Open Thread: Meanwhile, At Trump’s Secretary of State Candidate’s Confirmation Hearings…

THIS. IS. FINE. (We are so fucked.)



President-elect Trump’s 11:00 AM EST January 2017 Press Conference Live Feed

The President-elect is scheduled to hold a press conference at 11:00 AM EST today. Here’s the live feed:

It is currently streaming the Chao confirmation hearings.

The purpose of today’s press conference is, ostensibly, for the President-elect to publicly delineate how he is going to deal with his business interests and holdings as President and then, one would expect, take questions. Given the CNN reporting yesterday afternoon, followed by the release of further related information well into this morning, I’m not sure that anyone knows exactly what may or may not happen.

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.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, the President-elect has had a long standing belief that the US’s allies and partners have been taking advantage of us and that our treaty and statutory alliances and agreements need to be revisited. He has an almost as long standing belief that the US and the then USSR should partner to deal with the threat of nuclear proliferation from non-superpower nations. And he has had a consistent stated preference for creating something of a bilateral partnership with Russia against ISIL throughout the campaign and into the transition as part of improved relations with Russia.

Throughout the campaign and the transition I’ve been somewhere between confused and concerned by what I’ve seen articulated by the President-elect as his foreign, defense, and national security policy preferences because they represent such a large break with longstanding US policy preferences under both Democratic and Republican Presidents. I would be a lot less worried if the seeming, alleged, rumored, Russian connections were put to bed. I completely understand that a lot of ego is tied up in running for public office, let alone the Presidency. And that winning the electoral college, but not the popular vote would be troubling to any incoming President even if they were not a political neophyte.  But the responses from the President-elect and his team on these questions have been inadequate throughout the campaign and the transition. From CNN’s reporting this appears to be one of the reasons that the two page annex summarizing the former MI6 officer’s oppo research was included in the classified report and briefings to the President, the President-elect, and the Gang of Eight on Russian active measures, desinformaziya, and kompromat in the 2016 US elections. The leaders of the US Intel Community wanted it made explicit to the current and outgoing President, the President-elect and his National Security Team, and to the Republican and Democratic leadership of the House and Senate and both chambers Intelligence Committees that this material existed, it presents an ongoing threat to both political parties and to the US and its interests, and could still be used. And I would add: regardless of whether any of it is true, false, or a combination of the two. As CNN reported (emphasis mine):

One reason the nation’s intelligence chiefs took the extraordinary step of including the synopsis in the briefing documents was to make the President-elect aware that such allegations involving him are circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress and other government officials in Washington, multiple sources tell CNN.
These senior intelligence officials also included the synopsis to demonstrate that Russia had compiled information potentially harmful to both political parties, but only released information damaging to Hillary Clinton and Democrats. This synopsis was not an official part of the report from the intelligence community case about Russian hacks, but some officials said it augmented the evidence that Moscow intended to harm Clinton’s candidacy and help Trump’s, several officials with knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.
The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.

There will always be breaks or changes or adjustments to policy from Presidential Administration to Presidential Administration, depending on who is elected, from which party, and what is actually going on. But the changes that President-elect Trump has either long argued for, or argued for throughout his campaign, would be a lot easier to understand if he and his upcoming Presidency were removed from under the cloud of alleged, possible influence by a hostile foreign power.



Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Golden Opportunities


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I think we may have found the perfect chant for the Women’s March!

(Sure, like you could resist.)

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Apart from putting on our hip waders and rubber gloves, what’s on the agenda for… (uh oh)… Hump Day?



Thoughts on the Report Buzzfeed Posted

In an update to my post earlier this evening on CNN’s reporting that the classified US Intel Community (IC) report submitted and briefed to the President, the President-elect, and the Congressional Gang of Eight including an annex/appendix referencing Russian active measures and kompromat of the President-elect, I linked to Buzzfeed’s subsequent reporting. Buzzfeed’s report included a synopsis of the CNN report, as well as a summary of what is in the alleged oppo report compiled by a former MI6 officer. It also included a link to the pdf of that oppo report.

I’ve now had a chance, between dinner, responding to comments, reviewing what those I considered informed sources have written on this, and watching news coverage of it and the farewell address, to actually make my way through it. I’ve read it slowly and carefully. Here’s what I think is going on with it:

1. As DM correctly notes in comments to my earlier post,

No, I don’t think it’s a false flag. I am just suggesting that one be cautious about the details in the Buzzfeed document. We know the IC is worried that Trump is compromised, we just don’t know what they think the Russians have on him.

It’s not too hard to imagine someone hearing rumors about the ex-MI6 person’s report (which, after all, was circulated to Republican opposition research people (presumably last Spring?) and Democrats (last Fall?)). Someone might then elaborate on them, counting on the IC rumors to give their story some legs and credibility.

Of course, it’s also pretty easy to imagine the actual ex-MI6 person’s report getting widely enough circulated that Buzzfeed got a copy and has printed it (though, once again, we don’t know which details of this document the IC considers credible and corroborated).

I think this is a correct amount of skepticism. From what David Corn seems to be intimating, this is, indeed, the file he saw before his reporting on this back at the end of October 2016.

John Schindler, a former NSA Tech Director, is indicating this is legit – both what CNN reported and the report that Buzzfeed posted.

Retired Senior Chief Petty Officer, and Naval Intelligence officer, Malcolm Nance, who’s book on Russian active measures to disrupt the 2016 election was published several months before the election, also supports Corn’s reporting and his confirmation that this is the information he saw and referenced for his October 2016 reporting.

Rick Wilson, who ran former CIA National Clandestine Service officer Evan McMullin’s Independent campaign for the presidency, and who was trying to work this oppo research into the media during the campaign, is also confirming this is, at least, some of that material. He also denies being Buzzfeed’s source.

Liz Mair, who was also working for a competing campaign during the GOP primaries has indicated that some the material in the oppo research report that Buzzfeed posted is material that she’s familiar with.

2. What I think we’re looking at here are two different, but related things. The first is the CNN reporting, which states clearly that a two page annex/appendix was including with the IC’s classified report and briefings to the President, President-elect, and Gang of 8. This is based on the oppo research report prepared by a former MI6 officer that indicates the Russians have kompromat on the President-elect. The second is the report Buzzfeed posted, which is alleged to be the actual oppo report.

In regard to the former, the IC would not have included this in their report or briefings if they didn’t have confidence in the source of the oppo research report – the former MI6 officer. This doesn’t mean that the IC has done a full vetting and has high confidence, rather it means they are comfortable enough with the reports author and his sources and are concerned enough with the possibility and probability that the President-elect could be compromised that they wanted the information in the report and briefing.

This is different than the report Buzzfeed posted. If, in fact, what Buzzfeed posted is the oppo research cited by the IC in the annex/appendix to their classified report and briefing, which has been intimated, but not completely confirmed, then the questions become: what can be verified and what can’t. Michael Cohen, the attorney for the Trump Organization referenced in the report, has already pushed back on the report’s allegation that he was a key go between. He claims to have been at USC visiting the campus with his son at the end of August 2016 and USC’s baseball program has confirmed this. John Schindler has pushed back on this, asserting that alias documents could have been used. The report that Buzzfeed posted makes this allegation about Cohen being the primary go between starting sometime in August a central component. A good deal of its credibility will rise or fall on the ability to verify this allegation.

3. So what does this leave us with? Two different things. The first is the CNN reporting about the two page annex/appendix to the IC’s classified report and briefings to the President, President-elect, and Gang of Eight. The second is the report that Buzzfeed posted. At this stage I think the former is solid reporting. CNN wouldn’t have run it without vetting that the annex/appendix was indeed part of the IC’s classified report. It confirms and then furthers David Corn’s reporting from the end of October 2016 and, to some extent, some of Kurt Eichenwald’s reporting from the beginning of November 2016.

The second is the report Buzzfeed posted. This is alleged to be the source document for the two page annex/appendix to the IC’s classified report on Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. At this point there is not enough information to confirm or deny the veracity of the report that Buzzfeed posted or if it is, indeed, the basis for the annex/appendix to the IC’s report. Buzzfeed referred to the report this way, which I also directly quoted and attributed to them in the update to my earlier post this evening:

A dossier making explosive — but unverified — allegations that the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” President-elect Donald Trump for years and gained compromising information about him has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks.

For the time being explosive, but unverified seems to be the way to approach this.



The Maskirovka Slips IX: KOMPROMAT!!!! (Updated)

CNN has reported that a two page synopsis was appended to the classified briefing given to the President, the President-elect, and the Gang of Eight (The Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees) stating that a retired MI6 officer had reported to the FBI in Rome that the Russians had been trying to and had compromised the President-elect. CNN’s reporting confirms and advances David Corn’s, which I first highlighted in an earlier Maskirovka post.

Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.

There is video of Jake Tapper covering the story at the link.

Rick Wilson, a GOP communications and campaign strategist who ran former CIA officer Evan McMullin’s independent campaign for President, and who tried to get this information out during the primaries, believes the personal kompromat has to do with:

CNN’s reporting includes:

One reason the nation’s intelligence chiefs took the extraordinary step of including the synopsis in the briefing documents was to make the President-elect aware that such allegations involving him are circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress and other government officials in Washington, multiple sources tell CNN.
These senior intelligence officials also included the synopsis to demonstrate that Russia had compiled information potentially harmful to both political parties, but only released information damaging to Hillary Clinton and Democrats. This synopsis was not an official part of the report from the intelligence community case about Russian hacks, but some officials said it augmented the evidence that Moscow intended to harm Clinton’s candidacy and help Trump’s, several officials with knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.
The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.
And:
CNN has confirmed that the synopsis was included in the documents that were presented to Mr. Trump but cannot confirm if it was discussed in his meeting with the intelligence chiefs.
The Trump transition team declined repeated requests for comment.
CNN has reviewed a 35-page compilation of the memos, from which the two-page synopsis was drawn. The memos originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats. At this point, CNN is not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations. But, in preparing this story, CNN has spoken to multiple high ranking intelligence, administration, congressional and law enforcement officials, as well as foreign officials and others in the private sector with direct knowledge of the memos.
Some of the memos were circulating as far back as last summer. What has changed since then is that US intelligence agencies have now checked out the former British intelligence operative and his vast network throughout Europe and find him and his sources to be credible enough to include some of the information in the presentations to the President and President-elect a few days ago.
And:
The two-page summary was written without the detailed specifics and information about sources and methods included in the memos by the former British intelligence official. That said, the synopsis was considered so sensitive it was not included in the classified report about Russian hacking that was more widely distributed, but rather in an annex only shared at the most senior levels of the government: President Obama, the President-elect, and the eight Congressional leaders.
CNN has also learned that on December 9, Senator John McCain gave a full copy of the memos — dated from June through December, 2016 — to FBI Director James Comey. McCain became aware of the memos from a former British diplomat who had been posted in Moscow. But the FBI had already been given a set of the memos compiled up to August 2016, when the former MI6 agent presented them to an FBI official in Rome, according to national security officials.
The raw memos on which the synopsis is based were prepared by the former MI6 agent, who was posted in Russia in the 1990s and now runs a private intelligence gathering firm. His investigations related to Mr. Trump were initially funded by groups and donors supporting Republican opponents of Mr. Trump during the GOP primaries, multiple sources confirmed to CNN. Those sources also said that once Mr. Trump became the nominee, further investigation was funded by groups and donors supporting Hillary Clinton.
Spokespeople for the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment. Officials who spoke to CNN declined to do so on the record given the classified nature of the material.
Some of the allegations were first reported publicly in Mother Jones one week before the election.
One high level administration official told CNN, “I have a sense the outgoing administration and intelligence community is setting down the pieces so this must be investigated seriously and run down. I think [the] concern was to be sure that whatever information was out there is put into the system so it is evaluated as it should be and acted upon as necessary.”
The story has some additional corroboration from British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson:

Vladimir Putin was behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee during the US presidential election campaign, Boris Johnson has said, accusing Putin’s Moscow of being “up to all sorts of tricks”.

It is the first time the UK has confirmed US intelligence reports linking the hacks to Russia, although UK intelligence agencies are understood to have been the first to alert their US counterparts to the evidence.

Speaking in the Commons, the UK’s foreign secretary told MPs it was “pretty clear” the hacking attack had come from Russia. He said he had told the incoming US administration “we do think the Russian state – the Putin Kremlin – is up to all sorts of very dirty tricks, but it would be folly further to demonise Russia or to push Russia into a corner.”

NPR’s Russia Correspondent is reporting:

At this point I am not sure what this means. I know what it should mean politically and criminally and in terms of counterintelligence. But given what we’ve seen so far, I’m not sure what it should mean. I suppose we should start with the traditional questions: what did the President-elect, his campaign leadership and senior staff, the Vice President-elect, and the senior GOP leadership in Congress and at the RNC know and when did they know it?

Update at 6:50 PM

Buzzfeed (h/t: lamh in comments) is reporting that it has the dossier and it has published it.

A dossier making explosive — but unverified — allegations that the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” President-elect Donald Trump for years and gained compromising information about him has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks.

The dossier, which is a collection of memos written over a period of months, includes specific, unverified and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians. CNN reported Tuesday that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to President Barack Obama and Trump.

Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.

The link to the dossier can be found at Buzzfeed.



Early Morning Open Thread: Wikileaks Proposes Weaponizing Doxxing

Dox: search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.

Putin/Trump’s new BFFs may have overreached themselves. As of Friday afternoon, per Brian Fung the Washington Post:

WikiLeaks wants to start building a list of verified Twitter users that would include highly sensitive and personal information about their families, their finances and their housing situations.

“We are thinking of making an online database with all ‘verified’ twitter accounts & their family/job/financial/housing relationships,” WikiLeaks tweeted Friday.

[Ed. Note: They have since taken that tweet down.]

The disclosure organization, run by Julian Assange, says the information would be used for an artificial-intelligence program. But Twitter users immediately fired back, saying WikiLeaks would use the list to take political vengeance against those who criticize it.

Twitter “verifies” certain users, such as world leaders, nonprofit organizations and news outlets, with a blue check mark beside their names so that other users of the service can be confident about the posters’ identities. WikiLeaks, which has a verified Twitter account, did not say whether it would subject itself to the scrutiny it was proposing. (It was also unclear whether, under its plan, WikiLeaks would seek to uncover information about the financial lives of Russian President Vladimir Putin or President-elect Donald Trump, both of whom are verified on Twitter.)

Asked by journalist Kevin Collier why it needed to build a database of dossiers, WikiLeaks replied that the database would be used as a “metric to understand influence networks based on proximity graphs.”

But the proposal faced a sharp and swift backlash as technologists, journalists and security researchers slammed the idea as a “sinister” and dangerous abuse of power and privacy…

Timothy Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, compared the WikiLeaks proposal to a piece of British legislation that has been criticized as a massive boon to the surveillance industry.

“Don’t.even.think.about.it,” he tweeted.

Even the “hacktivist” organization Anonymous lined up against WikiLeaks.

“This is a sickening display of intimidation tactics,” it said, tagging the official Twitter accounts for the social network, its support team and chief executive Jack Dorsey.
Read more



Open Thread: Smogging Up the Hall of Mirrors

Increasingly clear that the Repubs don’t mind their country being run by a hostile foreign power, as long as they get to reap some short-term advantages…


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But the new fashions will be fabulous!…