Your Early-Morning Saturday Mueller Report Speculation Open Thread

I’ll put a no-politics Early Morning Open Thread up right after this — let’s see which one gets more comments!



Unweaving The Tangled Web

Over the weekend, Will Bunch did a great tweet stream linking Jeff Bezos, National Enquirer, the Saudis, Jamal Khashoggi, and Donald Trump, along with others. He promised he would put it into a column, and here it is. It’s more cautious than the tweet stream, but fairly interesting. He introduces a number of possibilities by asking questions, a relatively safe way to introduce thoughts that you don’t have journalistic confirmation for. They are good questions, worth keeping in mind as things proceed.

Only now is the world figuring out that making up stories to sell papers may have been the least of the sins committed by the Enquirer, which was propped up in its 1950s’ infancy by Mafia money and which later forged a close relationship with Roy Cohn, the notorious New York fixer attorney who took an up-and-coming New York developer named Donald Trump under his wing while fighting off allegations including (wait for it) extortion and blackmail.

He gives a fair bit of background. It’s not entirely clear how the Enquirer got the material on Bezos. Joel Zamel runs a company or two that do both intelligence and propaganda and may be involved in that and other areas of Trump corruption. It’s becoming clear that blackmail is a major tool of associates of Trump. The National Enquirer has been involved in information operations for Trump for some time. That’s most recently what got them in trouble – buying up stories from a Trump mistress, which amounts to hush money and not quite legal.

As a result of that, the judge gave them a lenient sentence under the condition they not violate the law again. Legal Twitter is somewhat divided, but leaning toward the latest antics being blackmail, extortion, or possibly both.

Trump thinks Bezos is an enemy because the Washington Post has not glorified his reign and has been tweeting against him for some time. So it wouldn’t be surprising if he sent his attack dog National Enquirer after him. Bezos, of course, put an end to that in his own way.

Any link between the Bezos phone hack and the Saudis or their allies (UAE, Team Trump) would be devastating — but what if de Gavin is on the trail of something darker? Like the truth behind Khashoggi’s murder? Or — given the ties between Team Trump, the Saudis, UAE and ex-Israeli intelligence that go back to the summer of 2016 — the truth behind the election of an American president?

This is what occurred to me over the weekend, as this all played out. An international ring of grifters and blackmailers has taken over several important countries, including our own.

Meanwhile, all this talk of blackmail and extortion is a reminder that two years into the Trump administration a president who promised America “the art of the deal” has instead tried to run the country the way he ran his business in the mobbed-up New York of the 1980s — with bullying, bluster, and personal threats. But when forced to play that hand over the border wall and the government shutdown recently, it failed miserably. Would it be a surprise if Trump continues to fall back on the only tactic that’s worked for him and his allies to get things done over the years, the dark art of the blackmailer?

Anyhow, read the whole thing. There’s a lot more there. Enough information is becoming available to start to build narratives of the Trump corruption and how other countries helped him in the 2016 election. But there are still lots of holes and multiple possible narratives. The questions Bunch poses are useful.

The latest New Yorker has a long article by Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow about Joel Zamel’s organizations and others, “Private Mossad For Hire,” and some of their interference in the 2016 elections.

Also, James Bamford, who has written reasonably competently about spying in the past, inadvertently demonstrates for us how disinformation works in an article in The New Republic, which finds that Maria Butina was merely an ambitious and gun-loving student who never should have been arrested. A friend of mine who knows a great deal about Soviet spying during the Cold War commented that what he sees today is complete amateurism. That amateurism could have helped to throw Bamford off the trail.



Secrecy Isn’t What It Used To Be

Results of CIA investigations continue to be leaked. Concern was expressed at this norm-breaking. The norms exist for a reason, though. The CIA’s reason for existence is national security.

The President of the United States is acting in conflict with the recommendations of his national security agencies and in conflict with national security. Sending troops to the border for political effect. Sharing another nation’s highly classified intelligence with an adversary. Bragging about a plane that he believes is invisible. Failing to visit the troops in war zones. And more.

This is a conundrum for the national security agencies. The internet and the availability of information are changing their roles too.

Information once of limited availability is now on the internet. Some are free, some for sale. Overhead satellite photos, court documents, historical archives, social media that inadvertently shows significant features. Read more



That NYTimes Facebook Bombshell: “Delay, Deny, Deflect..”

Much as I hate to endorse any opinion of Franklin Foer’s, I have to admit I’m glad I never joined Facebook. (Not being on Facebook has sometimes felt like a minor luxury, because I don’t have an employer who demands it, or social networks that I can’t access via alternate routes. And, yes, I realize they’ve probably mined all my personal information anyways.) Props to the NYTimes reporters:

In just over a decade, Facebook has connected more than 2.2 billion people, a global nation unto itself that reshaped political campaigns, the advertising business and daily life around the world. Along the way, Facebook accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, a treasure trove of photos, messages and likes that propelled the company into the Fortune 500.

But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.

When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem.

And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and it faced a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack.

While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

…[T]rust in the social network has sunk, while its pell-mell growth has slowed. Regulators and law enforcement officials in the United States and Europe are investigating Facebook’s conduct with Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm that worked with Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, opening up the company to fines and other liability. Both the Trump administration and lawmakers have begun crafting proposals for a national privacy law, setting up a yearslong struggle over the future of Facebook’s data-hungry business model…
Read more



Surefire Intelligence!

Tom has given us one of today’s gems of humor, and I want to share the other one. There are far, far more tweets than I can possibly include here, but I will try to indicate the range and depth of incompetence, which is truly monumental.

First, a narrative account for those of you who prefer such things.

At the center of the scheme is publicity-hungry Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman, who has repeatedly dabbled in internet conspiracy theories in the past, including promoting the idea that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was killed by deep-state government operatives.

….

Burkman has not any offered any evidence at all of his accusations and his previous “bombshell” press conferences on other stories have become notorious flops in Washington media circles.

….

Burkman’s latest gambit has far higher stakes than his previous ones; but it too seems similarly bound for self-destruction. Allegations that he was offering to pay women to accuse Mueller come from an uncorroborated email sent to a number of media outlets, including The Daily Beast, by a person who identified herself as Florida resident “Lorraine Parsons.”

In her emails, Parsons claimed that Burkman and his associates were pressuring her to “make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller” and to “sign a sworn affidavit to that effect.” In exchange, she said, they were offering tens of thousands of dollars. Parsons repeatedly declined to talk to The Daily Beast on the phone, and internet searches have failed to provide any background on her. Parsons didn’t respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

….

Jacob Wohl, a right wing Twitter personality and a self-described friend of Burkman, said Burkman had told him he had hired Matthew Cohen, who is a managing partner at the private investigations company Surefire Intelligence, to assist with the investigation.

Surefire is a bit of a mystery. Since-deleted Craigslist advertisements for the company said it “was founded by two members of Israel’s elite intelligence community.” The ads billed services including “counter intelligence,” “private spies,” and “ethical hackers.”

More amusing details at the link. And yet more on Twitter. Stuff is being deleted (although I’m sure copies exist), which Popehat earlier pointed out could be destroying evidence in an FBI investigation.

Bellingcat is ON IT! (disclosure: I have worked with Bellingcat and occasionally write articles for them.)

Popehat and other lawyers are yukking it up.

A friend said this has been the best day he’s seen on Twitter for a while.