Skip to main content

Posts

The Money! Follow the Money! Australia Broadcasting Corporation Three Part Documentary on the President, His Campaign, and Its Connections to Russia

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has reported a three part documentary series on the President, his campaign, and its connections to Russia entitled Trump/Russia: Follow the Money.

The first part aired last Monday and can be found here. Or on ABC’s iView platform (flash player required). A full transcript for the first episode is available at the link for the first episode. Here’s ABC’s synopsis for their documentary series and an excerpt of their interview with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper from the transcripts of the first episode.

It’s the story of the century: The US President and his connections to Russia.

In a Four Corners special series, award winning investigative reporter Sarah Ferguson follows the spies and the money trail from Washington, to London, to Moscow.

In this three-part series, Four Corners delivers a riveting account of the allegations and evidence from the characters central to the drama that has gripped the world.

On Monday night, the story begins:

Follow the Money: Four Corners follows the money trail from New York to Moscow, tracking the ties between Trump, his business empire and Russia.

Secrets, spies and useful idiots: in part two, Four Corners speaks to key protagonists at the centre of the unfolding drama over members of the Trump team accused of being compromised by Russia.

Moscow Rules: in part three, Four Corners investigates the central allegations that members of the Trump team, including possibly the President himself, actively colluded with Russia to subvert American democracy.

Months in the making, filmed across the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia, Sarah Ferguson charts the extraordinary allegations, interrogating the evidence and interviewing central characters in this unfolding story that could be lifted from the pages of a blockbuster spy novel.

A three-part investigative special series reported and presented by Sarah Ferguson, begins Monday 4th June at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 5th June at 1.00pm and Wednesday 6th at 11.20pm. It can also be seen on ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.

SARAH FERGUSON, REPORTER: It starts with a road trip across America in 2014.

Before the US Presidential campaign was underway, before Donald Trump was a serious candidate, two Russian spies were criss-crossing the country, gathering intelligence on the US political system, looking for and finding vulnerabilities.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, US DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Two of the defendants allegedly travelled to the United States in 2014 to collect intelligence for their American influence operations.

JAMES CLAPPER, US DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE 2010-2017: Initially, and traditionally, these kinds of operations are very innocent in their overt behaviour and appearance.

But that was just kind of foundation building.

Establish a presence, get online, and again, for a long time it would appear to be innocent. But it turns out after time that they weren’t.

SARAH FERGUSON, REPORTER: The spies were the forward team from the infamous Internet Research Agency in Saint Petersburg the front-line organisation in Vladimir Putin’s asymmetrical war against US democracy.

JAMES CLAPPER, US DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE 2010-2017: For me, I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff in 50 years in Intelligence, but it’s very, very disturbing, just viscerally disturbing that an adversary country was aggressive, so aggressively meddling in our political process.

SARAH FERGUSON, REPORTER: What was different when you say viscerally disturbing? What was different?

JAMES CLAPPER, US DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE 2010-2017: I came to understand the magnitude and the aggressiveness and the dimensions of this, it was viscerally, you know, made me ill.

SARAH FERGUSON, REPORTER: It made you ill?

JAMES CLAPPER, US DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE 2010-2017: Yeah.

SARAH FERGUSON, REPORTER: Did you share that with your colleagues?

JAMES CLAPPER, US DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE 2010-2017: Yes. I think it affected all of us that way.

SARAH FERGUSON, REPORTER: The spies left America undetected the intelligence they gathered would fuel the cyber war in the coming Presidential election.

SERGEY ALEKSASHENKO, FORMER DEPUTY CHAIRMAN, CENTRAL BANK OF RUSSIA: The idea, underlying idea of Mr Putin was to disturb the situation as much as possible.

To create different tensions, points of tensions, points of social discontent, of political fighting. So, to create turbulence in the stable society.

To make America weak.

The idea of Donald Trump to make America great again, the idea of Vladimir Putin to make American institutions weaker.

SARAH FERGUSON, REPORTER: Do you have any doubt at all about Putin’s authorship of the campaign against America?

JAMES CLAPPER, US DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE 2010-2017: I do not.

You have to remember, Putin’s personal history.

He’s a KGB officer.

And so, I think there’s an innate resentment and aversion to the United States and what we stand for and our system.

Part two airs tonight (Australian time) at this link and focuses on, among others, Carter Page and George Papadopolous. Here’s their extended interview with Carter Page from tonight’s episode:

And here’s their extended interview with Tim O’Brien, one of the President’s biographers, discussing the way the President conducts business:

Part three should air next week.

I expect Peter Navarro and Larry Kudlow will be on CNN any minute now condemning Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull for allowing Australia’s national and government funded broadcaster to undermine the President 1/2 an hour before he meets one on one with Kim Jung On and only a pair of interpreters.

Open thread!



The Lajes Vector: Congressman Nunes Gets Stiffed

As was the case with Congressman Nunes’ memo and his decision to prematurely end the superficial House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) investigation into the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign against the US, Congressman Nunes didn’t seem to accomplish much as a result of the DOJ briefings he demanded yesterday. From the AP:

It was unclear how much information was given to lawmakers. According to a U.S. official familiar with the meeting, the briefers did not reveal the name of an informant. They brought documents but did not share them, and made several remarks about the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. The person declined to be identified because the briefing was classified.

Nunes attended both briefings Thursday. According to the U.S. official and another person briefed on the Capitol Hill meeting, Nunes did not speak at all during the briefing. The second person also declined to be named because the meeting was classified.

According to the AP’s reporting, the DOJ and FBI did not provide the covered human source’s identity despite it having been speculated about in right wing online media sources since March and circulating in the news media for the past ten days or so. This is significant. This was Deputy AG Rosenstein and FBI Director Wray reinforcing that they will not disclose methods and sources to Congress or the White House via their pets in Congress, which is as it should be as sources and methods are outside of need to know for congressional oversight. I’m sure this won’t stop right wing news and social media from promoting the absolutely bizarre conspiracy that the highest echelons of the DOJ and the FBI, as well as the career personnel in the national security division conspired with both the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign and Vladimir Putin to frame the current President as a Russian dupe in order to prevent him from being elected. While keeping it all secret!

That’s always been the most insane portion of all of this. That there was a far ranging conspiracy to prevent the President’s election that included President Obama, the appointed and career leadership at the DOJ, FBI, DNI, CIA, and NSA, as well as career personnel in the DOJ and FBI’s national security directorate. That it was all coordinated with Secretary Clinton’s campaign. And that they were all conspiring with Vladimir Putin. All to prevent the President from being elected by tainting his campaign with the false narrative of being not just favored by Vladimir Putin, but actively seeking to work with and/or working with Vladimir Putin. And that the parties to the conspiracy were so successful in their secret plotting against the President and his campaign that they lied to reporters from The New York Times and other news media all the way through the election in order to keep the conspiracy a secret. And, as a result, the conspiracy actually failed and the President’s campaign was successful and he was elected because no one knew about it. Which, of course, makes no sense and is belied by every reported fact over the past two years about the President’s campaign and the people working on it.

What really needs to happen now is that the DOJ and the FBI need to ascertain who leaked the covered human sources identity to Chuck Ross at Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller. Leaks of covered human sources are direct threats to the national security of the United States. They place the covered human source at risk. They place anyone who is contact with the covered human source at risk even if these people are not subjects or targets of any intelligence or criminal investigation. When these types of leaks happen the families, friends, professional colleagues, neighbors, and even casual personal and professional acquaintances of the covered human source are placed at risk. And they make it much, much harder for the US to both recruit new covered human sources in the future and for the US’s allies and partners to share information from their own covered human sources.

Reporting on covered human sources – and I want to be very clear here – is protected under the 1st Amendment. Even though that reporting is also a direct threat to the national security of the United States. Ross is rightfully off limits because of the 1st Amendment, but whoever provided that information to him needs to be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Stay clandestine!

Open thread.

* Just a quick note, before anyone asks in the comments, Congressman Nunes’ family came to the US from Lajes in the Azores. And ever since he got himself onto the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence he’s been trying to relocate significant amounts of US intelligence capability to Lajes, which makes no logistical or financial sense, but would enrich his relatives and their friends. I wrote about this here. And it’s why I use Lajes in the titles of my Nunes’ posts, like the title for a weird Ludlum like novel.



A Follow Up Regarding DNI Clapper’s Statements That The Russians Actually Influenced The Outcome Of The 2016 US Election

I just wanted to quickly follow up on AL’s earlier post regarding DNI Clapper’s remarks that:

“Of course the Russian efforts affected the outcome. Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense, and credulity to the breaking point. Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election. I have no doubt that more votes than that were influenced by this massive effort by the Russians.”

Was there active collusion between the Trump campaign — or the candidate himself — and Russian proxies or agents? Clapper does not go that far because he doesn’t have proof. But what he calls Trump’s “aggressive indifference” to the intelligence community’s detailed presentation of Russian activities is, in his view, damning enough. “Allegations of collusion and the results of the election were secondary to the profound threat Russia posed — and poses — to our system,” Clapper writes, and he does a fair job explaining why.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has just released a working paper entitledSocial Media, Sentiment and Public Opinions: Evidence from #Brexit and #USElection. Here’s a link to a pdf of the report, which I’ll also attach to the bottom of the post. I want to excerpt this bit from the introduction to the paper (emphasis mine):

We find that information about the Brexit and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election is disseminated and absorbed among Twitter users within 50-70 minutes. This suggests that information rigidity could be very low for critically important issues with wide coverage or that news cycles in social media are short-lived. We also observe the differential impact of tweeting activities by user type. For example, “remain” supporters in the Brexit Referendum respond stronger and faster to messages created by other “remain” supporters when compared with the reaction to messages from “leave” supporters. Furthermore, human tweeting activity could be influenced by bots. The degree of influence depends on whether a bot provides information consistent with the priors of a human. For instance, a bot supporting the “leave” campaign has a stronger impact on a “leave” supporter than a “remain” supporter. Similarly, Trump supporters are more likely to react to messages spread by pro-Trump bots. Further examination shows that the sentiment of tweets plays an important role in how information is spread: a message with positive (negative) sentiment generates another message with the same sentiment. These results provide evidence consistent with the “echo chambers” effect in social media; that is, people tend to select themselves into groups of like-minded people so that their beliefs are reinforced while information from outsiders might be ignored. Therefore, social media platforms like Twitter could enhance ideological segmentation and make information more fragmented rather than more uniform across people. Finally, we provide a quantitative assessment of how bots’ traffic contributed to the actual vote outcomes. Our results suggest that, given narrow margins of victories in each vote, bots’ effect was likely marginal but possibly large enough to affect the outcomes.

And this section from Section E of the findings on p. 20 of the report (emphasis mine):

But again, even this small difference could have played an important role in the outcome of these close-call elections. Specifically, our analysis in Section 2.5 suggests that a percentage point increase in the share of pro-Trump tweets in total tweets is associated with a 0.59 percentage point increase in the share of actual pro-Trump votes. Therefore, the observed difference between actual and counterfactual pro-Trump tweet shares suggests that 3.23 percentage points of the actual vote could be rationalized with the influence of bots.

This is one econometric analysis of the effects of the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign against the US in the 2016 election and the UK during the Brexit referendum. It is an important piece of unclassified, open sourced supporting analysis to DNI Clapper’s conclusions. But the research shows that there is a strong correlation between the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign and shifts in voting in the US and the UK. This research is not conclusive. It does not and cannot put an end to the suspicions or concerns, but it is important as part of the larger explanation of what happened in the 2016 presidential election and the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Open thread!

Brexit_Election



We Are At Cyberwar Part II

In my initial post on the US being in a cyberwar with Russia, on 26 July 2016, I wrote (emphasis mine):

One of the real concerns going forward, apart from embarrassing email chains with personally identifying information (PII) being posted on Wikileaks, is not just that Russian Intelligence can get in and look around and take information out of these systems in the US, but what happens if they decide to mess with what’s there? Voter registration information, voter donation information, electoral results, and more are all stored electronically. The next attack may not be interested in embarrassing staffers and causing a few days of reporting about what they wrote. Rather it might seek to remove voters from the rolls or change the reported results of an election in specific locations before they can be reported. And since our system is decentralized, securing all of it is going to be difficult and expensive.

Well what do you know?

From The Hill (emphasis also mine):

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released the unclassified version of its investigation into Russian cyberattacks on digital U.S. voting systems ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The report finds that Moscow conducted an “unprecedented, coordinated cyber campaign” against the nation’s voting infrastructure. Through its investigation, the committee found that Russia-linked hackers were in a position to “alter or delete voter registration data” in a small number of states before the 2016 vote.

“In a small number of states, Russian-affiliated cyber actors were able to gain access to restricted elements of election infrastructure,” the report states. “In a small number of states, these cyber actors were in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data; however, they did not appear to be in a position to manipulate individual votes or aggregate vote totals.”

“The Committee saw no evidence that votes were changed and found that, on balance, the diversity of our voting infrastructure is a strength,” the report says. “However, the Committee notes that a small number of districts in key states can have a significant impact in a national election.”

Going forward all US election systems – voter registrations, voter rolls, recording of the actual vote, etc – must all be air gapped. They have to be either set up or backed up in such a way that the master information is only accessible via a secured or classified network – not the every day unclassified Internet. Additionally, every vote cast should be pen and paper. And non-partisan observers should be present during all voting and tallying and reporting of the vote totals. And all three of these activities should also be filmed so there is a record of voting, tallying, and reporting. Finally, there should be secured paper backups of everything. If we do these simple things we can safeguard and protect the integrity of our election systems and have faith in the outcome of our elections. Or we can have more 2016s.

Update at 11:30 PM EDT

Here’s the link to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence unclassified report.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.



The Democratic Minority On The House Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence Issues a Rebuttal Report

The Democratic minority on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) has issued a rebuttal report to the GOP majority’s report that was released this morning. The Democratic minority report can be found here. As I indicated earlier regarding the majority report, I’ve only had a chance to give this a quick read and won’t have a chance to do a deep dive until later in the weekend. I do want to note a couple of points from the introduction.

One year later, the Committee’s Majority has shattered its commitment by rushing to end its investigation prematurely, even as it continues to investigate President Donald Trump’s political opponents, our intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and diplomatic corps, and former members of the Administration of President Barack Obama.

In so doing, the Majority has not only failed to meet the mandate given to the HPSCI by the Speaker of the House and the Minority Leader, but they have engaged in a systematic effort to muddy the waters, and to deflect attention away from the President, most recklessly in their assault on the central pillars of the rule of law. Their report, as with their overall conduct o f the investigation, is unworthy of this Committee, the House of Representatives, and most importantly, the American people, who arc now left to try to discern what is true and what is not.

The Majority’s report reflects a lack of seriousness and interest in pursuing the truth. By refusing to call in key witnesses, by refusing to request pertinent documents, and by refusing to compel and enforce witness cooperation and answers to key questions, the Majority hobbled the Committee’s ability to conduct a credible investigation that could inspire public confidence. The Majority’s conduct has also undermined Congress’ independent investigative authority. Their repeated deferrals to the White House allowed witnesses to refuse cooperation, and permitted the Administration to dictate the terms of their interaction with Congress, or evade congressional oversight altogether, setting a damaging precedent for future non-cooperation by this President and, possibly, by his successors.

These Views memorialize the Minority’s profound disappointment with and objections to the manner in which the Majority subverted this investigation, and highlight for the public some of the most glaring misrepresentations, distortions, and inaccuracies in the Majority’s report.

A majority of the report’s findings are misleading and unsupported by the facts and the investigative record. They have been crafted to advance a political narrative that exonerates the President, downplays Russia’s preference and support for then-candidate Trump, explains away repeated contacts by Trump associates with Russia-aligned actors, and seeks to shift suspicion towards President Trump’s political opponents and the prior administration.

One can find no better example of the Majority’s willingness to contort facts to support its politicized narrative than the report’s Finding #35. The Majority argues that evidence that Trump associates sought after the election to establish secret back channels to communicate with the Russians without the U.S. government finding out – and then lied about it – actually proves there was no collusion with Russia. The sophistry of this kind of analysis, and the report as a whole, wither under scrutiny. Even before its public release, the report suffered in the face of public revelations that bear directly on the investigation and contradicted the Majority’s conclusions.

The actions of both the majority and minority on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in releasing their reports come as either new information is coming to light or older information is being fleshed out regarding the June 2016 meeting between Russian assets/proxies and Donald Trump, Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower in NY, as well as other Russian attempts to establish connections with the President and/or members of his campaign.

From CNN:

The National Rifle Association is setting aside years of documents related to its interactions with a Kremlin-linked banker, as the gun-rights group appears to be bracing for a possible investigation, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The NRA has faced fresh scrutiny from congressional investigators about its finances and ties to Alexander Torshin, one of the 17 prominent Russian government officials the US Treasury Department recently slapped with sanctions. The gun-rights group has said it is reexamining its relationship with Torshin, who is a lifetime NRA member, in the wake of the sanctions.

The renewed attention has highlighted the close-knit if sometimes uneasy alliance between top NRA officials and Torshin — a relationship that ensnared members of Trump’s team during the presidential campaign, inviting further congressional scrutiny.

Those inquiries could shed light on the tightly held fundraising practices and political activities of the NRA. The political powerhouse shelled out more than $30 million in 2016 to back Donald Trump’s candidacy — more than it spent on 2008 and 2012 political races combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Vice President Mike Pence is slated to speak at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Dallas next Friday, an official told CNN.

The NRA recently found itself facing allegations that the FBI was investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money through the group to bolster Trump, according to a McClatchy report. The NRA has publicly denied any contact from the FBI and insisted it hasn’t accepted illegal donations.

Despite the public denials, officials at the gun-rights group have been anxiously preparing as if they were already under investigation, sources said. Some employees have been tasked with preserving years of documents mentioning Torshin or his associate, Maria Butina, who runs a pro-guns group in Russia, a source familiar with the situation said. Privately, some officials have expressed anxiety about a potential investigation and the group’s Russian ties.

Much more at the link.

Despite the dysfunction on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence the investigation into Russian active measures and cyberwarfare during the 2016 campaign will not end here. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is still conducting its investigation as is the Special Counsel’s Office. Moreover, the British and Canadian Parliaments are both engaging in their own investigations into Cambridge Analytica, its parent company SCL, there corroboration with Facebook, and how all of this is connected and may also be connected to Russia. Finally, Putin’s efforts to weaken the US and its NATO and EU allies and partners won’t be ending any time soon either.

Stay right where you are!

Open thread.

 



See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil: The GOP Majority On The House Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence Report On The Russian Active Measures Campaign

On a party line vote, the GOP majority on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), have released the GOP majority’s report on Russia’s active measures campaign against the US – specifically in regard to the 2016 election. The report can be found here. I haven’t had time to do much other than give it a quick read, and won’t until later in the weekend, but basically this is garbage in and garbage out. When you read through it you find that the GOP majority on the committee went out of there way to not investigate what they were supposed to be investigating. They deliberately chose not to ask questions regarding whether or not the President’s business or his campaign were involved with Russian assets – both legitimate and illegitimate. They also went out of their way to take answers from people like Carter Page, Corey Lewandowski, Keith Schiller, George Papadapolous, Erik Prince, Donald Trump, Jr, etc at face value and to not appropriately follow up. Finally, they went out of their way not to pursue legitimate investigative leads or areas of investigative interest. As a result they have produced a report that concludes that nothing was done wrong, there were no purposefully inappropriate contacts between the President’s business and/or campaign with the Russians, and the real issues were all on the Democratic side of the election – on the part of the Obama administration, and the result of behaviors taken by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, FBI Director Comey, Special Counsel Mueller, DNI Clapper, DCI Brennan, and several others at the DOJ and the FBI.

Unfortunately the truth will out!

From CBS News:

An organization established by an exiled Russian tycoon says it has obtained emails showing collaboration between Russian government officials and the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. in 2016. The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, also admitted she’s an informant to the Russian attorney general, during an NBC News interview that’s slated to air Friday, according to the New York Times.

“I am a lawyer, and I am an informant,” she reportedly told NBC. “Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.”

This contradicts her earlier contention that she had no connections with the Russian government. Last year, when asked point blank by NBC if she had any connections to the Russian government or had previously worked for the Kremlin, Veselnitskaya replied, “No.”

The emails the Dossier organization have suggest Veselnitskaya worked closely with a top official in Russia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office to fend off a U.S. fraud case against one of her clients.

Veselnitskaya has denied having connections to the Kremlin since her meeting with then-candidate Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman. The encounter took place after Donald Trump Jr. was told she had potentially incriminating information about Trump’s election opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Veselnitskaya is a well-connected Moscow lawyer, but the extent of her government ties has been unclear.

Trump Jr., along with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with Veselnitskaya in June 2016 after Trump Jr. was told in emails that the lawyer could provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Congressman Conoway, who was supposed to be running the investigation once Congressman Nunes recused himself, provided this response to this new information:

Congressman Conoway’s response just reinforces my impression here. The GOP majority on HPSCI took a see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil approach to their duties in this investigation. Congratulations! You all played yourself.

Ultimately it is not surprising that the GOP majority on HPSCI would conduct themselves this way or come to these conclusions. The fish here has rotted from the head. And that head is Congressman Nunes. From the NY Times:

In the Intelligence Committee’s Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility — a secure office in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center where the committee does its work — there’s a log that keeps track of all the classified materials members request to read. The log’s primary purpose is security, but it also serves as a way of determining which members are doing their homework. According to three people familiar with the log, during Nunes’s first several years on the committee, he rated as its “least read” member. He had a similarly poor record of visiting the intelligence agencies for briefings. His lack of preparation could be seen in the committee’s classified hearings, where, according to a former committee staff member, Nunes often seemed out of his depth. “The committee gets to ask direct questions of the C.I.A. director for two hours a quarter, and if a member is using up half his time on questions that he should already know the answers to, it’s not very productive,” the former staff member says.

Even worse, in the eyes of some of committee members and staff, was how Nunes did get his information. “He’d go out to these hinterlands and run into security guys there, and they’d give him crazy ideas,” the former committee staff member says. “He wasn’t discerning. These guys might have something interesting that’s one piece of the whole puzzle, but he’d think whatever they had to say was the whole truth.” Then, when Nunes brought back that information to Washington and intelligence officials would try to put it in context for him — or correct any misinformation — he would become suspicious. “He didn’t take people at face value,” a former government official recalls, “and didn’t always believe leadership.”

Nunes could go to great lengths in pursuit of his suspicions. In late 2012, he said he heard from “informants” that Obama administration officials were ignoring evidence in a cache of documents collected from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, showing that Al Qaeda was much stronger than the administration publicly contended. Nunes took these allegations to the Intelligence Committee’s chairman, Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, who in turn questioned intelligence officials. Rogers was satisfied with their answers and told Nunes that he believed that the documents, which were being analyzed by Defense Intelligence Agency officials at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., revealed nothing quite so significant. But Nunes wasn’t convinced.

On a Saturday in May 2013, he flew from Washington to Tampa and paid a visit to Centcom headquarters himself, where he demanded to meet with the analysts reviewing the documents, in the hope of uncovering evidence of Al Qaeda’s strength — and an Obama administration cover-up. But after a meeting with the Army major general who headed Centcom’s intelligence wing, Nunes came back to Washington empty-handed.

At the same time, Nunes was also trying to prove that the Obama administration had covered up key facts about the assault on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Not long after the September 2012 attack, which killed four Americans, including the American ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, the Intelligence Committee began investigating the episode to determine if there had been any intelligence failures. Before going into politics, Rogers, the committee’s chairman, had been an F.B.I. agent — he was confident he knew how to conduct an investigation. But Nunes apparently did not believe that Rogers was pushing hard enough, and he repeatedly gave Rogers what he thought were tantalizing leads, ones that might prove that the Obama administration could have prevented, or at least mitigated, the Benghazi attack and then tried to cover up its mistake.

Nunes had heard that a drone operator at an American air base in Germany said a drone had been flying over the Benghazi compound during the raid and captured video of the incident. According to a source familiar with the investigation, Rogers sent a committee staff member, Michael Ellis, to Germany to find and interview the American drone operator — who, it turned out, wasn’t even in the drone unit that covered Libya and had been telling tales to his parents, which had somehow made their way to Nunes. Rogers was frustrated that he had spent so long investigating a lead that he believed was absurd on its face. Nunes was not chastened; instead he grew discouraged that Rogers wasn’t pursuing even more leads.

The conflict between Rogers and Nunes eventually came to a head over the committee’s handling of five C.I.A. contractors who performed a rescue mission in Benghazi on the night of the raid. The contractors claimed that they were told to “stand down” that evening by the C.I.A. officer in charge at Benghazi. They found their way to Nunes in the fall of 2013, and they quickly hit it off with the congressman. “He was there to hear our story, and the only one I knew of looking for the truth,” Mark Geist, one of the C.I.A. contractors, told me. “That proved his credibility.” Nunes encouraged Rogers to invite the men to testify before the committee, which the panel did in November 2013.

The night before their testimony, Geist and two of the other contractors met with Nunes in his congressional office, according to their attorney, Mark Zaid. As they drank port and smoked cigarettes, they received a visit from a surprise guest. Nunes had invited Boehner to join them. For 45 minutes, the speaker was given a preview of what the men would testify about the next day in front of the Intelligence Committee. When Rogers got wind of what happened, he was alarmed. A longtime Boehner ally, he called his friend and, according to a person familiar with the conversation, told him he was potentially tainting the investigation.

But what can you expect of a member of Congress that is suspected by US officials of working for a foreign power, specifically the Portuguese government. Again from the NY Times‘ profile: (emphasis mine)

Seemingly every time American military or intelligence officials would note an obstacle to Lajes’s hosting the JIAC, Nunes would dismiss it as either a red herring or, worse, a manufactured excuse. “He felt that the reason the Pentagon wasn’t willing to engage on this issue was that the generals didn’t want to give up their lifestyles of being close to London or in Germany,” the government official says. Jim Townsend, who as President Obama’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy was the Pentagon’s point person on Lajes, says of Nunes, “He looked on this almost from a paranoid perspective, like we were out to get him.”

In the end, Nunes did not get his way: The JIAC is still planned for Croughton, and the American presence at Lajes has been drastically reduced. But Nunes created so much rancor over the issue that some American officials came to question his motives, and even his patriotism. “I was having a hard-enough time being beaten up by the Azoreans and the Portuguese, but it was even harder seeing a congressman being in cahoots with them,” Townsend says. “It was like, ‘Whose team are you on?’ ” A former Pentagon official suspects that during the Lajes negotiations, Nunes was making the Portuguese privy to things they should not have known. “We would have a conversation about some proprietary matters with Nunes,” this official says, “and then the next day, somehow, Portugal knew some of that.”

Looking back on the episode now, Townsend views it as a harbinger of sorts. “When all this stuff happened with the Russians, I laughed like hell,” he says, in reference to the Intelligence Committee’s investigation descending into chaos. “Of course it’s Nunes!”

Congressman Nunes has no business even serving on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, let alone chairing it. And given his behavior in regard to Lajes’ business and familial interests, Azorian officials, and the interests of the Portuguese government, he should be treated as if he’s compromised until proven otherwise. And this appearance of being compromised makes it even easier for others to compromise, manipulate, and suborn him. His long standing and long documented predilection for conspiracy theories and his sweet tooth for incomplete information and raw, partial intelligence make him a danger to Congress and the US. If he had been a career civil servant or even a political appointee with this sketchy of a history around classified information, rather than an elected constitutional officer, he would have had his clearance suspended and he’d be sent home pending the outcome of a counterintelligence investigation. That he and his majority on HPSCI would issue this report is not surprising at all.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.



No Plan Survives Contact With The Enemy: Military Strikes And The Strategic Complications At The Heart Of The Syrian Problem Set

This morning the President warned Russia and its Syrian and Iranian clients that we had the nice, new missiles all ready to go as a response to both the chemical attack on Eastern Ghouta, as well as Russia’s attempts to warn the US and its potential allies – from both the existing US led coalition that is Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve or from a new, smaller coalition of the US, Britain, and France designed to just punish the Assad government for the chemical attacks – off of responding.

Always a good choice to avoid the pre-owned missiles. Sometimes they’re owned by little old ladies who only use them to get to and from church on Sunday. But sometimes they’re used by folks that just abuse them, don’t give them regular maintenance, and run up the mileage on them…

There are already reports of the Syrian military relocating its personnel and equipment to the Russian bases in Syria to protect them.

This makes anything more than a demonstration strike, which is what was done last year, much, much more dangerous and problematic. The reason for this is that in order to actually reduce Syria’s capability to make war, and specifically try to deter the future use of chemical weapons, means that the US and its partners would have to target Syrian personnel and equipment that are now within Russian lines, for lack of a better term. This is one of the major strategic complications as it would create a de facto reality that the US and its partners have just attacked Russian military sites in order to get at the Syrian assets we want to degrade, attrit, and reduce.

Another part of this strategic complication is that the Russian navy has both sortied its Mediterranean fleet to get it out of port where these ships would be easy targets and has conducted a live fire exercise.

The lone Russian air craft carrier is back in port in Russia – it is actually in dry dock for the better part of the next four years or so undergoing a refit. As a result this eleven vessel fleet has limited capability.

More worrisome is that the Russian’s have begun electronically jamming US intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) drones.

The Russian military has deployed jamming tactics against US drones that have affected the US military’s ability to operate in the region, NBC News reports.

US officials told NBC News that the Russian military has been jamming smaller US drones. The jamming is focused on the GPS systems of drones, which can result in things like the operators not knowing where the drone currently is, to more extreme results like crashes.

Department of Defense officials speaking to NBC News did not confirm if they lost any of the drones to crashes as a result of the jamming, but one official did say that the jamming is having an operational impact on military operations in Syria.

The drones that have been targeted are smaller surveillance drones, and not the larger ones with strike capability like the MQ-1 Predator or the MQ-9 Reaper, according to NBC News. US military drones are encrypted and are supposed to have defenses against electronic counter measures, suggesting that Russian capabilities are more advanced than previously thought.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, then the commanding general for US Army Europe, said in in 2016 that he has seen Russian “electronic warfare capability at a tactical level that we absolutely don’t have.”

Russia’s ally in Syria, Iran, also reportedly has hacking capabilities. In 2011 it claimed that it hacked into a US RQ-170 Sentinel and forced it to land after it gained access to its GPS.

Russian jamming of our ISR drones is intended to communicate to US and allied military commanders that they will not have a friendly electronic environment if they go with an application of strategic air strikes. This complicates not only targeting, but any potential search and rescue operations that might need to be conducted if something went wrong.

There is another set of strategic complications I want to focus on, which is where Russia has moved its military assets over the past 6 months or so. Russia has begun building out its Western Military District. This is the Russian version of a geographic combatant command that borders the Baltics, Scandinavia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

This includes ramping up exercises and mobilizations under cover of wildfire season preparedness:

Here’s how Russia’s military is deployed in their military districts:

(Map 1: Russian Military Units)

And here’s how NATO and Russia’s military stack up right now:

(Figure 1: NATO Assets Vs. Russian Assets as of 2017)

 

(Figure 2: NATO and Russian Deployments as of 2016)

This second strategic complication should be of great concern. The Russian military, despite being much smaller than the US’s and much degraded by Russian economic realities from the vaunted Soviet military, has been deployed and positioned to threaten the US’s NATO and other allies in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Sweden and Finland have been moving towards a war footing, while our Baltic allies have also increased their readiness. Moreover, the Russians have been sniffing around the undersea transatlantic cables that connect the US and Europe for communications purposes. And we now know that Russia’s cyberwarfare capabilities means they don’t have to actually do anything military to retaliate. Russia could just take down parts or all of the US power grid. Russia has also been able to both penetrate for manipulation and penetrate to take down emergency communication systems, as well as planting false stories about natural disasters and terrorist attacks via social media penetrationImagine what happens should Putin decide to retaliate by turning parts of the US power grid off and interfering with 911 and emergency communications systems, while at the same time spreading disinformation made to look like actual news reports or official municipal, state, and/or Federal responses to the disaster he’s created.

Either a military response against US forces in Syria and Iraq, our NATO allies and partners in Europe, and/or a cyberwarfare response within the US are all potential Russian responses to a US led coalition military response to the chemical weapons attack in Eastern Ghouta last week. These are the strategic complications that the US and its potential allies face in developing their plans and sequels to them. These are the strategic complications faced by the President’s senior military, national security, and foreign policy advisors.

The final strategic complication is the one we started with, the one the President created for himself this morning. By threatening Russian and its Syrian and Iranian proxies with the nice, new, and smart missiles he’s tweeted himself into a corner. He either has to actually do something in response to the chemical weapons attack in Eastern Ghouta or he will have destroyed any credibility on this type of matter in the future, as well as weakened America’s strategic communication capabilities. Regardless of the strategic complications on the ground in Syria, in Europe, or within the cyber domain, the President has boxed himself in. The President has finally tweeted himself into trouble that he can’t tweet himself out of. Either he orders a response and risks an escalation or he backs down and loses what little face he had.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.



//