around Trump," wrote Ackerman.
"Everything resulting from the meeting will be scrutinized in Washington, particularly amongst Trump’s political opposition, for signs of a quid pro quo. Meanwhile, observers have a hard time understanding what U.S. policy toward Russia, its decades-long adversary, even is anymore," he said.
Spies say that so long as Putin plays to Trump's sense of grievance and persecution, tells him not to listen to the "losers" and "haters" Trump decries, the Russian president is likely to come away from the meeting on top.
“Trump is just about a sociopathic narcissist,” said retired CIA interrogator Glenn Carle to Ackerman. “That’s not to denounce him, just an assessment of the guy…. Fulsome praise, full of garbage, is a small price to pay to get what you want.”
He went on to say that to groom Trump as a mark, "you praise and piss him off at the same time. You want to push his buttons to get him to do something reflexive.”
“The truly scary part is Putin only has to say to Trump ‘you are right and the haters are wrong’ to manipulate him,” said Naveed Jamali, a former undercover FBI double agent who went on to call the Russians "devious motherf*ckers" who are highly adept at getting unwitting pawns to carry out their agenda.
Trump's last meeting with Russian officials was an unmitigated disaster that say him implicating himself in obstruction of justice by claiming he'd fired "nut job" FBI Director James Comey to stop the investigation into Russian election meddling, allowed the Russians to bring cameras and recording equipment into the Oval Office, then made that measure entirely unnecessary by telling them confidential Israeli intelligence unprompted.
Photos of the cheerful meeting and the handshakes that were exchanged were immediately leaked to the Russian media by the Oval Office delegation.