Why Didn’t Mueller Investigate Seth Rich?

The idea that the DNC email disclosures were produced by a hack — not a leak —makes less and less sense, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

After bungling every last aspect of Russia-gate since the day the pseudo-scandal broke, the corporate press is now seizing on the Mueller report to shut down debate on one of the key questions still outstanding from the 2016 presidential election: the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

No one knows who killed Rich in Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2016.  All we know is that he was found at 4:19 a.m. in the Bloomingdale neighborhood “with apparent gunshot wound(s) to the back” according to the police report.  Conscious and still breathing, he was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead at 5:57.

Police have added to the confusion by releasing information only in the tiniest dribs and drabs.  Rich’s mother, Mary, told local TV news that her son struggled with his assailants: “His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything….  They took his life for literally no reason.  They didn’t finish robbing him, they just took his life.” 

But cops said shortly after the killing that they had no immediate indication that robbery was a motive.  Despite his mother’s report of two shots in the back, all the local medical examiner would say is that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the torso.  According to Rich’s brother, Aaron, Seth “was very aware, very talkative,” when police found him lying on the pavement. Yet cops have refused to say if he described his assailant.  A month later, they put out a statement that “there is no indication that Seth Rich’s death is connected to his employment at the DNC,” but refused to elaborate.

The result is a scattering of disconnected facts that can be used to support just about any theory from a random killing to a political assassination.  Nonetheless, Robert Mueller is dead certain that the murder had nothing to do with the emails — just as he was dead certain in 2003 that Iraq was bristling with weapons of mass destruction pos[ing] a clear threat to our national security. 

Mueller’s Theory About Assange ‘Dissembling’ 

Mueller is equally positive that, merely by expressing concern that the murder may have had something to do with the release of thousands of DNC emails less than two weeks later, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was trying to protect the real source, which of course is Russia.

Here’s how the Mueller report puts it:

“Beginning in the summer of 2016, Assange and WikiLeaks made a number of statements about Seth Rich, a former DNC staff member who was killed in July 2016.  The statements about Rich implied falsely that he had been the source of the stolen DNC emails.  On August 9, 2016, the @WikiLeaks Twitter accounted posted: ‘ANNOUNCE: WikiLeaks has decided to issue a US$20k reward for information leading to conviction for the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich.’ 

Likewise, on August 25, 2016, Assange was asked in an interview, ‘Why are you so interested in Seth Rich’s killer?’ and responded, ‘We’re very interested in anything that might be a threat to alleged WikiLeaks sources.’ The interviewer responded to Assange’s statement by commenting, ‘I know you don’t want to reveal your source, but it certainly sounds like you’re suggesting a man who leaked information to WikiLeaks was then murdered.’ 

Assange replied, ‘If there’s someone who’s potentially connected to our publication, and that person has been murdered in suspicious, circumstances, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the two are connected.  But it is a very serious matter … that type of allegation is very serious, as it’s taken very seriously by us’” (vol. 1, pp. 48-49).

This is what the Mueller report calls “dissembling.” The conclusion caused jubilation in corporate newsrooms where hostility to both Russia and WikiLeaks runs high. “The Seth Rich conspiracy theory needs to end now,” declared Vox.com.  “The special counsel’s report confirmed this week that Seth Rich … was not the source,” said The New York Times. “The Mueller report might not end the debate over what President Donald Trump did,” the Poynter Institute’s Politifact added, “but it has scuttled one conspiracy theory involving a murdered Democratic party staffer and WikiLeaks.”

One Conspiracy Theory for Another

But all the Mueller report did was replace one conspiracy theory with another involving the Kremlin and its minions that is equally unconvincing.

Remarkably, there’s nothing in the Mueller report indicating that the special counselor independently reviewed the forensic evidence or questioned family members and friends.  He certainly didn’t interview Assange, the person in the best position to know who supplied the data, even though Craig Murray, the ex-British diplomat who serves as an unofficial WikiLeaks spokesman, says the WikiLeaks founder would have been “very willing to give evidence to Mueller” while holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, “which could have been done by video-link, by interview in the Embassy, or by written communication.” 

Murray says Mueller’s team made no effort to contact him either even though he has publicly stated that he met clandestinely with an associate of the leaker near the American University campus in Washington.

Why not?  Because Mueller didn’t want anything that might disturb his a priori assumption that Russia is the guilty party.  If he had bucked the intelligence community finding – set forth in a formal assessment in January 2017 – that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton’s candidacy — it would have been front-page news since an anti-Trump press had already accepted the assessment as gospel.  ButMueller is far too much of an establishmentarian to do anything so reckless. 

So he selected evidence in support of the official theory that “[t]he Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” as the report states on its very first page.  And since Assange had consistently maintained that the data was the result of an inside leak rather than internal hack and that “[o]ur source is not the Russian government,” he cherry picked evidence to show that Assange is a liar, not only about Russia but about Seth Rich.

Cryptic Exchange

It’s a self-serving myth that corporate media have swallowed whole because it serves their interests too. One problem in exposing it, however, is Assange’s pledge – intrinsic to the WikiLeaks mission – to safeguard the identities of whistleblowers who furnish it with information.  The upshot has been a good deal of beating around the bush.  A month after the murder, the WikiLeaks founder appeared on a Dutch program called “Nieuwsuur” and took part in a cryptic exchange with journalist Eelco Bosch van Rosenthal: 

Assange: Whistle blowers go to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks.  There’s a 27-year-old – works for the DNC – who was shot in the back, murdered, just a few weeks ago for unknown reasons as he was walking down the street in Washington, so…. 

Rosenthal: That was just a robbery, I believe, wasn’t it?

Assange: No, there’s no finding, so –

Rosenthal: What are you suggesting?

Assange: I’m suggesting that our sources take risks, and they become concerned to see things occurring like that. 

Rosenthal: But was he one of your sources then?  I mean –

Assange: We don’t comment about who our sources are.

Rosenthal: But why make the suggestion about a young guy being shot in the streets of Washington?

Assange: Because we have to understand how high the stakes are in the United States and that our sources, you know, face serious risks.  That’s why they come to us – so we can protect their anonymity.

Rosenthal: But it’s quite something to suggest a murder.  That’s basically what you’re doing.

This was as close as Assange could come to confirming that Rich was tied up with the leak without actually saying it. Hours later, WikiLeaks tweeted about the $20k reward. 

Four months after that, Craig Murray told the Libertarian Institute’s Scott Horton: “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that he [Rich] was the source of the leaks.  What I’m saying is that it’s probably not an unfair indication to draw that WikiLeaks believe[s] that he may have been killed by someone who thought he was the source of the leaks.”  (Quote begins at 11:20.)

Thanks to such foggy rhetoric, it was all but inevitable that conspiracy theories would ignite. Two months after the killing, an ultra-conservative talk-radio host named Jack Burkman – best known for organizing a protest campaign against the Dallas Cowboys’ hiring of an openly gay football player named Michael Sam – approached members of the Rich family and offered to launch an investigation in their behalf. 

The family said yes, but then backed off when Burkman grandly announced that the murder was a Kremlin hit.  Things turned even more bizarre a year later when Kevin Doherty, an ex-Marine whom Burkman had hired to look into the case, lured his ex-boss to a Marriott hotel in Arlington, Virgina, where he shot him twice in the buttocks and then tried to run him down with a rented SUV.  Doherty received a nine-year sentence last December. 

The rightwing Washington Times meanwhile reported thatWikiLeaks had paid Seth and Aaron Rich an undisclosed sum, a story it was forced to retract, and Fox News named Seth as the source as well.  (A sympathetic judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Rich family on technical grounds.)  But still the speculation bubbled on, with conservative nuts blaming everyone from ex-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to acting DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and Bill and Hillary themselves.

All of which plays into the hands of a corporate press happy to write off any and all suspicion as a product of alt-right paranoia. 

But if speculation refuses to die, it’s for a simple reason.  If the DNC email disclosure was a hack, then Rich clearly had nothing to do with it, which means his death was no more than a robbery gone awry.  But if it was a leak, then – based on broad hints dropped by Assange and Murray – it looks like the story could well be more complicated. This proves nothing in and of itself. But it guarantees that questions will grow as long as the Washington police make zero progress in its investigation and the Mueller report continues to fall apart.

And that’s just what’s happening.  Mueller’s account of how Russian intelligence supposedly supplied WikiLeaks with stolen data makes no sense because, according to the report’s chronology, the transfer left WikiLeaks with just four days to review some 28,000 emails and other electronic documents to make sure that they were genuine and unaltered – a clear impossibility.  (See The ‘Guccifer 2.0’ Gaps in Mueller’s Full Report,” April 18.) 

The FBI assessment that Paul Manafort associate Konstantin Kilimnik “has ties to Russian intelligence” – which Mueller cites (vol. 1, p. 133) in order to justify holding Manafort in solitary confinement during the Russia-gate investigation – is similarly disintegrating amid reports that Kilimnik actually served as an important State Department intelligence source.

So the idea of a hack makes less and less sense and an inside leak seems more and more plausible, which is why questions about the Rich case will not go away.  Bottom line: you don’t have to be a loony rightist to suspect that there is more to the murder than Robert Mueller would like us to believe. 

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.




Russia-gate’s Monstrous Offspring

Russia-gate has shed any premise of being about Russian interference, writes Daniel Lazare,  but the idea that America may in anyway be responsible for its own fate is of course unthinkable.     

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

Americans used to think that Russia-gate was about a plot to hack the 2016 election.  They were wrong.  Russia-gate is really about an immense conspiracy to do four things:

No. 1: Ratchet up tensions with Russia to ever more dangerous levels;

No. 2: Show that Democrats are even more useless than people imagined;

No. 3: Persecute Julian Assange;

No. 4: Re-elect Donald Trump as president.

This was the takeaway from Mitch McConnell’s devastating case closed speech last week in which the Senate majority leader jeered at President Barack Obama for mocking Mitt Romney’s claim (seven years ago now) that Russia was America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”  As Obama famously replied during that presidential debate: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

But that was so 2012.  Now, says McConnell, it looks like Romney was right:

“We’d have been better off if the administration hadn’t swept [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s invasion and occupation of Georgia under the rug or looked away as Russia forced out western NGO’s and cracked down on civil society.  If President Obama hadn’t let Assad trample his red line in Syria or embraced Putin’s fake deal on chemical weapons, if the Obama administration had responded firmly to Putin’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine in 2014, to the assassination of Boris Nemtsov in 2015, and to Russia intervention in Syria — maybe stronger leadership would have left the Kremlin less emboldened, maybe tampering with our democracy wouldn’t have seemed so very tempting. 

“Instead,” McConnell went on, “the previous administration sent the Kremlin a signal they could get away with almost anything, almost anything.  So is it surprising that we got the brazen interference detailed in special counsel Mueller’s report?”

Lies and Distortions

Like so much out of Congress these days, this was a farrago of lies and distortions.  It wasn’t Moscow that started the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, but Tbilisi.  While Russia has indeed cracked down on U.S.-backed NGO’s, Washington has done the same by forcing Russia’s highly successful news agency RT to register as a foreign agent and by sentencing Maria Butina, a Russian national studying at American University, to 18 months in prison for the crime of hobnobbing with members of the National Rifle Association. The charge that Syrian President Bashar al Assad “trampled” Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons is hardly as clear-cut as imperial propagandists like to believe – to say the least – while the agreement between Putin and former Secretary of State John Kerry to rid Syria of chemical weapons was not fake at all, but an example, increasingly rare unfortunately, of diplomacy being used to prevent an international crisis from getting out of hand.

And so on ad nauseum.  But what could Democrats say in response given that they’ve spent the last three years trying to out-hawk the GOP?  Answer: nothing.  All they could do was try to turn tables on McConnell by charging him with not being anti-Russian enough.  Thus, New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer accused him of aiding and abetting Moscow while Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin accused him of running interference for Putin because he “feels the Russians were on the side of the Republicans in 2016 and just might be again in 2020.”

Democrats Feed the Super Hawks 

The result: a Democratic consensus that Russia can’t be trusted and that America must put itself on a war footing to prevent Putin from “toppl[ing] the mighty oak that has been our republic for two hundred years,” as Schumer put it. It’s an across-the-board agreement that the long-awaited Mueller report has only strengthened by regurgitating the intelligence-community line that “[t]he Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” and then cherry-picking the facts to fit its preconceived thesis.  (See Top Ten Questions About the Mueller Report,” May 6.)

Democrats claim to oppose National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, but the anti-Russian hysteria they promote strengthens the hand of such super-hawks.  It makes military conflict more likely, if not with Russia then with perceived Russian surrogates such as  Venezuela or Iran. 

Simultaneously, it backfires on Democrats by making them look weak and foolish as they argue that even though the Mueller report says “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government,” somehow “significant evidence of collusion” still exists, as an increasingly unhinged Rep. Adam Schiff maintains.  In the Alice-in-Wonderland world of congressional Democrats, no evidence does not mean no evidence.  In fact, it means the opposite. 

Voters are unmoved.  Ten times more Americans – 80 versus 8 percent – care about healthcare than about Russia according to a recent survey.  When CNN pollsters asked a thousand people in mid-March to name the issues that matter most, not one mentioned Russia or the Mueller probe. If they didn’t care when collusion was still an open question, they care even less now that the only issue is obstruction plus a phony constitutional crisis that desperate Democrats have conjured up out of thin air.

Trump the Chief Beneficiary

Besides Fox News – whose ratings have soared while Russia-obsessed CNN’s have plummeted – the chief beneficiary is Trump.  Post-Mueller, the man has the wind in his sails.  Come 2020, Sen. Bernie Sanders could cut through his phony populism with ease.  But if Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post succeeds in tarring him with Russia the same way it tried to tar Trump, then the Democratic nominee will be a bland centrist whom the incumbent will happily bludgeon.  Former Vice President Joe Biden – the John McCain-loving, speech-slurring, child-fondler who was for a wall along the Mexican border before he was against it – will end up as a bug splat on the Orange One’s windshield. 

Beto O’Rourke, the rich-kid airhead who declared shortly before the Mueller report was released that Trump, “beyond the shadow of a doubt, sought to … collude with the Russian government,” will not fare much better.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren meanwhile seems to be tripping over her own two feet as she predicts one moment that Trump is heading to jail, declares the next that voters don’t care about the Mueller report because they’re too concerned with bread-and-butter issues, and then calls for dragging Congress into the impeachment morass regardless.

Such “logic” is lost on voters, so it seems to be a safe bet that enough will stay home next Election Day to allow the rough beast to slouch towards Bethlehem yet again.

Assange Convicted in Eyes of Press

Then there’s Julian Assange, currently serving a 50-week sentence in a supermax prison outside of London after being ejected from the Ecuadorian Embassy.  By claiming that the WikiLeaks founder was “dissembling” by denying that Russia was the source of the mammoth Democratic National Committee leak in July 2016, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has effectively convicted him in the eyes of Congress and the press. 

The New York Times thus reports that Mueller has revealed that Russian intelligence was the source while, in a venomous piece by Middlebury College professor Allison Stanger, The Washington Post declared that Assange “is neither whistleblower nor journalist,” but someone who helped Russian intelligence interfere in “the American electoral process.”

Schumer thus greeted Assange’s April 11 arrest by tweeting his “hope [that] he will soon be held to account for his meddling in our elections on behalf of Putin and the Russian government,” while, in a truly chilling statement, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia declared that “[i]t will be really good to get him back on United States soil [so] we can get the facts and the truth from him.”

Assange is guiltier than ever.  If Washington gets its hands on him, he’ll no doubt be hauled before some sort of Star Chamber and then clapped in a dungeon somewhere until he confesses that Russian intelligence made him do it, even though a careful reading of the Mueller report strongly suggests the opposite. (See The ‘Guccifer 2.0’ Gaps in Mueller’s Full Report,” April 18.)

Assange languishing behind bars, war breaking out in Latin America or the Persian Gulf, Trump in the Oval Office for four years more – it’s the worst of all possible worlds, and the Democratic Party’s bizarre fixation with Vladimir Putin is what’s pushing it.

Ultimately, Russia-gate is yet a variation on the tired old theme of American innocence.  If something goes wrong, it can’t be the fault of decent Americans who, as we all know, are too good for our deeply flawed world.  Rather, it must be the fault of dastardly foreigners trying to hack our democracy.  It’s a deep-rooted form of xenophobia that has fueled everything from the criminalization of marijuana (smuggled in by evil Mexicans) to the 1950s Red Scare (a reaction to Communism smuggled in by evil Russians), and the war on terrorism (the work of evil Muslims).  The idea that America may in anyway be responsible for its own fate is of course unthinkable.

But Russia-gate may be the greatest delusion of all.  After decades of celebrating Donald Trump as the essence of American flash and hustle, the corporate media have decided that the only way he could have gotten into the White House is if Putin put him there.  The upshot is a giant conspiracy to force Americans to turn their back on reality, an effort that can only end in disaster for all concerned, Democrats first and foremost.

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nationto Le Monde Diplomatiqueand blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.




Top Ten Questions About the Mueller Report

Daniel Lazare examines some of the missing pieces in the special counsel’s 448-page tome on Russian interference.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

In January 2017, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a report about Russian interference co-signed by three other agencies — the National Security Agency, the FBI, and the CIA — that was so evidence-free that even The New York Times said it was “unlikely to change the minds of skeptics who … remember the intelligence agencies’ faulty assessments on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.”

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016,” the report stated.  “We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump. …  We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release U.S. victim data….”

That was it.  No back-up, no substantiation, no analysis other than to point out that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton were on bad terms and that Russia hoped for better from Trump. Moreover, the report included a bizarre seven-page attack on RT, the Moscow-backed news outlet formerly known as Russia Today, for “highlight[ing] criticism of alleged U.S. shortcomings” by asserting, among other things, “that the U.S. two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’”  If Clapper & Co. couldn’t tell the difference between a news agency from a hostile intelligence service — or between legitimate criticism and a foreign attack — then what good was their judgment regarding other Russian government activities?

But with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s 448-page tome on Russian interference, surely we’ve turned a corner, right?

Wrong.  Mueller’s door-stopper of a report may be chockfull of facts, but it’s also filled with the non sequiturs, loose threads and self-serving arguments that we’ve come to expect from official Washington.  It’s good on collusion, pointing out that reports of a Trump-Russia conspiracy remain unsubstantiated despite desperate Democratic efforts to spin it otherwise. 

But it’s lousy on interference, regurgitating the standard intelligence-community line that Russia “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” Simultaneously, it is remarkably incurious about how the scandal began, who propelled it along, and how it all snowballed into a mega-Watergate.

With that in mind, here are 10 questions that the report should answer but doesn’t.

No. 1: Was it Bernie in a Speedo?

In its discussion of the Internet Research Agency, the alleged St. Petersburg troll farm that supposedly used social media to interfere in the 2016 election, the report quotes congressional testimony by Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch stating that the company had linked the Internet Research Agency to 470 phony accounts that “collectively made 80,000 posts between January 2015 and August 2017” that may have “reached as many as 126 million persons.”

This sounds alarming.  But that’s not all Stretch said.  He also testified that American Facebook users received a total of 33 trillion posts over the same period, a figure more than 400 million times greater.  With a typical user receiving roughly 220 posts per day, he estimated that 29 million people may have come across one IRA item over more than two years and that each recipient may have then passed along to three or four others – hence the figure of 126 million.  (See Gareth Porter, 33 Trillion More Reasons Why The New York Times Gets It Wrong on Russia-gate,” Nov. 2, 2018.)

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What might that item have been?  Could it have been a cartoon of a muscle-bound Bernie Sanders in a Speedo?  A picture of Jesus arm-wrestling with a pro-Hillary Satan?  Why doesn’t the report mention the strange and inept material the Internet Research Agency put out or the less sensational figures issued by Facebook?  Is it because Mueller wants to perpetuate the myth of massive Russian interference – the kind of interference, by the way, in which the U.S. engages with other countries around the clock?

No. 2: Partial Accounting?

The report says that 3,814 Twitter accounts controlled by the Internet Research Agency may also have reached 1.4 million users.  This also sounds scary.  But what the report doesn’t say is that while the Internet Research Agency allegedly posted 176,000 tweets during the 10-week presidential campaign, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the one billion election-related messages that Americans tweeted overall. Why not cite that number too?

No. 3: Just Another Clickbait Operation? 

The report notes that only 8.4 percent of IRA tweets were election-related.  If so, what does Mueller think the other 91.6 percent were about?  Could it be that IRA was not an intelligence agency after all, but, as it’s been argued, a clickbait operation aimed at drumming up business?

No. 4: Under-Cover Hoopla?

The report discusses Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Internet Research Agency, saying that “IRA employees, claiming to be U.S. social activists and administrators of Facebook groups, recruited U.S. persons to hold signs (including one in front of the white House) that read ‘Happy 55thBirthday Dear Boss,’ as an homage to Prigozhin (whose 55thbirthday was on June 1, 2016).”  What kind of intelligence operation calls attention to itself in such a flamboyant manner?  Is this yet more evidence that the Internet Research Agency was something entirely different?

No. 5: Investigation by News Clip?

Although last summer’s indictment of the Internet Research Agency was silent on the question of Russian involvement in Prigozhin’s alleged activities, the Mueller report argues that his Kremlin links are strong after all.  The evidence: a New York Times article, “Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian Oligarch Indicted by US., Is Known as ‘Putin’s Cook.’”  After nearly two years, is this all that 19 attorneys and 40 FBI agents working for Mueller could come up with – a newspaper clip?

No. 6: Another Source on GRU Hack?

“By no later than April 12, 2016,” the report continues, “the GRU gained access to the DCCC [i.e. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] computer network using the credential stolen from a DCCC employee who had been successfully spearphished the day before.”  How does team Mueller know what the GRU was up to when the Democratic National Committee refused to grant the FBI access to its computers? Does he have another source he’s not telling us about?

No. 7: More on Mifsud? 

The report’s discussion of Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud is strikingly incomplete.  After all, it was Mifsud who got Russia-gate rolling by telling President Donald Trump’s foreign-policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, over breakfast at a London hotel that Russia had “dirt” on Hilary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” It was this tip, which Papadopoulos relayed to top Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, that prompted the formal FBI investigation known as “Crossfire Hurricane” when word reached Washington.

This makes Mifsud an important guy.  Yet the report says little about him other than he “maintained various Russian contacts while living in London” and that one such contact was a former employee of the Internet Research Agency.  Yet abundant evidence suggests that Mifsud in fact enjoyed extensive ties to Western intelligence. 

Stephan Roh, a Swiss-German lawyer who hired him as a consultant, writes in a self-published book that Mifsud has “only one master: the Western Political, Diplomatic, and Intelligence World, his only home, of which he is still deeply dependent.”  Photographs have surfaced of Mifsud with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and with Claire Smith, a top British intelligence official with whom he taught a course for Italian military and law-enforcement personnel at a private institute in Rome that Roh partly owns.

British and Russian intelligence agents normally do not team up in such a manner.  So why doesn’t Mueller mention such links?  The report also notes that Mifsud introduced Papadopoulos to an attractive young woman named Olga Polonskaya, whom he falsely billed as Putin’s niece and who offered to help set up a meeting between Trump and the Russian president. 

But why would Mifsud go to such lengths?  Isn’t Mueller curious as to whether he was trying to lead Papadopoulos into a trap? Or is this another avenue he doesn’t want to go down in order to maintain a narrative about evil Russians targeting a hapless west?

The report doesn’t mention Downer by name and also doesn’t mention Christopher Steele, the ex-MI6 agent whose 35-page “golden showers” dossier on Trump’s alleged Russia links created a media frenzy. It also doesn’t mention that The Washington Post reported that the “golden showers” section was written by a Clinton operative.  Since Steele is as crucial to the story as Mifsud or Downer, shouldn’t we know more about him as well – who recruited him, who provided him advice along the way, who fed him information?

No. 8: Something Missing on Millian? 

On the other hand, the report devotes two pages to Sergei Millian, the Belarus-American who may also have tried to lure Papadopoulos into a trap by offering to “share with you a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.” But it fails to mention that Millian was simultaneously a source for the Steele Dossier. A connection like this fairly cries out for an investigation.  Yet Mueller is apparently uninterested – why?

No. 9: Failure to Inform on Sater? 

Mueller likewise neglects to mention that Felix Sater, the Russian-American mobster pushing Trump Tower Moscow, was an FBI informant and that Henry Oknyansky, a Russian expatriate who tried to interest the Trump campaign in still more dirt on Clinton, was as well.  Why the reticence?

No. 10: Eavesdropping on Next Administration? 

After President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on Russia for alleged election interference in December 2016, the report says: “Members of the intelligence community were surprised by Russia’s decision not to retaliate.  When analyzing Russia’s response, they became aware of [future National Security Adviser Michael] Flynn’s discussions of sanctions with [Russian ambassador Sergey] Kislyak.”

How did intelligence agents become aware of such discussions?  Were they listening in?  Is Mueller at all concerned that intelligence agencies were apparently eavesdropping on an incoming presidential administration?

One could go on – about the report’s dubious attempts to paint WikiLeaks as an arm of the GRU (see my story, The ‘Guccifer 2.0’ Gaps in Mueller’s Full Report,” April 18, 2019), about the thin evidence the report marshals in its effort to brand Paul Manafort’s associate Konstantin Kilimnik a Russia spy (volume one, p. 133), about the FBI’s attempt to use the defunct Logan Act — a two-century old law banning private diplomacy that has been dormant since 1852 — to launch an investigation into Flynn (volume two, p. 37), and so on.

But the point should be clear.  The Mueller report is an exercise in disinformation.  It generates more questions than answers about what may well have been an effort to sabotage U.S.-Russian relations and cripple the White House.

“I can’t do anything with Russia,” Trump complained after two months in office. “There’s things I’d like to do with Russia, with trade, with ISIS, they’re all over me with this.”   Did it occur to Mueller that this is just the sort of policy paralysis that a phony Russia-gate scandal was designed to achieve?

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nationto Le Monde Diplomatiqueand blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

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The ‘Guccifer 2.0’ Gaps in Mueller’s Full Report

Like Team Mueller’s indictment last July of Russian agents, the full report reveals questions about Wikileaks’ role that much of the media has been ignoring, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

As official Washington pores over the Gospel According to Saint Robert, an all-important fact about the Mueller report has gotten lost in the shuffle.  Just as the Christian gospels were filled with holes, the latest version is too – particularly with regard to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

The five pages that the special prosecutor’s report devotes to WikiLeaks are essentially lifted from Mueller’s indictment last July of 12 members of the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU.  It charges that after hacking the Democratic National Committee, the GRU used a specially-created online persona known as Guccifer 2.0 to transfer a gigabyte’s worth of stolen emails to WikiLeaks just as the 2016 Democratic National Convention was approaching.  Four days after opening the encrypted file, the indictment says, “Organization 1 [i.e. WikiLeaks] released over 20,000 emails and other documents stolen from the DNC network by the Conspirators [i.e. the GRU].”

Mueller’s report says the same thing, but with the added twist that Assange then tried to cover up the GRU’s role by suggesting that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich may have been the source and by telling a congressman that the DNC email heist was an “inside job” and that he had “physical proof” that the material was not from Russian.

All of which is manna from heaven for corporate news outlets eager to pile on Assange, now behind bars in London.  An April 11, 2019, New York Times news analysis, for instance, declared that “[c]ourt documents have revealed that it was Russian intelligence – using the Guccifer persona – that provided Mr. Assange thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee,” while another Times article published shortly after his arrest accuses the WikiLeaks founder of “promoting a false cover story about the source of the leaks.”

But there’s a problem: it ain’t necessarily so.  The official story that the GRU is the source doesn’t hold water, as a timeline from mid-2016 shows.  Here are the key events based on the GRU indictment and the Mueller report:

  • June 12: Assange tells Britain’s ITV that another round of Democratic Party disclosures is on the way: “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton, which is great. WikiLeaks is having a very big year.”
  • June 14: The Democratic National Committee accuses Russia of hacking its computers.
  • June 15: Guccifer 2.0 claims credit for the hack. “The main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to WikiLeaks ,” he brags.  “They will publish them soon.”
  • June 22: WikiLeaks tells Guccifer via email: “Send any new material here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.”
  • July 6: WikiLeaks sends Guccifer another email: “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.”Replies Guccifer: “ok . . . i
  • July 14: Guccifer sends WikiLeaks an encrypted file titled “wk dnc link1.txt.gpg.”
  • July 18: WikiLeaks confirms it has opened “the 1Gb or so archive” and will release documents “this week.”
  • July 22: WikiLeaks releases more than 20,000 DNC emails and 8,000 other attachments.

According to Mueller and obsequious news outlets like the Times, the sequence is clear: Guccifer sends archive, WikiLeaks receives archive, WikiLeaks accesses archive, WikiLeaks publishes archive.  Donald Trump may not have colluded with Russia, but Julian Assange plainly did. [Attorney General Will Barr, significantly calling WikiLeaks a publisher, said at his Thursday press conference: “Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy.”]

Avoiding Questions

The narrative raises questions that the press studiously avoids.  Why, for instance, would Assange announce on June 12 that a big disclosure is on the way before hearing from the supposed source?  Was there a prior communication that Mueller has not disclosed? What about the reference to “new material” on June 22 – does that mean Assange already had other material in hand?  After opening the Guccifer file on July 18, why would he publish it just four days later?  Would that give WikiLeaks enough time to review some 28,000 documents to insure they’re genuine?

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“If a single one of those emails had been shown to be maliciously altered,” blogger Mark F. McCarty observes, “Wikileaks’ reputation would have been in tatters.” There’s also the question that an investigator known as Adam Carter poses in Disobedient Media:  why would Guccifer brag about giving WikiLeaks“thousands of files” that he wouldn’t send for another month?

The narrative doesn’t make sense a fact that is crucially important now that Assange is fighting for his freedom in the U.K.  New Yorker staff writer Raffi Khatchadourian sounded a rare note of caution last summer when he warned that little about Guccifer 2.0 adds up.  While claiming to be the source for some of WikiLeaks’ most explosive emails, the material he released on his own had proved mostly worthless – 20 documents that he “said were from the DNC but which were almost surely not,” as Khatchadourian puts it, a purported Hillary Clinton dossier that “was nothing of the sort,” screenshots of emails so blurry as to be “unreadable,” and so forth.

While insisting that “our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party, Assange told Khatchadourian that the source was not Guccifer either.  “We received quite a lot of submissions of material that was already published in the rest of the press, and people seemingly submitted the Guccifer archives,” he said somewhat cryptically. “We didn’t publish them.  They were already published.”  When Khatchadourian asked why he didn’t put the material out regardless, he replied that “the material from Guccifer 2.0 – or on WordPress – we didn’t have the resources to independently verify.”

No Time for Vetting

So four days was indeed too short a time to subject the Guccifer file to proper vetting.  Of course, Mueller no doubt regards this as more “dissembling,” as his report describes it.  Yet WikiLeaks has never been caught in a lie for the simple reason that honesty and credibility are all-important for a group that promises to protect anonymous leakers who supply it with official secrets.  (See “Inside WikiLeaks: Working with the Publisher that Changed the World,” Consortium News, July 19, 2018.)  Mueller, by contrast, has a rich history of mendacity going back to his days as FBI director when he sought to cover up the Saudi role in 9/11 and assured Congress on the eve of the 2003 invasion that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction pose “a clear threat to our national security.”

So if the Mueller narrative doesn’t hold up, the charge of dissembling doesn’t either. Indeedas ex-federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy observes in The National Review, the fact that the feds have charged Assange with unauthorized access to a government computer rather than conspiring with the Kremlin could be a sign that Team Mueller is less than confident it can prove collusion beyond a reasonable doubt.  As he puts it, the GRU indictment “was more like a press release than a charging instrument” because the special prosecutor knew that the chances were zero that Russian intelligence agents would surrender to a U.S. court.

Indeed, when Mueller charged 13 employees and three companies owned by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin with interfering in the 2016 election, he clearly didn’t expect them to surrender either. Thushis team seemed taken aback when one of the alleged “troll farms” showed up in Washington asking to be heard.  The prosecution’s initial response, as McCarthy put it, was to seek a delay “on the astonishing ground that the defendant has not been properly served – notwithstanding that the defendant has shown up in court and asked to be arraigned.” When that didn’t work, prosecutors tried to limit Concord’s access to some 3.2 million pieces of evidence on the grounds that the documents are too “sensitive” for Russian eyes to see.  If they are again unsuccessful, they may have no choice but to drop the charges entirely, resulting in yet another “public relations disaster” for the Russia-gate investigation.

None of which bodes well for Mueller or the news organizations that worship at his shrine. After blowing the Russia-gate story all these years, why does the Times continue to slander the one news organization that tells the truth?

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

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Consortium News’ Record on Russia-gate—How CN Covered the ‘Scandal’: No. 5—‘Spooks Spooking Themselves’

On Thursday Daniel Lazare wrote a review of a book about how intelligence agents set up aspects of the “collusion” story. But in May 2018 Lazare had already begun figuring out the story for himself.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

With the news that a Cambridge academic-cum-spy named Stefan Halper infiltrated the Trump campaign, the role of the intelligence agencies in shaping the great Russiagate saga is at last coming into focus.  

It’s looking more and more massive.  The intelligence agencies initiated reports that Donald Trump was colluding with Russia, they nurtured them and helped them grow, and then they spread the word to the press and key government officials.  Reportedly, they even tried to use these reports to force Trump to step down prior to his inauguration.  Although the corporate press accuses Trump of conspiring with Russia to stop Hillary Clinton, the reverse now seems to be the case: the Obama administration intelligence agencies worked with Clinton to block Siberian candidate Trump.  

The template was provided by ex-MI6 Director Richard Dearlove, Halper’s friend and business partner.  Sitting in winged chairs in London’s venerable Garrick Club, according to The Washington Post, Dearlove told fellow MI6 veteran Christopher Steele, author of the famous “golden showers” opposition research dossier, that Trump “reminded him of a predicament he had faced years earlier, when he was chief of station for British intelligence in Washington and alerted US authorities to British information that a vice presidential hopeful had once been in communication with the Kremlin.”

Apparently, one word from the Brits was enough to make the candidate in question step down.  When that didn’t work with Trump, Dearlove and his colleagues ratcheted up the pressure to make him see the light.  A major scandal was thus born – or, rather, a very questionable scandal.

Besides Dearlove, Steele, and Halper, a bon-vivant known as “The Walrus” for his impressive girth, other participants include:

  • Robert Hannigan, former director Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, UK equivalent of the NSA.
  • Alexander Downer, top Australian diplomat.
  • Andrew Wood, ex-British ambassador to Moscow.
  • Joseph Mifsud, Maltese academic.
  • James Clapper, ex-US Director of National Intelligence.
  • John Brennan, former CIA Director (and now NBC News analyst).

In-Bred

A few things stand out about this august group.  One is its in-bred quality.  After helping to run an annual confab known as the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, Dearlove and Halper are now partners in a private venture calling itself “The Cambridge Security Initiative.”  Both are connected to another London-based intelligence firm known as Hakluyt & Co. Halper is also connected via two books he wrote with Hakluyt representative Jonathan Clarke and Dearlove has a close personal friendship with Hakluyt founder Mike Reynolds, yet another MI6 vet.  Alexander Downer served a half-dozen years on Hakluyt’s international advisory board, while Andrew Wood is linked to Steele via Orbis Business Intelligence, the private research firm that Steele helped found, and which produced the anti-Trump dossier, and where Wood now serves as an unpaid advisor.

Everyone, in short, seems to know everyone else.  But another thing that stands out about this group is its incompetence.  Dearlove and Halper appear to be old-school paranoids for whom every Russian is a Boris Badenov or a Natasha Fatale.  In February 2014, Halper notified US intelligence that Mike Flynn, Trump’s future national security adviser, had grown overly chummy with an Anglo-Russian scholar named Svetlana Lokhova whom Halper suspected of being a spy – suspicions that Lokhova convincingly argues are absurd.

In December 2016, Halper and Dearlove both resigned from the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar because they suspected that a company footing some of the costs was tied up with Russian intelligence – suspicions that Christopher Andrew, former chairman of the Cambridge history department and the seminar’s founder, regards asabsurd as well.

As head of Britain’s foreign Secret Intelligence Service, as MI6 is formally known, Dearlove played a major role in drumming up support for the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq even while confessing at a secret Downing Street meeting that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [regime-change] policy.”  When the search for weapons of mass destruction turned up dry, Clapper, as then head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, argued that the Iraqi military must have smuggled them into neighboring Syria, a charge with absolutely no basis in fact but which helped pave the way for US regime-change efforts in that country too. 

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Brennan was meanwhile a high-level CIA official when the agency was fabricating evidence against Saddam Hussein and covering up Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11. Wood not only continues to defend the Iraqi invasion, but dismisses fears of a rising fascist tide in the Ukraine as nothing more than “a crude political insult” hurled by Vladimir Putin for his own political benefit. Such views now seem distressingly misguided in view of the alt-right torchlight parades and spiraling anti-Semitism that are now a regular feature of life in the Ukraine.

The result is a diplo-espionage gang that is very bad at the facts but very good at public manipulation – and which therefore decided to use its skill set out to create a public furor over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

It Started Late 2015

The effort began in late 2015 when GCHQ, along with intelligence agencies in Poland, Estonia, and Germany, began monitoring what they said were “suspicious ‘interactions’ between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents.”  

Since Trump was surging ahead in the polls and scaring the pants off the foreign-policy establishment by calling for a rapprochement with Moscow, the agencies figured that Russia was somehow behind it.  The pace accelerated in March 2016 when a 30-year-old policy consultant named George Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign as a foreign-policy adviser.  Traveling in Italy a week later, he ran into Mifsud, the London-based Maltese academic, who reportedly set about cultivating him after learning of his position with Trump. Mifsud claimed to have “substantial connections with Russian government officials,” according to prosecutors.  Over breakfast at a London hotel, he told Papadopoulos that he had just returned from Moscow where he had learned that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

This was the remark that supposedly triggered an FBI investigation.  The New York Times describes Mifsud as “an enthusiastic promoter of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia” and “a regular at meetings of the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual conference held in Sochi, Russia, that Mr. Putin attends,” which tried to suggest that he is a Kremlin agent of some sort.  But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange later tweeted photos of Mifsud with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and a high-ranking British intelligence official named Claire Smith at a training session for Italian security agents in Rome.  Since it’s unlikely that British intelligence would rely on a Russian agent in such circumstances, Mifsud’s intelligence ties are more likely with the UK.

After Papadopoulos caused a minor political ruckus by telling a reporter that Prime Minister David Cameron should apologize for criticizing Trump’s anti-Muslim pronouncements, a friend in the Israeli embassy put him in touch with a friend in the Australian embassy, who introduced him to Downer, her boss.  Over drinks, Downer advised him to be more diplomatic.  After Papadopoulos then passed along Misfud’s tip about Clinton’s emails, Downer informed his government, which, in late July, informed the FBI.

Was Papadopoulos Set Up?  

Suspicions are unavoidable but evidence is lacking.  Other pieces were meanwhile clicking into place.  In late May or early June 2016, Fusion GPS, a private Washington intelligence firm employed by the Democratic National Committee, hired Steele to look into the Russian angle.  

On June 20, he turned in the first of eighteen memos that would eventually comprise the Steele dossier, in this instance a three-page document asserting that Putin “has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years” and that Russian intelligence possessed “kompromat” in the form of a video of prostitutes performing a “golden showers” show for his benefit at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton.  A week or two later, Steele briefed the FBI on his findings.  Around the same time, Robert Hannigan flew to Washington to brief CIA Director John Brennan about additional material that had come GCHQ’s way, material so sensitive that it could only be handled at “director level.”  

One player was filling Papadopoulos’s head with tales of Russian dirty tricks, another was telling the FBI, while a third was collecting more information and passing it on to the bureau as well.   

On July 7, 2016 Carter Page delivered a lecture on U.S.-Russian relations in Moscow in which he complained that “Washington and other western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption, and regime change.”  Washington hawks expressed unease that someone representing the presumptive Republican nominee would take Russia’s side in a growing neo-Cold War.

Stefan Halper then infiltrated the Trump campaign on behalf of the FBI as an informant in early July, weeks before the FBI launched its investigation. Halper had 36 years earlier infiltrated the Carter re-election campaign in 1980 using CIA agents to turn information over to the Reagan campaign. Now Halper began to court both Page and Papadopoulous, independently of each other.

On July 11, Page showed up at a Cambridge symposium at which Halper and Dearlove both spoke. In early September, Halper sent Papadopoulos an email offering $3,000 and a paid trip to London to write a research paper on a disputed gas field in the eastern Mediterranean, his specialty. “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?” Halper asked when he got there, but Papadopoulos said he knew nothing. Halper also sought out Sam Clovis, Trump’s national campaign co-chairman, with whom he chatted about China for an hour or so over coffee in Washington.  

The rightwing Federalist website speculates that Halper was working with Steele to flesh out a Sept. 14 memo claiming that “Russians do have further ‘kompromat’ on CLINTON (e-mails) and [are] considering disseminating it.”  Clovis believes that Halper was trying “to create an audit trail back to those [Clinton] emails from someone in the campaign … so they could develop a stronger case for probable cause to continue to issue warrants and to further an investigation.”  Reports that Halper apparently sought a permanent post in the new administration suggest that the effort was meant to continue after inauguration.

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Notwithstanding Clovis’s nutty rightwing politics, his description of what Halper may have been up to makes sense as does his observation that Halper was trying “to build something that did not exist.”  Despite countless hyper-ventilating headlines about mysterious Trump Tower meetings and the like, the sad truth is that Russiagate after all these months is shaping up as even more of a “nothing-burger” than Obama administration veteran Van Jones said it was back in mid-2017.  Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has indicted Papadopoulos and others on procedural grounds, he has indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for corruption, and he has charged a St. Petersburg company known as the Internet Research Agency with violating US election laws.  

But the corruption charges have nothing to do with Russian collusion and nothing in the indictment against IRA indicates that either the Kremlin or the Trump campaign were involved.  Indeed, the activities that got IRA in trouble in the first place are so unimpressive – just $46,000 worth of Facebook ads that it purchased prior to election day, some pro-Trump, some anti, and some with no particular slant at all – that Mueller probably wouldn’t even have bothered if he hadn’t been under intense pressure to come up with anything at all.  

The same goes for the army of bots that Russia supposedly deployed on Twitter.  As The Washington Post noted in an oddly, cool-headed Dec. 2 article, 2,700 suspected Russian-linked accounts generated just 202,000 tweets in a six-year period ending in August 2017, a drop in a bucket compared to the one billion election-related tweets sent out during the fourteen months leading up to Election Day.

The Steele dossier is also underwhelming.  It declares on one page that the Kremlin sought to cultivate Trump by throwing “various lucrative real estate development business deals” his way but says on another that Trump’s efforts to drum up business were unavailing and that he thus “had to settle for the use of extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success.”

Why would Trump turn down business offers when he couldn’t generate any on his own?  The idea that Putin would spot a U.S. reality-TV star somewhere around 2011 and conclude that he was destined for the Oval Office five years later is ludicrous.  The fact that the Democratic National Committee funded the dossier via its law firm Perkins Coie renders it less credible still, as does the fact that the world has heard nothing more about the alleged video despite the ongoing deterioration in US-Russian relations.  What’s the point of making a blackmail tape if you don’t use it?

Even Steele is backing off. In a legal paper filed in response to a libel suit last May, he said the document “did not represent (and did not purport to represent) verified facts, but were raw intelligence which had identified a range of allegations that warranted investigation given their potential national security implications.”   The fact is that the “dossier” was opposition research, not an intelligence report. It was neither vetted by Steele nor anyone in an intelligence agency. Opposition research is intended to mix truths and fiction, to dig up plausible dirt to throw at your opponent, not to produce an intelligence assessment at taxpayer’s expense to “protect” the country. And Steele was paid for it by the Democrats, not his government.

Using it Anyway

Nonetheless, the spooks have made the most of such pseudo-evidence. Dearlove and Wood both advised Steele to take his “findings” to the FBI, while, after the election, Wood pulled Sen. John McCain aside at a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to let him know that the Russians might be blackmailing the president-elect.  McCain dispatched long-time aide David J. Kramer to the UK to discuss the dossier with Steele directly. 

Although Kramer denies it, The New Yorker found a former national-security official who says he spoke with him at the time and that Kramer’s goal was to have McCain confront Trump with the dossier in the hope that he would resign on the spot. When that didn’t happen, Clapper and Brennan arranged for FBI Director James Comey to confront Trump instead.  Comey later testified that he didn’t want Trump to think he was creating “a J. Edgar Hoover-type situation – I didn’t want him thinking I was briefing him on this to sort of hang it over him in some way.”  

But how could Trump think otherwise? As Consortium News founding editor Robert Parry observed a few days later, the maneuver “resembles a tactic out of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s playbook on government-style blackmail: I have some very derogatory information about you that I’d sure hate to see end up in the press.”  

Since then, the Democrats have touted the dossier at every opportunity, The New Yorker continues to defend it, while Times columnist Michelle Goldberg cites it as well, saying it’s a “rather obvious possibility that Trump is being blackmailed.”  CNN, for its part, suggested not long ago that the dossier may actually be Russian disinformation designed to throw everyone off base, Republicans and Democrats alike.

It sounds more like CIA paranoia raised to the nth degree.  But that’s what the intelligence agencies are for, i.e. to spread fear and propaganda in order to stampede the public into supporting their imperial agenda.  In this case, their efforts are so effective that they’ve gotten lost in a fog of their own making.  If the corporate press fails to point this out, it’s because reporters are too befogged themselves to notice.

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique, and his articles about the Middle East, terrorism, Eastern Europe, and other topics appear regularly on such websites as Jacobin and The American Conservative.  

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The Tale of a ‘Deep State Target’

Daniel Lazare reviews George Papadopoulos’s book about his misadventures with a nest of intelligence agents.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

Now that Russian collusion is dead and buried thanks to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, the big question is how and why such charges arose.  George Papadopoulos’s “Deep State Target: How I Got Caught in the Crosshairs of the Plot to Bring Down President Trump” doesn’t tell the whole story.  But this account by one of the crusade’s first victims pulls the covers off a few important aspects.

It describes a lengthy entrapment scheme that began when Papadopoulos told co-workers that presidential candidate Donald Trump was about to appoint him to his foreign-policy advisory team.

The time was March 2016, the place the London Centre of International Law Practice, where Papadopoulos was working as an energy consultant, a job that mainly involves meeting with diplomats and going out for a dinner and drinks.  Regarding the LCILP, he recalls it as a “strange operation” where there’s “no actual law practice going on that I can see” and which he later suspects is an intelligent front.

The reaction to his announcement was not good.  “You should not be working with Trump,” one of Papadopoulos’s bosses tells him. “He’s a threat to society.  He’s a racist.  He’s anti-Muslim.”

But the tone changes when another LCILP director insists that he join him for a three-day conference at Link Campus University, a privately-owned educational center in Rome.  There he is introduced to a well-dressed Maltese academic in his mid-fifties named Joseph Mifsud.

“He asks about my background,” Papadopoulos writes. “He asks if I have Russian contacts. I shake my head.  ‘I heard you have connections,’ I say.  ‘And that you might be able to help me with the campaign.’”

“Oh yes, absolutely,” Mifsud replies.  “Let’s talk tonight.  Let’s go to dinner.”

Into the Rabbit Hole

With that, the author enters into a rabbit hole filled with twists and turns in which he found himself in the middle of a deep-state intelligence war over Trump’s alleged Kremlin ties and by the end of which he had served a 12-day sentence in a medium-security federal prison.

 

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In late April, Mifsud takes him to breakfast at a London hotel and informs him that he had just returned from Russia where officials say they have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  “Emails of Clinton,” Mifsud says.  “They have thousands of emails.”  Papadopoulos writes it off as idle chitchat by a dubious diplomatic networker whom he has come to see as all talk and no action.

A friend from the Australian embassy introduces him to a top Aussie diplomat named Alexander Downer, who tells him over gin-and-tonics that his foreign-policy ideas are all wet.

A British foreign-ministry official takes him out for still more drinks and grills him about Russia.

Stefan Halper, an old CIA hand turned Cambridge academic, contacts him out of the blue and pesters him about Russia as well.

A mysterious Belorussian-American name Sergei Millian offers him a secret $30,000-a-month PR job but only if he continues working for Trump.

An Israeli-American businessman named Charles Tawil buys him lunch at a steakhouse in Skokie, Ill. Later, in Greece, they go clubbing together in Mykonos, and then Tawil flies Papadopoulos to Israel where he presents him with $10,000 in cash – money that a wary Papadopoulos leaves with a lawyer in Thessaloniki.

While flying back to the U.S. in July 2017, Papadopoulos runs into a squad of FBI agents as he is changing planes.  “And then, finally, it dawns on me as they are going through my bags,” he writes.  “Charles Tawil and the money.  They are looking for $10,000 in undeclared cash!  That fucking guy was setting me up.”

“I’ve barely slept in two days,” he goes on after appearing before a judge.  “I’m wearing the same shirt that I left Athens in.  I smell like garbage.  I look like garbage.  I’m disoriented – because while I’ve just finally heard the charges, I still don’t really understand any of it.” To his horror, he learns that he is facing 25 years in prison on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI.

What was going on?  Although Papadopoulos doesn’t go into the pre-history, we know from other sources that, by late 2015, intelligence agencies were buzzing over reports that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin were reaching out to one another behind the scenes.

Three Mood-Setting Events 

Spooks are paranoid by profession, but three recent events had put them particularly on edge.  One was the Euromaidan uprising in Kiev in early 2014, which, by driving out an allegedly pro-Russian president, sparked a parallel revolt among Russian speakers in the east.  Another was in Syria where U.S. backing of Islamist rebels had prompted Russia to intervene in support of President Bashar al-Assad.  The third was on the U.S. campaign trail where Trump was thoroughly shocking foreign-policy “experts” by sounding off against regime change and making friendly noises toward Putin.

“But I think that I would probably get along with him very well,” Trump said of the Russian president in October 2015.  When CNN host John Dickerson asked about Russian air assaults, he replied: “And as far as him attacking ISIS, I’m all for it. If he wants to be bombing the hell out of ISIS, which he’s starting to do, if he wants to be bombing ISIS, let him bomb them, John.  Let him bomb them.  I think we [can] probably work together much more so than right now.”

Intelligence agencies might have conceded that the U.S. was wrong to encourage far-right elements in Kiev and that it was equally mistaken in giving backhanded support to Al Qaeda and ISIS in the Middle East. They might have granted that Trump, for all his reality-TV bluster, had a point.  But western intelligence agencies don’t do self-criticism.  What they did was blame Putin for messing up their plans for a clean coup in Kiev and an equally neat ouster of Assad and then blamed Trump for arguing in his behalf. From there, it was a very short step to concluding that Trump was not only siding with Putin, but conspiring with him.

Individual intelligence assets went into action to prove this  theory correct and, if need be, to invent a conspiracy where none existed. Joseph Mifsud was apparently among them.  “Deep State Target” devotes a fair amount of space to his background.  Although Mueller’s indictment says Mifsud had “substantial connections to Russian government officials,” a wealth of data indicates the opposite. 

‘Only One Master’

Stephan Roh, a Swiss-German lawyer who employed Mifsud as a consultant, writes in a self-published book that he has “only one master: the Western Political, Diplomatic, and Intelligence World, his only home, of which he is still deeply dependent.” Mifsud has been photographed with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and veteran diplomat Claire Smith, a top British intelligence official. Indeed, Mifsud taught a course with Smith for Italian military and law-enforcement personnel at the same Link Campus where he’d met Papadopolous.

Mifsuds’s ties with western intelligence are thus multifarious and deep.  The same goes for the other people with whom ran Papadopoulos had contact.

Alexander Downer, the Aussie diplomat with whom he had drinks, turns out to be a director of a London private intelligence firm known as Hakluyt & Co., which counts among its close associates Halper, the Cambridge academic who was ex-CIA, and Sir Richard Dearlove, ex-director of MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA.  These two — Dearlove and Halper — ran an intelligence seminar at Cambridge and are also partners in a private venture calling itself “The Cambridge Security Initiative.”  (See Spooks Spooking Themselves,Consortium News, May 31, 2018.) 

Millian, the man who offered Papadopoulos $30,000 a month, turns out to be a source for the notorious Steele Dossier, compiled by ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele.  Steele, in turn, sought counsel at one point from fellow Cambridge man Dearlove on how to spread his findings.  According to one of Willian’s buddies, Millian works for the FBI as well.

All of which is enough to get anyone’s conspiratorial juices flowing.

As for Charles Tawil, he arouses Papadopoulos’s fears of an intelligence link once he arrives in Mykonos by boasting of his friendship with Uganda President Yoweri Museveni and then-South African President Jacob Zuma, and declaring of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, “it wasn’t our fault he got caught.”  In Israel, he brags about helping to wiretap Syrian strong man Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president.  “We could have killed him at any time,” he says.  Finally, Papadopoulos reveals a private diplomatic cable citing Tawil as a U.S. intelligence asset back in 2006.

Five intelligence assets were thus hounding Papadopoulos at every turn while a sixth was compiling the dossier that would send Russia-gate into overdrive. It added up to the greatest propaganda campaign since the furor over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and, like those nonexistent WMDs, turns out to have been manufactured out of thin air.

Full-Court Press

“Deep State Target” is vague about many details and Papadopoulos doesn’t have all the answers about Russia-gate.  No one at this point does.  But his book leaves little doubt that he was the victim of a full-court press by intelligence assets in and around the FBI, CIA, and MI6.

Like everyone, Mifsud knew about Clinton’s emails – the ones she stored on her private server, not those that Wikileaks would later release – and fed Papadopoulos tidbits about a supposed Russia connection in the hope, no doubt, that he would pass them along to the Trump campaign.  When he didn’t, Downer nonetheless reported back to Canberra that Papadopoulos had told him something along those lines. (Papadopoulos does not remember saying any such thing.) Once Canberra told Washington, the FBI investigation, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane, was on.

Halper tried to get him to admit to working with Russia: “It’s great that Russia is helping you and the campaign, right, George? George, you and your campaign are involved in hacking and working with Russia, right?  It seems like you are a middleman for Trump and Russia, right?  I know you know about the emails.”

Millian sends him an email shortly before the election telling him to “[p]lease be very cautious these last few days.  Even to the point of not leaving your food and drinks out of eye sight.”

“Obviously a Greek Orthodox guy like you has close ties to Russia,” Charles Tawil, observes, leaving it to Papadopoulos to fill in the blanks.

Diehard Russia-truthers will point out that, even though the charge that Papadopoulos obstructed justice by misleading the FBI was dropped, Papadopoulos is still a convicted liar who pled guilty to misleading the FBI about the exact timing of his meetings with Mifsud.  But he says that he was frightened and nervous and didn’t have his lawyer present and that he didn’t even remember what he had said until he read it in the indictment.

He also says he now regrets taking his then-lawyers’ advice to cop a plea: “There was never any pre-trial discovery.  We never saw – or at least I hadn’t seen – the transcript of my interview, so all we had was the prosecutor’s word regarding what I had said.  And we caved.” But he was an amateur running out of money while doing battle with a prosecutor with a $25-million budget.  He had little choice.  Russia-gate was unstoppable – until the collusion theory finally collapsed.

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde diplomatiqueand blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

If you value this original article, please consider making a donation to Consortium News’s Spring Fundraising Drive so we can bring you more stories like this one. 




We Were Right on Russia-gate; Now Help Us Keep Our Work Going

For more than two years, led by our founding editor, Bob Parry, Consortium News consistently challenged the Russia-gate “collusion” story, which has now been officially dismissed. Please support us to keep our record of unique journalism going as we launch our annual Spring Fundraising Drive today.

Aaron Maté, one of the leading, independent journalists who debunked the Russia-gate collusion “scandal” tweeted last week:

Indeed, Parry blazed the trail of Russia-gate skepticism on this trail-blazing website he founded in 1995, very likely the first independent news website in history. Following his long experience as an investigative reporter at the Associated Press and Newsweek magazine, Bob simply applied professional journalistic standards and ethics to every story he ever covered.  The Russia-gate saga was no different. Some people call it “evidence-based” journalism, or even “scientific” journalism. Bob would have called it just journalism.

Being devoid of ideology or partisan bias, Bob covered the Russia-gate story by demanding evidence, and when none was found he said so. When the corporate media became unmoored in reporting this story, Bob also said so, pointing out how the media had abandoned the bedrock principles of journalism, which begins with skepticism.  He set the story in its geo-political and domestic contexts, pointing out how dangerous the wild speculation masquerading as fact was to a world still at risk of nuclear conflict between Russia and the United States. 

As he had been in skeptically reporting the WMD fiasco that led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq, Bob was attacked, this time for being a Kremlin stooge, a Putin puppet, and a Trump supporter, simply for keeping his head and doing his job.  Bob was soon joined by other writers at Consortium News in making this website a leading publication in factual reporting about the burgeoning “scandal.”  Some publications or online video sites had one or two skeptical writers or presenters.  

But Bob made Consortium News a welcoming place for a host of experienced writers who took apart various aspects of the collusion conspiracy theory, including Ray McGovern, Gareth Porter, Daniel Lazare, Patrick Lawrence and Joe Lauria. Consortium News is also the exclusive home of the Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, who published a series of groundbreaking memos challenging the Russia-gate story.

Consortium News pays its writers for their excellent work and is exclusively reader-supported.  We depend on our audience to keep us going, so that when the dominant corporate media next tries to lead millions of Americans and people around the world astray, we’ll be there to set the record straight.

 

Please make your tax-deductible donation to our Spring Fund Drive today!

 

Thank you.




Anti-Semitism and Double Standards

Criticizing Israel is considered bad form, writes Daniel Lazare, but keeping mum about Saudi crimes is fine as long as the donations continue to flow.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

In a week when the GOP flaunted its legislative attacks on anti-Semitism at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and brought AIPAC loyalties into the 2020 campaign, let’s remember that plenty of people in the liberal establishment play the same two-faced game. While pretending to oppose bigotry, they are in bed with the most anti-Semitic governments on Earth.

Tony Blair, British prime minister from 1997 to 2007, is a prime example. Blair may be gone, but his Labour Party followers are leading the charge against such targets as the party’s current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and Afro-Jewish socialist Jackie Walker.  Margaret Hodge, a Labour member of parliament who reportedly called Corbyn “a fucking anti-Semite and a racist” in a closed-door meeting, was an early Blair backer who supported his decision to invade Iraq in 2003.  Luciana Berger, who said last year that “anti-Semitism is very real and alive in the Labour Party,” is another Blairite with a hawkish foreign-policy record. Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who has defended Berger, also backed the Iraq invasion.  Ditto Ann Coffey, who has assailed the Corbyn culture of antisemitism and began her political ascent as Blair’s parliamentary private secretary, a kind of junior whip, in the late 1990s. 

All want voters to think Labour is now riddled with anti-Semitism and that criticism of Israel should be circumspect at best lest it open the door to western society’s oldest hatred.  Evidently, they miss the Blair days, when Labor was high-minded and decent.

But these Blairites are silent on their hero’s partnership with PetroSaudi. This company, which described itself as a “vehicle of the Saudi royal family,” put Blair’s now-defunct firm, Tony Blair Associates, on a $65,000-a-month retainer to help it drum up business in China.  Although Tony Blair Associates closed amid controversy, the connections apparently lived onLast September, The Financial Times reported that Blair’s personal foundation, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, has benefited from Saudi largesse in the form of a £9 million donation – about $12 million – from the Saudi Research & Marketing Group, a company controlled by Prince Badr bin Abdullah, the kingdom’s minister of culture.

Beholden to Saudis 

Thus, Blair’s new “global change institute” — on a self-proclaimed mission to “make globalization work for the many, not the few” — is beholden to a kingdom that is a byword for torture, autocracy and extreme religious intolerance. Saudi Arabia bans all faiths other than Islam and persecutes Muslims who fail to adhere to the official brand of Sunni fundamentalism known as Wahhabism (after an 18th-century mullah named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab).  Saudi police in 2011 arrested 35 Ethiopian Christians, mainly women, for the “crime” of participating in an underground prayer meeting. Shi‘ites in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province suffer “pervasive discrimination” according to Human Rights Watch.

Saudi textbooks distributed widely throughout the Dar al Islam teach that judgment day “will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims will kill them,” according to a U.S. government study. One 10th-grade text declares: “Feelings of arrogance and superiority inhabit the Jews.  They claim they are the chosen people even though God himself has denied that, humiliated them, misled them, and made them into swine and apes.”

ISIS used Saudi textbooks in schools it controlled in Syria and Iraq back when it still had a caliphate, while Saudi texts have cropped up in weekend school programs in the United Kingdom and Belgium.  Training manuals in Brussels’s Grand Mosque — until recently Saudi-funded and controlled — teach that Jews are “traitors, infidels, and impostors … obscene and vulgar … cruel and insensible … greedy, avid, and avaricious” and “use violence, power, and terror to control the world.”

This goes back centuries.  In 1810, a French explorer named Louis Alexandre Olivier de Corncez wrote that Wahhabists display “the cruelest intolerance towards Christians and Jews,” as Simon Ross Valentine recounts in his book, “Force and Fanaticism: Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia and Beyond.”

Robert Vitalis, in his “America’s Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier,” gives the more recent example of an American Airline executive describing a meeting, in the late 1940s, with Deputy Foreign Minister Yusuf Yassin: “As for Jews, a Jew is a Jew in the eyes of the Saudis, regardless of what passport he may be carrying.  As Yusuf explained to us in no uncertain terms, Saudi Arabia is a holy Moslem country and no Jew is going to be allowed to pass through it and to contaminate it.  They realize such an attitude is tough on international carriers but they just don’t care – they don’t want any Jews setting foot on Saudi Arabian soil, ‘period!’”

This is the history and present-day culture with which Tony Blair aligns.

Longing for Clinton Days  

The same goes for Clintonites on the other side of the pond.  The three Democrats who led the charge last month against U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar for her alleged anti-Semitism were Representatives Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel and Jerrold Nadler, all from New York and all early backers of fellow New Yorker Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.  The implicit assumption in their attack was that things were better when centrist Democrats held sway and rambunctious upstarts like Omar were still stuck in Minneapolis.

What goes unmentioned is that Hillary and her former-president husband have partnered with the Saudis in a way that Blair can only envy.  Since 1997, the Clinton Foundation has raked in between $10 million and $25 million from the Saudi government, according to the foundation’s website (which only gives ranges of contribution) while individual Saudi businessmen have donated between $8 million and $25 million.  Five other Persian Gulf petro-monarchies have donated between $9 million and $30 million. And the Saudi royal family has given $10 million to Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas. All told, it’s a dazzling sum that, had Hillary become president, would undoubtedly have served to steer Mideast policy in an even more pro-Saudi direction.  When Saudi King Abdullah died in early 2015, Bill and Hillary praised his peacemaking activities and “personal friendship and kindness toward our family.”

But they didn’t mention less-savory aspects of his reign. These include not only bigoted textbooks but terrorism.  As Hillary confided a year earlier in a 2014 email, “the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia … are providing clandestine financial support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”  

Other atrocities, also unmentioned, include South Asian servants sentenced to death on flimsy, trumped-up charges (examples here and here), a gay man sentenced to 450 lashes in 2014 for using Twitter to arrange dates, a young woman sentenced to 200 lashes for the crime of being gang raped, and the persecution of liberal blogger Raif Badawi, who has been in a Saudi prison since 2012 for daring to challenge Wahhabist bigotry.

All took place under Abdullah’s reign. Just as we’re supposed to turn a blind eye to Israel’s sins, we’re expected to keep mum about Saudi crimes — as long as the donations continue to flow, that is.

Anti-Semitism, U.S.-Style

The Saudis are not alone in spreading anti-Semitism.  The U.S. has failed to criticize President Petro Poroshenko for permitting neo-Nazis militias to run riot in the Ukraine, attacking feminists, gays, and Roma and holding torchlight parades in honor of World War II collaborator Stepan Bandera in which they chant Jews out.”  Washington is silent about the Baltics, where demonstrations in honor of Hitler’s SS units are now an annual occurrence.  Last April, 57 lawmakers signed a letter by California Democrat Ro Khanna calling on the Ukraine to “unequivocally reject Holocaust distortion and the honoring of Nazi collaborators.”  Lowey and Engel were conspicuously absent among the signatories. Apparently, Omar’s  tweet about “the Benjamins baby” is more offensive than thousands of fascists marching through the streets of Kiev.

And then there’s Israel. It might be expected to be in the forefront of combatting anti-Semitism. The opposite is the case. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is cultivating the support of hard-right nationalists in Central Europe while hailing Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban as a “true friend of Israel” even as Orban wages a classic anti-Semitic campaign against Jewish philanthropist George Soros.  Netanyahu’s government has sold weapons to Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov militia and has whitewashed the Polish government’s efforts to “disappear” the Polish role in the Holocaust, thereby earning an unprecedented rebuke from Israel’s own Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.  In America, his chief allies include evangelical Christians who believe that, come the apocalypse, Jesus will institute a divine kingdom which Jews must either submit to or be killed.

While allying with Jewish neo-Nazis at home, Netanyahu draws ever closer to rightwing nationalists abroad.  Even GeorgeOrwell would have been taken aback by the spectacle of Zionists embracing anti-Jewish bigots while smearing leftists, many of them Jews, as anti-Semites for standing up for Palestinian rights.  War is peace, freedom is slavery, and anti-racists are racist whenever bigots like Netanyahu say so.  While leveling phony charges of anti-Semitism, Blairites and Clintonites are helping to spread the real article farther and farther afield.

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

If you value this original article, please consider making a donation to Consortium News so we can bring you more stories like this one. 

 




Consortium News’ Record on Russia-gate—A Series of Articles on How CN Covered the ‘Scandal’: No. 1—‘The Sleazy Origins of Russia-gate’

From the “scandal’s” outset, Consortium News adopted journalistic skepticism, led by founding editor, the late Robert Parry, with Ray McGovern, Daniel Lazare, Patrick Lawrence, Gareth Porter, Joe Lauria & VIPS debunking much of the mania that seized the land. 

In the wake of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in which no one was accused of “colluding” with Russia to steal the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we begin a series of republication of articles originally appearing at Consortium News that called the entire fiasco into question. Bob Parry was in the forefront of Russia-gate skepticism,  recognizing its domestic and geopolitical dangers.

We begin with this article by Bob Parry published on March 29, 2017.

The Sleazy Origins of Russia-gate

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

An irony of the escalating hysteria about the Trump camp’s contacts with Russians is that one presidential campaign in 2016 did exploit political dirt that supposedly came from the Kremlin and other Russian sources. Friends of that political campaign paid for this anonymous hearsay material, shared it with American journalists and urged them to publish it to gain an electoral advantage. But this campaign was not Donald Trump’s; it was Hillary Clinton’s.

And, awareness of this activity doesn’t require you to spin conspiracy theories about what may or may not have been said during some seemingly innocuous conversation. In this case, you have open admissions about how these Russian/Kremlin claims were used.

Indeed, you have the words of Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, in his opening statement at last week’s public hearing on so-called “Russia-gate.” Schiff’s seamless 15-minute narrative of the Trump campaign’s alleged collaboration with Russia followed the script prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele who was hired as an opposition researcher last June to dig up derogatory information on Donald Trump.

Steele, who had worked for Britain’s MI-6 in Russia, said he tapped into ex-colleagues and unnamed sources inside Russia, including leadership figures in the Kremlin, to piece together a series of sensational reports that became the basis of the current congressional and FBI investigations into Trump’s alleged ties to Moscow.

Since he was not able to go to Russia himself, Steele based his reports mostly on multiple hearsay from anonymous Russians who claim to have heard some information from their government contacts before passing it on to Steele’s associates who then gave it to Steele who compiled this mix of rumors and alleged inside dope into “raw” intelligence reports.

Lewd Allegations

Besides the anonymous sourcing and the sources’ financial incentives to dig up dirt, Steele’s reports had numerous other problems, including the inability of a variety of investigators to confirm key elements, such as the salacious claim that several years ago Russian intelligence operatives secretly videotaped Trump having prostitutes urinate on him while he lay in the same bed in Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton used by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

That tantalizing tidbit was included in Steele’s opening report to his new clients, dated June 20, 2016. Apparently, it proved irresistible in whetting the appetite of Clinton’s mysterious benefactors who were financing Steele’s dirt digging and who have kept their identities (and the amounts paid) hidden. Also in that first report were the basic outlines of what has become the scandal that is now threatening the survival of Trump’s embattled presidency.

But Steele’s June report also reflected the telephone-tag aspects of these allegations: “Speaking to a trusted compatriot in June 2016 sources A and B, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure and a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin respectively, the Russian authorities had been cultivating and supporting US Republican presidential candidate, Donald TRUMP for a least 5 years.

“Source B asserted that the TRUMP operation was both supported and directed by Russian President Vladimir PUTIN. Its aim was to sow discord and disunity both within the US itself, but more especially within the Transatlantic alliance which was viewed as inimical to Russia’s interests. … In terms of specifics, Source A confided that the Kremlin had been feeding TRUMP and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, for several years. …

“The Kremlin’s cultivation operation on TRUMP also had comprised offering him various lucrative real estate development business deals in Russia, especially in relation to the ongoing 2018 World Cup soccer tournament. However, so far, for reasons unknown, TRUMP had not taken up any of these.”

Besides the anonymous and hearsay quality of the allegations, there are obvious logical problems, especially the point that five years ago, you could have gotten astronomical odds about Trump’s chances to win the U.S. presidency, although perhaps there is more an astrological explanation. Maybe the seemingly logical Putin went to some stargazing soothsayer to see the future.

There also may have been a more mundane reason why Trump’s hotel deal fell through. A source familiar with those negotiations told me that Trump had hoped to get a half interest in the $2 billion project but that Russian-Israeli investor Mikhail Fridman, a founder of Russia’s Alfa Bank, balked because Trump was unwilling to commit a significant investment beyond the branding value of the Trump name.

Yet, one would assume that if the supposedly all-powerful Putin wanted to give a $1 billion or so payoff to his golden boy, Donald Trump, whom Putin just knew would become President in five years, the deal would have happened.

Whetting the Appetite

Despite the dubious quality of Steele’s second- and third-hand information, the June report appears to have won the breathless attention of Team Clinton. And once the bait was taken, Steele continued to produce his conspiracy-laden reports, totaling at least 17 through Dec. 13, 2016.

The reports not only captivated the Clinton political operatives but influenced the assessments of Obama’s appointees in the U.S. intelligence community. In the last weeks of the Obama administration, I was told that the outgoing intelligence chiefs had found no evidence to verify Steele’s claims but nevertheless believed them to be true.

Still, a careful analysis of Steele’s reports would have discovered not only apparent factual inaccuracies, such as putting Trump lawyer Michael Cohen at a meeting with a Russian official in Prague (when Cohen says he’s never been to Prague), but also the sort of broad conspiracy-mongering that the mainstream U.S. news media usually loves to ridicule.

For instance, Steele’s reports pin a range of U.S. political attitudes on Russian manipulation rather than the notion that Americans can reach reasonable conclusions on their own. In one report dated Sept. 14, 2016, Steele claimed that an unnamed senior official in President Vladimir Putin’s Presidential Administration (or PA) explained how Putin used the alleged Russian influence operation to generate opposition to Obama’s Pacific trade deals.

Steele wrote that Putin’s intention was “pushing candidate CLINTON away from President OBAMA’s policies. The best example of this was that both candidates [Clinton and Trump] now openly opposed the draft trade agreements, TPP and TTIP, which were assessed by Moscow as detrimental to Russian interests.”

In other words, the Russians supposedly intervened in the U.S. presidential campaign to turn the leading candidates against Obama’s trade deals. But how credible is that? Are we to believe that American politicians – running the gamut from Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren through former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to President Donald Trump – have all been tricked by the Kremlin to oppose those controversial trade deals, which are also broadly unpopular with the American people who are sick and tired of trade agreements that cost them jobs?

Steele’s investigative dossier suggests that we can’t really think for ourselves. We are all Putin’s puppets.

Greater Skepticism?

Normally, such a ludicrous claim – along with the haziness of the sourcing – would demand greater skepticism about the rest of Steele’s feverish charges, but a curious aspect of the investigations into Russia’s alleged “meddling” in Election 2016 is that neither Steele nor the “oppo research” company, Fusion GPS, that hired him – reportedly with funding from Clinton allies – has been summoned to testify.

Usually, official investigations begin with testimony from the people who are making the allegations, so their credibility and motives can be tested in an adversarial setting. Plus, some baseline information should be established: Who, for instance, paid for the contract? How much was the total and how much went to Steele? How much did Steele then pay his Russian contacts and did they, in turn, pay the alleged Russian insiders for information? Or are we supposed to believe that these “insiders” risked being identified as spies out of a commitment to the truth?

None of these answers would necessarily discredit the information, but they could provide important context as to whether this “oppo” team had a financial motive to sex-up the reports to keep Clinton’s friends coming back for more. Arguably the funders of this “oppo” research should be called to testify as well regarding whether they would have kept ponying up more money if Steele’s reports had concluded that there were no meaningful contacts between Trump’s people and the Russians. Were they seeking the truth or just dirt to help Hillary Clinton win?

Since last November’s election, Steele has ducked public inquiries and Glenn Simpson, the former Wall Street Journal journalist who heads Fusion GPS, has refused to divulge who hired his firm or answer other relevant questions. That means we still don’t know which Clinton friends paid for the dirt and how much money was given to subcontractors like Steele and his Russian associates. (One source told me it may have totaled around $1 million.)

According to various press reports, Fusion GPS first worked for a Republican opponent of Trump’s, but then switched over to the Clinton side after Trump won the Republican race. With Steele generating his reports every few days or every few weeks, people close to Clinton’s campaign saw the Russia allegations as a potential game-changer. They reached out to reporters to persuade them to publish Steele’s allegations even if they could not be verified.

Before the election, a longtime Clinton operative briefed me on aspects of Steele’s investigation, including the “golden shower” allegations, and urged me to at least publish the accusations as a rumor citing the fact that some major news organizations were looking into the charges, an offer that I declined.

In a different setting – when Gov. Bill Clinton was seeking the presidency and Republican “oppo” researchers were pushing various wild and salacious allegations about him – the Clinton team dismissed such claims and the motivations of the people behind them as “cash for trash.”

Following the Storyline

Yet, Schiff’s opening statement at the hearing on March 20 relied heavily on Steele’s narrative and the supposed credibility of the ex-British spy and his anonymous Russian sources, even to the point of naming Americans who presumably joined in a scheme to collaborate with the Russians to help rig the U.S. election, an act that some commenters have compared to treason.

The California Democrat said, “Russian sources tell [Steele] that [Carter] Page [a Trump foreign policy adviser who made a public trip to Russia in early July 2016] also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, CEO of Russian gas giant Rosneft. … According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by Sechin on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company.”

These “Russian sources” also tell Steele, according to Schiff, that “the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share.”

Schiff continued: “Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company Rosneft sold a 19 percent share after former British Intelligence Officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size? Is it a coincidence that Steele’s Russian sources also affirmed that Russia had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for pro-Russian policies that would later come to pass?”

However, is it also not possible that Steele and his profit-making colleagues made their reports conform to details that already were known or that they had reason to believe would occur, in other words, to match up their claims with independently known facts to give them greater credibility? That is a classic way for conmen to establish “credibility” with marks who are either gullible or simply want to believe.

Also, clever prosecutors in presenting a “circumstantial case” – as Schiff was doing on March 20 – can make innocent coincidences look suspicious. For instance, though Trump’s resistance to escalating tensions with Russia was well known through the primary campaign, Schiff made a big deal out of the fact that Trump’s people opposed a plank in the Republican platform that called for shipping lethal military supplies to Ukraine for the government’s war against ethnic Russian rebels in the east. Schiff presents that as the quo for the quid of the Russians supplying purloined emails from the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks (although WikiLeaks denies getting the emails from the Russians).

In his opening statement, Schiff said: “In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager and someone who was long on the payroll of pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, attends the Republican Party convention. Carter Page, back from [a business meeting in] Moscow, also attends the convention.

“According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests. [Russian] Ambassador [Sergey] Kislyak, who presides over a Russian embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party convention and meets with Carter Page and additional Trump Advisors J.D. Gordon and Walid Phares. It was J.D. Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow.

“Ambassador Kislyak also meets with Trump campaign national security chair and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing. Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of ‘lethal defensive weapons’ to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests.

“Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign in altering the platform. But the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states that it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, J.D. Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision at the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.”

Problems with the Conspiracy

So, not only is Schiff relying on Steele to provide key links in the conspiracy chain but Schiff ignores the surrounding reality that Trump had long opposed the idea of escalating the confrontation with Russia in Ukraine – as, by the way, did President Obama who resisted pressure to send lethal military hardware to Ukraine.

Plus, Schiff ignores other logical points, including that party platforms are essentially meaningless and that the savvy Putin would not likely take the huge risk of offending the odds-on winner of the presidential race, Hillary Clinton, for something as pointless as a word change in the GOP platform.

There is also the point that if Trump were a true “Manchurian candidate,” he would have taken the more politically popular position of bashing Russia during the campaign and only reverse course after he got into the White House. That’s how the scheme is supposed to work. (And, of course, all embassies including American ones have spies assigned to them, so there is nothing unusual about Ambassador Kislyak presiding at an embassy with spies.)

Other independent-minded journalists have noted various chronological problems with Steele’s narrative, such as Marcy Wheeler at her emptywheel.net Web site.

In other words, there are huge holes in both the evidence and the logic of Schiff’s conspiracy theory. But you wouldn’t know that from watching and reading the fawning commentary about Schiff’s presentation in the mainstream U.S. news media, which has been almost universally hostile to Trump (which is not to say that there aren’t sound reasons to consider the narcissistic, poorly prepared Trump to be unfit to serve as President of the United States).

The journalistic problem is that everyone deserves to get a fair shot from reporters who are supposed to be objective and fair regardless of a person’s popularity or notoriety or what the reporter may personally feel. That standard should apply to everyone, whether you’re a foreign leader despised by the U.S. government or a politician detested for your obnoxious behavior.

There is no professional justification for journalists joining in a TV-and-print lynch mob. We also have seen too often where such wrongheaded attitudes lead, such as to the groupthink that Iraq’s hated dictator Saddam Hussein was hiding WMDs, or in an earlier time to the McCarthyism that destroyed the lives of Americans who were smeared as unpatriotic because of their dissident political views.

So, yes, even Donald Trump deserves not to be railroaded by a mainstream media that wants desperately – along with other powerful forces in Official Washington – to see him run out of town on a rail and will use any pretext to do so, even if it means escalating the risks of a nuclear war with Russia.

And, if mainstream media commentators truly want a thorough and independent investigation, they should be demanding that it start by summoning the people who first made the allegations.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. 




Telling Only Part of the Story of Jihad

A CNN star reporter should not be shocked to learn that U.S. allies are consorting with Yemeni terrorists, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

A recent CNN report about U.S. military materiel finding its way into Al Qaeda hands in Yemen might have been a valuable addition to Americans’ knowledge of terrorism.

Entitled Sold to an ally, lost to an enemy,” the 10-minute segment, broadcast on Feb. 4, featured rising CNN star Nima Elbagir cruising past sand-colored “Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected” armored vehicles, or MRAPs, lining a Yemeni highway.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” she says.  “And this is not under the control of [Saudi-led] coalition forces.  This is in the command of militias, which is expressly forbidden by the arms sales agreements with the U.S.”

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she adds.  “CNN was told by coalition sources that a deadlier U.S. weapons system, the TOW missile, was airdropped in 2015 by Saudi Arabia to Yemeni fighters, an air drop that was proudly proclaimed across Saudi backed media channels.”  The TOWs were dropped into Al Qaeda-controlled territory, according to CNN.  But when Elbagir tries to find out more, the local coalition-backed government chases her and her crew out of town.

U.S.-made TOWs in the hands of Al Qaeda?  Elbagir is an effective on-screen presence.  But this is an old story, which the cable network has long soft-pedaled.

In the early days of the Syrian War, Western media was reluctant to acknowledge that the forces arrayed against the Assad regime included Al Qaeda. In those days, the opposition was widely portrayed as a belated ripple effect of the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings elsewhere in the region.

However, in April-May 2015, right around the time that the Saudis were air-dropping TOWs into Yemen, they were also supplying the same optically-guided, high-tech missiles to pro-Al Qaeda forces in Syria’s northern Idlib province.  Rebel leaders were exultant as they drove back Syrian government troops.  TOWs “flipped the balance,” one said, while another declared: “I would put the advances down to one word – TOW.”

CNN reported that story very differently. From rebel-held territory, CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh described the missiles as a “possible game-changer … that may finally be wearing down the less popular side of the Shia-Sunni divide.”  He conceded it wasn’t all good news: “A major downside for Washington at least, is that the often-victorious rebels, the Nusra Front, are Al Qaeda.  But while the winners for now are America’s enemies, the fast-changing ground in Syria may cause to happen what the Obama administration has long sought and preached, and that’s changing the calculus of the Assad regime.”

Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The New York Times all reacted the same way, furrowing their brows at the news that Al  Qaeda was gaining, but expressing measured relief that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was at last on the ropes.

But now that Elbagir is sounding the alarm about TOWs in Yemen, CNN would do well to acknowledge that it has been distinctly more blasé in the past about TOWs in the hands of al Qaeda.

The network appears unwilling to go where Washington’s pro-war foreign-policy establishment doesn’t want it to go.  Elbagir shouldn’t be shocked to learn that U.S. allies are consorting with Yemeni terrorists.

U.S. History with Holy Warriors    

What CNN producers and correspondents either don’t know or fail to mention is that Washington has a long history of supporting jihad. As Ian Johnson notes in  A Mosque in Munich” (2010), the policy was mentioned by President Dwight Eisenhower, who was eager, according to White House memos, “to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect” in his talks with Muslim leaders about the Cold War Communist menace.”  [See How U.S. Allies Aid Al Qaeda in Syria,” Consortium News, Aug. 4, 2015.]

Britain had been involved with Islamists at least as far back as 1925 when it helped establish the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and both the U.S. and Britain worked with Islamists in the 1953 coup in Iran, according to Robert Dreyfus in Devil’s Game” (2006)

By the 1980s a growing Islamist revolt against a left-leaning, pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan brought U.S. support.    In mid-1979, President Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, armed the Afghan mujahideen — not at first to drive the Soviets out, but to lure them in. Brzezinski intended to deal Moscow a Vietnam-sized blow, as he put it in a 1998 interview.

Meanwhile, a few months after the U.S. armed the mujahideen, the Saudis were deeply shaken when Islamist extremists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca and called for the overthrow of the royal family. While Saudi Arabia has been keen to repress jihadism at home, it has been a major supporter of Sunni extremists in the region, particularly to battle the Shi‘ite regime that came to power in Tehran, also in 1979.

Since then, the U.S. has made use of jihad, either directly or indirectly, with the Gulf oil monarchies or Pakistan’s notoriously pro-Islamist Inter-Services Intelligence agency.  U.S. backing for the Afghan mujahideen helped turn Osama bin Laden into a hero for some young Saudis and other Sunnis, while the training camp he established in the Afghan countryside drew jihadists from across the region.

U.S. backing for Alija Izetbegovic’s Islamist government in Bosnia-Herzegovina brought al-Qaeda to the Balkans, while U.S.-Saudi support for Islamist militants in the Second Chechen War of 1999-2000 enabled it to establish a base of operations there.

Downplaying Al Qaeda

Just six years after 9/11, according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, the U.S. downplayed the fight against Al Qaeda to rein in Iran  – a policy, Hersh wrote, that had the effect of “bolstering … Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.”

Under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, policy toward Al-Qaeda turned even more curious.  In March 2011, she devoted nearly two weeks to persuading Qatar, the UAE and Jordan to join the air war against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, only to stand by and watch as Qatar then poured hundreds of millions of dollars of aid into the hands of Islamist militias that were spreading anarchy from one end of the country to the other.  The Obama administration thought of remonstrating with Qatar, but didn’t in the end.

Much the same happened in Syria where, by early 2012, Clinton was organizing a “Friends of Syria” group that soon began channeling military aid to Islamist forces waging war against Christians, Alawites, secularists and others backing Assad.  By August 2012, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the [anti-Assad] insurgency”; that the West, Turkey, and the Gulf states supported it regardless; that the rebels’ goal was to establish “a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria,” and that “this is exactly what the supporting powers want in order to isolate the Syrian regime….”

Biden Speaks Out 

Two years after that, Vice President Joe Biden declared at Harvard’s Kennedy School: 

“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. …  The Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. what were they doing?  They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do?  They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”  (Quote starts at 53:25.)

The fact that Obama ordered the vice president to apologize to the Saudis, the UAE and Turkey for his comments provided back-handed confirmation that they were true.   When TOWs turned up in the hands of pro-Qaeda rebels in Syria the following spring, all a senior administration official would say was: “It’s not something we would refrain from raising with our partners.”

It was obvious that Al Qaeda would be a prime beneficiary of Saudi intervention in Yemen from the start. Tying down the Houthis — “Al Qaeda’s most determined foe,” according to the Times — gave it space to blossom and grow.  Where the State Department said it had up to 4,000 members as of 2015, a UN report put its membership at between 6,000 and 7,000 three years later, an increase of 50 to 75 percent or more.

In early 2017, the International Crisis Group found that Al Qaeda was “thriving in an environment of state collapse, growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy.”

In Yemen, Al Qaeda “has regularly fought alongside Saudi-led coalition forces in … Aden and other parts of the south, including Taiz, indirectly obtaining weapons from them,” the ICG added. “…In northern Yemen … the [Saudi-led] coalition has engaged in tacit alliances with AQAP fighters, or at least turned a blind eye to them, as long as they have assisted in attacking the common enemy.”

In May 2016, a PBS documentary showed Al Qaeda members fighting side by side with UAE forces near Taiz.  (See The Secret Behind the Yemen War,” Consortium News, May 7, 2016.)  

Last August, an Associated Press investigative team found that the Saudi-led coalition had cut secret deals with Al Qaeda fighters, “paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment, and wads of looted cash.” Saudi-backed militias “actively recruit Al Qaeda militants,” the AP team added, “…because they’re considered exceptional fighters” and also supply them with armored trucks.

If it’s not news that U.S. allies are providing pro-Al Qaeda forces with U.S.-made equipment, why is CNN pretending that it is?  One reason is that it feels free to criticize the war and all that goes with it now that the growing human catastrophe in Yemen is turning into a major embarrassment for the U.S.  Another is that criticizing the U.S. for failing to rein in its allies earns it points with viewers by making it seem tough and independent, even though the opposite is the case.

Then there’s Trump, with whom CNN has been at war since the moment he was elected.  Trump’s Dec. 19 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria thus presented the network with a double win because it allowed it to rail against the pullout as bizarre and a win for Moscow while complaining at the same time about administration policy in Yemen.  Trump is at fault, it seems, when he pulls out and when he stays in.

In either instance, CNN gets to ride the high horse as it blasts away at the chief executive that corporate outlets most love to hate.  Maybe Elbagir should have given her exposé a different title: “Why arming homicidal maniacs is bad news in one country but OK in another.”

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nationto Le Monde Diplomatiqueand blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.