Former FBI official indicted, linked to Russian Oligarch
Earlier this week Charles F. McGonigal, 54, formerly special agent in charge of the Counterintelligence Division at the FBI’s large New York City field office, was indicted by the Department of Justice for conspiracy to commit money laundering, making multiple false statements, concealing material facts, falsifying records and helping a Russian oligarch avoid sanctions.
This 22-year bureau-veteran’s position was very senior and extremely sensitive because New York City, which plays host to the United Nations, is the main recruiting ground in the U.S. for the Russian intelligence services.
The sad part is I knew Charlie around 2003-5 when he was a counterintelligence supervisor at headquarters in Washington DC.
As intelligence chief to Prince Albert of Monaco — and acting as the prince’s emissary — I, in February 2003, presented to the most senior national security bigwigs at the FBI evidence that a former U.S. Air Force/Defense Intelligence Agency colonel was spying for the Russians in addition to having laundered Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout’s ill-gotten gains through a Monaco-based company called Pastor International.
The FBI did its usual checks and formally opened an investigation … and assigned it to Charlie McGonigal.
Two years later, after much incriminating activity by our target (which I witnessed myself while monitoring him) and just after it seemed FBI special agents were making substantial progress, Mr. McGonigal inexplicably closed the FBI’s investigation.
He told me that even though we seemingly had a clearcut case of espionage, he would hand it over to the IRS so that they could instead pursue our target’s “financial irregularities.”
This made no sense to me back then, and it makes no sense now. Because even if FBI special agents at the Los Angeles Field Office (from which the case was run) had narrowed the investigation to a money laundering case (easier to prosecute than espionage), it would still remain within the bureau’s purview for investigation, with U.S. attorneys for assessing the merits of prosecution.
So, to my thinking, one must consider the possibility that Mr. McGonigal may have been compromised by the Russians way back then and, at their behest, derailed an investigation of Russia’s high-level spy.
SOME CONTEXT IS NECESSARY
We had reason to believe our target had been personally recruited by Vladimir Putin in Germany during the timeframe 1986-90 when Mad Vlad was a KGB officer based in Dresden, in what was then East Germany. Our target was at that time posted to the U.S. Air Force base at Ramstein, West Germany, 200 miles from where Lt. Col. Putin operated and whose job it was to recruit U.S. military personnel who had access to top secret intelligence. At Ramstein, our target supervised super-secret U-2 and SR-71 reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union.
Additional context: When we passed our dossier to the FBI, we had reason to believe that our target who, although retired from the military but extremely wealthy (millions of dollars in real estate and Ming Dynasty antiques paid for with funds that could not be explained), was spying on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Board (known by the acronym PFIAB), which assembled annually in Washington, D.C., to provide advice to the U.S. president on intelligence collection, analysis and estimates.
We tracked our target to Washington every December for three years; he positioned himself in luxury hotels near where PFIAB met, in the Old Executive Office Building. And Mr. McGonigal hypothesized that our target knew a PFIAB board or staff member from when he was a “chart-flapper” himself at PFIAB meetings; that he would wine and dine this individual and glean all he could about whatever was discussed at PFIAB and report back to the Russians, maybe to Mr. Putin himself. (Our target professed an ongoing personal relationship with the Russian president.)
NOW BACK TO CHARLES MCGONIGAL
So: Did Mr. McGonigal truly transfer the investigation of our target to the IRS — or did Charlie deep-six it?
Certainly, he made no offer to introduce me to whomever he dealt with at the IRS to liaise with them as I had liaised with the FBI. From that point on, nothing happened, it went cold. As if killed.
Consider this: In addition to four counts of laundering money, Mr. McGonigal is charged with having received $225,000 from “an individual who was an employee of a foreign intelligence service before his retirement” — a relationship that he unlawfully concealed from the FBI during the period 2016-18 while still working for them, thereby demonstrating that he was quite content to operate secretly in his own best interests while still employed by the U.S. government.
Thus it becomes plausible that a very senior counterintelligence official of the FBI has been on Moscow’s payroll for almost 20 years, which, if true, would raise him to the level of CIA traitor Aldrich Ames and FBI traitor Robert Hanssen in terms of how much intelligence has been compromised. And that would mean that the FBI and, by extension, the CIA (with whose officers Mr. McGonigal regularly liaised), have a much more serious problem than they know — one that requires much damage assessment.
Or maybe the FBI would prefer to cover it up with charges less serious than treason, a capital offense punishable by the death penalty, due to the embarrassment and political ramifications it would suffer, following such a revelation on the heels of other recent embarrassments.
However, if the FBI believed Charlie had been recruited by a Russian intelligence service, prosecutors would have insisted he be held in custody and not bailed, as he was (on a $500,000 bond), out of concern that the Russians might try to exfiltrate him out of the country to safety in Moscow.
Which means maybe they don’t know and maybe they don’t want to know.
THE EVER REVOLVING DOOR AND BROOKFIELD PROPERTIES
If accepted at face value, Mr. McGonigal’s alleged criminal actions have shed a spotlight on how the “revolving door” operates in Washington, D.C.
While working for the FBI, Charlie supervised an investigation of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who was sanctioned by the U.S. government after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. Then after leaving the bureau, Charlie went to work for … Oleg Deripaska, for whom he investigated a rival oligarch in addition to trying to get his client removed from the sanction list.
Our data check on Mr. McGonigal connects him through an email address to Brookfield Properties of Brookfield Place, New York City, a global property company that offers “an incredible collection of real estate,” states their website, “everywhere you want to be.”
We know from past intelligence investigations that high-end real estate is one of the ways in which Russian oligarchs launder dirty money.
Oddly, Brookfield also links to Jared Kushner, who worked in the White House for his father-in-law Donald Trump. In October 2022, the (U.K.) Guardian reported, “A financial firm (Brookfield) that operates billions of dollars in real estate properties around the world is facing questions from the powerful chairman of the Senate finance committee about whether Qatar was secretly involved in the $1.2 billion rescue of a Fifth Avenue property owned by Jared Kushner’s family while Kushner was serving in the White House.”
At the risk of telling the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control how to do their jobs, if I were investigating the transactions of sanctioned Russian oligarchs with a view to confiscating their holdings, I would put Brookfield — based on Mr. McGonigal’s connection to the sanctioned Oleg Deripaska — under a microscope.
Indicted for his alleged crimes in two jurisdictions, Charlie is looking at four counts of money laundering and violating sanctions, totaling 80-plus years in prison, probably at ADX Florence in Colorado alongside Robert Hanssen, Unabomber Ted Kaszynski and Mexican drug lord El Chapo.
While not trying to turn this into a political matter, we would be remiss if we did not point out Mr. McGonigal’s deep involvement in Crossfire Hurricane, which led to the now disgraced Mueller special counsel Investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and which attempted to frame President Donald Trump as a Russian stooge based on misleading information later discovered to have been fabricated by the Hillary Clinton Campaign.
It was Charlie’s willingness to launch Crossfire Hurricane that propelled him, with then-FBI Director James Comey’s blessing, from headquarters to a top job in New York City.
It is certainly ironic that a senior FBI counterintelligence official charged with investigating Mr. Trump for collusion with Russia is now charged criminally for colluding with a sanctioned Russian oligarch.
Charlie McGonigal’s case is the second instance in which an intelligence official I encountered while directing Monaco intelligence is facing serious criminal charges. The first was Frank Schneider, foreign intelligence chief of the Luxembourg service, who, after retiring at a young age due to a domestic political wire-tapping scandal, associated himself with One Coin, a cryptocurrency outfit that turned out to be a sham.
In 2001, Mr. Schneider was indicted by New York Southern District Court following a grand jury investigation into fraud and money laundering. He remains under house arrest in France, which last year ordered his extradition to the U.S. and from where he is trying to change the venue of his prosecution to Luxembourg, though the prime minister of his native country says there are no legal grounds for such circumvention.
Frank is looking at 40 years (if/when tried in the U.S.) for his complicity with Ruja Ignatova, a Bulgarian known as “CryptoQueen,” who founded the $4 billion One Coin Ponzi scheme — and then, when the jig was up, disappeared without a trace.
I quite liked Frank. I still do, believing he got caught up in something way over his head while allowing greed to get the better of him. And I feel great sadness for his family.
Clearly, there is something about intelligence work that brings out the funambulist in some of its practitioners.
Robert Eringer is a longtime Montecito author with vast experience in investigative journalism. He welcomes questions or comments at email@example.com.