Carter Page Says FBI Agent Used Fake Name During Interviews
Chuck Ross, DCNF
- Carter Page alleged in a lawsuit filed last week that an FBI counterintelligence agent used an alias during interviews with him in 2017.
- A retired FBI official who has worked in undercover operations says that an agent using an alias in that situation would be highly unusual.
- Page said in the lawsuit that Stephen Somma, a veteran counterintelligence agent, introduced himself as Steve Holt during their interviews.
- An inspector general’s report criticized Somma’s actions during the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane probe.
Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page alleges that an FBI counterintelligence agent used an alias during multiple interviews with him in 2017, a tactic that one former FBI official describes as highly unusual.
Page leveled the allegation on Friday in a $75 million lawsuit against the FBI, Justice Department and multiple current and former FBI officials over what he says was “unlawful spying” against him as part of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
According to Page, veteran FBI counterintelligence agent Stephen Somma introduced himself as Steve Holt during five interviews conducted as part of Crossfire Hurricane, the code name for the FBI probe.
The FBI at the time was investigating Page and three other Trump campaign advisers over possible links to Russia.
Page was the most heavily scrutinized of the four original targets of the probe. The FBI conducted electronic and physical surveillance of Page from October 2016 through September 2017.
The lawsuit extensively cites the findings of a Justice Department inspector general’s (IG) report which detailed 17 “significant” errors and omissions in the FBI’s applications for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Page.
The IG report was highly critical of “Case Agent 1,” who has since been identified as Somma. The report said Somma, who works out of the FBI’s New York field office, was “primarily responsible for some of the most significant errors and omissions in the FISA applications.”
The FBI declined to comment on Page’s lawsuit and his allegation that Somma used a false name.
The use of an alias by an FBI agent outside of an undercover operation is virtually unheard of, according to a retired 25-year FBI veteran who has worked on undercover operations.
“Never heard of an FBI agent going undercover as a different FBI agent,” James Gagliano told the DCNF.
“If I was in a supervisory capacity on that matter — I’d never have authorized it,” said Gagliano, who has worked as a supervisory special agent and as the senior team leader for the FBI’s SWAT team in the New York Field Office.
The IG’s office did not respond to a request for comment about whether Somma’s use of a possible alias came up during the watchdog’s investigation.
Knowing Somma’s true name could have revealed that he had connections to Stefan Halper, a confidential human source for the FBI who secretly recorded Page as part of Crossfire Hurricane.
Halper hosted Somma and two other FBI counterintelligence agents at a 2011 conference at the University of Cambridge, according to an itinerary that has since been scrubbed from Cambridge’s website.
The IG report said that Somma was Halper’s handler from 2011 through 2016. Halper served as a professor at Cambridge and ran an intelligence program there alongside Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA.
Halper’s role as an FBI source was revealed in May 2018, two months after the DCNF reported that the longtime political operative had a series of interactions in 2016 with three Trump aides: Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Sam Clovis.
The FBI source first met Page at a political conference held at the University of Cambridge on July 10, 2016, three weeks before the bureau opened Crossfire Hurricane. Republicans have questioned the timing of the Halper-Page interaction, and wondered whether the FBI began snooping on Trump aides earlier than previously known.
The IG report says that Somma denied directing Halper to meet with Page before the start of the investigation. He said that Halper’s meeting with Page was a chance occurrence, though investigators used the previous interaction to set up additional contacts between Halper and Page.
Somma and other investigators met with Halper on Aug. 10, 2016, and tapped him to work as a source in the investigation, according to the IG report. Halper met with Page on Aug. 20, 2016, at Halper’s home in Virginia.
Investigators failed to disclose that Page told Halper during one of their meetings that he had never met Kremlin officials who the dossier claims he met during a trip to Moscow.
Page also told Halper that he had never spoken to or met Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. That undercut an allegation from former British spy Christopher Steele that Page worked with Manafort as part of the conspiracy with Russia.
The FBI relied heavily on a dossier compiled by Steele in its FISA applications. Several allegations from the dossier have since been debunked. The special counsel’s office also undercut Steele’s core theory that the Trump campaign was part of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” with the Russian government.
The IG report also said that a CIA employee informed Somma on Aug. 17, 2016 that Page had been an “operational contact” for the spy agency through at least 2013. Somma did not include that information in the applications to surveil Page. The IG report said that Somma misrepresented the information from the CIA during conversations with attorneys from the Justice Department’s national security division.
Somma took part in the January 2017 interviews with Igor Danchenko, the primary source for the Steele dossier.
The IG report said that Danchenko undercut the credibility of the dossier during the interviews, but that the FBI did not disclose that information in applications to continue surveillance against Page.
Somma was the first FBI agent to suggest obtaining FISA coverage on Page, according to the IG report.
He requested the surveillance warrant in mid-August 2016 but was rebuffed by FBI lawyers who said there was not enough probable cause to believe Page was a Russian agent.
That assessment changed on Sept. 19, 2016, when memos from the dossier were provided to the Crossfire Hurricane team. Investigators began drafting a FISA application, which was approved on Oct. 21, 2016.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to interview Somma and Brian Auten, an FBI supervisory intelligence analyst, in September. It is unclear if the deposition ever took place.
It is also unclear whether U.S. Attorney John Durham is investigating any of Somma’s activities as part of a broad review of the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign.