Ever Wonder Why We Keep Seeing Reports Of Foreign Signal Intelligence Equipment In DC? Unsecured Presidential Personal Phone Edition

Washington DC has a fake cell phone tower problem. It is an open secret that Foreign Intelligence Services are using a variety of means to capture signals intelligence (SIGINT) in DC. From Wired:

LAST WEEK, THE Department of Homeland Security confirmed for the first time that it is aware of unauthorized cell-site simulators, the surveillance tools often called stingrays or IMSI Catchers, in various parts of Washington DC.

While it’s not surprising that foreign intelligence groups or criminal actors would be cell-snooping in the nation’s capital, the DHS statement is the first US government acknowledgement that sensitive political communications, not to mention those of anyone in DC, are at risk of interception by devices that are currently unaccounted for. In spite of this step, though, observers find it unlikely that any group will move to defuse the threat in the foreseeable future.

Ruh Roh!!!!!!

From Politico (emphasis mine):

President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials – a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones – one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and pre-loaded with a handful of news sites – are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.

Trump’s call-capable cell phone has a camera and microphone, unlike the White House-issued cell phones used by Obama. Keeping those components creates a risk that hackers could use them to access the phone and monitor the president’s movements. The GPS location tracker, however – which can be used to track the president’s whereabouts – is disabled on Trump’s devices.

“It’s baffling that Trump isn’t taking baseline cybersecurity measures at a time when he is trying to negotiate his way out of a trade war with China, a country that is known for using cyber tactics to gain the upper hand in business negotiations,” said Samm Sacks, a China and technology expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Former government officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations expressed astonishment that any White House would issue the president a cell phone that posed a security threat.

I’m sure there’s no operations security issues involved here at all. It isn’t like the President is up at odd hours with a bunch of media personalities who give him advice and wind him up about what decisions to make after he tells them what’s going on. Err, um… Never mind.

Stay spreadable!

Open thread.



The Mystery Man Revealed – And Open Thread

Quinta Jurecic and Ben Wittes have written their article on outing FBI informants, and several outlets have given the name of the probable informant.

I have the sense that I still don’t fully understand this situation, which I commonly get about revelations of the Trump campaign and its connections to various skeevy people. That is probably because there are more shoes to drop from this centipede, so I can’t fully understand the situation.

That Stefan Halper might be an informant has been publicly discussed since March. His positions and connections should have suggested that possibility to anyone who dealt with him before that. The Washington Post and New York Times articles of Friday night, together with material published earlier, lead to the conclusion that the person being discussed is Stefan Halper.

What Halper did was talk to George Papadopoulos and propose a project with him and also met with Carter Page and Sam Clovis in the summer of 2016. Earlier he met with Michael Flynn. Presumably this was because the FBI had information that Russians were communicating with these folks, and Halper was trying to get information about how that was going down.

The FBI could have sent agents openly to talk to those people, but they probably decided to take an indirect route because of the proximity of the election. Those FBI visits would have gotten out and caused some publicity. This is one of the asymmetries with how the Clinton emails were dealt with.

It would have been good practice for the Trumpies to have notified the FBI themselves when they were contacted by Russians, but, as we have seen in other cases, they did not once see fit to do this.

Since Halper already had a public profile and connections to intelligence agencies, it’s not clear to me why outing him seems to have been such a big deal to those agencies, who were reported to have been working for weeks to minimize the damage if he was outed. It’s possible that he was doing more than what is publicly available, and that those additional activities were much more sensitive.

Part of the concern is that if Congress is willing to reveal intelligence operatives for political reasons, it will be much more difficult to recruit sources and informants. And, of course, the President has now piled on.

It’s not at all clear why Devin Nunes, Trump, and others claim that knowing who this person is will undercut the Mueller investigation. They have claimed a connection between him and the Steele dossier, but, if anything, the information Halper obtained would have gone to the FBI before the dossier did. So, to the extent Halper’s material correlates with what’s in the dossier, it would be independent support.

It’s also not clear how all the information was leaked. Did the leaks start in March? Who are the sources for the Times and the Post stories? Will this be prosecuted the way Valerie Plame’s outing was?

The Jurecic – Wittes article is long and much more closely argued than what I’ve written. Very worth reading.



The Trump Doctrine In Action During The Campaign: Is There Any Agent Of Influence Donald Trump Jr Didn’t Meet With?

Apparently not! From The New York Times:

Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.

The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.

Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the crown princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.

The company, which employed several Israeli former intelligence officers, specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media.

It is unclear whether such a proposal was executed, and the details of who commissioned it remain in dispute. But Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser. At the time, Mr. Nader was also promoting a secret plan to use private contractors to destabilize Iran, the regional nemesis of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

The meetings, which have not been reported previously, are the first indication that countries other than Russia may have offered assistance to the Trump campaign in the months before the presidential election. The interactions are a focus of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, who was originally tasked with examining possible Trump campaign coordination with Russia in the election.

Mr. Nader is cooperating with the inquiry, and investigators have questioned numerous witnesses in Washington, New York, Atlanta, Tel Aviv and elsewhere about what foreign help may have been pledged or accepted, and about whether any such assistance was coordinated with Russia, according to witnesses and others with knowledge of the interviews.

The interviews, some in recent weeks, are further evidence that special counsel’s investigation remains in an intense phase even as Mr. Trump’s lawyers are publicly calling for Mr. Mueller to bring it to a close.

It is illegal for foreign governments or individuals to be involved in American elections, and it is unclear what — if any — direct assistance Saudi Arabia and the Emirates may have provided. But two people familiar with the meetings said that Trump campaign officials did not appear bothered by the idea of cooperation with foreigners.

Zamel founded and runs Wikistrat*, as well as several other defense and intelligence sector companies. The one in question here is Psy-Group, whose website is basically a front page. Given that Zamel is an Israeli counter-terrorism specialist and employs former Israeli intelligence personnel, there is no way, shape, or form that he was involved with this without Netanyahu’s tacit approval. Erik Prince, of course, is now a wholly funded asset and subsidiary of the People’s Republic of China. And it appears that this most recent reporting is further proof that Prince lied in his testimony to Congress.

According to The New York Times reporting, Zamel is also tied to Oleg Deripaska, who was Paul Manafort’s sugar daddy for Manafort’s work on behalf of Putin’s Ukrainian catspaw Viktor Yanykovych. As well as Dmitry Ryobololev. Ryobololev bought the President’s previous south Florida mansion for a significant markup. But the key piece in all of this is George Nader, who we know has been cooperating with Special Counsel Mueller since late last year. Nader served as the middle man for this meeting, just as he did for Erik Prince’s Seychelles’ meeting with Kirill Dmitriev, who is a close associate of Putin’s. Nader is also the bridging node to Elliott Broidy, who like Michael Cohen, is one of the RNC’s Finance Chairs.

What we have here is the Trump Doctrine at work during the campaign. In this case the Saudis and Emiratis, in conjunction with an Israeli counterterrorism specialist who owns several defense and intelligence contracting companies that employ former Israeli intelligence personnel, offering to help the President’s campaign in order to ensure that he would win. And offering to do so in a way that seems very, very reminiscent of what Cambridge Analytica was supposedly doing for the campaign. The Saudis and Emiratis certainly had their own interests in making this offer; they were upset over the US led JCPOA agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But they also had other interests.

The Emirati crown prince, Muhammed bin Zayed (MBZ), has taken it upon himself to mentor both the Saudi crown prince, Muhammed bin Salman (MBS), and Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner. By treating the President fairly via his campaign, MBZ and MBS were setting the conditions to have their interests in the Middle East given priority should the President’s campaign prove successful, which it was. This is also what Prince and Zamel were hoping to get out of providing support.

Treating then candidate Trump fairly was intended to provide very lucrative opportunities for Muhammed bin Zayed, Muhammed bin Salman, Erik Prince, Josh Zamel, George Nader, and the latter three’s patrons should the campaign prove successful. This is just the latest reported example of the President’s campaign being open to and/or actively seeking foreign assistance during the campaign. We’re not talking about receiving a donation or two from someone who shouldn’t have, realizing it, coming clean in an FEC filing, and donating it to charity or returning the donation. We’re talking about actively seeking out or being actively receptive to receipt of foreign assistance in goods and services in order to advance the campaign. And remember, Nader has been cooperating with the Special Counsel’s Office since last year, so the Special Counsel and his staff know everything and have known it long before The New York Times broke the story this morning. And woven through all of this new reporting are Russians. You can’t diagram anyone in the President’s familial, business, or campaign orbit, as well as several in the administration, without quickly linking to an influential Russian oligarch tied to Vladimir Putin. That is NOT normal!

Stay frosty!

Open thread.

* Here’s Wikistrat’s subject matter experts. See anyone you know?



Today In Rudys Giuliani! Or Is That Rudy Giulianis? Either Way…

Earlier today CNN viewers got to witness Rudy Giuliani attempting to explain and clarify to Chris Cuomo that what Rudy Giuliani had said to someone else was not what Rudy Giuliani actually said. Then Cuomo played a clip of Rudy Giuliani telling Charlie Rose something different and then another clip of Rudy Giuliani contradicting what Rudy Giuliani told Charlie Rose in an interview with George Stephanapolous. At which point Rudy Giuliani start screaming at Chris Cuomo. So that was a quatro-Guiliani appearance!

Just to make sure everyone is tracking:

  1. Rudy Giuliani is on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show explaining that what Cuomo understands Rudy Giuliani said on a different cable show is not accurate.
  2. Chris Cuomo then plays a clip of Rudy Giuliani explaining to Charlie Rose in 1998 that a sitting president, in this case President Clinton, is not above the law and is subject to a Federal grand jury subpoena.
  3. Chris Cuomo then plays a clip of Rudy Giuliani contradicting Rudy Giuliani by explaining to George Stephanapolous that a sitting president, in this case the current President, is above the law and not subject to a Federal grand jury subpoena.
  4. Rudy Giuliani then freaks out and starts screaming at Chris Cuomo that it is unfair to ambush Rudy Giuliani with one video of Rudy Giuliani contradicting Rudy Giuliani and then a second video of Rudy Giuliani contradicting Rudy Giuliani.

I’m still working the theoretical explanation out in this brave new world and emerging area of inquiry into multiple Rudys Giuliani or Rudy Giulianis (Rudys Giulianis?). I’m not sure if this is a purely infinite number of Rudy sort of thing – the InfiniRudy – or if there us a hard limit. Say DC Comics 52 parallel universes in the multiverse. That, of course, would include the Earth-3 universe where Rudy would be a quiet, pleasant, highly competent individual and Special Counsel Mueller would be an obnoxious, ignorant, raving blowhard.

I need to order more white boards from Amazon!

Play nice or a Rudy Giuliani will come over to your house and explain to you that what Rudy Giuliani said on a cable news show or to a reporter doesn’t mean what you think Rudy Giuliani meant when Rudy Giuliani said it.

Open thread!



Rudy Giuliani Needs To Sit Down With Rudy Giuliani So They Can Get Rudy Giuliani’s Story Straight!

The Mayor of 9-11 has some major issues. First among them is his mouth appears to be disconnected from his short and long term memory! Yesterday NBC reported that Rudy Giuliani told them that Special Counsel Mueller told him that the President can’t be indicted because of the 1970s DOJ Office of Legal Counsel guidance.*

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has told President Donald Trump’s legal team that he won’t indict a sitting president, according to Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers.

“They (the special counsel’s office) acknowledge the fact that they can’t indict us,” Giuliani told NBC News on Wednesday, indicating that the information had been conveyed to Trump’s lawyers. “They know they don’t have that power. So their function is to write a report. We would like it to be the fairest report possible. But even if it isn’t, we’re prepared to rebut it in great detail, so we’d like them to do it.”

He added: “It’s as clear as can be that they don’t have the right to indict under the Justice Department rules. And I know they’re not going to indict.”

Unfortunately for Rudy Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani then told the Washington Post that Rudy Giuliani wasn’t actually at the meeting.

Let’s just emphasize the important news that Rudy Giuliani broke about Rudy Giuliani to Robert Costa in the transcripts that Costa posted in his tweet above – click it to embiggen the top right side of the transcript, which I’ve transcribed below for your convenience (emphasis mine):

The Washington Post: Did Mueller explicitly say he would not charge the President?

Giuliani: “He didn’t say that. One of his – I have to check with Jay, he’s in Israel right now. One of his top people told him that.

So according to Rudy Giuliani, who was clarifying to The Washington Post what Rudy Giuliani told NBC News, one of Mueller’s top people told Jay Sekulow, whose currently in Israel, that Special Counsel Mueller would not charge the President. Rudy Giuliani has now further muddied Rudy Giuliani’s messaging up by explaining that Rudy Giuliani doesn’t actually know what was specifically said because it was said to Jay Sekulow who is in Israel, but whatever it was it wasn’t said by Special Counsel Mueller himself.

Unfortunately, Rudy Giuliani who has now explained that Rudy Giuliani does not actually know what happened at this meeting between the Special Counsel and some of his personnel and Jay Sekulow because Jay Sekulow is in Israel and Rudy Giuliani was not there did not get with Rudy Giuliani who decided to further clarify Rudy Giuliani’s clarification of Rudy Giuliani’s statement that the Special Counsel told Rudy Giuliani directly that he couldn’t prosecute the President. Take it away Talking Points Memo!

He didn’t seem to want to give the answer,” Giuliani told the Post. “It reminded me of that scene in ‘The Godfather,’ with Sonny and the Godfather, where he said, ‘Oh, you’re going to take care of us? We can take care of ourselves.’ One of his assistants broke in and said, ‘Well of course, we’re bound by Justice Department policies.’ Mueller looked at him like, ‘Don’t interrupt me.’”

In case everyone has, like the various Rudy Giulianis, lost the plot here, let me summarize:

  1. Rudy Giuliani told NBC News that Special Counsel Mueller told him directly that he could not prosecute the President because of the 1970s guidance from the Office of Legal Counsel.
  2. Rudy Giuliani, in an attempt to clarify what Rudy Giuliani told NBC News, told The Washington Post that he doesn’t actually know what Special Counsel Mueller or his personnel told Jay Sekulow and he can’t find out because Jay is in Israel.
  3. Rudy Giuliani, in an attempt to sound tough and make Special Counsel Mueller look bad, as well as further clarify Rudy Giuliani’s clarification to The Washington Post of Rudy Giuliani’s (who comes from a family that was mobbed up) statement to NBC News, stated that Bob Mueller (who brought down John Gotti) is like an Italian mafioso from a movie.

According to The Washington Post:

A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.

Everybody clear?

Open thread!

* Neal Katyal who wrote the existing guidelines for DOJ Special Counsels had this to say about the 1970s Office of Legal Counsel guidance:

“This old opinion from 20 years ago does preclude, in general, the Justice Department from indicting a sitting president for constitutional reasons,” Katyal said. “But an exception can be given.”

Katyal repeated Wednesday that the rules “permit Mueller to depart from DOJ policy.”

Referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein, who is acting as attorney general in the context of the Russia investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, Katyal said on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes”: “The way to do this is to ask the acting attorney general, so he does have a way forward.”

While I’m sure everyone will have fun with this in the comments, there really is no settled law on this. As a political scientist and criminologist I understand all three of the major legal theories/positions on this, and definitely have my own view on which is right, as well as why the OLC memo was written the way it was written during Watergate. That said, I expect that Special Counsel Mueller will play everything straight based on his career as a Federal prosecutor and Director of the FBI. Regardless, we will just have to wait and see.



The Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic Minority Report

Cheryl assigned me the homework of asked if I’d go through the Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic minority report on Russian active measures interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. The report can be found at this link. I want to highlight this important caveat from the final paragraph on page 1 (emphasis mine):

We still do not know the full story about the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower or, more broadly, the degree to which the campaign cooperated or communicated with Russia. 1 While Senate Judiciary Democrats have sought to conduct a robust and independent investigation, the lack of bipartisan agreement on what to investigate has limited the Committee’s examination of Russian interference in the 2016 election and who was involved. The Committee’s progress has also been hampered by the lack of cooperation from several key witnesses, identified in the Appendix that accompanies these findings. As a result, the Committee has been unable to answer a number of questions regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The Democratic minority on the committee is telling us right up front that the committee has really not been able to conduct a proper investigation up to this point. From the news reporting, my take is that the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation has been better than the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s, but not as seemingly good as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s. So Senator Grassley has been better than Congressman Nunes in conducting his duties, but not as good as Senator Burr. While you’d like to see these committees actually doing their jobs, that is not possible right now given the ongoing corruption of congressional Republicans as the President remakes the GOP in his own image. While Senator Burr and Senator Warner seem to be on track, unless or until the Democrats were to retake the majority in either or both chambers, the real action will remain with Special Counsel Mueller and his various investigations.

The first thing that really jumped out at me is just how sloppy the players involved were. Especially in regard to their communications. While a lot of what is in the report, both substantive factual information and about the various individuals involved, has been previously reported, this sloppiness just sort of screams at the reader. For instance (emphasis mine):

On Friday June 3, 2016, at 10:36 a.m., Donald Trump Jr. received an email with the subject line “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.” The email came from Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who represented Emin Agalarov, and offered assistance from Russia via Trump’s trusted friend Aras Agalarov. Goldstone wrote: Good morning. Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Emin’s] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin.

This jumped out at me. Emin Agalarov called Goldstone, asked him to get a hold of Donald Trump, Jr., and gave Goldstone enough information so that he could convey the details when reaching out. HE CALLED HIM AND GAVE HIM ENOUGH INFORMATION TO CONVEY THE DETAILS!!!!! The Agalarovs are oligarchs and known to be connected to Putin and Goldstone is a British citizen and was in England at the time of the phone call. While this conversation, and the subsequent emails, took place about two months before the FBI opened their counterintelligence investigation, I would not be surprised at all to find out that Britain’s GCHQ routinely tracked phone calls, emails, and texts from the Agalarovs that came in to British citizens because of Aras Agalarov’s connections to Putin. I would also not be surprised if other of our allied intelligence partners in Europe who are concerned about Russia were also monitoring the Agalarov’s communications. And I would definitely not be surprised that if this SIGINT was captured by our allies, that the Special Counsel’s Office has it and knows exactly what Emin Agalarov told Rob Goldstone.

And this wasn’t a one off in sloppy communication (emphasis mine):

In the days leading up to the meeting, Mr. Trump Jr. exchanged a number of emails and phone calls with Mr. Goldstone and Emin Agalarov. On Monday, June 6, 2016, Mr. Goldstone emailed Mr. Trump Jr. and asked when he would be available to talk with Emin Agalarov “by phone about this Hillary info.”14 Mr. Trump Jr. responded, “Rob could we speak now?”15 Mr. Goldstone then told Mr. Trump Jr. that Emin Agalarov would call in twenty minutes.16

Emin called Mr. Trump Jr. at the designated time.17 Twenty-five minutes after this first call ended, Mr. Trump Jr. called Emin back and then emailed Mr. Goldstone, “Rob thanks for the help.”18 Despite phone records reflecting this exchange of phone calls, Mr. Trump Jr. testified that he did not recall whether he spoke to Emin or what they discussed.

The next day, June 7, Emin called Mr. Trump Jr. again.

While I have no way of knowing if there is SIGINT capture of these calls, if GCHQ or one of our other partner’s intelligence services that routinely monitors and captures the communications of Russian oligarchs, as well as officials, their families, and their employees, then I would expect that the Special Counsel’s Office has all of it and knows exactly what was discussed, what was promised, and what the responses were.

To me, the lack of any attempt to secure communications is what is really interesting. Everything else in the Democratic minority’s preliminary report has been reported at one time or another over the past year or so. But these descriptions of how the approach and the dangle were made by Goldstone and Agalarov to Donald Trump, Jr. on behalf of the Russian government really stand out. And they do so because they provide hints that there may be low hanging SIGINT fruit that has been plucked. If I were Jr, Goldstone, and/or the Agalarovs I would be very, very concerned that GCHQ captured everything. And that if they did, that they would have provided it to the counterintelligence investigation that Special Counsel Mueller inherited when he was appointed. There’s really no way to know, and even if Special Counsel Mueller knows, the rest of us may never know.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.



The View from the Potting Shed

My pack and I have been under the weather system that’s been dumping rain on the entire East Coast all week, but the sun broke through a little while ago, and we hardly know how to act.

I’m off to the grocery store soon, and after that, cocktails on the Lido deck. You?