The Maskirovka Slips XIII: A Few Thoughts

In the comments to the Maskirovka Slips XI post, PJ wrote:

Even a Putin critic like Masha Gessen has claimed that Russophobia is behind the allegations connecting Trump with the Russians, and that there’s nothing to see here, folks.

This is a good point to raise and something to keep in mind as everything continues to play out. My guess is that PJ was referencing this article by Gessen at The NY Review of Books. Gessen’s essential thesis is that:

Russia has become the universal rhetorical weapon of American politics. Calls for the release of Trump’s tax returns—which the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) hopes to have subpoenaed as a result of its lawsuit alleging the violation of the Emoluments Clause—are now framed in terms of the need to reveal Trump’s financial ties to Russia. And the president himself is recapturing the campaign debate’s “No, you are the puppet” moment on Twitter, trying to smear Democratic politicians Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi with Russia.

The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. If that happens, it will have resulted largely from a media campaign orchestrated by members of the intelligence community—setting a dangerous political precedent that will have corrupted the public sphere and promoted paranoia. And that is the best-case outcome.

And that this almost unrelenting focus is obscuring equally, if not more important matters:

Imagine if the same kind of attention could be trained and sustained on other issues—like it has been on the Muslim travel ban. It would not get rid of Trump, but it might mitigate the damage he is causing. Trump is doing nothing less than destroying American democratic institutions and principles by turning the presidency into a profit-making machine for his family, by poisoning political culture with hateful, mendacious, and subliterate rhetoric, by undermining the public sphere with attacks on the press and protesters, and by beginning the real work of dismantling every part of the federal government that exists for any purpose other than waging war. Russiagate is helping him—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.

Gessen has likely forgotten more about Putin and how he operates than most people will ever know, and I doubt she’s forgotten much if anything. And her concerns and caveats are important to keep in mind going forward. However, I think her concerns, as rooted in her excellent column on autocracy from November 2016, are also missing something: the overwhelming, open source reporting and documentation about the connection between the President, his business the Trump Organization, his children, and both senior and peripheral members of his campaign, his transition, and now his Administration with Russian government officials, Russians connected to Russian Intelligence – formally and informally, Russian oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian Oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin, and people – Russian and non-Russian tied to Russian organized crime.

As I’ve been stating here, and Malcolm Nance has been tweeting and stating on a variety of news platforms:

And, to quote Ian Fleming, as many have:

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time is enemy action.

As Evan McMullin tweeted:

While I think it is important to keep Gessen’s concerns in mind, we have significant amounts of circumstantial evidence as a result of open source reporting and documentation. What we don’t have, what we don’t really know, is what the material that the Interagency Counterintelligence (CI) Task Force investigating all of this has. And here, I think, is where some of Gessen’s concerns begin to break down: a lot of the leaking hasn’t been anything that wasn’t either already known in the open source reporting and documentation for those that knew where to look or were looking and/or were intended as warning shots across various people’s bows. For instance, the leaks about Attorney General Sessions were the latter. They were intended to put him on notice that if he tried to muck about with the CI investigation the next shot wouldn’t be for range, it would be for effect. And to his credit, AG Sessions was smart enough to recognize this and recused himself.

As I’ve written here before, several times:

As a national security professional, what I would like to see is the President-elect address the now long standing and ongoing allegations regarding his connection to Russia. If the allegations are spurious, as he and his team have claimed every time they’ve come up, or if there is a straightforward and simple explanation that can be made, he needs to make it. I think a lot of the foreign, defense, and national security policy concerns that many across the political spectrum have with the President-elect’s longstanding policy preferences dating back to 1987 arise from all of the smoke around the claims of Russian connections and interference for Russia’s, not the US’s, not the President-elect’s, interests.

The sooner the President-elect and his team can either provide evidence for why the allegations and rumors are spurious or provide a simple and straightforward explanation for the seeming preference for Russia and the abandonment of the post WW II and post Cold War international order the better.

Unfortunately we’ve reached a point where I’m not sure a straightforward and simple explanation can be made. The circumstantial evidence we’re all able to review from the open source reporting and documentation seems to have obliterated that possibility. Yesterday several of the surviving members of the investigative reporting team that included the late Wayne Barrett provided even greater details and granularity into the Trump Organizations connections to Russian organized crime via Felix Sater and Sater’s ties to the Department of Justice and the FBI, specifically the New York Field Office. Today WNYC reported on some of Paul Manafort’s real estate transactions that appear to follow the same patterns as those done to launder money. These stories broke almost at the same time as Richard Engel’s reporting on Manafort’s financial dealings in Cyprus, USA Today‘s reporting on the Trump Organizations alleged ties to Russian and other state’s organized crime,* The New Yorker‘s multiple reports, and Michael Issikoff’s reporting on the ongoing mess that Congressman Nunes’ actions and statements have made of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. This includes functionally shutting the committee down so that the House of Representatives no longer conducts oversight of the US Intelligence Community given that all future business of the committee has now been postponed indefinitely.

For those of us that have been following these things for a while, a lot of this wasn’t new, surprising, or both. And that’s really why I think Gessen’s caveats and concerns are important to keep in mind, but that she is also missing the forest for the trees. There is just too much coincidence here. The US Intelligence Community does not form Interagency Counterintelligence investigations willy nilly. Nor do judges approve FISA warrants for spurious or frivolous reasons. I honestly have no idea where all this will lead. And I do agree with Gessen and others that even if these investigations ultimately demonstrate actual connections and collusions between the President’s campaign and the Russians which given how things have been intertwined under Putin basically includes the Russian government, Russian intelligence, Russian oligarchs, and Russian organized crime, we may not see the resolution that many are hoping for. These connections are all linked together, which also makes unravelling this ball of yarn difficult. Part of the problem going forward is exactly why we have been in a Constitutional crisis for months. It is unclear which, if any, of the institutional protections and remedies that the Constitution delineates actually could be used to resolve what we have been watching slowly unfold since last Summer when the leaks of hacked DNC, DSCC, DCC, and John Podesta emails began to trickle out. If there is nothing to see here, as Gessen attests, then there certainly is a whole lot of a very specific type of nothing** all around the President, his family, his business, his campaign, his transition, and his Administration.

* The Who, What, Why?USA Today, and WYNC reporting are not actually breaking news. They do provide substantially more details about things that have been previously reported, documented, and/or known.

** And this nothing doesn’t even get into financial ties between the President and PRC state owned banks, which are facially violations of the emoluments clause as a result of the President’s failure to properly and fully divest from his business.



So now what?

So now what?

That is a hell of a question but I think the right way to start probing towards some of boundaries of the possibility space is to ask what happened.

As I see it, the winning coalition that blocked the bill was a combination of unanimous Democratic opposition plus state level Republicans who actually have to balance a state budget and deal with real issues plus Republicans in districts that make them inherently vulnerable during a mid-term swing against the incumbent party plus the reactionaries of the House Freedom Caucus. We were also aided by the ineptitude of the wank “wonk” Paul Ryan and his coterie of enablers.

We told our stories. We mobilized. We stiffened the spine of Democrats whose spines probably did not need much stiffening. We put the fear of god into vulnerable Republicans. We scared the people who have to balance a state budget. We had on our side almost all of the interest groups that had bought into the ACA — doctors, insurers, hospitals, big drug makers and everyone else that gave a bit to get a bit. The only people who were not aghast at the AHCA were high income tax cut fanatics and policy illiterate decision makers.

We had a huge and unusual coalition pushing back against a bum’s rush. Most of this coalition was assembled in 2009 and 2010 to push the ACA through. And it was re-activated days after the election as everyone recovered from their shock, dismay and hangovers. Any time something changed, wonks were ripping through the documenation and making fast, rough and directionally right analysis with maps, figures, graphs and other hooks to allow advocates to tell personal, powerful stories that landed. And we kept on iterating powerful and emotionally connecting truth on every iteration of the bill.

We won. And our win helps our community:

Does it mean I finally can breathe again? That my health care won’t be pulled in a matter of weeks or months, on the eve of my starting biologic therapy for my Crohn’s?

This is why we fight. We’re not going to win every time. But we have to fight for conceding defeat and defeatism without making an effort means throwing ArchTeryx and others to the dogs. We’re not going to win every time, but we need to fight for both the chance to win as we did this week and to be able to look at our friends, our countrymen and ourselves with honesty as we say that we are doing everything that we can. We will need that for immigration. We will need that for global warming. We need that for our LBG and especially T allies. We might not win every time, but we can mitigate some damage, impose some delay, inflict some cost, and build effective coalitions for future action and progress every time that we hold to our values and our ideals.

So what does this mean for policy? The fear is that the ACA is here, but that the Trump Administration will sabotage it. This is a real fear, and it is one that the coalition that won this week will need to be engaged on to protect the implementation of the ACA.

Read more



Oy Vey! Transactional Politics Edition

Apparently the President tried to dun Angela Merkel and Germany for what he thinks are Germany’s unpaid NATO dues.

The Independent reports:

The US President is said to have had an “invoice” printed out outlining the sum estimated by his aides as covering Germany’s unpaid contributions for defence.

Said to be presented during private talks in Washington, the move has been met with criticism from German and Nato officials.

While the figure presented to the Germans was not revealed by either side, Nato countries pledged in 2014 to spend two per cent of their GDP on defence, something only a handful of nations – including the UK, Greece, Poland and Estonia – currently do.

But the bill has been backdated even further to 2002, the year Mrs Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, pledged to spend more on defence.

Mr Trump reportedly instructed aides to calculate how much German spending fell below two per cent over the past 12 years, then added interest.

Estimates suggest the total came to £300bn, with official figures citing the shortfall to be around £250bn plus £50bn in interest added on.

As you might imagine this did not go over well with the Germans.

The bill — handed over during private talks in Washington — was described as “outrageous” by one German minister.

“The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,” the minister said.

A couple of important points to keep in mind here, which the President and whichever senior advisors he’s listening to on this stuff do not seem to know:

  1. NATO is not a club. It is an alliance. The US does not own it. None of the member states pay due.
  2. Each member state has agreed to dedicate at least 2% of their budgets to defense. The vast majority of NATO member states, including Germany, do not meet this pledge. The US and its NATO allies have spent years working on how to resolve them. While it is still not resolved, progress has been made. That progress is now in jeopardy because of a stupid, dominance* politics stunt like this
  3. There is a very American reason that Germany in particular does not meet its 2% pledge: we taught them not to. That’s right, after WW II as we were working with the Germans to rebuild Germany and then basing significant US forces there during the Cold War, one of the initiatives we spent the most time on was teaching the Germans to think about and use the other, non military forms of National power (diplomatic, information, and economic power). As a result the Germans in 2017 are acculturated and socialized to the concept that they do no need to be and should not be a military power, that they should resort to the use of military power last, and that it should always be through the NATO alliance. We have been very successful in working with the Germans to break the socio-cultural systems that contributed to WW I and WW II so as to keep them from happening again. The downside, if it is one, is that Germany doesn’t get close to its 2% NATO budgetary commitment.

* Just a brief note about these dominance displays from the President and members of his senior staff/some of his senior advisors: if you have to constantly, loudly, and publicly tell everyone that you are tough, you aren’t. What you are is insecure and weak. Chancellor Merkel is the current leader of the free world because the President of the United States has abdicated that responsibility. She’s not scared of the President. The body language during last week’s photo spray in the Oval Office demonstrates that is the case. If anything, it is the other way around. Americans, through the mechanisms of the electoral college, may have decided that it didn’t want a woman as the leader of the free world, but they got that result anyway.



The Maskirovka Slips XI*: Updates to Four Ongoing Components

Three quick updates to our ongoing coverage of Putin’s campaign of active measures, dezinformatziya, kompromat, and cyberwarfare against the US, the EU and its member states, and NATO and its member states.

First up, if you’re going to try for clever keep your mouth shut!

Additionally Congressman Nunes had not actually seen anything that he talked about at his two press conferences or with the President on Wednesday. He does not actually know what, if anything, was incidentally collected or if anything even was.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, R-Calif., does not know “for sure” whether President Donald Trump or members of his transition team were even on the phone calls or other communications now being cited as partial vindication for the president’s wiretapping claims against the Obama administration, according to a spokesperson.

“He said he’ll have to get all the documents he requested from the [intelligence community] about this before he knows for sure,” a spokesperson for Nunes said Thursday. Nunes was a member of the Trump transition team executive committee.

And that was before he destroyed what was left of his committee this morning.

It is important to note that Congressman Schiff is a former Federal prosecutor who has successfully prosecuted an FBI agent who was working for the Russians. He understands counterintelligence and he has successfully prosecuted a criminal case that arose out of a counterintelligence investigation. Congressman Nunes has a masters degree in agricultural science.

Secondly, and still involving the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Paul Manafort wants to come in out of the cold.

And now Roger Stone and Carter Page are looking to get a foot in the door to play let’s make a deal!

But, you ask, what about LTG Flynn? Surely you couldn’t forget LTG Flynn? No, I have not. Our third entry this Friday afternoon is that LTG Flynn, while working for both the Turkish government as an unregistered foreign agent and the President as his campaign’s national security advisor, proposed kidnapping Fethullah Gulen from his home in Pennsylvania and rendering him back to Turkey – outside of the actual, formal, and required by law extradition process. This is usually referred to as kidnapping. It is also, usually, a crime!

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting.

The discussion late last summer involved ideas about how to get Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom Turkey has accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed military coup, to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process, according to Mr. Woolsey and those who were briefed.

Mr. Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal he arrived at the meeting in New York on Sept. 19 in the middle of the discussion and found the topic startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal.

 Mr. Woolsey said the idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.” The discussion, he said, didn’t include actual tactics for removing Mr. Gulen from his U.S. home. If specific plans had been discussed, Mr. Woolsey said, he would have spoken up and questioned their legality.It isn’t known who raised the idea or what Mr. Flynn concluded about it.

You know you have lost what little grip on reality you may have had when you’re proposing things that make DCI Woolsey uncomfortable.

Finally, we have our fourth update: Marine Le Pen has traveled to Russia to meet with her handler, boss, and krysha, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin has received Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin in a surprise move likely to reignite fears in Europe about Russian support for the European far right.

Putin told Le Pen Russia had no intention of meddling in the French presidential elections, though the meeting is likely to send the opposite message.

 

Speaking after their meeting, Le Pen said Putin represented “a sovereign nation” and “new vision”.

“A new world has emerged in the past years. This is Vladimir Putin’s world, Donald Trump’s world in the United States, Mr [Narendra] Modi’s world in India,” she added.

“I think I am probably the one who shares with all these great nations a vision of cooperation and not one of subservience – a hawkish vision that has too often been expressed by the European Union.”

Putin, of course, stated that Russia has no intention of interfering in the upcoming French elections.

“We do not want to influence events in any way, but we retain the right to meet with all the different political forces, just like our European and American partners do,” said Putin.

Bloomberg Politics reports that Le Pen’s visit is all about the money. Le Pen and the Front National are a bought and paid for arm of the Russian government. Which makes sense because otherwise a nationalist party that believes that the nation it seeks to lead should be dominated by Russia would be hard to understand.

“Russia is a decisive element of the balance of power that could help bring peace to the world,” she said during her Feb. 23 speech in Paris on foreign policy. “Russia has been mistreated by the EU and its vassal France,” she said.

Russia’s First Czech-Russian Bank OOO helped her finance an earlier campaign with a 9-million-euro loan in 2014. In the same year, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen’s political fund Cotelec received another 2-million-euro loan from a Russian-backed fund based in Cyprus, news website Mediapart reported.

Le Pen is still seeking a loan to help her finance her presidential run. She says French banks are refusing to lend her the millions of euros she needs. So far, she has a 6-million-euro loan from Cotelec, according to wealth filings with authorities made public this week.

A couple of final odds and ends. Putin has taken advantage of all the tumult in DC this week, as well as the successful attack in London, to escalate his war against Ukraine and to make some mischief in Belarus.

One last note: I’ve mentioned in comments a couple of times that all of the open source reporting and documentation is showing more and more penetration and penetration at all levels. This includes conservative organizations such as the NRA. If anyone was wondering how Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke and Trump campaign surrogate wound up in Moscow getting a briefing from Russia’s Foreign Ministry, well we now know:

In March 2014, the U.S. government sanctioned Dmitry Rogozin—a hardline deputy to Vladimir Putin, the head of Russia’s defense industry and longtime opponent of American power—in retaliation for the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Eighteen months later, the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump’s most powerful outside ally during the 2016 election, sent a delegation to Moscow that met with him.

The NRA delegation’s 2015 trip to Russia took place the same week, lasting from Dec. 8-13, according to Clarke’s public financial disclosure forms, (PDF), and included not only the people who met with Rogozin but a number of other NRA dignitaries, including donors Dr. Arnold Goldshlager and Hilary Goldschlager, as well as Jim Liberatore, the CEO of the Outdoor Channel.

Here’s the link to Clarke’s disclosure form.

I’ll have more about this next week.

Stay frosty!

* This is the actual eleventh maskirovka post, I misnumbered number ten as eleven. I apologize for any inconvenience.



Newsworthy Items That Have Slipped Through the Cracks: We’re Doomed

I don’t mean to panic anyone, but the US breached the debt ceiling on March 16th and the current extension on the Fiscal Year 2017 continuing budget resolution runs out on April 28th. Given the dysfunction within the majority caucuses in the House and the Senate, the fact that the new Administration’s skinny budget has been declared DOA upon its arrival in Congress, and the fact that NO ONE ANYWHERE – INCLUDING THE WHITE HOUSE, CONGRESS, MOST OF THE NEWS MEDIA, AND APPARENTLY MOST AMERICANS!!!!!!! – seems to be paying any attention or talking about this, perhaps we should be just a wee bit concerned.

Have a nice evening!



Good news

Right now the whip counts are going in the right direction. New York Times is up to 31 Republican No’s. I am reluctant to have too much faith in that number as a good number are House Freedom Caucus who can be bought off by making the bill atrocious through provisions that will get stripped in reconciliation. But every minute that they have to spend defending this monstrosity of a bill is a win for liberals, progressives, Democrats and people who either currently need or may at any point need the protections of the ACA.

I don’t know if we’re going to win, but we’re doing a whole lot better today than I thought we would have been on November 10, 2016.

If you have a chance, call Congress.

If you have a solid No, thank them. Their interns will appreciate it.
If you have a lean No, remind them they really don’t want to throw pregnant women off of coverage nor grandparents out of nursing homes.
If they are a solid Yes, remind them that this bill has 17% support in the general public and under 40% support in Republican circles and that 2018 is not that far away.

Update 1

Feedback works people. Let Congress know that their jobs are at stake because our lives or the lives of our friends are at stake.



We Are at War. It is High Time That Our Leaders Begin Acting Like It!

Last July, when the hacking into the DNC became public knowledge, I wrote that we are at Cyber War. That what had happened was an act of war, though confined to the cyber domain. Today’s events are just the latest reinforcing example that we are at war, even if it is not formally declared. Russia has long believed that they were, at least, in a new cold war with the US and the West. Beyond that, however, is that Andrey Krutskikh, a senior advisor to Vladimir Putin, described the conflict this way:

According to notes of Krutskikh’s speech, he told his Russian audience: “You think we are living in 2016. No, we are living in 1948. And do you know why? Because in 1949, the Soviet Union had its first atomic bomb test. And if until that moment, the Soviet Union was trying to reach agreement with [President Harry] Truman to ban nuclear weapons, and the Americans were not taking us seriously, in 1949 everything changed and they started talking to us on an equal footing.”

Krutskikh continued, “I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having ‘something’ in the information arena, which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.”

Putin’s cyber adviser stressed to the Moscow audience the importance for Russia of having a strong hand in this new domain. If Russia is weak, he explained, “it must behave hypocritically and search for compromises. But once it becomes strong, it will dictate to the Western partners [the United States and its allies] from the position of power.”

Krutskikh’s comments may have been a precursor of a new doctrine for information operations announced publicly by the Kremlin in December. The senior administration official described the Russian strategy: “They think of information space as a domain of warfare. In the U.S, we tend to have a binary view of conflict — we’re at peace or at war. The Russian doctrine is more of a continuum. You can be at different levels of conflict, along a sliding scale.”

What does all this have to do with the events of today? It is part of the necessary prologue to be able to answer John’s question about Congressman Nunes. It’s not that Bannon has anything on Nunes. It is that Nunes’s <strike>business partner is tied</strike> is connected to Putin:

And that may, perhaps, explain why this morning Congressman Nunes disclosed, without authorization, classified information pertaining to US SIGINT collection. Congressman Nunes does not have declassification authority in regard to that information. He then went and briefed the President on what he had just leaked because he thought the President needed to know it. This is curious for two reasons. 1) This is not the job of a Congressman who is chairing a committee that oversees executive branch agencies and activities. 2) The President, as the President, has the ability to know anything he wants to know that is being done, or has been done, by the US Intelligence Community. That he did not seem to know this, that he does not seem to have been briefed on it, means that he and his subordinates either couldn’t be bothered knowing or, because of the counterintelligence investigation – its scope and who may be its targets – this information had been compartmented from the President to protect sources and methods. If it is the former, it shows how inept the President’s advisors and staff are. If it is the latter then Congressman Nunes has dug his hole even deeper. Interfering with and obstructing a Federal counterintelligence investigation is not something that the FBI looks kindly upon.

Moreover, the real takeaway for today is why the President and so many of his people were in ongoing contact with Russians and other foreign targets of both routine and specifically targeted US SIGINT collection.

Before anyone asks me what happens now? The answer is I do not know. I know what should happen both overtly and covertly. Overtly Congressman Nunes should be removed from his chairmanship and the committee. Covertly he should have his access to classified material cut off and the RNC and the California GOP should be firmly explaining to him why he is not standing for reelection in 2018. But the truthful answer is we have to wait and see.

Congressman Schiff is trying to prevent his committee from being blown up by the committee chair. A man who is not particularly smart and who has a Russian <strike>partner</strike> distributor connected to Putin. Here too, like so many times that I’ve remarked on this stuff, I can once again place a key player in all of this within <strike>no more than two</strike> three links to Putin or those in his orbit. Director Comey will now become very, very circumspect with what he does and does not brief the Congressional Gang of Eight because key members, Congressman Nunes specifically, cannot be trusted with any sensitive information. Congress’s oversight of the Intelligence Community is now compromised.

Additionally, Congressman Schiff has stated that he has seen hard of evidence of collusion between the President’s team and the Russians. It is unclear if he is referring to the Trump Organization, Trump-Pence Campaign, Trump Transition, the current Trump Administration, or some combination of them.

As I wrote last June in my post on cyberwar, Russia has declared that they are in a state of war with the US. They are acting like it. The US has key leaders from one of its two political parties (the GOP), as well as from one of its fringe, gadfly, spoiler parties (the Greens) who are continually demonstrating that they are providing aid and comfort to the enemy. As I’ve written before, we are fully in a Constitutional crisis and have been for months. We are at war and have been for well over a year. The Republic is in peril. It is far past time for our leaders to begin acting like it!