I Don’t Know Who This Guy Is, But He Has Won The Internets!

Erin Burnett has now accused him of being drunk (h/t to Cheryl for finding the tweet with the embedded video):

And in other news, the following also happened today:

BANGKOK — A Belarusian escort with close ties to a powerful Russian oligarch said from behind bars in Bangkok on Monday that she had more than 16 hours of audio recordings that could help shed light on Russian meddling in United States elections.

The escort, Anastasia Vashukevich, said she would hand over the recordings if the United States granted her asylum. She faces criminal charges and deportation to Belarus after coming under suspicion of working in Thailand without a visa at a sex-training seminar in the city of Pattaya.

Ms. Vashukevich, who described herself as close to the Russian aluminum tycoon Oleg V. Deripaska, said that audio recordings she made in August 2016 included discussions he had about the United States presidential election with people she declined to identify.

“If America gives me protection, I will tell everything I know,” Ms. Vashukevich said on Monday. “I am afraid to go back to Russia. Some strange things can happen.”

Her assertion could be easy to disregard were it not for a 25-minute video investigation posted last month on YouTube by the Russian opposition figure Aleksei A. Navalny, which relies heavily on videos and photographs from Ms. Vashukevich.

Here’s Navalny’s expose video:

And this too:

Update at 8:30 PM EST

Almost forgot this one:

A man who is critically ill after being exposed to an unknown substance in Wiltshire is a Russian national convicted of spying for Britain, the BBC understands.

Sergei Skripal, 66, was granted refuge in the UK following a “spy swap” between the US and Russia in 2010.

He and a woman, 33, were found unconscious on a bench at a shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday.

Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury has been closed by police “as a precaution”.

The substance has not been identified, but Public Health England said there was no known risk to the public’s health.

Wiltshire Police are investigating whether a crime has been committed. They said the pair had no visible injuries but had been found unconscious at the Maltings shopping centre.

They have declared a “major incident” and multiple agencies are investigating. They said it had not been declared as a counter-terrorism incident, but they were keeping an “open mind”.

Col Skripal, who is a retired Russian military intelligence officer, was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006 for spying for Britain.

While the British authorities are investigating, this is not the first time this type of thing has happened to Russian nationals in Britain who have gotten crosswise with Putin. Buzzfeed ran a six part series on this last year. From part 1:

The British government is suppressing explosive intelligence that Alexander Perepilichnyy, a financier who exposed a vast financial crime by Russian government officials, was likely assassinated on the direct orders of Vladimir Putin.

Perepilichnyy, who faced repeated threats after fleeing to Britain, was found dead outside his home in Surrey after returning from a mysterious trip to Paris in 2012. Despite an expert detecting signs of a fatal plant poison in his stomach, the British police have insisted there was no evidence of foul play, and Theresa May’s government has invoked national security powers to withhold evidence from the inquest into his cause of death – which is ongoing.

Across the Atlantic, five current high-ranking US intelligence officials have warned that Britain is failing to get to grips with the increased threat from an emboldened Russia – and three of them have taken the extraordinary step of chastising British law enforcement. “The Kremlin has aggressively stepped up its efforts to eliminate and silence its enemies abroad over the past couple of years – particularly in Britain,” one senior US spy told BuzzFeed News. A second serving intelligence official said the “incompetent” British police “should have to answer for their actions and be held accountable” for shutting down any investigation into Perepilichnyy’s death.

So this is likely part of the wet work program that Putin has reinvigorated in recent years.

The intelligence pointing to a campaign of targeted killings in Britain comes amid mounting international concern that the Kremlin is brazenly interfering in the West, and as the investigation into Russian ties to President Donald Trump’s advisers gathers pace.

The Russian government passed new lawsgiving its agents a licence to kill enemies of the state abroad in 2006, the same year two assassins from the FSB, Russia’s spy agency, flew to London to poison the defector and one-time KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium. Last year, a British public inquiry found that Vladimir Putin had likely approved that assassination in an act of nuclear terrorism in the British capital that was impossible for the government to ignore. But high-ranking intelligence sources said other less glaringly obvious assassinations have gone unpunished.

Russian assassins have been able to kill in Britain with impunity over the past decade, 17 current and former British and American intelligence officials told BuzzFeed News. The reasons for Britain’s reticence, they said, include fear of retaliation, police incompetence, and a desire to preserve the billions of pounds of Russian money that pour into British banks and properties each year. As a result, Russia is making what one source called increasingly “bold moves” in the UK without fear of reprisals.

Walton said Russian assassins are often extremely adept at “disguising murder”. They are expert at staging suicides by planting evidence to make victims appear to have been depressed, counter-terror officers told BuzzFeed News, or even using drugs and psychological tactics to drive them into taking their own lives. In the case of state assassinations, Putin’s government had amassed “a suite of chemical and biological agents that were developed for targeted assassinations” so killers could do their work without leaving a trace, a former top-ranking MI6 official said. And Britain’s secret service was hamstrung in its ability to share intelligence pointing to Russian complicity, sources said, because of the need to protect confidential informants.

So even when intelligence strongly pointed to an assassination, police and intelligence sources said, there was often too little evidence to make a case stand up in court. In such instances, they said it could be easier to pronounce a death unsuspicious than to stoke diplomatic tensions and public alarm over an accusation of political assassination that probably wouldn’t stick.

I highly recommend the entire series.

Consider this an open thread!



Just A Quick Note On The Russia Investigation

Jane Mayer has produced an excellent piece of long form reporting on Christoper Steele and the investigation into Russia’s active measures and cyberwarfare campaign to both influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections and to continue to influence US politics (h/t: Paul Campos at LGM). I just want to highlight what I think are two of the most important points, if not the two most important points, in Mayer’s article, which Campos also highlighted, with some commentary.

First:

Robert Hannigan, then the head of the U.K.’s intelligence service the G.C.H.Q., had recently flown to Washington and briefed the C.I.A.’s director, John Brennan, on a stream of illicit communications between Trump’s team and Moscow that had been intercepted.

I cannot emphasize how important this is. While this has been reported and/or alluded to in other reporting, what Mayer is unequivocally stating is that the head of Britain’s equivalent of the NSA hand carried the signals intelligence (SIGINT) of communications between the Trump campaign and/or Trump organization with the Russians. Moscow in this sentence means Russian government, not just people living and/or working in Moscow. This is important because it means that counterintelligence task force that Director Comey set up, and that Special Counsel Mueller inherited, has had the actual communications captured by British intelligence. Thanks to our British allies, from the start of his investigation, Special Counsel Mueller and his team have known exactly who from the Trump campaign and/or businesses were in touch with Russian officials and what they said to each other. So when you see reporting on Mueller’s investigation or what he is seeking in subpoenas, just keep in mind that the Special Counsel has known a lot about the who, the what, and the when since he started. What he and his team have been doing is fleshing this out. Mapping the overall network. Determining the directions of influence. And, of course, following the money.

The second important part of Mayer’s reporting I want to highlight is:

One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.

The question here is who was the American conduit of interference? The contemporary reporting at the time was that Kellyanne Conway played the leading role in dissuading the President from nominating Governor Romney as Secretary of State.

President-elect Donald Trump’s former campaign manager again strongly suggested on Sunday that his supporters would not back former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for secretary of state.

Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top advisers, told CNN’s Dana Bash that while she hoped Romney would be a gracious secretary of state if selected, his aggressive criticism of Trump during the 2016 Republican primary did not sit well with the president-elect’s supporters.

“It’s just breathtaking in scope and intensity the type of messages I have received from all over the country,” Conway said. “The number of people who feel betrayed to think that Governor Romney would get the most prominent Cabinet post, after he went so far out of his way to hurt Donald Trump — there was the Never Trump movement, and then there was Mitt Romney.”

Just who was Kellyanne Conway receiving messages from about a potential Romney nomination to be Secretary of State? And is she still receiving them? Or, if it wasn’t Conway, or only just Conway, which other staffer, friend, or family member close to the President is taking direction from the Kremlin? I’m sure Special Counsel Mueller and his team are diligently trying to answer these questions.

Stay Frosty!

Open thread.



Late Night Open Thread: Hope Floats (A Book Deal?)

It’s sourced from the Daily Mail, so keep that salt block handy — but, if true, it would be among the least surprising news revelations of the week. What true acolyte doesn’t assume their notes on the Great Man won’t be of vast historical (and *ka-ching* other) interest, someday?

Her job, as far as “we” can tell from outside the Oval Office, was being Daddy’s Dutiful Office Daughter. She stood one step behind the Big Man, nodding when he spoke, mirroring his expression when he looked her way, absorbing the random abuse and the unearned praise with equal imperturbability. When the old man stormed out of the meeting / slammed down the phone, she would linger behind and coo “What he *really* meant to say… “ and pretend she actually believed it. I have the suspicion that Ivanka “promoted” Hicks from her previous job specifically because she saw her as someone young/pliable/attractive enough to keep Daddy happy when Ivanka herself couldn’t be in the room — and not ‘hot’/pliable/desperate enough to start scheming for an upgrade to TrumpWife #4. Olivia Nuzzi, back in 2016:

Hicks’s job —a sui generis role of outsize importance that she half invents on the fly—involves keeping the media at bay and operating as Trump’s chief gatekeeper. But she’s also summoned in critical moments of confusion to play instigator and score-settler. It was her job to facilitate Trump’s rebuke of the Pope after His Holiness questioned the Christianity of anybody who would build a border wall (kind of Trump’s thing). And it was she who helped malign a female reporter who’d been manhandled by Trump’s campaign manager, immediately claiming she was a lying attention hound. Hicks was also called on this spring to explain why Trump, over the course of three days, advocated four positions on abortion. She tried without success to quell the confusion, declaring, finally, that President Trump would end abortion, simple as that: “He will change the law through his judicial appointments and allow the states to protect the unborn.”…

Hicks’s big job in politics started—not that long ago—with a comparatively tiny gig in Trump Tower. In 2012, two years after she’d graduated from Southern Methodist, Hicks was working for a New York PR shop when she was dispatched to help one of the firm’s major clients: Ivanka Trump. At the time, Trump’s daughter was expanding her fashion line, and Hicks was enlisted to pitch in—and even do a bit of modeling, appearing online in a practical mint-colored dress, black clutch, and heels, all from the Ivanka Trump collection…


Read more



NRAngst Open Thread: The Elephant in the House (And the Senate, Too)

Ask any of us who works in national security what to do about ISIS, and we’d have no problem pitching you ideas. Even if we lack expertise in the topic or don’t work directly on it, we’d still have opinions and thoughts, because we’ve been swimming in a sea of articles, op-eds, books, hearings, programs, and overall research and debate for years. But ask us about right-wing extremism, a violent ideology that’s killed more Americans than ISIS in the last decade, and most of us would pause — either because we were unaware of the problem or, worse, we were afraid to speak openly about it…

Over the last decade, individuals and groups fueled by this virulent ideology have committed 71 percent of the known politically or religiously inspired killings in our country — that is, 274 of the 387 Americans murdered by extremists. Reports now indicate it was part of the recent murder of 17 school children and teachers in Florida, just as it was part of mass shootings that have happened everywhere from California to Charleston. It has not just hit inside the US, but has struck many of our closest allies, both causing near-tragedies and horrible massacres. It is not a new threat; it has killed hundreds of Americans in past decades. But it is growing in power and influence, worrisomely being stoked by foreign nations like Russia that wish our nation harm. It is a clear, present, and proven danger to the United States. Yet we find it awkward to talk about.

There are many reasons why we have a hard time acknowledging the deadly threat from the cluster of groups that gather inside our country under the hateful flags of white nationalism, white supremacy, anti-government militia, and Neo-Nazism. One reason is to avoid appearing too partisan, a desire to be even-handed. There is irony in that we seek to avoid appearing biased, even when the threat espouses bias to the point of justifying hating and even killing their fellow Americans. So, after each episode of right-wing violence, we avoid talking about it, even to the point of reaching in the opposite direction. For instance, after these groups united to march on Charlottesville, culminating in the killing of a young woman, major U.S. papers ran more op-eds condemning the counter-protesters, who have yet to commit a mass killing, than those who committed the crime…

We also have to admit that we are quiet about right-wing extremist violence out of calculation. The cost-vs.-gain equations that shape our choices are simply different from other topics. Compare the professional benefits to the potential risks of publishing an article, creating a college course, writing a book or dissertation, organizing a conference, hosting a speech, creating a university or thinktank project, funding a foundation program, etc., on right-wing extremism. It is not just that there is no great profit in it. It is that every one of these endeavors would be far more difficult, and would likely create far more headaches for us and our bosses, than a similar project on pretty much any other topic in our field.

This isn’t to say there aren’t fantastic researchers on this topic; there are many, who have valuably shaped much of what we know about the issue. But we in the rest of the field must acknowledge that they’ve chosen a more professionally risky path than most of us, even though the very object of their study has killed more Americans over the last few years than essentially any other problem we are working on…



Breaking News: The US Senate Select Committee On Intelligence Goes To War With The House Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence

Apparently the secondary position of the Lajes Protocol has failed.

Back in February when the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chair, Congressman Devin Nunes, was going all in on his memo, Jullian Assange tried to contact Sean Hannity over twitter to provide him with text messages from Senator Warner. Despite texting a Sean Hannity parody account that was put up when Hannity’s twitter service was temporarily interrupted, the texts managed to make it into the hands of Fox News. No one was quite sure how they got them. Unfortunately for Fox, Hannity, Assange, Nunes, and everyone else screaming conspiracy, Senator Warner, the ranking member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had notified his senate committee colleagues about the text messages, which were with a lawyer who represents a Russian oligarch that Warner was seeking information from.

The NY Times is now reporting that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has now concluded that the texts messages got to Fox News not by way of Ecuador’s most unhygienic house guest, but from the Republican majority of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the committee’s Republican chairman, and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat, were so perturbed by the leak that they demanded a rare meeting with Speaker Paul D. Ryan last month to inform him of their findings. They used the meeting with Mr. Ryan to raise broader concerns about the direction of the House Intelligence Committee under its chairman, Representative Devin Nunes of California, the officials said.

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr. Nunes, Jack Langer, did not dispute that the committee had leaked the messages, but called the premise of this article “absurd.”

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ryan, declined to comment. In his meeting with the senators, Mr. Ryan made clear that he heard their complaints but noted that he did not run the committee himself, the officials briefed on the encounter said.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were briefed on their conclusions in recent weeks and on the meeting with Mr. Ryan.

In a joint statement, Mr. Burr and Mr. Warner acknowledged the meeting with Mr. Ryan and said they had not requested that the speaker take any specific action.

I want to highlight something important; specifically Speaker Ryan’s statement that “he did not run the committee himself”. This is quite true. However, Congressman Nunes holds the chairmanship of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence because Speaker Ryan keeps him in that position. It is solely within the Speaker’s discretion to keep Congressman Nunes as chair, or even as a member of the committee, or to remove him. The Speaker may not run the committee, but he clearly wants Congressman Nunes in that position. And this isn’t the first time Speaker Ryan has run interference for Congressman Nunes. He did the same thing when the FBI and DOJ had concerns about providing the Strzok/Page texts that are part of the DOJ IG’s investigation into the FBI’s actions during their probe of Secretary Clinton’s server and emails. Which also quickly leaked from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. This whole mess is in the hands of two men: Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA). It could all be put to bed very quickly, but Speaker Ryan, for whatever reason, clearly does not want the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to function properly or to follow the rules of classification/declassification. The real question here is why.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.



Early Morning Nuclear War Open Thread

Vladimir Putin gave a talk today. What I am picking up from Twitter is that it was mostly about improving social conditions in Russia, but Putin seems to have though he needed to get into the “My button is bigger than yours” discussion.

Read more



Breaking: Armed Dalton High School Teacher In Custody For School Shooting

So much for good guy’s with guns…

From WGNO:

DALTON, GA. – An armed teacher has been arrested after shots were fired at a high school in a small town in northern Georgia.

The Dalton Police Department reported that “shot or shots” had been fired at Dalton High School just after 11:15 a.m. on the department’s official Twitter account.

Minutes later, DPD added that the armed suspect was barricaded inside a classroom at the school and urged parents not to come to the school.

Students were transported to the Northeast Georgia Trade Center for pickup, according to the DPD.

At 11:23 a.m., the department tweeted an update that read “The teacher is in custody.”

No students were harmed, and no children were in danger during the incident, according to the DPD.

This is obviously going to be a fast changing story as more information becomes available, especially in regard to the teacher’s motives and the actual events.

Stay frosty.

Open thread!