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FTR #930 The Trumpenkampfverbande, Part 9: Alfa Males, Part 3 (German Ostpolitik, Part 3)

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This broadcast was recorded in one, 60-minute segment.

NB: This description contains material not contained in the original broadcast.

alfa-groupwelcome-to-terrorlandIntroduction: With the (justifiable) outrage swirling around FBI director (and Mitt Romney backer) James Comey’s public discussion of the discovery of more of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails having been discovered, another election-related investigation has gone largely unexamined. Indeed, the importance of the investigation has been downplayed.

Computer experts discovered a link between a server registered to the Trump organization and two servers registered to the Alfa Bank in Moscow, a bank that is part of the Alfa conglomerate discussed in FTR #’s 530 and 573.

In the Foer piece, and in attempted discrediting articles of same, it is apparent that the investigators do not understand the nature of the entity they are investigating. The journalistic “spin” put on Alfa in the coverage is “Russia/Putin/Kremlin” new Cold War context. Alfa is very, very different.

Excerpted from the description for FTR #530: 

Introduction: This broadcast sets forth elements of a network that Mr. Emory believes to be a Bormann/Underground Reich network. This network was part of the apparatus involved in the execution of the 9/11 attacks.

Beginning with review of the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft and its role in bringing 9/11 hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta to Germany, the program traces the evidentiary tributaries running out of that organization. In addition to a fellowship operated on behalf of the Russian Alfa conglomerate, the CDG network also encompasses the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship.

The Alfa firm, in turn, has profound links to criminal syndicates in Asia, Russia and Latin America, as well as elements that participated in activities overlapping both the Iran-Contra and Iraqgate affairs. One of the central elements in this network is the royal family of Liechtenstein, a tiny European country that is an epicenter for money laundering.

In addition to participating in a front company that was part of the Al Taqwa constellation that funded Bin Laden, the Liechtenstein royal family (in 2001) assumed the powers of absolute monarchy, just in time to interdict any legal investigations that might have gone in the direction of 9/11. The head of the political party that fronted for Prince Hans Adam’s assumption of absolute power is a powerful lawyer who works for an Alfa subsidiary!

The dovetailing of powerful German capital interests apparently linked to the Bormann milieu with Russian oligarchic and criminal elements appears to be an outgrowth of traditional German “Ostpolitik.” For more about Ostpolitik, be sure to access Germany Plots with the Kremlin by T. H. Tetens, available for free downloading at: Spitfirelist.com/Books.

Program Highlights Include: The German industrial figures on the board of directors of the CDS; a history of the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft and its American subsidiary, the CDS; the Alfa Group’s links to Cheney’s Halliburton Oil company; the Alfa Group’s links to Iraqgate arms trafficking; the Alfa Group’s links to the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq; Alfa’s links to the Cali cocaine cartel of Colombia; Alfa’s links to heroin trafficking; Attorney Norbert Seeger’s role with Alfa subsidiary Crown Resources; Norbert Seeger’s role as head of the Progressive Citizens Party in Liechtenstein; links between Liechtenstein and the milieu of the CDU funding scandal; Atta’s father’s friendship with the German couple that sponsored Atta’s entry into Germany under the auspices of the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft; review of John P. Schmitz’s links to many of the entities and personalities discussed in the program. . . . .

More about this line of inquiry, excerpted from the description for FTR #573:

Introduction: Continuing analysis of what British Prime Minister Tony Blair described as a “global network” behind the 9/11 attacks, this program details evidentiary tributaries between the powerful, well-connected and criminal Alfa consortium and people and institutions connected to the events of 9/11. A Russian company with what Mr. Emory describes as “more connections than a switchboard,” Alfa has links to Viktor Kozeny, the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft and to powerful people and institutions connected to the Bush administration. Kozeny is alleged to have participated in an Alfa scheme to defraud numerous U.S. investors and companies and is also the man who employed Wolfgang Bohringer, one of 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s German associates in Florida. The Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft sponsored Mohamed Atta’s entrance into Germany and, perhaps, Florida. That same Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft also maintains a fellowship on behalf of Alfa Group. Alfa’s activities in the United States are aided and abetted by the powerful lobbying firm of Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, intimately connected to the administration of George W. Bush. Hans Bodmer and Pyotr Aven (two of Kozeny’s associates in a scheme to gain control of the state oil company of Azerbaijan) are also alleged to have worked with Kozeny and Alfa in the defrauding of IPOC. The global network to which Blair referred and that supported the 9/11 hijackers embodies a fusion of the underworld and the overworld. Engaged in drug trafficking on several continents, this network also operates in conjunction with powerful corporate entities in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and the United States. FTR#’s 433, 530, 536, 570 supplement the information presented here and should be examined in order to gain a firmer understanding of this complex network. As Mr. Emory noted in the broadcast, “If this seems confusing, it is meant to be!”

Program Highlights Include: Links between the Alfa group and the royal family of Liechtenstein; links between the royal family of Liechtenstein and the milieu of 9/11; Haley Barbour (of Barbour, Griffith and Rogers) and his business connections with companies belonging to the business empire of former Nazi spy and apparent Al Qaeda financier Youssef Nada; the apparently illegal operations performed by GOP bigwig Ed Rogers’ Diligence Inc. security firm on behalf of Alfa; the wall of secrecy surrounding the identity of the Germans sponsors of Atta’s activities under the auspices of the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft. . . .”

Listeners/readers are emphatically encouraged to examine the descriptions and audio files of these linkjed programs to further flesh out their understanding of the Alfa group.

Suffice it to say, this is NOT “Kremlin/Putin/Russia” new Cold War stuff at all. Rather, the Alfa Fellowship and the many links of this organization suggest that this is a Bormann/Underground Reich entity.

The original Foer piece sets forth a number of interesting aspects of the Trump/Alfa Bank server link:

  • The Trump/Alfa link was not a malware attack, as some of the computer scientists initially thought: ” . . . . The researchers quickly dismissed their initial fear that the logs represented a malware attack. The communication wasn’t the work of bots. The irregular pattern of server lookups actually resembled the pattern of human conversation—conversations that began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow. It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank. . . .”
  • The set-up was highly unusual: ” . . . . The researchers had initially stumbled in their diagnosis because of the odd configuration of Trump’s server. ‘I’ve never seen a server set up like that,’ says Christopher Davis, who runs the cybersecurity firm HYAS InfoSec Inc. and won a FBI Director Award for Excellence for his work tracking down the authors of one of the world’s nastiest botnet attacks. ‘It looked weird, and it didn’t pass the sniff test.’ The server was first registered to Trump’s business in 2009 and was set up to run consumer marketing campaigns. It had a history of sending mass emails on behalf of Trump-branded properties and products. Researchers were ultimately convinced that the server indeed belonged to Trump. (Click here to see the server’s registration record.) But now this capacious server handled a strangely small load of traffic, such a small load that it would be hard for a company to justify the expense and trouble it would take to maintain it. ‘I get more mail in a day than the server handled,’ Davis says. . . .”
  • The article details more unusual aspects of the link: ” . . . . That wasn’t the only oddity. When the researchers pinged the server, they received error messages. They concluded that the server was set to accept only incoming communication from a very small handful of IP addresses. . . . Eighty-seven percent of the DNS lookups involved the two Alfa Bank servers. ‘It’s pretty clear that it’s not an open mail server,’ Camp told me. ‘These organizations are communicating in a way designed to block other people out.’ . . . .”
  • Paul Vixie–one of the premier experts in the field–felt the connection was highly unusual: ” . . . . Earlier this month, the group of computer scientists passed the logs to Paul Vixie. In the world of DNS experts, there’s no higher authority. Vixie wrote central strands of the DNS code that makes the internet work. After studying the logs, he concluded, ‘The parties were communicating in a secretive fashion. The operative word is secretive. This is more akin to what criminal syndicates do if they are putting together a project.’ Put differently, the logs suggested that Trump and Alfa had configured something like a digital hotline connecting the two entities, shutting out the rest of the world, and designed to obscure its own existence. . . .”
  • The available evidence indicates that the hookup indicated “human-level communication”: ” . . . I put the question of what kind of activity the logs recorded to the University of California’s Nicholas Weaver, another computer scientist not involved in compiling the logs. ‘I can’t attest to the logs themselves,’ he told me, ‘but assuming they are legitimate they do indicate effectively human-level communication.’ . . . “
  • More about the nature of the communication, from the scientist using the code-name “Tea Leaves”: ” . . . . Tea Leaves and his colleagues plotted the data from the logs on a timeline. What it illustrated was suggestive: The conversation between the Trump and Alfa servers appeared to follow the contours of political happenings in the United States. ‘At election-related moments, the traffic peaked,’ according to Camp. There were considerably more DNS lookups, for instance, during the two conventions. . . .”
  • The scientists attempted to get the public to pay attention to their investigation and New York Times writers turned their attention to the case: ” . . . In September, the scientists tried to get the public to pay attention to their data. One of them posted a link to the logs in a Reddit thread. Around the same time, the New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers began chasing the story.* (They are still pursuing it.) Lichtblau met with a Washington representative of Alfa Bank on Sept. 21, and the bank denied having any connection to Trump. . . .”
  • Things got “interesting” after that. According to the computer scientists, the Trump Organization shut down the server! As the brilliant Berkeley researcher Peter Dale Scott noted, in a different context, “The cover-up obviates the conspiracy. ” . . . . In September, the scientists tried to get the public to pay attention to their data. One of them posted a link to the logs in a Reddit thread. Around the same time, the New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers began chasing the story.* (They are still pursuing it.) Lichtblau met with a Washington representative of Alfa Bank on Sept. 21, and the bank denied having any connection to Trump. . . . The computer scientists believe there was one logical conclusion to be drawn: The Trump Organization shut down the server after Alfa was told that the Times might expose the connection. Weaver told me the Trump domain was ‘very sloppily removed.’ Or as another of the researchers put it, it looked like ‘the knee was hit in Moscow, the leg kicked in New York.’. . . . Four days later, on Sept. 27, the Trump Organization created a new host name, trump1.contact-client.com, which enabled communication to the very same server via a different route. When a new host name is created, the first communication with it is never random. To reach the server after the resetting of the host name, the sender of the first inbound mail has to first learn of the name somehow. It’s simply impossible to randomly reach a renamed server. ‘That party had to have some kind of outbound message through SMS, phone, or some noninternet channel they used to communicate [the new configuration],’ Paul Vixie told me. The first attempt to look up the revised host name came from Alfa Bank. ‘If this was a public server, we would have seen other traces,’ Vixie says. ‘The only look-ups came from this particular source.’According to Vixie and others, the new host name may have represented an attempt to establish a new channel of communication. But media inquiries into the nature of Trump’s relationship with Alfa Bank, which suggested that their communications were being monitored, may have deterred the parties from using it. Soon after the New York Times began to ask questions, the traffic between the servers stopped cold. . . .”

After highlighting the Foer story on the Trump/Alfa connection, the program notes the official dismissal of the story. “. . . . Foer mentions in his piece that the New York Times was investigating the link. On Monday, the paper reported that the FBI had looked into and dismissed the idea that the two servers represented a secret communications channel. Investigators “concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts,” the Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers reported. . . . 

The concluding portion of the program notes that there are interesting evidentiary tributaries between Alfa, the business entities of commodities dealer Marc Rich and the investigations into Rich and Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich.

Program Highlights Include:

  • The unsuccessful attempt by Alfa subsidiary Crown Resources to buy Marc Rich’s commodities firm: ” . . .  A deal to sell the Swiss-based commodities operation of former U.S. fugitive financier Marc Rich to Russia-owned energy trading group Crown Resources is off. . . . Crown is owned by the Alfa Group conglomerate. . . . .”
  • The subsequent successful attempt by Alfa player Mikhail Fridman to purchase the Marc Rich firm: ” . . . Mikhail Fridman: ‘Defendant Mikhail Fridman currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of co-conspirator Alfa Bank and as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Defendant Consortium Alfa Group. Fridman further served on the Board of VimpelCom, a NYSE company, and has control over Golden Telecom, a NASDAQ company … purchased the United States trading firm owned by American, Mark Rich, the one time commodities baron pardoned by President Clinton with much controversy. . . .”
  • The FBI’s long-dormant Twitter account began tweeting files about Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, shortly after the official dismissal of investigations into the Alfa/Trump link: ” . . . . Now, a new interagency mystery is raising questions about whether the F.B.I. has become politicized, just days before the presidential election. On Sunday, a long-dormant F.B.I. Twitter account suddenly sprung to life, blasting out a series of links to case files that cast the Clintons in a decidedly negative light. . . . Then, on Tuesday, the “FBI Records Vault” account—which had not tweeted at all between October 2015 and Sunday—published a link to records related to the 15-year-old, long-closed investigation into former President Bill Clinton’s pardoning of onetime commodities trader turned fugitive Marc Rich. The post, which was quickly retweeted thousands of times, links to a heavily redacted document that repeatedly references the agency’s “Public Corruption” unit—less-than-ideal optics for Hillary Clinton, who has spent her entire campaign fighting her image as a corrupt politician. . . .”
  • FBI Director James Comey was in charge of the original Marc Rich investigation and the pardon of Rich by Bill Clinton. Is there a connection between the official dismissal of the investigation into the Alfa/Trump link by the FBI, the tweeting by the FBI of the files on the Clinton pardon of Marc Rich and the fact that it was Comey who presided over the Marc Rich investigations? ” . . . . In 2002, Comey, then a federal prosecutor, took over an investigation into President Bill Clinton’s 2001 pardon of financier Marc Rich, who had been indicted on a laundry list of charges before fleeing the country. The decision set off a political firestorm focused on accusations that Rich’s ex-wife Denise made donations to the Democratic Party, the Clinton Library and Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign as part of a plan to get Rich off the hook. Comey ultimately decided not to pursue the case. The kicker: Comey himself had overseen Rich’s prosecution between 1987 and 1993. . . .”

This discussion will be continued at greater length in the next program.

1. The original story about the Trump organization/Alfa Bank servers was broken by Franklin Foer.

“Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?” by Franklin Foer; Slate; 10/31/2016.

This spring, a group of computer scientists set out to determine whether hackers were interfering with the Trump campaign. They found something they weren’t expecting.

The greatest miracle of the internet is that it exists—the second greatest is that it persists. Every so often we’re reminded that bad actors wield great skill and have little conscience about the harm they inflict on the world’s digital nervous system. They invent viruses, botnets, and sundry species of malware. There’s good money to be made deflecting these incursions. But a small, tightly knit community of computer scientists who pursue such work—some at cybersecurity firms, some in academia, some with close ties to three-letter federal agencies—is also spurred by a sense of shared idealism and considers itself the benevolent posse that chases off the rogues and rogue states that try to purloin sensitive data and infect the internet with their bugs. “We’re the Union of Concerned Nerds,” in the wry formulation of the Indiana University computer scientist L. Jean Camp.

In late spring, this community of malware hunters placed itself in a high state of alarm. Word arrived that Russian hackers had infiltrated the servers of the Democratic National Committee, an attack persuasively detailed by the respected cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. The computer scientists posited a logical hypothesis, which they set out to rigorously test: If the Russians were worming their way into the DNC, they might very well be attacking other entities central to the presidential campaign, including Donald Trump’s many servers. “We wanted to help defend both campaigns, because we wanted to preserve the integrity of the election,” says one of the academics, who works at a university that asked him not to speak with reporters because of the sensitive nature of his work.

Hunting for malware requires highly specialized knowledge of the intricacies of the domain name system—the protocol that allows us to type email addresses and website names to initiate communication. DNS enables our words to set in motion a chain of connections between servers, which in turn delivers the results we desire. Before a mail server can deliver a message to another mail server, it has to look up its IP address using the DNS. Computer scientists have built a set of massive DNS databases, which provide fragmentary histories of communications flows, in part to create an archive of malware: a kind of catalog of the tricks bad actors have tried to pull, which often involve masquerading as legitimate actors. These databases can give a useful, though far from comprehensive, snapshot of traffic across the internet. Some of the most trusted DNS specialists—an elite group of malware hunters, who work for private contractors—have access to nearly comprehensive logs of communication between servers. They work in close concert with internet service providers, the networks through which most of us connect to the internet, and the ones that are most vulnerable to massive attacks. To extend the traffic metaphor, these scientists have cameras posted on the internet’s stoplights and overpasses. They are entrusted with something close to a complete record of all the servers of the world connecting with one another.

In late July, one of these scientists—who asked to be referred to as Tea Leaves, a pseudonym that would protect his relationship with the networks and banks that employ him to sift their data—found what looked like malware emanating from Russia. The destination domain had Trump in its name, which of course attracted Tea Leaves’ attention. But his discovery of the data was pure happenstance—a surprising needle in a large haystack of DNS lookups on his screen. “I have an outlier here that connects to Russia in a strange way,” he wrote in his notes. He couldn’t quite figure it out at first. But what he saw was a bank in Moscow that kept irregularly pinging a server registered to the Trump Organization on Fifth Avenue.

More data was needed, so he began carefully keeping logs of the Trump server’s DNS activity. As he collected the logs, he would circulate them in periodic batches to colleagues in the cybersecurity world. Six of them began scrutinizing them for clues.

(I communicated extensively with Tea Leaves and two of his closest collaborators, who also spoke with me on the condition of anonymity, since they work for firms trusted by corporations and law enforcement to analyze sensitive data. They persuasively demonstrated some of their analytical methods to me—and showed me two white papers, which they had circulated so that colleagues could check their analysis. I also spoke with academics who vouched for Tea Leaves’ integrity and his unusual access to information. “This is someone I know well and is very well-known in the networking community,” said Camp. “When they say something about DNS, you believe them. This person has technical authority and access to data.”)

The researchers quickly dismissed their initial fear that the logs represented a malware attack. The communication wasn’t the work of bots. The irregular pattern of server lookups actually resembled the pattern of human conversation—conversations that began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow. It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank.

The researchers had initially stumbled in their diagnosis because of the odd configuration of Trump’s server. “I’ve never seen a server set up like that,” says Christopher Davis, who runs the cybersecurity firm HYAS InfoSec Inc. and won a FBI Director Award for Excellence for his work tracking down the authors of one of the world’s nastiest botnet attacks. “It looked weird, and it didn’t pass the sniff test.” The server was first registered to Trump’s business in 2009 and was set up to run consumer marketing campaigns. It had a history of sending mass emails on behalf of Trump-branded properties and products. Researchers were ultimately convinced that the server indeed belonged to Trump. (Click here to see the server’s registration record.) But now this capacious server handled a strangely small load of traffic, such a small load that it would be hard for a company to justify the expense and trouble it would take to maintain it. “I get more mail in a day than the server handled,” Davis says.

That wasn’t the only oddity. When the researchers pinged the server, they received error messages. They concluded that the server was set to accept only incoming communication from a very small handful of IP addresses. A small portion of the logs showed communication with a server belonging to Michigan-based Spectrum Health. (The company said in a statement: “Spectrum Health does not have a relationship with Alfa Bank or any of the Trump organizations. We have concluded a rigorous investigation with both our internal IT security specialists and expert cyber security firms. Our experts have conducted a detailed analysis of the alleged internet traffic and did not find any evidence that it included any actual communications (no emails, chat, text, etc.) between Spectrum Health and Alfa Bank or any of the Trump organizations. While we did find a small number of incoming spam marketing emails, they originated from a digital marketing company, Cendyn, advertising Trump Hotels.”)

Spectrum accounted for a relatively trivial portion of the traffic. Eighty-seven percent of the DNS lookups involved the two Alfa Bank servers. “It’s pretty clear that it’s not an open mail server,” Camp told me. “These organizations are communicating in a way designed to block other people out.”

Earlier this month, the group of computer scientists passed the logs to Paul Vixie. In the world of DNS experts, there’s no higher authority. Vixie wrote central strands of the DNS code that makes the internet work. After studying the logs, he concluded, “The parties were communicating in a secretive fashion. The operative word is secretive. This is more akin to what criminal syndicates do if they are putting together a project.” Put differently, the logs suggested that Trump and Alfa had configured something like a digital hotline connecting the two entities, shutting out the rest of the world, and designed to obscure its own existence. Over the summer, the scientists observed the communications trail from a distance.

* * *

While the researchers went about their work, the conventional wisdom about Russian interference in the campaign began to shift. There were reports that the Trump campaign had ordered the Republican Party to rewrite its platform position on Ukraine, maneuvering the GOP toward a policy preferred by Russia, though the Trump campaign denied having a hand in the change. Then Trump announced in an interview with the New York Times his unwillingness to spring to the defense of NATO allies in the face of a Russian invasion. Trump even invited Russian hackers to go hunting for Clinton’s emails, then passed the comment off as a joke. (I wrote about Trump’s relationship with Russia in early July.)

In the face of accusations that he is somehow backed by Putin or in business with Russian investors, Trump has issued categorical statements. “I mean I have nothing to do with Russia,” he told one reporter, a flat denial that he repeated over and over. Of course, it’s possible that these statements are sincere and even correct. The sweeping nature of Trump’s claim, however, prodded the scientists to dig deeper. They were increasingly confident that they were observing data that contradicted Trump’s claims.

In the parlance that has become familiar since the Edward Snowden revelations, the DNS logs reside in the realm of metadata. We can see a trail of transmissions, but we can’t see the actual substance of the communications. And we can’t even say with complete certitude that the servers exchanged email. One scientist, who wasn’t involved in the effort to compile and analyze the logs, ticked off a list of other possibilities: an errant piece of spam caroming between servers, a misdirected email that kept trying to reach its destination, which created the impression of sustained communication. “I’m seeing a preponderance of the evidence, but not a smoking gun,” he said. Richard Clayton, a cybersecurity researcher at Cambridge University who was sent one of the white papers laying out the evidence, acknowledges those objections and the alternative theories but considers them improbable. “I think mail is more likely, because it’s going to a machine running a mail server and [the host] is called mail. Dr. Occam says you should rule out mail before pulling out the more exotic explanations.” After Tea Leaves posted his analysis on Reddit, a security blogger who goes by Krypt3ia expressed initial doubts—but his analysis was tarnished by several incorrect assumptions, and as he examined the matter, his skepticism of Tea Leaves softened somewhat.

I put the question of what kind of activity the logs recorded to the University of California’s Nicholas Weaver, another computer scientist not involved in compiling the logs. “I can’t attest to the logs themselves,” he told me, “but assuming they are legitimate they do indicate effectively human-level communication.”

Weaver’s statement raises another uncertainty: Are the logs authentic? Computer scientists are careful about vouching for evidence that emerges from unknown sources—especially since the logs were pasted in a text file, where they could conceivably have been edited. I asked nine computer scientists—some who agreed to speak on the record, some who asked for anonymity—if the DNS logs that Tea Leaves and his collaborators discovered could be forged or manipulated. They considered it nearly impossible. It would be easy enough to fake one or maybe even a dozen records of DNS lookups. But in the aggregate, the logs contained thousands of records, with nuances and patterns that not even the most skilled programmers would be able to recreate on this scale. “The data has got the right kind of fuzz growing on it,” Vixie told me. “It’s the interpacket gap, the spacing between the conversations, the total volume. If you look at those time stamps, they are not simulated. This bears every indication that it was collected from a live link.” I asked him if there was a chance that he was wrong about their authenticity. “This passes the reasonable person test,” he told me. “No reasonable person would come to the conclusion other than the one I’ve come to.” Others were equally emphatic. “It would be really, really hard to fake these,” Davis said. According to Camp, “When the technical community examined the data, the conclusion was pretty obvious.”

It’s possible to impute political motives to the computer scientists, some of whom have criticized Trump on social media. But many of the scientists who talked to me for this story are Republicans. And almost all have strong incentives for steering clear of controversy. Some work at public institutions, where they are vulnerable to political pressure. Others work for firms that rely on government contracts—a relationship that tends to squash positions that could be misinterpreted as outspoken.

* * *

Alfa’s oligarchs occupied an unusual position in Putin’s firmament. They were insiders but not in the closest ring of power. “It’s like they were his judo pals,” one former U.S. government official who knows Fridman told me. “They were always worried about where they stood in the pecking order and always feared expropriation.” Fridman and Aven, however, are adept at staying close to power. As the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia once ruled, in the course of dismissing a libel suit the bankers filed, “Aven and Fridman have assumed an unforeseen level of prominence and influence in the economic and political affairs of their nation.”

Unlike other Russian firms, Alfa has operated smoothly and effortlessly in the West. It has never been slapped with sanctions. Fridman and Aven have cultivated a reputation as beneficent philanthropists. They endowed a prestigious fellowship. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the American-government funded think tank, gave Aven its award for “Corporate Citizenship” in 2015. To protect its interests in Washington, Alfa hired as its lobbyist former Reagan administration official Ed Rogers. Richard Burt, who helped Trump write the speech in which he first laid out his foreign policy, serves on Alfa’s senior advisory board. The branding campaign has worked well. During the first Obama term, Fridman and Aven met with officials in the White House on two occasions, according to visitor logs.

Fridman and Aven have significant business interests to promote in the West. One of their holding companies, LetterOne, has vowed to invest as much as $3 billion in U.S. health care. This year, it sank $200 million into Uber. This is, of course, money that might otherwise be invested in Russia. According to a former U.S. official, Putin tolerates this condition because Alfa advances Russian interests. It promotes itself as an avatar of Russian prowess. “It’s our moral duty to become a global player, to prove a Russian can transform into an international businessman,” Fridman told the Financial Times.

* * *

Tea Leaves and his colleagues plotted the data from the logs on a timeline. What it illustrated was suggestive: The conversation between the Trump and Alfa servers appeared to follow the contours of political happenings in the United States. “At election-related moments, the traffic peaked,” according to Camp. There were considerably more DNS lookups, for instance, during the two conventions.

In September, the scientists tried to get the public to pay attention to their data. One of them posted a link to the logs in a Reddit thread. Around the same time, the New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers began chasing the story.* (They are still pursuing it.) Lichtblau met with a Washington representative of Alfa Bank on Sept. 21, and the bank denied having any connection to Trump.(Lichtblau told me that Times policy prevents him from commenting on his reporting.)

The Times hadn’t yet been in touch with the Trump campaign—Lichtblau spoke with the campaign a week later—but shortly after it reached out to Alfa, the Trump domain name in question seemed to suddenly stop working. When the scientists looked up the host, the DNS server returned a fail message, evidence that it no longer functioned. Or as it is technically diagnosed, it had “SERVFAILed.” (On the timeline above, this is the moment at the end of the chronology when the traffic abruptly spikes, as servers frantically attempt to resend rejected messages.) The computer scientists believe there was one logical conclusion to be drawn: The Trump Organization shut down the server after Alfa was told that the Times might expose the connection. Weaver told me the Trump domain was “very sloppily removed.” Or as another of the researchers put it, it looked like “the knee was hit in Moscow, the leg kicked in New York.”

Four days later, on Sept. 27, the Trump Organization created a new host name, trump1.contact-client.com, which enabled communication to the very same server via a different route. When a new host name is created, the first communication with it is never random. To reach the server after the resetting of the host name, the sender of the first inbound mail has to first learn of the name somehow. It’s simply impossible to randomly reach a renamed server. “That party had to have some kind of outbound message through SMS, phone, or some noninternet channel they used to communicate [the new configuration],” Paul Vixie told me. The first attempt to look up the revised host name came from Alfa Bank. “If this was a public server, we would have seen other traces,” Vixie says. “The only look-ups came from this particular source.”

According to Vixie and others, the new host name may have represented an attempt to establish a new channel of communication. But media inquiries into the nature of Trump’s relationship with Alfa Bank, which suggested that their communications were being monitored, may have deterred the parties from using it. Soon after the New York Times began to ask questions, the traffic between the servers stopped cold.

* * *

Last week, I wrote to Alfa Bank asking if it could explain why its servers attempted to connect with the Trump Organization on such a regular basis. Its Washington representative, Jeffrey Birnbaum of the public relations firm BGR, provided me the following response:

Alfa hired Mandiant, one of the world’s foremost cyber security experts, to investigate and it has found nothing to the allegations. I hope the below answers respond clearly to your questions. Neither Alfa Bank nor its principals, including Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, have or have had any contact with Mr. Trump or his organizations. Fridman and Aven have never met Mr. Trump nor have they or Alfa Bank had any business dealings with him. Neither Alfa nor its officers have sent Mr. Trump or his organizations any emails, information or money. Alfa Bank does not have and has never had any special or exclusive internet connection with Mr. Trump or his entities. The assertion of a special or private link is patently false.

I asked Birnbaum if he would connect me with Mandiant to elaborate on its findings. He told me:

Mandiant is still doing its deep dive into the Alfa Bank systems. Its leading theory is that Alfa Bank’s servers may have been responding with common DNS look ups to spam sent to it by a marketing server. But it doesn’t want to speak on the record until it’s finished its investigation.

It’s hard to evaluate the findings of an investigation that hasn’t ended. And of course, even the most reputable firm in the world isn’t likely to loudly broadcast an opinion that bites the hand of its client.

I posed the same basic questions to the Trump campaign. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks sent me this in response to my questions by email:

The email server, set up for marketing purposes and operated by a third-party, has not been used since 2010. The current traffic on the server from Alphabank’s [sic] IP address is regular DNS server traffic—not email traffic. To be clear, The Trump Organization is not sending or receiving any communications from this email server. The Trump Organization has no communication or relationship with this entity or any Russian entity.

I asked Hicks to explain what caused the Trump Organization to rename its host after the New York Times called Alfa. I also asked how the Trump Organization arrived at its judgment that there was no email traffic. (Furthermore, there’s no such thing as “regular” DNS server traffic, at least not according to the computer scientists I consulted. The very reason DNS exists is to enable email and other means of communication.) She never provided me with a response.

What the scientists amassed wasn’t a smoking gun. It’s a suggestive body of evidence that doesn’t absolutely preclude alternative explanations. But this evidence arrives in the broader context of the campaign and everything else that has come to light: The efforts of Donald Trump’s former campaign managerto bring Ukraine into Vladimir Putin’s orbit; the other Trump adviser whose communications with senior Russian officials have worried intelligence officials; the Russian hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s email.

We don’t yet know what this server was for, but it deserves further explanation.

“Earlier this month, the group of computer scientists passed the logs to Paul Vixie. In the world of DNS experts, there’s no higher authority. Vixie wrote central strands of the DNS code that makes the internet work. After studying the logs, he concluded, “The parties were communicating in a secretive fashion. The operative word is secretive. This is more akin to what criminal syndicates do if they are putting together a project.” Put differently, the logs suggested that Trump and Alfa had configured something like a digital hotline connecting the two entities, shutting out the rest of the world, and designed to obscure its own existence. Over the summer, the scientists observed the communications trail from a distance.”

Well, that is quite a bombshell if it pans out. Maybe not exactly the bombshell that the emerging coverage of the story will depict, but still quite a bombshell

2. Officialdom, including the mainstream media, have (according to the FBI) dismissed any notion of a Trump/Alfa link:

“. . . . Foer mentions in his piece that the New York Times was investigating the link. On Monday, the paper reported that the FBI had looked into and dismissed the idea that the two servers represented a secret communications channel. Investigators “concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts,” the Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers reported. . . . 

“That Secret Trump-Russia Email Server Link Is Likely Neither Secret Nor a Trump-Russia Link” by Philip Bump; The Washington Post; 11/01/2016.

Of all the things that were going to get Donald Trump into trouble over the course of this election, I would have put “automated computer server activity” pretty low on the list. But here we are.

On Monday night, Slate published a lengthy story written by Franklin Foer exploring an odd connection between Trump’s businesses and a bank in Russia. . . . .

. . . . Foer mentions in his piece that the New York Times was investigating the link. On Monday, the paper reported that the FBI had looked into and dismissed the idea that the two servers represented a secret communications channel. Investigators “concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts,” the Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers reported. . . .

3a. Crown Resources and other Crown entities are part of the Alfa Group, one of whose outgrowths is the CDS subsidiary program the Alfa Fellowship. Note that Mark Rich’s commodities operation was negotiating with Alfa subsidiary Crown resources over a buyout. That buyout didn’t happen, but another one did.

“Mark Rich Deal to Sell Commodities Operation to Russian Group Fails” [AP]; 6/8/2001.

. . . .  A deal to sell the Swiss-based commodities operation of former U.S. fugitive financier Marc Rich to Russia-owned energy trading group Crown Resources is off. . . . Crown is owned by the Alfa Group conglomerate. . . . .

3b. Alfa player Mikhail Fridman did purchase Marc Rich’s firm. (Most outlets spell Rich’s first name as “Marc.”)

“ ‘Defendants’ Tentacles Reach Into and Injure Numerous Americans’” [PRNewswire]; Forbes; 6/9/2006.

 . . . . Mikhail Fridman: ‘Defendant Mikhail Fridman currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of co-conspirator Alfa Bank and as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Defendant Consortium Alfa Group. Fridman further served on the Board of VimpelCom, a NYSE company, and has control over Golden Telecom, a NASDAQ company … purchased the United States trading firm owned by American, Mark Rich, the one time commodities baron pardoned by President Clinton with much controversy. Fridman purports to have become a philanthropist in the United States’ and is a member of the Board of the Council on Foreign Relations based in New York. [pgs. 6-7] Pyotr Aven: ‘Defendant Pyotr Aven also has been a major participant in the scheme and worked directly with Rozhetskin and Fridman in the misappropriation and theft of IPOC monies. Aven is a director of Golden Telecom, a NASDAQ company, which regularly files with the United States Securities Exchange Commission. He is a controversial figure: As observed by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, a Russian ‘corruption task force informed [the government] that Aven was engaged in various misdeeds, including drug trafficking. See OAO Alfa Bank v. Center for Public Integrity, Civ. Action No. 00-2208 (JDB), Mem. Op., Sept. 22, 2005 at 11 n.26.’ [pg. 8] . . . .

4. Right around the same time people started wondering if the reason James Comey threw Hillary’s email server investigation right into the middle of the campaign, someone at the FBI decides to throw a whole bunch of other old Clinton investigations into the campaign.

Also note regarding the tweet about Marc Rich that James Comey oversaw Rich’s prosecution from 1987-1993 and took over the investigation of Bill Clinton’s Marc Rich pardon in 2002. So it sounds like a faction of the FBI agents has decided to join the Team Trump Troll Squad a week before the election. It raises the question of whether or not these agents are driven more by a case of Clinton Derangement Syndrome or are just really intense Trump fans. It’s probably a bit of both.

“Is Somebody at the F.B.I. Trying to Throw the Election?” by Emily Jane Fox; Vanity Fair; 11/1/2016.

A series of tweets from a long-dormant F.B.I. Twitter account suggest an ulterior motive.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, while under the aegis of the Justice Department, is nominally an independent organization, allowing it to remain nonpartisan. This explains in part the outrage on the left (and by some on the right) when F.B.I. director James Comey sent a letter Friday notifying Congress that the agency had renewed its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server, a case it had closed months earlier. Comey was immediately derided for his decision to send the letter with so few specifics so close to the election, effectively raising all sorts of flags and changing the campaign dialogue without explanation. Senator Harry Reid wrote a letter of his own, arguing that Comey’s “partisan actions” may have violated federal law. He also made the point of asking why the F.B.I. director didn’t give similar treatment to what he called “explosive information” linking Trump and his campaign staff to the Russian government. Now, a new interagency mystery is raising questions about whether the F.B.I. has become politicized, just days before the presidential election. On Sunday, a long-dormant F.B.I. Twitter account suddenly sprung to life, blasting out a series of links to case files that cast the Clintons in a decidedly negative light. One tweet links to publicly available documents related to the agency’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server, followed immediately by another tweet linking to the investigation of former general David Petraeus for compromising classified material—a jarring juxtaposition given the allegations against Clinton. Then, on Tuesday, the “FBI Records Vault” account—which had not tweeted at all between October 2015 and Sunday—published a link to records related to the 15-year-old, long-closed investigation into former President Bill Clinton’s pardoning of onetime commodities trader turned fugitive Marc Rich. The post, which was quickly retweeted thousands of times, links to a heavily redacted document that repeatedly references the agency’s “Public Corruption” unit—less-than-ideal optics for Hillary Clinton, who has spent her entire campaign fighting her image as a corrupt politician.

5. As it happens, James Comey is a long-time tormenter of the Clintons, going back to the Whitewater investigation. Comey was also in charge of the investigations into Marc Rich and Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich.

Is there a connection between the official dismissal of the investigation into the Alfa/Trump link by the FBI, the tweeting by the FBI of the files on the Clinton pardon of Marc Rich and the fact that it was Comey who presided over the Marc Rich investigations?

” . . . . In 2002, Comey, then a federal prosecutor, took over an investigation into President Bill Clinton’s 2001 pardon of financier Marc Rich, who had been indicted on a laundry list of charges before fleeing the country. The decision set off a political firestorm focused on accusations that Rich’s ex-wife Denise made donations to the Democratic Party, the Clinton Library and Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign as part of a plan to get Rich off the hook. Comey ultimately decided not to pursue the case. The kicker: Comey himself had overseen Rich’s prosecution between 1987 and 1993. . . .”

“Who Is James Comey? Seven Things to Know About the FBI Director” by Gregory Krieg; CNN; 1/30/2016.

. . . . . His first run-in came in the mid-1990s, when he joined the Senate Whitewater Committee as a deputy special counsel. There he dug into allegations that the Clintons took part in a fraud connected to a Arkansas real estate venture gone bust. No charges were ever brought against either Clinton, but the scandal would eventually lead to independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s probe that would result in the Lewinsky scandal.

In 2002, Comey, then a federal prosecutor, took over an investigation into President Bill Clinton’s 2001 pardon of financier Marc Rich, who had been indicted on a laundry list of charges before fleeing the country. The decision set off a political firestorm focused on accusations that Rich’s ex-wife Denise made donations to the Democratic Party, the Clinton Library and Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign as part of a plan to get Rich off the hook. Comey ultimately decided not to pursue the case.

The kicker: Comey himself had overseen Rich’s prosecution between 1987 and 1993. . . .

 

Discussion

7 comments for “FTR #930 The Trumpenkampfverbande, Part 9: Alfa Males, Part 3 (German Ostpolitik, Part 3)”

  1. The Daily Beast has a new piece up summarizing the list of figures in Donald Trump’s orbit with ties to Russia and it turns out one of those figures has a pretty direct connection to Alfa Bank: Richard Burt, a member of Alfa’s senior advisory council. He’s also a lobbyist for the Nord Stream II pipeline, which will send natural gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine and Belarus. So what’s Burt’s ties to the Trump campaign? Crafting Trump’s foreign policy:

    The Daily Beast

    Trump and Russia: All the Mogul’s Men
    Why do so many of Trump’s campaign staffers have dodgy ties to Russian energy companies or Russian state clients?

    James Miller
    11.07.16 12:00 AM ET

    This is the fourth and last in our series of articles laying out all you ever wanted to know about Trump and Russia, but were afraid to ask. Read parts one, two and three.

    Between the summer of 2015 and the GOP convention a year later, a great many pundits were surprised by the rise of Donald Trump. Although polls consistently placed him ahead of his Republican peers, his style was so vulgar, his policy pronouncements so bizarre, that many pundits dismissed Trump’s chances. And still he kept winning.

    Then came the drafting of the Republican Party platform by the Republican National Committee—a solemn 66-page document stating in a succinct 35,000 words the positions of the Grand Old Party. By all indications, Trump, who doesn’t care much for reading, was willing to let virtually all of it pass.

    But there was one point in that mass of verbiage where the Trump team fought for a change. It wanted to remove a call for arming Ukraine against Russian-backed militants (and covert Russian troops) and softening language on Russia’s aggressive actions in Eastern Europe.

    Despite the fact that multiple news agencies confirmed the original Washington Post story, Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort repeatedly denied any such thing happened, and witnesses to the change even accused the Republican leadership of trying to cover up the incident.

    That was the tipping point on The Russia Connection where most of the press and public were concerned.

    Over the next several weeks, major outlets began to question seriously the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, if not indeed the Kremlin, and some of the most obvious links were right in the resumés of many senior members of his campaign team, some of whom are now under federal investigation.

    Maybe Trump hasn’t read those CVs. But it wouldn’t be surprising if he had and then dismissed what many see as a fundamental conflict of foreign-policy interests. After all, Trump has repeatedly and doggedly exonerated the Kremlin from accusations of election-meddling, war crimes, and even the invasion of a European country, while dismissing what his own government has uncovered about all of the above.

    THE BANKER

    Richard Burt is the chairman of the advisory council for The National Interest, the in-house journal of the Center for the National Interest, where Trump delivered his maiden foreign-policy speech last April. He is also a member of the senior advisory board of Russia’s Alfa Bank, a major Moscow financial institution which, thus far, has escaped Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

    Burt was recruited by Paul Manafort to help the Trump campaign write a speech that tried to define his foreign-policy vision.. Burt has also repeatedly defended Trump’s foreign-policy ideas, including during periods of time when Trump was under attack for not having enough support from well-respected foreign-policy experts.enough support from well-respected foreign-policy experts

    On Oct. 31, reporter Franklin Foer broke the story that a group of cybersecurity experts had tracked regular internet communications between Donald Trump’s organization and Alfa Bank.

    According to experts interviewed by Foer, Trump’s organization registered a server in 2009 that was mostly responsible for sending mass emails. Recently, however, the server’s traffic was reduced to a suspiciously small amount of data—smaller than what a single person would receive via email in a single day. The server appears to have been designed to allow communications only between Trump’s organization and two other organizations, with 87 percent of those communications taking place with one of two servers belonging to Alfa Bank.

    Alarmingly, the communications patterns appeared to many experts who spoke with Foer to be human-to-human communication, rather than automated mail. But the frequency of the messages also seemed to correspond to the news cycle’s focus on the connection between Trump and Russia. Furthermore, after journalists contacted Alfa Bank, Trump’s server was shut down, potentially indicating that Alfa warned Trump’s office that the server was facing scrutiny. Four days later, a new server was set up by the Trump organization.

    Both Alfa and the Trump campaign deny that Trump’s computers were in contact with the Russian bank.

    The FBI reportedly spent weeks investigating these allegations but concluded that there could be other explanations for the communications, including mass marketing or spam emails. It remains unclear whether the FBI was able to use the existence of these communications to obtain a warrant. It is possible that this is nothing more than spam emails sent between two large financial institutions.

    Burt, however, has other ties to the Russian government that are concerning.

    According to Politico, he was paid $365,000 in the first half of 2016 for work he did to lobby for the building of a new natural-gas pipeline, Nord Stream II, which would supply more gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine and Belarus. The plan is opposed by the Obama administration and the Polish government because it would allow Russia to further interfere in the internal domestic politics of Ukraine without fear that Ukraine could cut off Russia’s gas supplies or take the gas for itself. At the start of 2016, the Russian state energy giant Gazprom owned 50 percent of the company that wants to build the pipeline, but since the European partners have pulled out, Gazprom now owns 100 percent.

    All in all, Burt’s major contribution to the Trump campaign is evident in that first major foreign-policy address, which set the stage for greater economic, political, and military cooperation between the U.S. and Russia.

    Burt was recruited by Paul Manafort to help the Trump campaign write a speech that tried to define his foreign-policy vision.. Burt has also repeatedly defended Trump’s foreign-policy ideas, including during periods of time when Trump was under attack for not having enough support from well-respected foreign-policy experts.enough support from well-respected foreign-policy experts

    So one of Alfa’s senior advisors is the guy behind Trump’s foreign policy vision. Oh, and he just happens to be lobbyist for a major Russian/German pipeline. A pipeline that is currently 100 percent owned by Gazprom, but was 50 owned by European investors until they all pulled out of the project in August after a Polish regulatory agency raised antitrust questions about the project. That’s an important point because while Burt’s ties to Russia are what everyone is focusing on, Richard Burt’s experience and ties aren’t limited to Russia and when he was lobbying for Nord Stream II before the recent pull out of it European partners he wasn’t just lobbying for Gazprom. He was lobbying for European giants like BASF, E.ON, ENGIE, OMV, and Shell too.

    And since the Nord Stream II pipeline has Germany as its destination and major German energy companies as partners (at least until they pulled out recently), it’s also with noting that Burt was a former US ambassador to Germany:

    Politico

    Lobbyist advised Trump campaign while promoting Russian pipeline

    Richard Burt helped shape the candidate’s first foreign-policy speech while lobbying on behalf of a Moscow-controlled gas company.

    By Ben Schreckinger and Julia Ioffe

    10/07/16 05:06 AM EDT

    A Republican lobbyist was earning hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote one of Vladimir Putin’s top geopolitical priorities at the same time he was helping to shape Donald Trump’s first major foreign policy speech.

    In the first two quarters of 2016, the firm of former Reagan administration official Richard Burt received $365,000 for work he and a colleague did to lobby for a proposed natural-gas pipeline owned by a firm controlled by the Russian government, according to congressional lobbying disclosures reviewed by POLITICO. The pipeline, opposed by the Polish government and the Obama administration, would complement the original Nord Stream, allowing more Russian gas to reach central and western European markets while bypassing Ukraine and Belarus, extending Putin’s leverage over Europe.

    Burt’s lobbying work for New European Pipeline AG, the company behind the pipeline known as Nord Stream II, began in February. At the time, the Russian state-owned oil giant Gazprom owned a 50 percent stake in New European Pipeline AG. In August, five European partners pulled out and Gazprom now owns 100 percent.

    This spring, Burt helped shape Trump’s first major foreign policy address, according to Burt and other sources. Burt recommended that Trump take a more “realist,” less interventionist approach to world affairs, as first reported by Reuters. Trump’s April 27 speech sounded those themes and called for greater cooperation with Russia.

    All the while, Burt continued to be paid for his Nord Stream II lobbying work, which is ongoing. Asked about the simultaneous lobbying and advising, both sides downplayed the relationship.

    “We have no knowledge of this,” wrote Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks in an email. “In fact, our team cannot verify his self-proclaimed contributions to Mr. Trump’s speech and, I don’t believe Mr. Trump or our policy staff has ever met Mr. Burt. To our knowledge he had no input in the speech and has had no contact with our policy team.”

    For his part, Burt, a former Reagan State Department official and U.S. ambassador to Germany, said he does not consider himself an adviser to the campaign and that he would provide Hillary Clinton with advice if asked. Burt said that while he has discussed Trump with Russian officials, his work for Nord Stream II has only involved contact with the project’s European staff in Zug, Switzerland. He said his firm, McLarty Associates – headed by former President Bill Clinton’s ex-chief of staff Mack McLarty – was referred the Nord Stream II work by a financial PR firm in New York.

    According to congressional disclosures signed by Burt and another member of the firm, the lobbying work consists of “monitoring and supplementing Washington discussion of EU energy security.”

    Initially, when asked about his input on the Trump campaign, Burt said it was limited to input on the April speech.

    Burt’s connections to Russia go back many decades. In 1989, former President George H.W. Bush appointed Burt to negotiate the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the USSR, which was concluded in 1991. In recent years, the 69-year-old Burt said he has advised Russia’s Alfa Bank, and he continues to work with the bank’s co-founder, Mikhail Fridman. Burt has also registered for recent lobbying work on behalf of the Ukrainian construction firm TMM, the Polish government-owned airline LOT and the Capital Bank of Jordan.

    Russia’s incursions in Ukraine, as well as its stepped-up efforts to undermine Western democracies and the European Union by funding fringe nationalist parties and disinformation campaigns, have stiffened resistance to Nord Stream II. In American foreign policy circles, Burt’s work on behalf of the pipeline is a source of consternation.

    The pipeline would undermine Poland’s hopes of developing its own shale gas sector, and it would strengthen Europe’s dependence on Russia as its main provider of energy. Unlike an existing pipeline, Nord Stream II would bypass Ukraine and Belarus, two former Soviet republics, thus diminishing their importance to Europe and helping to keep them within Moscow’s sphere of influence.

    Burt is not alone in his ties to Russia’s state oil giant. Carter Page, whom Trump named as a foreign policy adviser in March, has said he advised Gazprom on some of its biggest deals from 2004 to 2007, when he lived in Moscow. In September, after months of scrutiny from the press, Congress, and American intelligence officials, Page said he had finally divested himself of a stake he held in Gazprom.

    In recent years, the Kremlin has made influencing Western think tanks a more prominent component of its soft power strategy. And in recent weeks, Burt has gone to work on the think tank circuit, pitching the pipeline in private sessions in Washington and Europe.

    “He’s a tremendously sophisticated operator. He comes across as a tremendously polished, knowledgeable doyen of the foreign service,” said a person who witnessed Burt sell the pipeline at a meeting at the Atlantic Council last month and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was meant to remain private. “There are huge holes in what he’s saying, but I can imagine that to many congressmen, senators and officials, it’s all very convincing.”

    Burt described his work on behalf of Nord Stream II as, “Making sure the client understands what’s going on in the debate here and providing information to people in the administration on Nord Stream’s views.”

    “If we want to speak to people in the United States, he helps us set up meetings with people,” said Jens Mueller, a spokesman for the pipeline project, who said the meetings were with “the normal stakeholders involved in the debate: think tanks, embassies.” He said only Burt’s firm is working on the pipeline’s behalf in the United States.

    “For his part, Burt, a former Reagan State Department official and U.S. ambassador to Germany, said he does not consider himself an adviser to the campaign and that he would provide Hillary Clinton with advice if asked. Burt said that while he has discussed Trump with Russian officials, his work for Nord Stream II has only involved contact with the project’s European staff in Zug, Switzerland. He said his firm, McLarty Associates – headed by former President Bill Clinton’s ex-chief of staff Mack McLarty – was referred the Nord Stream II work by a financial PR firm in New York.”

    And note that the above article described his lobbying work as lobbying Washington DC, presumably because of US opposition to the pipeline, and that, until the recent pull out of European investors, the German government had been a staunch defender of the pipeline over growing criticism as tensions between the West and Russia grew and sanctions were put in place. All in all, it’s not hard to see why he was chosen to be a Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline lobbyist. Although technically he was actually ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, since he was Reagan’s ambassador from 1985 to 1989, during the preliminary stages for German reunification

    Center for Strategic & International Studies

    Richard R. Burt
    Senior Adviser (Non-resident)

    Richard Burt serves as senior adviser to CSIS. He is chairman of International Equity Partners, a Washington-based investment banking and advisory services firm focusing on development and consulting in major emerging markets. Before leaving government, Burt served as ambassador and chief negotiator in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) with the former Soviet Union, and as U.S. ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany from 1985 to 1989, during the preliminary stages of German reunification. Before serving in Germany, he was assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs from 1983 to 1985. Burt has also worked as the national security correspondent for the New York Times and at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

    So one of the figures who shaped Donald Trump’s foreign policy vision is Reagan’s former ambassador to Germany who is currently a senior advisor to Alfa and a lobbyist for a Russia-to-Germany pipeline that, until recently, had major Germany energy companies as investors and backing by the Germany government. That all seems rather notable when assessing Donald Trump’s foreign influences.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 7, 2016, 7:47 pm
  2. Posted by Ted Bagg | November 18, 2016, 5:54 pm
  3. With the incoming Trump administration successfully horrifying much of the world one cabinet position at a time, it’s probably worth recalling that implausibly poor judgement in vetting is a long-time Trump specialty:

    Associated Press

    Tale of Trump and partner in Azerbaijan real estate project

    By JEFF HORWITZ
    Jun. 4, 2016 1:17 PM EDT

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Six months before he entered the presidential race, Donald Trump announced a new real estate project in Baku, Azerbaijan. His partner was the son of a government minister suspected by U.S. diplomats of laundering money for Iran’s military and described as “notoriously corrupt.”

    Eighteen months later, and only weeks after daughter Ivanka Trump released a publicity video of the nearly finished project, references to the Baku project have disappeared from Trump’s website. Trump’s general counsel, Alan Garten, told The Associated Press that it was on hold for economic reasons.

    Trump often talks of hiring the best people and surrounding himself with people he can trust. In practice, however, he and his executives have at times appeared to overlook details about the background of people he has chosen as business partners, such as whether they had dubious associations, had been convicted of crimes, faced extradition or inflated their resumes.

    The Trump camp’s screening skills are important as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee turns to selecting a running mate. They would only become more crucial if he won the White House. Then, Trump would have to name more than 3,600 political appointees to senior government positions, including critical jobs overseeing national security and the economy.

    In the Azerbaijani case, Garten said the Trump Organization had performed meticulous due diligence on the company’s partners, but hadn’t researched the allegations against the Baku partner’s father because he wasn’t a party to the deal.

    “I’ve never heard that before,” Garten said, when first asked about allegations of Iranian money laundering by the partner’s father, which appeared in U.S. diplomatic cables widely available since they were leaked in 2010.

    Garten subsequently said he was confident the minister alleged to be laundering Iranian funds, Ziya Mammadov, had no involvement in his son’s holding company, even though some of the son’s major businesses regularly partnered with the transportation ministry and were founded while the son was in college overseas. Ziya Mammadov did not respond to a telephone message the AP left with his ministry in Baku or to emails to the Azerbaijan Embassy in Washington.

    Garten told the AP that Trump’s company uses a third-party investigative firm, which he did not identify, that specializes in background intelligence gathering and searches global watch lists, warrant lists and sanctions lists maintained by the United Nations, Interpol and others.

    Trump has described his background research as presidential in quality. Asked in a 2013 deposition why he had not performed formal records of due diligence on a business partner — a man Trump later deemed “a dud” — Trump said he considered word-of-mouth inquiries to be adequate.

    “We heard good things about him from a couple of different people,” he said of his partner in the deposition. “That’s true with the president of the United States. You get references and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not so good.”

    Trump’s lawyer, Garten, who was in the room at the time of Trump’s statement, told the AP that it was unreasonable to expect Trump to know the full range of the company’s diligence efforts.

    Any American contemplating a business venture in Azerbaijan faces a risk: “endemic public corruption,” as the State Department puts it. Much of that money flows from the oil and gas industries, but the State Department also considers the country to be a waypoint for terrorist financiers, Iranian sanctions-busters and Afghan drug lords.

    The environment is a risky one for any business venture seeking to avoid violating U.S. penalties imposed against Iran or anti-bribery laws under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

    Trump’s choice of partners in Baku was Anar Mammadov, the son of the country’s transportation minister. Anar Mammadov did not respond to AP’s emails or messages sent to his social media accounts or messages left with his company.

    Garten said the Trump Organization had performed background screening on all those involved in the deal and was confident Mammadov’s father played no role in the project.

    Experts on Azerbaijan were mystified that Trump or anyone else could reach that conclusion.

    Anar Mammadov is widely viewed by diplomats and nongovernmental organizations as a transparent stand-in for the business interests of his father. Anar’s business has boomed with regular help from his father’s ministry, receiving exclusive government contracts, a near monopoly on Baku’s taxi business and even a free fleet of autobuses.

    “These are not business people acting on their own — you’re dealing with daddy,” said Richard Kauzlarich, a U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s who went on to work under the Director of National Intelligence during the George W. Bush administration.

    “Whatever the Trump people thought they were doing, that wasn’t reality,” Kauzlarich said.

    Anar Mammadov, who is believed to be 35, has said in a series of interviews that he founded Garant Holdings’ predecessor — which has arms in transportation, construction, banking, telecommunications and manufacturing — in 2000, when he would have been 19. Anar received his bachelor’s degree in 2003 and a master’s in business administration in 2005 — both from a university in London.

    Mammadov’s statement that he founded the business in 2000 appeared in a magazine produced by a research firm in partnership with the Azerbaijani government. In other forums, he has said he started the business in 2005, though several of its key subsidiaries predate that period.

    Garten declined to discuss specific background research on Anar but said such checks were “comprehensive.” The file for the Baku project would not have included anything on Ziya Mammadov, Garten said, because the Trump Organization concluded that he would play no role in the project.

    “The younger Mammadov did not build his business empire simply by delivering newspapers,” said Matt Bryza, a former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan. He served on the National Security Council in George W. Bush’s administration and was appointed ambassador from 2010 to 2012 under President Barack Obama.

    Ziya Mammadov was described in March 2009 in leaked U.S. diplomatic cables as “notoriously corrupt, even for Azerbaijan” and accused of working closely on government highway construction contracts awarded to a former senior Iranian military official in the Republican Guard, Kamal Darvishi. “We assume Mammadov is a silent partner in these contracts,” the State Department cable said.

    Though the Baku hotel project has not been completed, it has earned Trump a significant payday. He earned between $2.5 million and $2.8 million in hotel management fees from a hotel that has never opened, according to the financial disclosures filed by his campaign. Trump licensing details generally involve the receipt of a significant minority stake in the property, too.

    The Azerbaijani case is not the only one involving partners with unusual pasts.

    At least twice, Trump has been involved in development deals with convicted criminals. In 2001, Trump announced he was partnering with developer Leib Waldman to build a massive condo and hotel tower in Toronto.

    Two months later, Canadian newspapers revealed that Waldman had fled the United States after pleading guilty to bankruptcy fraud in the mid-1990s. His extradition sent the project into a tailspin. Another developer eventually stepped in: Alex Shnaider, a former Ukrainian metals trader who survived the often violent privatization of the post-Soviet steel industry in the 1990s.

    “We heard fantastic things about (Shnaider),” Trump told Forbes in 2005. “But sometimes people say wonderful things whether they mean them or not.”

    Trump and Shnaider’s development company are now in litigation. Trump alleges that Shnaider was an incompetent developer and bilking condo owners; Shnaider wants to remove Trump’s name from the building.

    In the early years of the last decade, Trump also struck an alliance with Bayrock Group LLC, an upstart property development firm that had recently moved into the Trump Tower.

    As a partner, Bayrock didn’t have much of a track record. The firm was created in July 2001. Its two top officials were Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet hospitality minister whose previous development experience had been in Turkey, and Felix Satter.

    Digging into the background of Satter wouldn’t have turned up much because Satter did not actually exist. But a man with a similarly spelled name, Felix Sater, had been sentenced to prison for stabbing a man in the face with a broken margarita glass and barred for life from selling securities. A subsequent complaint by federal prosecutors named Sater as an unindicted co-conspirator, and prosecutors also disclosed that he had been convicted in a mafia-linked stock fraud scheme.

    The New York Times revealed in 2007 that Satter was Sater and had historical ties to the Mafia. Trump pleaded ignorance.

    “We do as much of a background check as we can on the principals,” Trump said.

    Garten said Sater was merely an employee at Bayrock, not an owner. “There would have been no reason to perform any diligence on Mr. Sater,” Garten said, though Sater has described himself variously as Bayrock’s founder and a top executive.

    Sater publicly separated from Bayrock in 2008, but Trump named him a senior adviser and gave him an office in Trump Tower in 2010.

    “I don’t see Felix as being a member of the Mafia,” Trump said in a 2013 deposition in a case over a failed Fort Lauderdale, Florida, condo deal in which Sater had been involved. “I don’t think he was connected to the Mafia.”

    “Do you have any evidence or documentation to back that up?” the lawyer taking the deposition asked.

    “I have none,” Trump responded. Trump said he did not recall having asked Sater about it.

    Similar problems affected hires for Trump University, a defunct real estate investing seminar company. Though the instructors were supposedly “hand-picked” by Trump, he left the selection to others, who didn’t successfully vet all of them, either.

    Some of the instructors had filed for bankruptcy protection. Others were unqualified..

    “He defrauded us, OK?” Trump said of one former instructor’s declaration that he knew little about real estate.

    Garten said Trump’s organization performed background checks on every instructor, mentor and employee it hired for Trump University, and said some instructors were affiliated with a third-party licensee.

    In the deposition, Trump was sanguine about his hiring process.

    “In every business, people slip through the cracks,” he said. “No matter how well-run a business, people come in and they’re not good, and you wonder, you know, how did they get there, et cetera.”

    “In every business, people slip through the cracks,” he said. “No matter how well-run a business, people come in and they’re not good, and you wonder, you know, how did they get there, et cetera.”

    Yes, in every business, people slip through the cracks. And in Trump’s case those people are sons of notoriously corrupt foreign politicians, mobsters, and general grifters. Funny how that keeps happening. It’s almost as if Trump’s “word of mouth” vetting system has some flaws:

    Garten told the AP that Trump’s company uses a third-party investigative firm, which he did not identify, that specializes in background intelligence gathering and searches global watch lists, warrant lists and sanctions lists maintained by the United Nations, Interpol and others.

    Trump has described his background research as presidential in quality. Asked in a 2013 deposition why he had not performed formal records of due diligence on a business partner — a man Trump later deemed “a dud” — Trump said he considered word-of-mouth inquiries to be adequate.

    “We heard good things about him from a couple of different people,” he said of his partner in the deposition. “That’s true with the president of the United States. You get references and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not so good.”

    “We heard good things about him from a couple of different people…That’s true with the president of the United States. You get references and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not so good.”

    That’s our Trump! When he vets the children of notoriously corrupt politicians who are widely seen as being front for their corrupt parents, the Trump team just sort of asks a couple of people. And explicitly do not ask about the corrupt parents:

    Trump often talks of hiring the best people and surrounding himself with people he can trust. In practice, however, he and his executives have at times appeared to overlook details about the background of people he has chosen as business partners, such as whether they had dubious associations, had been convicted of crimes, faced extradition or inflated their resumes.

    The Trump camp’s screening skills are important as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee turns to selecting a running mate. They would only become more crucial if he won the White House. Then, Trump would have to name more than 3,600 political appointees to senior government positions, including critical jobs overseeing national security and the economy.

    In the Azerbaijani case, Garten said the Trump Organization had performed meticulous due diligence on the company’s partners, but hadn’t researched the allegations against the Baku partner’s father because he wasn’t a party to the deal.

    “I’ve never heard that before,” Garten said, when first asked about allegations of Iranian money laundering by the partner’s father, which appeared in U.S. diplomatic cables widely available since they were leaked in 2010.

    Garten subsequently said he was confident the minister alleged to be laundering Iranian funds, Ziya Mammadov, had no involvement in his son’s holding company, even though some of the son’s major businesses regularly partnered with the transportation ministry and were founded while the son was in college overseas. Ziya Mammadov did not respond to a telephone message the AP left with his ministry in Baku or to emails to the Azerbaijan Embassy in Washington.

    Anar Mammadov is widely viewed by diplomats and nongovernmental organizations as a transparent stand-in for the business interests of his father. Anar’s business has boomed with regular help from his father’s ministry, receiving exclusive government contracts, a near monopoly on Baku’s taxi business and even a free fleet of autobuses.

    Garten declined to discuss specific background research on Anar but said such checks were “comprehensive.” The file for the Baku project would not have included anything on Ziya Mammadov, Garten said, because the Trump Organization concluded that he would play no role in the project.

    Yep, that’s our Trump! The bold leader who will ‘Drain the swamp’ because he’s such a shrewd business man. And while it might be tempting to view Trump as a giant Chump when recounting the web of international corruption and organized crime figures that he apparently keeps ‘accidentally’ partnering with, let’s keep in mind that the only chumps in this situation are those that actually believe Trump really had no idea who he was partnering with in all these deals.

    Let’s also keep in mind the content of FTR#570 and FTR#573 discussing role the figures affiliated with Alfa bank, one of whom was reportedly friends with Mohammed Atta, played in dirty dealings with Azerbaijan’s corrupt government. And note that the president of Azerbaijan at the time of those dealings, Heydar Aliyev, is the father of the current president Ilham Aliiyev, the administration Ziya Mammadov and his son Anar are extremely close to. That sure seems like a rock worth overturning!

    Let’s also keep in mind that Trump’s vetting track record isn’t just a giant red flag about his cabinet picks and thousands of positions the administration is going to have to fill (quite possibly with neo-Nazis). Don’t forget that Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure investment proposal is actually a giant privatization scam where the government gives the private sector tax credits to be used for buying and owning up public infrastructure and running it for-profit. And that means the Trump administration is going to have to do a whole lot of vetting of exactly the kinds of shady international private developers that he’s been partnering with for decades. Uh oh:

    The New York Times
    The Conscience of a LIberal

    Infrastructure Build or Privatization Scam?

    Paul Krugman
    November 19, 2016 9:26 am

    Trumpists are touting the idea of a big infrastructure build, and some Democrats are making conciliatory noises about working with the new regime on that front. But remember who you’re dealing with: if you invest anything with this guy, be it money or reputation, you are at great risk of being scammed. So, what do we know about the Trump infrastructure plan, such as it is?

    Crucially, it’s not a plan to borrow $1 trillion and spend it on much-needed projects — which would be the straightforward, obvious thing to do. It is, instead, supposed to involve having private investors do the work both of raising money and building the projects — with the aid of a huge tax credit that gives them back 82 percent of the equity they put in. To compensate for the small sliver of additional equity and the interest on their borrowing, the private investors then have to somehow make profits on the assets they end up owning.

    You should immediately ask three questions about all of this.

    First, why involve private investors at all? It’s not as if the federal government is having any trouble raising money — in fact, a large part of the justification for infrastructure investment is precisely that the government can borrow so cheaply. Why do we need private equity at all?

    One answer might be that this way you avoid incurring additional public debt. But that’s just accounting confusion. Imagine that you’re building a toll road. If the government builds it, it ends up paying interest but gets the future revenue from the tolls. If it turns the project over to private investors, it avoids the interest cost — but also loses the future toll revenue. The government’s future cash flow is no better than it would have been if it borrowed directly, and worse if it strikes a bad deal, say because the investors have political connections.

    Second, how is this kind of scheme supposed to finance investment that doesn’t produce a revenue stream? Toll roads are not the main thing we need right now; what about sewage systems, making up for deferred maintenance, and so on? You could bring in private investors by guaranteeing them future government money — say, paying rent in perpetuity for the use of a water system built by a private consortium. But this, even more than having someone else collect tolls, would simply be government borrowing through the back door — with much less transparency, and hence greater opportunities for giveaways to favored interests.

    Third, how much of the investment thus financed would actually be investment that wouldn’t have taken place anyway? That is, how much “additionality” is there? Suppose that there’s a planned tunnel, which is clearly going to be built; but now it’s renamed the Trump Tunnel, the building and financing are carried out by private firms, and the future tolls and/or rent paid by the government go to those private interests. .In that case we haven’t promoted investment at all, we’ve just in effect privatized a public asset — and given the buyers 82 percent of the purchase price in the form of a tax credit.

    Again, all of these questions could be avoided by doing things the straightforward way: if you think we should build more infrastructure, then build more infrastructure, and never mind the complicated private equity/tax credits stuff. You could try to come up with some justification for the complexity of the scheme, but one simple answer would be that it’s not about investment, it’s about ripping off taxpayers. Is that implausible, given who we’re talking about?

    “Again, all of these questions could be avoided by doing things the straightforward way: if you think we should build more infrastructure, then build more infrastructure, and never mind the complicated private equity/tax credits stuff. You could try to come up with some justification for the complexity of the scheme, but one simple answer would be that it’s not about investment, it’s about ripping off taxpayers. Is that implausible, given who we’re talking about?”

    Gee, could it be that Trump’s big infrastructure investment plan is just a giant scam to tax payers that will be used to transfer tax-payer money and assets into the hands of Trump’s world of crony-capitalists? Hmmmmm….

    It’s all a reminder that while much of the world is assuming Donald Trump is in Vladimir Putin’s pocket, when you look at Trump’s curiously ignorant dealings with a shady Azerbaijani oligarch and consider Trump’s close ties to figures associated with Alfa bank and Alfa’s shady history in Azerbaijan – and that’s just one example of Trump’s decades of shady dealings – it really doesn’t make sense to assume Donald Trump is in a single dictator’s pocket. He’s almost certainly in all sorts of pockets all over the world. Pockets that desire more lining. And if you think becoming President somehow gets Trump out of those shady pockets, just imagine how many other “Access Hollywood”-league audio or video tapes of Trump saying and doing horrible things that could severely embarrass him probably exist in shady hands all over the planet. Should we really believe that international playboy Trump, who was willing to brag about sexually assaulting women while on an Access Hollywood bus filled with the show’s staff, wasn’t getting secretly recorded by any of his shady/mobster partners saying all sorts of horrible things?

    So as we see the Trump/GOP mass privatization plan take shape, keep in mind that vetting is going to be a critical issue unless you want the global mafia to own and operate the US’s formerly-public infrastructure as part of some giant scam.

    And since this global nightmare situation could have easily been avoided at the ballot box, let’s also keep in mind that a national focus on the consequences of incompetent vetting shouldn’t be limited to Trump.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 19, 2016, 4:05 pm
  4. Uh oh, it looks like Donald Trump might be overdosing on Breitbart again. A flurry of tweets Saturday morning charge Barack Obama with approving of what Trump characterizes as a ‘Nixon/Watergate’-style wiretapping operation of the Trump Tower phones during the campaign. And while he cites no evidence for the charge, the tweets come a day after Breitbart published an article summarizing a rant by right-wing talk radio host Mark Levin making the exact same charge so that’s where everyone is assuming this came from:

    The Washington Post

    Trump, citing no evidence, accuses Obama of ‘Nixon/Watergate’ plot to wiretap Trump Tower

    By Philip Rucker, Ellen Nakashima and Robert Costa
    March 4, 2017 at 3:55 PM

    President Trump on Saturday angrily accused former president Barack Obama of orchestrating a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election.

    While citing no evidence to support his explosive allegation, Trump said in a series of four tweets sent Saturday morning that Obama was “wire tapping” his New York offices before the election in a move he compared to McCarthyism. “Bad (or sick) guy!” he said of his predecessor, adding that the surveillance resulted in “nothing found.”

    Trump offered no citations nor did he point to any credible news report to back up his accusation, but he may have been referring to commentary on Breitbart and conservative talk radio suggesting that Obama and his administration used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team. The Breitbart story, published Friday, has been circulating among Trump’s senior staff, according to a White House official who described it as a useful catalogue of the Obama administration’s activities.

    Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for Obama, said in a statement early Saturday afternoon: “A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

    Senior U.S. officials with knowledge of the wide-ranging federal investigation into Russian interference in the election said Saturday that there had been no wiretap of Trump.

    Officials at Justice and the FBI declined to comment.

    Trump has been feuding with the intelligence community since before he took office, convinced that career officers as well as holdovers from the Obama administration have been trying to sabotage his presidency. He has ordered internal inquiries to find who leaked sensitive information regarding communications during the campaign between Russian officials and his campaign associates and allies, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

    Some current and former intelligence officials cast doubt on Trump’s assertion.

    “It’s highly unlikely there was a wiretap,” said one former senior intelligence official familiar with surveillance law who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity. The former official continued: “It seems unthinkable. If that were the case by some chance, that means that a federal judge would have found that there was either probable cause that he had committed a crime or was an agent of a foreign power.”

    A wiretap cannot be directed at a U.S. facility, the official said, without finding probable cause that the phone lines or Internet addresses were being used by agents of a foreign power — or by someone spying for or acting on behalf of a foreign government. “You can’t just go around and tap buildings,” the official said.

    Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, issued a statement chastising Trump for leveling a “spectacularly reckless allegation” against Obama without evidence.

    Referencing Trump’s description of Obama as a “bad (or sick) guy,” Schiff said, “If there is something bad or sick going on, it is the willingness of the nation’s chief executive to make the most outlandish and destructive claims without providing a scintilla of evidence to support them. ”

    Trump sent the tweets from Palm Beach, Fla., where he is vacationing this weekend at his private Mar-a-Lago estate. It has long been his practice to stir up new controversies to deflect attention from a damaging news cycle, such as the one in recent days about Sessions and Russia.

    After visiting one of his golf courses on Saturday morning, Trump amended his public schedule to add a late-afternoon meeting with Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly at Mar-a-Lago. The president also is planning to have dinner there with both secretaries, as well as chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House Counsel Don McGahn and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.

    Trump had departed Washington in a fury on Friday, fuming at a senior staff meeting in the Oval Office that morning about Sessions’ decision to recuse himself. Trump was angry and told his top aides that he disagreed with the attorney general’s decision and that he thought the White House and Justice Department should have done more to counter the suggestion that Sessions needed to step away. The president told staff he wanted to see them fight back against what he saw as a widespread effort to destabilize his presidency, according to senior White House officials who were not authorized to speak publicly.

    Bannon and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who normally travel with the president, stayed behind in Washington to work on health care and immigration policies and were not with Trump on Saturday when he tweeted. Bannon was expected to fly to Florida on Saturday afternoon to attend the dinner at Mar-a-Lago.

    Trump’s tweets took numerous top White House aides by surprise, according to one of the White House officials. Saturday was expected to be a “down day, pretty quiet,” this official said, and there was little, if any, attempt to coordinate the president’s message on the wiretapping allegations.

    Here are Trump’s tweets, in the order they were sent:

    Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

    Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

    I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

    How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

    “Trump offered no citations nor did he point to any credible news report to back up his accusation, but he may have been referring to commentary on Breitbart and conservative talk radio suggesting that Obama and his administration used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team. The Breitbart story, published Friday, has been circulating among Trump’s senior staff, according to a White House official who described it as a useful catalogue of the Obama administration’s activities.

    Yep, if there was a wiretap approved on the Trump Tower campaign headquarter phones, it must be because the Obama administration was practicing ‘police state’ tactics. And not due to Trump being a walking national security risk who does things like publicly courting Russia to hack Hillary Clinton and has close associates like Roger Stone in open contact with Wikileaks. It could only be ‘Nixonian’ police state tactics. Tactics which were oddly not used to stop the highly public and damaging FBI investigations of Clinton. At least that’s how Trump and Breitbart see it.

    So what’s going to come of Trump’s new charges? Well, first, note the language of Obama administration officials’ denials of the accusation: sources with knowledge of the federal investigations in possible Russian activities in the election say there had been no wiretap of Trump. And others familiar with surveillance law say they if there was wiretapping of the Trump campaign in relation to possible Russian collusion, it would have required a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) judge to approve it and that would have required probably cause to suspect that a foreign power was utilizing those Trump Tower phone lines or internet connections:


    Senior U.S. officials with knowledge of the wide-ranging federal investigation into Russian interference in the election said Saturday that there had been no wiretap of Trump.

    Officials at Justice and the FBI declined to comment.

    Some current and former intelligence officials cast doubt on Trump’s assertion.

    “It’s highly unlikely there was a wiretap,” said one former senior intelligence official familiar with surveillance law who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity. The former official continued: “It seems unthinkable. If that were the case by some chance, that means that a federal judge would have found that there was either probable cause that he had committed a crime or was an agent of a foreign power.”

    A wiretap cannot be directed at a U.S. facility, the official said, without finding probable cause that the phone lines or Internet addresses were being used by agents of a foreign power — or by someone spying for or acting on behalf of a foreign government. “You can’t just go around and tap buildings,” the official said.

    So is it just a distraction that’s going to fade away when the next Trump distraction or disaster comes along or could it be that there was a FISA warrant issued against Trump Tower’s phone lines or internet connection? Well, as the article below notes, there were actually reports of a FISA warrant opened against at least one internet-connected device in Trump Tower: the Trump Tower server mysteriously communicating with Alfa Bank:

    Talking Points Memo

    ‘Simply False’: Obama Spox Denies Trump Wire Tap Accusation

    By Allegra Kirkland
    Published March 4, 2017, 2:35 PM EDT

    A spokesperson for former President Barack Obama on Saturday flatly rejected President Donald Trump’s claim that the Obama administration illegally wire tapped his campaign headquarters during the 2016 race.

    Trump’s allegation, made in a string of tweets that offered no evidence of the information’s source, was “simply false,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement.

    “Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen,” Lewis said.

    Neither @barackobama nor any WH official under Obama has ever ordered surveillance on any US Citizen. Any suggestion is unequivocally false pic.twitter.com/qF04X3NUvq— Kevin Lewis (@KLewis44) March 4, 2017

    Trump charged that Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower a month ahead of the election, comparing the alleged surveillance to “McCarthyism” and the Watergate scandal.

    The Guardian and Heat Street have reported that the FBI applied for a foreign intelligence surveillance court (FISA) warrant over the summer to monitor four Trump staffers suspected of having improper ties to Russian officials. The initial request was turned down for being overly broad, but according to Heat Street, the FBI eventually received a warrant in October after the discovery of a server in Trump Tower connected to a Russian bank.

    The Guardian and Heat Street have reported that the FBI applied for a foreign intelligence surveillance court (FISA) warrant over the summer to monitor four Trump staffers suspected of having improper ties to Russian officials. The initial request was turned down for being overly broad, but according to Heat Street, the FBI eventually received a warrant in October after the discovery of a server in Trump Tower connected to a Russian bank.

    So according to a report in Heat Street just before the election, the FBI did indeed grant a FISA warrant specifically related to the discovery of that Trump Tower server that was conspicuously communicating a Russian bank (Alfa Bank’s server). And as we’ll see below, that Heat Street article also notes that the Trump Tower server was apparently mysteriously communicating with SVB Bank server too (Silicon Valley Bank, a leading Silicon Valley bank specializing in funding tech start ups).

    And not only that, but it was thought in the US intelligence community that the warrant would also cover any ‘US persons’ associated with the server, which could include Trump and three of his associates. Plus, according to the Heath Street article, the warrant was sought due to actionable intelligence provided by a friendly foreign intelligence service.

    So who knows, maybe Trump is correct that Trump Tower phones lines were indeed getting wiretapped…due to his shady Trump Tower server and its shady communications with Alfa (and SVB) and actionable intelligence provided by a foreign intelligence service:

    Heat Street

    EXCLUSIVE: FBI ‘Granted FISA Warrant’ Covering Trump Camp’s Ties To Russia

    By Louise Mensch | 10:18 pm, November 7, 2016

    Two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community have confirmed to Heat Street that the FBI sought, and was granted, a FISA court warrant in October, giving counter-intelligence permission to examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.

    Contrary to earlier reporting in the New York Times, which cited FBI sources as saying that the agency did not believe that the private server in Donald Trump’s Trump Tower which was connected to a Russian bank had any nefarious purpose, the FBI’s counter-intelligence arm, sources say, re-drew an earlier FISA court request around possible financial and banking offenses related to the server. The first request, which, sources say, named Trump, was denied back in June, but the second was drawn more narrowly and was granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign, and its alleged links to two banks; SVB Bank and Russia’s Alfa Bank. While the Times story speaks of metadata, sources suggest that a FISA warrant was granted to look at the full content of emails and other related documents that may concern US persons.

    The FBI agents who talked to the New York Times, and rubbished the ground-breaking stories of Slate ( Franklin Foer) and Mother Jones (David Corn) may not have known about the FISA warrant, sources say, because the counter-intelligence and criminal sides of the FBI often work independently of each other employing the principle of ‘compartmentalization’.

    The FISA warrant was granted in connection with the investigation of suspected activity between the server and two banks, SVB Bank and Alfa Bank. However, it is thought in the intelligence community that the warrant covers any ‘US person’ connected to this investigation, and thus covers Donald Trump and at least three further men who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as his media surrogates. The warrant was sought, they say, because actionable intelligence on the matter provided by friendly foreign agencies could not properly be examined without a warrant by US intelligence as it involves ‘US Persons’ who come under the remit of the FBI and not the CIA. Should a counter-intelligence investigation lead to criminal prosecutions, sources say, the Justice Department is concerned that the chain of evidence have a basis in a clear warrant.

    In June, when the first FISA warrant was denied, the FBI was reportedly alarmed at Carter Page’s trip to Moscow and meetings with Russian officials, one week before the DNC was hacked. Counter intelligence agencies later reported to both Presidential candidates that Russia had carried out this hack; Donald Trump said publicly in the third debate that ‘our country has no idea’ if Russia did the hacking. The discovery of the Trump Tower private Russian server, however, communicating with Alfa Bank, changed matters, sources report.

    To further complicate the story, the FISA warrant was allegedly granted in part because of the involvement of Vladimir Putin’s own daughters. One is married to a senior official at Gazprom, where Carter Page and Paul Manafort reportedly have holdings; another to Kirill Shamalov, a banking official.

    The fact that the alleged warrant was a FISA warrant is itself significant. The court exists to grant warrants to examine cases concerned with Foreign Intelligence.

    Pursuant to FISA, the Court entertains applications submitted by the United States Government for approval of electronic surveillance, physical search, and other investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes. Most of the Court’s work is conducted ex parte as required by statute, and due to the need to protect classified national security information.

    Bradley P. Moss is a national security lawyer. He told us:

    If a FISA warrant was issued, it does not necessarily mean that the court considered any U.S. persons as literal ‘spies.’ I can imagine an argument having been made that there was probable cause to believe they were “agents of influence” who were unwittingly being influenced by a foreign power.

    If the operation concerns suspected money laundering involving a foreign government, the FISA warrant could theoretically encompass U.S. persons in that limited context. A FISA warrant is authorization to collect evidence, not to arrest.

    On October 9th, the Trump campaign released a large number of documents pointing out what they alleged were Hillary Clinton’s ties to Russia. On October 12th, rumors of a FISA warrant started to surface online. Donald Trump’s campaign had not answered requests for comment on the matter at time of going to press.

    “The FISA warrant was granted in connection with the investigation of suspected activity between the server and two banks, SVB Bank and Alfa Bank. However, it is thought in the intelligence community that the warrant covers any ‘US person’ connected to this investigation, and thus covers Donald Trump and at least three further men who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as his media surrogates. The warrant was sought, they say, because actionable intelligence on the matter provided by friendly foreign agencies could not properly be examined without a warrant by US intelligence as it involves ‘US Persons’ who come under the remit of the FBI and not the CIA. Should a counter-intelligence investigation lead to criminal prosecutions, sources say, the Justice Department is concerned that the chain of evidence have a basis in a clear warrant.”

    And note that, according to this Heat Street article, the report that had come out a week earlier that the FBI has concluded that the Alfa Bank server mystery was possibly just spam was NOT what the FBI investigators concluded:


    Contrary to earlier reporting in the New York Times, which cited FBI sources as saying that the agency did not believe that the private server in Donald Trump’s Trump Tower which was connected to a Russian bank had any nefarious purpose, the FBI’s counter-intelligence arm, sources say, re-drew an earlier FISA court request around possible financial and banking offenses related to the server. The first request, which, sources say, named Trump, was denied back in June, but the second was drawn more narrowly and was granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign, and its alleged links to two banks; SVB Bank and Russia’s Alfa Bank. While the Times story speaks of metadata, sources suggest that a FISA warrant was granted to look at the full content of emails and other related documents that may concern US persons.

    So based on meta-data analysis the FBI concluded that the Trump Tower server was maybe possibly just sending spam to the Alfa Bank (and SVB) servers. But the the narrower FISA warrant was granted to examine the full content of emails and other related documents of the US persons involved. In other words, those reports that came out a week before the election that the FBI investigation the Trump-
    Alfa connection and found nothing weren’t factoring in this additional FISA-empowered investigation byt the FBI’s counter-intelligence arm that allowed for emails and other documents to be examined.

    So maybe Trump is right. Maybe the Trump Tower’s phones were tapped. Thanks to that shady Trump Tower server and some foreign intelligence. And while it’s possible Trump found out about this wiretapping from within the government, all indications are that he arrived at this conclusion based on that article in Breibart which was a summary of a rant by Mark Levin that was based exclusively on published articles. And this is a ‘McCarthyist’ and ‘Nixonian/Watergate’ scenario in Trump’s mind despite the fact that the Heat Street article describes a legal justification for the wiretapping if it took place.

    Also note that the Breitbart article about Mark Levin’s radio show that laid out a case for investigating Barack Obama for using ‘police state’ tactics against the Trump campaign specifically references the above Heat Street article about the FISA warrant successfully opened by the FBI to investigate the Trump Tower server’s ties to Alpha Bank’s server (#4 in Levin’s list of evidence). So it’s very possible Trump is specifically freaking out about that article about how the FBI had a FISA warrant into the Alfa Bank and/or SVB Bank-related investigation when he was going on his twitter rampage.

    It certainly raises the question of why he’s so freaked out. It also raises the possibility that Trump’s bombast and bluster may have acted as the opposite of a distraction and instead helped focus public attention on one of the most interesting possible aspects of the investigations into Trump’s foreign ties. Trump may have actually blustered himself from a bad situation into a worse one. In other words, if there is a ‘McCarthyist’ angle to all this it’s looking like a Melissa McCarthyist kind of angle.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 4, 2017, 4:24 pm
  5. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly shared some thoughts on Donald Trump’s wiretapping accusations on Monday: Kelly is pretty sure Trump has some sort of evidence for his claims. And he also doesn’t believe the reports that FBI Director James Comey was incredulous over Trump’s tweets. So the head of DHS appears to believe Trump says and does things for good, valid reasons and not because he’s a dangerous lunatic: That doesn’t bode well:

    CNN

    Kelly on Trump’s wiretap accusation: ‘He’s got his reasons’

    By Daniella Diaz,
    Updated 8:25 PM ET, Mon March 6, 2017

    Washington (CNN)Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said that President Donald Trump must have “convincing evidence” for his allegation on Twitter that President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of his phones during the campaign.

    “I don’t know anything about it,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on the Situation Room. “If the President of the United States said that, he’s got his reasons to say it.”

    Kelly continued: “He must have some convincing evidence that took place. … I don’t pretend to even guess as to what the motivation may have been for the previous administration to do something like that.”

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer, speaking at the White House on Monday, did not offer evidence to back up the claims, but doubled-down, saying, “There’s no question that something happened.”

    FBI Director James Comey was ‘incredulous’ over Trump’s tweets

    Blitzer asked Kelly about CNN’s report that FBI Director James Comey was “incredulous” over the weekend after seeing Trump’s tweets accusing Obama of wiretapping. A source told CNN that Comey felt “institutionally he has to push back on this” because of the magnitude of the allegations that Comey knows not to be true.

    Kelly responded by saying Comey is his “friend,” and said he doesn’t trust those reports.

    “With due respect to sources, I have been wrong so many times in the last six, seven weeks,” Kelly responded. “(Sources) that were dead wrong. I don’t go much on single sources anymore.”

    Kelly said that he would expect Comey to turn Trump’s wiretap allegation over to “an investigative arm, and we can get to the truth or to the bottom line.”

    “Jim Comey is an honorable guy,” he said. “And so is the President of the United States. And the President must have his reasons.”

    “Kelly continued: “He must have some convincing evidence that took place. … I don’t pretend to even guess as to what the motivation may have been for the previous administration to do something like that.””

    Yes, according to the head of DHS, John Kelly, Trump must have some sort of convincing evidence. He simply must. Also, Kelly doesn’t trust those reports that FBI director James Comey was “incredulous” over Trump’s tweet due to a lack of sourcing:


    Blitzer asked Kelly about CNN’s report that FBI Director James Comey was “incredulous” over the weekend after seeing Trump’s tweets accusing Obama of wiretapping. A source told CNN that Comey felt “institutionally he has to push back on this” because of the magnitude of the allegations that Comey knows not to be true.

    Kelly responded by saying Comey is his “friend,” and said he doesn’t trust those reports.

    “With due respect to sources, I have been wrong so many times in the last six, seven weeks,” Kelly responded. “(Sources) that were dead wrong. I don’t go much on single sources anymore.”

    Kelly said that he would expect Comey to turn Trump’s wiretap allegation over to “an investigative arm, and we can get to the truth or to the bottom line.”

    That’s right, the head of DHS is pretty confident that Trump has “some convincing evidence” to back up his claims and also that the reports that James Comey wasn’t very pleased with Trump’s tweets were probably false.

    So what does Comey actually think about all this? Well, aside from the reports that Kelly dismissed about Comey’s outrage over the tweets, there were the reports about what Comey told Trump. Which was nothing, according to the White House, since Trump hasn’t actually asked Comey if the alleged wiretapping took place:

    Talking Points Memo
    Livewire

    Trump Hasn’t Asked FBI Director About Claims Obama Wiretapped Him

    By Esme Cribb
    Published March 7, 2017, 2:46 PM EDT

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump has not asked FBI Director James Comey for evidence to prove the unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama was “wiretapping” Trump’s phones at Trump Tower ahead of the 2016 election.

    “It’s been a full three days since the President said that President Obama had his wires tapped, his phones tapped, at Trump Tower,” ABC’s Jon Karl said during Spicer’s daily briefing. “In those three days has the White House come up with any evidence whatsoever to prove that allegation?”

    “I addressed this multiple times yesterday,” Spicer said. “We put out a statement on Sunday saying we would have no further comment and we were asking the house and the senate intelligence committees to look into this concern and report back.”

    “Can’t the President just ask the FBI director?” Karl pressed. “Has he asked him?”

    “No, the President has not,” Spicer said.

    Spicer said that congressional committees are “the appropriate place” for an investigation into Trump’s allegations.

    “I think there’s clearly a role that Congress can play with its oversight capabilities,” Spicer said. “They have made it very clear they have the staff, the resources and the process.”

    He said that if the White House became involved in proving Trump’s claims then the media would “write stories” about it.

    “I think if we were to start to get involved you would then write stories about how we were getting involved, so it’s a no-win situation,” Spicer said.

    “Do you believe that President Obama ordered—” Karl began.

    “I’m not here to speak for myself,” Spicer said.

    The press secretary called it “a cute question to ask.”

    “My job is to represent the President and to talk about what he’s doing and what he wants,” Spicer said. “I’ll leave it at that. I think we’ve tried to play this game before.”

    In response to a later question, Spicer said that he has not personally seen any evidence to support Trump’s claims.

    “No, I’m not in a position that that would be regularly part of my daily duties for the President to sit down and go through that,” he said. “That’s at probably a level above my pay grade.”

    “A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement. “Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen.”

    Spicer nevertheless called on Sunday for Congress to investigate Trump’s claims, and House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said that his committee will “make inquiries” into the allegations.

    “Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted,” Spicer said in a statement released Sunday prior to his further comments on the matter.

    “”No, the President has not,” Spicer said.”

    Well, that’s a bit awkward. For everyone involved. Including all US citizens. But, hey, there must be something that Trump was basing his tweetrage on other than that Breitbart article, right? Right?!:

    CNN

    Birth of a conspiracy theory: How Trump’s wiretap claim got started

    by Brian Stelter
    March 6, 2017, 11:20 AM ET

    An incendiary idea first put forward by right-wing radio host Mark Levin is now burning across Washington, fanned by President Trump’s tweets and a huge number of supportive commentators and websites — even though the facts don’t back up the conclusion.

    Breitbart News has given the conspiracy theory a name: "DeepStateGate.". Others are going with “ObamaGate.” And Fox News host Sean Hannity is asking: “What did OBAMA know and when did he know it???”

    Levin’s original idea, advanced on Thursday, was that former President Barack Obama and his allies have mounted a “silent coup” against Trump using “police state” tactics. Levin cherry-picked news stories that supported his thesis and omitted information that cut against it.

    The next day, Rush Limbaugh echoed Levin’s “silent coup” language, and Breitbart columnist Joel Pollak published an "expanded version of that case."

    That’s how the idea reached Trump’s radar. The Breitbart article “circulated” in the West Wing, a White House official told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, and the information “infuriated” Trump.

    To be clear, Levin and Limbaugh and Pollak didn’t publish any original reporting. They merely claimed to have connected some dots.

    The president’s tweetstorm on Saturday morning went even further than Levin and Pollak’s opinion pieces. Trump alleged that “Obama was tapping my phones in October,” just before Election Day, adding that he “just found out” about it.

    There is no evidence to back up this theory. While the government has been investigating Russian attempts to interfere with the election, a spokesman for Obama called any suggestion that Obama or any White House official ordered surveillance against Trump “simply false.”

    “Most reporters I know are digging on this,” CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted on Sunday. “But every current intel voice is saying they know of nothing to back up this claim.”

    Former CIA officer and independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin said on CNN’s “New Day” Monday morning that Trump is “taking action based on information he’s receiving from far-right, conspiratorial media outlets.”

    “That is highly concerning,” he said.

    But some right-wing sites are treating Trump’s unfounded claims like undeniable fact. One of the top headlines on The Gateway Pundit on Sunday read: “Incompetent AND Criminal: Obama’s Wiretapping of President Trump Icing on the Cake of Worst President Ever.”

    Other sites are taking a different tack, downplaying the severity of the president’s charges against his predecessor.

    Levin and Pollak’s opinion pieces relied heavily on anonymously sourced reports from the BBC, The Guardian and the new Murdoch-owned conservative outlet Heat Street about requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act from June and October 2016.

    Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler said these are “sketchy, anonymously sourced reports.” CNN has not been able to confirm them. But those reports, alleging efforts by the FBI to monitor Trump associates with suspected ties to Russia, became the basis of the conspiracy theory.

    Trump genuinely believes the reports, according to Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, who said he spoke with the president twice on Saturday in Florida.

    “He is very confident he will be proven right, said the first FISA was rejected, second one approved,” Ruddy said in an email message on Sunday.

    Ruddy added that Trump “seemed to know the whole trails of the FISA actions and was recounting them to me.”

    This description matches what Breitbart reported on Friday.

    Pollak posted a story on Sunday night that reflected the weekend’s successful reframing.

    “The spotlight is now on President Barack Obama and his administration’s alleged surveillance of the Trump campaign,” he wrote, “as well as his aides’ reported efforts to spread damaging information about Trump.”

    Levin continued to press the case on Sunday through an appearance on Fox and a steady stream of social media posts.

    He dismissed skeptical news reports as “fake news” and insulted individual journalists who disagreed with him.

    “That’s how the idea reached Trump’s radar. The Breitbart article “circulated” in the West Wing, a White House official told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, and the information “infuriated” Trump.”

    So according to multiple right-wing sources, including White House sources, that Breitbart article was indeed the source of Trump’s original outrage. And he apparently hasn’t asked James Comey about it. So what about the fact that there are all these reports that Comey denies the wiretapping allegations? Does Trump share John Kelly’s suspicions that those reports are false? Well, according to a White House spokesperson, sort of. But it’s not so much that Trump is suspicious of the reports that Comey rejected the wiretapping claims. It’s that Trump doesn’t believe Comey reported denial that wiretapping never happened

    Politico

    White House spokeswoman: Trump doesn’t believe Comey that Obama didn’t wiretap

    By Louis Nelson

    03/06/17 08:29 AM EST

    President Donald Trump does not accept an assertion from FBI Director James Comey that former President Barack Obama did not order an illegal wiretap of Trump Tower during last year’s presidential campaign, a White House spokeswoman said Monday.

    Trump leveled the explosive accusation on Twitter over the weekend, delivering it without any evidence. Through a spokesman, Obama has flatly denied the charge, as has James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under Obama. White House officials have yet to offer any proof to back Trump’s claim, instead suggesting that the matter should be investigated.

    And while Comey has not publicly addressed Trump’s allegation, multiple media outlets have reported that he asked the Department of Justice to knock down the president’s accusation because it suggests that the FBI broke the law by carrying out the alleged wiretap.

    Asked by ABC “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos if Trump was willing to accept the denial of his FBI director, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said he was not.

    “You know, I don’t think he does, George,” Sanders said. “I think he firmly believes that this is a storyline that has been reported pretty widely by quite a few outlets. The wiretapping has been discussed in The New York Times, BBC, Fox News and we believe that it should be looked at by the House Intelligence Committee.”

    As he would wind up doing multiple times throughout their interview, Stephanopoulos interjected at that point to tell Sanders that what she had said was incorrect and that none of the media reports to which she referred actually backed up Trump’s accusation. All told, the “Good Morning America” anchor stopped Sanders five times to correct her over the course of their five-and-a-half minute interview.

    Asked if Trump had reached out to the FBI or anyone else in the intelligence community, of which he is in charge, to verify his claim that Obama illegally tapped his phones, Sanders said she did not know.

    “Asked by ABC “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos if Trump was willing to accept the denial of his FBI director, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said he was not.”

    To summarize, DHS chief John Kelly doesn’t know what evidence Trump has for his claims, but he’s pretty sure Trump has “some convincing evidence” and is also pretty sure that those reports about James Comey’s incredulous reaction to Trump tweets were false. Trump, on the other hand, appears to have based his tweets solely on the Breitbart article and doesn’t believe Comey’s reported wiretapping denials. And no one has actually asked Comey.

    So what’s the plan from Team Trump? Are they just going to move forward with these charges and hope that Congressional investigations turn something. up? Yes, that does indeed appear to be the plan. Along with the hope that right-wing media outlets for basically turn Trump’s claims into “truth” through repetition and a strong desire by the GOP, with nearly unchecked power but no ability to govern responsibly, to keep Barack Obama as a permanent right-wing boogeyman:

    The Washington Post

    Trump and Republicans see a ‘deep state’ foe: Barack Obama

    By David Weigel
    March 7, 2017 at 6:00 AM

    President Trump’s weekend allegations of a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to wiretap his 2016 campaign confused intelligence analysts, befuddled members of Congress and created fresh work for fact-checkers. Within 24 hours of his allegations, made on Twitter, the administration conceded that the president was basing his claim not on closely held information, but on a Breitbart News story quoting the conservative radio host and author Mark Levin.

    But in conservative media, where the claim originated, Trump has gotten credit for cracking open a plot by a “deep state” of critics and conspirators to bring down his presidency. And the perpetrator is former president Barack Obama.

    “It would [seem] that the ‘Russia hacking’ story was concocted not just to explain away an embarrassing election defeat, but to cover up the real scandal,” wrote Breitbart’s senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak.

    “Trump confounds these people because he’s always a step or two ahead,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners on Monday. “It’s a direct line to the Democrat Party and Obama and members of the Obama administration that Trump is signaling, ‘You don’t face the usual feckless bunch of opponents who never fight you back.’”

    Trump’s wiretap allegations completed a feedback loop that started during the presidential campaign and has gotten sturdier since. The president’s media diet includes cable television news shows, like “Fox and Friends,” where guests and hosts regularly defend him. On Twitter, he frequently elevates stories that grew in conservative talk radio, or on sites like Breitbart News and InfoWars, out of view of a startled mainstream media. Monday’s news cycle demonstrated just how strong the loop was, as Levin himself appeared on Fox News for 12 barely interrupted minutes to share his theory that the alleged wiretapping was a political hit job.

    “Donald Trump is the victim. His campaign is the victim,” said Levin, as a Fox News “alert” scrolled over the screen. “These are police state tactics. If this had been done to Barack Obama, all hell would break loose. And it should.”

    A spokesman for the former president denied that Obama or a White House official requested surveillance of a U.S. citizen. And FBI Director James B. Comey asked the Justice Department to issue a statement this weekend refuting President Trump’s charge (it has not thus far).

    Republicans in Congress tend to give the president the benefit of their doubt. In interviews and comments since Saturday, they have suggested that Trump overstated what was known — conflating, for example, media reports on wiretapping with a growing theory that the Obama administration seeded operatives throughout the government to undo his presidency. But they have paired that critique with promises to study what he’s alleged.

    “The president has at his fingertips tens of billions of dollars in intelligence apparatus,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, in a Monday interview with CBS News. “I think he might have something there, but if not, we’re going to find out.”

    “The good news is there’s a paper trail, there’s a warrant, there’s an application, there’s judicial review,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) in an interview Monday with radio host Laura Ingraham, a die-hard Trump supporter. “And right now the Justice Department is not controlled by President Obama. It’s controlled by Jeff Sessions.”

    Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), in a tweet to the president, went even further, saying that Trump “needs to purge Leftists from executive branch before disloyal, illegal and treasonist [sic] acts sink us.”

    That story line was building long before Trump embraced it. Its origins were relatively banal. One week after the 2016 election, Obama told members of his campaign group, Organizing for America, that the Trump years would be boom times for activism.

    “Now is the time for some organizing,” Obama said, according to a transcript published by the White House at the time. “An election just finished, so it’s not going to be straight political organizing, but it is going to be raising awareness; it’s going to be the work you’re doing in nonprofits and advocacy and community-building. And over time, what’s going to happen is, is that you will reinvigorate and inform our politics in ways that we can’t anticipate.”

    Since then, OFA, which has spent years as a punching bag for Democrats who thought it diverted resources from the party, has earned surprising new status as a boogeyman. The rebuilt group has helped promote and organize protests and raucous town hall meetings to pressure Republican members of Congress. On Feb. 18, New York Post columnist Paul Sperry tied together what was publicly known to pin the protests on Obama and OFA.

    “It’s a radical [Saul] Alinsky group,” Sperry told Fox News’s Sean Hannity after the story ran. “It’s got a lot of money. And they’re training an army of agitators to sabotage Trump and his policies, while at the same time protecting Obama’s legacy, like ‘Obamacare’ and the ‘dreamers.’ And here is OFA listed prominently on Obama’s new Web site, OFA Organizing for Action.

    The former president has given his blessing to the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a project created to help his party undo Republican-drawn legislative maps. He made calls to help his former secretary of labor Tom Perez become chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and congratulated him when he won. And he recorded a video for his post-presidential foundation, telling supporters that “true democracy is a project that’s bigger than any one of us.”

    Apart from that, Obama has maintained a low profile in the post-election world, with allies acknowledging that he’s been absent as protests have built against his successor. At the NRDC’s Tuesday media briefing, former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the former president was ready to become a “more visible” supporter of the project.

    “It’s coming. He’s coming,” said. “And he’s ready to roll.”

    That comment caused a minor frenzy with the online right. InfoWars, the conspiracy news site run by Alex Jones, republished a story about the comment, and followed it with rumors about the new activity. “Obama’s goal to ‘oust’ Trump from presidency via impeachment or resignation,” wrote InfoWars commentator Paul Joseph Watson on Thursday. On Friday, the site blew up a report about banks settling with nonprofit groups after fraud lawsuits to tell readers that Obama had “funneled billions to liberal activist groups.”

    More mainstream sites have also stoked theories that Obama was pulling strings. Last Wednesday, the Daily Mail published an interview with an unnamed “close family friend,” who claimed that former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett had moved into Obama’s Kalorama home to help “mastermind the insurgency” against Trump..

    “The Daily Mail story is completely false,” said Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for the former president.

    But the Jarrett story went viral on the right; on a Fox Business segment over the weekend, radio host Tammy Bruce cited it as an “undercovered” revelation that demonstrated the forces arrayed against Trump. In her Monday interview with Gowdy, Ingraham argued that a Watergate-level scandal was building — but at one point, she suggested, hopefully, that the president was not simply basing his rhetoric on what was in conservative media.

    “He must know something beyond what’s on Breitbart,” Ingraham said.

    “I would hope,” said Gowdy, “given the fact that he’s the leader of the free world.”

    “More mainstream sites have also stoked theories that Obama was pulling strings. Last Wednesday, the Daily Mail published an interview with an unnamed “close family friend,” who claimed that former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett had moved into Obama’s Kalorama home to help “mastermind the insurgency” against Trump.”

    Yep, Barack Obama is an evil mastermind currently plotting to lead “the insurgency” to destroy Donald Trump and must be investigated by Congress. Pushing that meme is the plan. And the more people ask the Trump administration for evidence of its claims, the more pushing that meme is going to be the plan. And considering that the heads of the intelligence committees in both the House and Senate agreed to investigate Trump’s claims, it would appear everything is going according to plan. At least so far.

    It’s all something to keep in mind when John Kelly says Trump has “got his reasons” for acting like an unhinged lunatic over the mystery of the Alfa Bank FISA warrant and wiretap and constantly pushing this “Obama is out to get me!” meme despite a complete lack of evidence and an unwillingness to even talk to the director of the FBI about it. They may not be good reasons, but Trump and the rest of the far-right has them.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 7, 2017, 9:47 pm
  6. Donald Trump had an interesting message to FBI Director James Comey during a recent interview on the Fox Business Network: When asked if it was too late for Trump to fire Comey, Trump relied “No, it’s not too late…But you know I have confidence in him. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be interesting.” Yep, it’s going to be interesting. Not that the FBI’s strange position of investigating the President that the FBI tried like hell to put in place wasn’t already interesting. It’s just more interesting now that Trump issued that barely veiled threat to Comey:

    Talking Points Memo
    Livewire

    Trump: ‘It’s Not Too Late’ To Boot FBI Director Comey (VIDEO)

    By Caitlin MacNeal
    Published April 12, 2017, 10:55 AM EDT

    President Donald Trump believes “it’s not too late” to ask for James Comey’s resignation, but he indicated during a Tuesday interview on Fox Business Network that he doesn’t currently have plans to dismiss the FBI director.

    “No, it’s not too late,” Trump said when Maria Bartiromo asked if it was too late to fire Comey. “But you know I have confidence in him. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be interesting.”

    Trump said he wanted to “give everyone a good, fair chance,” but also argued that Comey had “saved” his Democratic presidential opponent Hillary Clinton by not recommending any criminal charges related to her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

    “Don’t forget, when Jim Comey came out, he saved Hillary Clinton,” Trump told Bartiromo. “People don’t realize that. He saved her life. I call it ‘Comey I.’ And I joke about it a little bit.”

    “Trump said he wanted to “give everyone a good, fair chance,” but also argued that Comey had “saved” his Democratic presidential opponent Hillary Clinton by not recommending any criminal charges related to her use of a private email server as secretary of state.”

    In the same interview where Trump issues a “We’ll see…” threat to Comey’s job he later suggests that Comey “saved” Hillary Clinton. Save her by not recommending criminal charges in the investigation of her private email server. An investigating that was always a bad partisan joke. So, yes, one of the examples of Trump’s dissatisfaction with Comey was how Comey didn’t recommend charges in a highly partisan investigation of a high level politician. And yes, he said this just weeks after we learn that the FBI had opened an investigation of the Trump campaign back in July, but never revealed it to the public (while be very open about the investigations into Hillary’s email server). And that investigation is ongoing:

    Politico

    Comey: FBI launched Trump-Russia probe in July

    By Martin Matishak
    03/20/17 11:58 AM EDT

    FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers Monday that his agency has been investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials since last July.

    The newly revealed timeline — which Comey detailed in a much-anticipated House Intelligence Committee hearing — means the FBI probe was occurring during the peak of an alleged Russian campaign to destabilize the presidential race and eventually help elect President Donald Trump.

    But Comey declined to comment on what kind of coordination or contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow officials the FBI was examining.

    He also wouldn’t discuss whether the Trump team knew about any of the contacts various Trump aides have acknowledged.

    Comey said he didn’t know how long the investigation would ultimately take.

    “There is no usually,” he said. “It’s impossible to say, frankly.”

    But, Comey said, just because the probe has been ongoing since July doesn’t mean it’s close to wrapping up.

    “But, Comey said, just because the probe has been ongoing since July doesn’t mean it’s close to wrapping up.”

    So Trump’s “we’ll see…” threat to Comey is taking place while the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia is still ongoing. Some might consider that conspicuous behavior. Although perhaps not as conspicuous as the behavior of the actual Trump team official who managed to get a FISA warrant issued to investigate his possible ties to Moscow, which is another fun fact we learned shortly before Trump did that “we’ll see…” interview:

    Talking Points Memo
    Editor’s Blog

    Another Piece of the Trump Puzzle: The Carter Page FISA Warrant

    By Josh Marshall
    Published April 11, 2017, 10:37 PM EDT

    The Washington Post published a story this evening that adds a significant new piece to the Trump puzzle. The headline is that in the summer of 2016 the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to monitor the communications of Carter Page, a key player in the Trump/Russia story. Obtaining a FISA warrant is significant in itself since to do so the government must show probable cause that the target of the warrant is acting as the agent of a foreign power. What this means, what the government has to show is set forth very specifically in statute.

    Let me run through what I believe are the key points in this story.

    1. The article says that Page was the “only American to have had his communications directly targeted with a FISA warrant in 2016 as part of the Russia probe.” That’s a significant data point in itself since this appears to show categorically that none of the other frequently mentioned players were surveilled directly.

    2. The warrant was apparently obtained in July 2016. At one point the article refers to the FISA warrant being obtained “last summer”. But later it says the application for a FISA warrant “showed that the FBI and the Justice Department’s national security division have been seeking since July to determine how broad a network of accomplices Russia enlisted in attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election.” Ergo, I think we know that the application was at least made in July. Conceivably it was granted in August. I’m not sure how long a period there can be between the two.

    What else was happening in July? The first Wikileaks release of DNC emails was on July 22nd. Page himself traveled to Moscow in early July and gave a speech there on July 7th. July was a critical month on many fronts as you can see here. Was it one of these events that prompted the FBI to seek the FISA warrant? Some mix of both? Neither?

    3. The Post reports, according to unnamed officials, that “the government’s application for the surveillance order targeting Page included a lengthy declaration that laid out investigators’ basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow.”

    One part of the FBI’s case was the 2013 case – recently reported – in which Russian intelligence operatives in the US met with and apparently sought to recruit Page. But it says “the application said Page had other contacts with Russian operatives that have not been publicly disclosed.”

    On first blush, it’s not hard to imagine that the FBI’s attention might be peaked by seeing someone who had earlier met with Russian intelligence operatives and been the target of recruitment popping up as a major presidential candidate’s advisor. But that doesn’t sound like it would have been enough to seek a FISA warrant, let alone get one. The key point I think is that according to the Post’s account of knowledgable sources, the FBI believed it had evidence that Page “knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow.” That’s much more that crossing paths with the wrong people.

    For the moment, I don’t think this scoop dramatically transforms our understanding of the broader story. But it confirms and adds weight to a key part of it. The piece also provides some interesting details about Page’s attendance at a number of campaign policy meetings. But these seem about what we’d expect of a named advisor. Not surprising but good data points to have.

    The oddity of Page is that he certainly wasn’t operating under deep cover. Indeed, he paraded his pro-Russian views widely. In other words, it’s not like Page was a mole – the most Russophobic advisor who turned out to be in Moscow’s employ. Page was right out in the open as a major critic of US policy who believed and said to all who’d listen that the US should be far friendlier to Russia. Other oddities are his constant press appearances. Why did he go on Chris Hayes show a few weeks ago? Why has he made so many press appearances, almost all of which have been handled weirdly and badly? Why hasn’t he just lawyered up and shut up? For that matter, if Page was operating as a Russian agent, why would he travel to Moscow to give a speech harshly critical of the US a week before the convention? Needless to say, that’s certainly going to draw attention. It’s all a mystery.

    “The oddity of Page is that he certainly wasn’t operating under deep cover. Indeed, he paraded his pro-Russian views widely. In other words, it’s not like Page was a mole – the most Russophobic advisor who turned out to be in Moscow’s employ. Page was right out in the open as a major critic of US policy who believed and said to all who’d listen that the US should be far friendlier to Russia. Other oddities are his constant press appearances. Why did he go on Chris Hayes show a few weeks ago? Why has he made so many press appearances, almost all of which have been handled weirdly and badly? Why hasn’t he just lawyered up and shut up? For that matter, if Page was operating as a Russian agent, why would he travel to Moscow to give a speech harshly critical of the US a week before the convention? Needless to say, that’s certainly going to draw attention. It’s all a mystery.”

    Yep, if Carter Page was a Russian agent he was a very conspicuous Russian agent whose primary purpose for the Trump campaign appeared to be to look conspicuously like a Russian agent. As Josh Marshall puts it, it’s all a mystery. Worst. Agent. Ever. Unless conspicuously seeming like a Russian agent was his goal in which case he did a pretty good job.

    So Trump issues a public threat to Comey’s job right after we learn about this FISA warrant that was issued for Carter Page as part of an investigation that was opened back in July. And while the timing of this does seem incredibly conspicuous and makes it seem like Trump is worried about where the investigation into Carter Page is going, let’s not forget that the investigation of Page isn’t the only aspect of the FBI’s investigation of possible foreign collusion with the Trump campaign that we also know is ongoing: the Trump server’s mysterious communications with Alfa bank. And based on this update from last month on where that investigation is heading, it sounds like investigators still have more questions than answers about that sever mystery. In part because the stories keep changing. For instance, now we’re learning that the Trump team is no longer claiming that the emails were actually sent by a third party contractor, Cendyn, to send Trump’s email spam. Why? Because the Trump team is now saying that it switched contractors back in March of 2016 to Serenata, a German contractor, and all these mystery communications between the Trump server and the Alfa server took place later in the year. In addition, Serenata acknowledges it hired by Trump Hotels, but says it “never has operated or made use of” the domain in question: mail1.trump-email.com. And that’s the domain that Alfa’s server kept looking up over and over and over. So that’s pretty interesting. Interestingly mysterious:

    CNN

    Sources: FBI investigation continues into ‘odd’ computer link between Russian bank and Trump Organization

    By Pamela Brown and Jose Pagliery,

    Updated 6:00 AM ET, Fri March 10, 2017

    (CNN)Federal investigators and computer scientists continue to examine whether there was a computer server connection between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank, sources close to the investigation tell CNN.

    Questions about the possible connection were widely dismissed four months ago. But the FBI’s investigation remains open, the sources said, and is in the hands of the FBI’s counterintelligence team — the same one looking into Russia’s suspected interference in the 2016 election.

    One U.S. official said investigators find the server relationship “odd” and are not ignoring it. But the official said there is still more work for the FBI to do. Investigators have not yet determined whether a connection would be significant.

    The server issue surfaced again this weekend, mentioned in a Breitbart article that, according to a White House official, sparked President Trump’s series of tweets accusing investigators of tapping his phone.

    CNN is told there was no Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant on the server.

    In addition, companies involved have provided CNN with new explanations that at times conflict with each other and still don’t fully explain what happened.

    The story — of a possible connection between computer servers — is a strange tale because there are no specific allegations of wrongdoing and only vague technical evidence.

    Internet data shows that last summer, a computer server owned by Russia-based Alfa Bank repeatedly looked up the contact information for a computer server being used by the Trump Organization — far more than other companies did, representing 80% of all lookups to the Trump server.

    It’s unclear if the Trump Organization server itself did anything in return. No one has produced evidence that the servers actually communicated.

    Slate and The New York Times were first to report the unusual server activity.

    The Times said the FBI had concluded there could be an “innocuous explanation.” And cybersecurity experts told CNN this isn’t how two entities would communicate if they wanted to keep things secret.

    But for those who have studied the data, the activity could suggest an intent to communicate by email during a period of time when ties between the Trump Organization and Russia are being closely scrutinized because of Russia’s alleged involvement in hacking the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta.

    This issue intrigued a dozen computer researchers at a recent business conference in Washington, D.C. that pulled together the world’s top network operators, the ones who help run the internet. To them, it’s a strange coincidence that merits further scrutiny.

    What is known:
    Last year, a small group of computer scientists obtained internet traffic records from the complex system that serves as the internet’s phone book. Access to these records is reserved for highly trusted cybersecurity firms and companies that provide this lookup service.

    These signals were captured as they traveled along the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS).

    These leaked records show that Alfa Bank servers repeatedly looked up the unique internet address of a particular Trump Organization computer server in the United States.

    In the computer world, it’s the equivalent of looking up someone’s phone number — over and over again. While there isn’t necessarily a phone call, it usually indicates an intention to communicate, according to several computer scientists.

    What puzzled them was why a Russian bank was repeatedly looking up the contact information for mail1.trump-email.com.

    Publicly available internet records show that address, which was registered to the Trump Organization, points to an IP address that lives on an otherwise dull machine operated by a company in the tiny rural town of Lititz, Pennsylvania.

    From May 4 until September 23, the Russian bank looked up the address to this Trump corporate server 2,820 times — more lookups than the Trump server received from any other source.

    As noted, Alfa Bank alone represents 80% of the lookups, according to these leaked internet records.

    Far back in second place, with 714 such lookups, was a company called Spectrum Health.

    Spectrum is a medical facility chain led by Dick DeVos, the husband of Betsy DeVos, who was appointed by Trump as U.S. education secretary.

    Together, Alfa and Spectrum accounted for 99% of the lookups.

    This server behavior alarmed one computer expert who had privileged access to this technical information last year. That person, who remains anonymous and goes by the moniker “Tea Leaves,” obtained this information from internet traffic meant to remain private. It is unclear where Tea Leaves worked or how Tea Leaves obtained access to the information.

    Tea Leaves gave that data to a small band of computer scientists who joined forces to examine it, several members of that group told CNN, which has also reviewed the data.

    Possible explanations
    The corporations involved have different theories to explain the server activity. But they haven’t provided proof — and they don’t agree.

    Alfa Bank has maintained that the most likely explanation is that the server communication was the result of spam marketing. Bank executives have stayed at Trump hotels, so it’s possible they got subsequent spam marketing emails from the Trump Organization. Those emails might have set off defensive cybersecurity measures at the bank, whose servers would respond with a cautious DNS lookup. Alfa Bank said it used antispam software from Trend Micro, whose tools would do a DNS lookup to know the source of the spam.

    Alfa Bank said it brought U.S. cybersecurity firm Mandiant to Moscow to investigate. Mandiant had a “working hypothesis” that the activity was “caused by email marketing/spam” on the Trump server’s end, according to representatives for Alfa Bank and Mandiant. The private investigation is now over, Alfa Bank said.

    Computer scientists agree that such an explanation is possible in theory. But they want to see evidence.

    Alfa Bank and Mandiant could not point to marketing emails from the time period in question. “Mandiant has found evidence of an old marketing campaign, which… is too old to be relevant,” Alfa Bank said in a statement.

    CNN reached out to the Trump Organization with detailed technical questions but has not received answers.

    Cendyn is the contractor that once operated marketing software on that Trump email domain. In February, it provided CNN a Trump Organization statement that called the internet records “incomplete” and stressed that they do not show any signs of “two-way email communication.” That statement lends credibility to the spam marketing theory, because it says the Trump server was set up in 2010 to deliver promotional marketing emails for Trump Hotels. But Cendyn acknowledged that the last marketing email it delivered for Trump’s corporation was sent in March 2016, “well before the date range in question.”

    Spectrum Health told CNN it “did find a small number of incoming spam marketing emails” from “Cendyn, advertising Trump Hotels.” But it pointed to emails sent in 2015, long before the May-through-September 2016 time period examined by scientists. Spectrum Health said that it “has not been contacted by the FBI or any government agency on this matter.”

    Having the Trump Organization server set up for marketing also doesn’t explain why Alfa Bank and Spectrum would stand out so much.

    “If it were spam, then a lot of other organizations would be doing DNS lookups. There would be evidence of widespread connectivity with devices,” said L. Jean Camp, a computer scientist at Indiana University who has studied the data.

    Cendyn has also provided another possible explanation, suggesting a highly technical case of mistaken identity.

    Cendyn routinely repurposes computer servers — like the one used by the Trump Organization.

    Cendyn’s software, like its event planning tool Metron, sends email and thus relies on the 20 different email servers rented by the company. After “a thorough network analysis,” Cendyn has said that it found a bank client had used Metron to communicate with AlfaBank.com.

    But Alfa Bank starkly denies “any dealings with Cendyn.” And, it says, it’s unlikely that it received any emails from that server. “Mandiant investigated 12 months of email archives and it found no emails to or from any of the IP addresses given to us by the media.”

    On Wednesday, Cendyn provided another explanation to CNN. Cendyn claims the Trump Hotel Collection ditched Cendyn and went with another email marketing company, the German firm Serenata, in March 2016. Cendyn said it “transferred back to” Trump’s company the mail1.trump-email.com domain.

    Serenata this week told CNN it was indeed hired by Trump Hotels, but it “never has operated or made use of” the domain in question: mail1.trump-email.com.

    Upon hearing that Cendyn gave up control of the Trump email domain, Camp, said: “That does not make any sense to me at all. The more confusing this is, the more I think we need an investigation.”

    Other computer experts said there could be additional lookups that weren’t captured by the original leak. That could mean that Alfa’s presence isn’t as dominant as it seems. But Dyn, which has a major presence on the internet’s domain name system, spotted only two such lookups — from the Netherlands on August 15.

    Alfa Bank insists that it has no connections to Trump. In a statement to CNN, Alfa Bank said neither it, bank cofounder Mikhail Fridman and bank president Petr Aven “have had any contact with Mr. Trump or his organizations. Fridman and Aven have never met Mr. Trump nor have they or Alfa Bank had any business dealings with him. Neither Alfa Bank nor its officers have sent Mr. Trump or his organization any emails, information or money. Alfa Bank does not have and has never had any special or exclusive internet connection with Mr. Trump or his entities.”

    Scientists now silent
    The bank told CNN it is now trying to identify the person or entity who disseminated this internet traffic. “We believe that DNS traffic in mainland Europe was deliberately captured – in a manner that is unethical and possibly illegal — in order to manufacture the deceit,” it said.

    Fear has now silenced several of the computer scientists who first analyzed the data.

    Tea Leaves refused to be interviewed by CNN and is now “hiding under a rock,” according to an intermediary contact.

    Paul Vixie, who helped design the very DNS system the internet uses today, was quoted in the Slate story saying that Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization “were communicating in a secretive fashion.” Vixie declined to go on the record with CNN.

    Even the skeptics have unanswered questions.

    Robert Graham is a cybersecurity expert who wrote a widely circulated blog post in November that criticized computer scientists for premature conclusions connecting the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank.

    But he’s still wondering why Alfa Bank and Spectrum Health alone dominated links to this Trump server.

    “It’s indicative of communication between Trump, the health organization and the bank outside these servers,” he told CNN. “There is some sort of connection I can’t explain, and only they are doing it. It could be completely innocent.”

    “Upon hearing that Cendyn gave up control of the Trump email domain, Camp, said: “That does not make any sense to me at all. The more confusing this is, the more I think we need an investigation.””

    Yep, the multiple stories the Trump team was using to explain the Trump/Alfa server mystery have completely collapsed, in part because the stories keep changing:


    Alfa Bank has maintained that the most likely explanation is that the server communication was the result of spam marketing. Bank executives have stayed at Trump hotels, so it’s possible they got subsequent spam marketing emails from the Trump Organization. Those emails might have set off defensive cybersecurity measures at the bank, whose servers would respond with a cautious DNS lookup. Alfa Bank said it used antispam software from Trend Micro, whose tools would do a DNS lookup to know the source of the spam.

    Alfa Bank said it brought U.S. cybersecurity firm Mandiant to Moscow to investigate. Mandiant had a “working hypothesis” that the activity was “caused by email marketing/spam” on the Trump server’s end, according to representatives for Alfa Bank and Mandiant. The private investigation is now over, Alfa Bank said.

    Computer scientists agree that such an explanation is possible in theory. But they want to see evidence.

    Alfa Bank and Mandiant could not point to marketing emails from the time period in question. “Mandiant has found evidence of an old marketing campaign, which… is too old to be relevant,” Alfa Bank said in a statement.

    CNN reached out to the Trump Organization with detailed technical questions but has not received answers.

    Cendyn is the contractor that once operated marketing software on that Trump email domain. In February, it provided CNN a Trump Organization statement that called the internet records “incomplete” and stressed that they do not show any signs of “two-way email communication.” That statement lends credibility to the spam marketing theory, because it says the Trump server was set up in 2010 to deliver promotional marketing emails for Trump Hotels. But Cendyn acknowledged that the last marketing email it delivered for Trump’s corporation was sent in March 2016, “well before the date range in question.”

    Spectrum Health told CNN it “did find a small number of incoming spam marketing emails” from “Cendyn, advertising Trump Hotels.” But it pointed to emails sent in 2015, long before the May-through-September 2016 time period examined by scientists. Spectrum Health said that it “has not been contacted by the FBI or any government agency on this matter.”

    Having the Trump Organization server set up for marketing also doesn’t explain why Alfa Bank and Spectrum would stand out so much.

    “If it were spam, then a lot of other organizations would be doing DNS lookups. There would be evidence of widespread connectivity with devices,” said L. Jean Camp, a computer scientist at Indiana University who has studied the data.

    Cendyn has also provided another possible explanation, suggesting a highly technical case of mistaken identity.

    Cendyn routinely repurposes computer servers — like the one used by the Trump Organization.

    Cendyn’s software, like its event planning tool Metron, sends email and thus relies on the 20 different email servers rented by the company. After “a thorough network analysis,” Cendyn has said that it found a bank client had used Metron to communicate with AlfaBank.com.

    But Alfa Bank starkly denies “any dealings with Cendyn.” And, it says, it’s unlikely that it received any emails from that server. “Mandiant investigated 12 months of email archives and it found no emails to or from any of the IP addresses given to us by the media.”

    On Wednesday, Cendyn provided another explanation to CNN. Cendyn claims the Trump Hotel Collection ditched Cendyn and went with another email marketing company, the German firm Serenata, in March 2016. Cendyn said it “transferred back to” Trump’s company the mail1.trump-email.com domain.

    Serenata this week told CNN it was indeed hired by Trump Hotels, but it “never has operated or made use of” the domain in question: mail1.trump-email.com.

    Upon hearing that Cendyn gave up control of the Trump email domain, Camp, said: “That does not make any sense to me at all. The more confusing this is, the more I think we need an investigation.”

    “On Wednesday, Cendyn provided another explanation to CNN. Cendyn claims the Trump Hotel Collection ditched Cendyn and went with another email marketing company, the German firm Serenata, in March 2016. Cendyn said it “transferred back to” Trump’s company the mail1.trump-email.com domain.”

    So after all the prior explanations failed to pan out, Cendyn suddenly seems to recall that it it was no longer the company Trump contracted to send its spam emails during the period in question because Trump Hotels hired a German firm to do that work instead. And yet the company that Cendyn suddenly remembers transferring the mail1.trump-email.com domain to, Serenata, claims it “never has operated or made use of” that domain. Yeah, that’s interesting.

    And note this fun fact:


    As noted, Alfa Bank alone represents 80% of the lookups, according to these leaked internet records.

    Far back in second place, with 714 such lookups, was a company called Spectrum Health.

    Spectrum is a medical facility chain led by Dick DeVos, the husband of Betsy DeVos, who was appointed by Trump as U.S. education secretary.

    Together, Alfa and Spectrum accounted for 99% of the lookups.

    “Spectrum is a medical facility chain led by Dick DeVos, the husband of Betsy DeVos, who was appointed by Trump as U.S. education secretary.”

    Spectrum Health is owned by *drumroll* the DeVos clan! Yowza.

    And don’t forget, the FBI’s investigation into this whole thing remains open:


    Questions about the possible connection were widely dismissed four months ago. But the FBI’s investigation remains open, the sources said, and is in the hands of the FBI’s counterintelligence team — the same one looking into Russia’s suspected interference in the 2016 election.

    One U.S. official said investigators find the server relationship “odd” and are not ignoring it. But the official said there is still more work for the FBI to do. Investigators have not yet determined whether a connection would be significant.

    Also recall that it was the investigation of that Trump-contracted server that Trump based his entire “the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower! This is worse than Watergate!” hysterics. .

    So while it’s possible Trump’s public threat against James Comey was primarily due to anxiety over the recent reports about a FISA warrant being issued against Carter Page (reports which suggest that there was strong evidence Page might be working for a foreign power), let’s keep in mind that when it comes to conspicuous behavior it’s hard to get more conspicuous than Trump has been acting around that Alfa server story. And it’s still an open FBI investigation.

    Hopefully it gets some extra FBI investigating now that Trump publicly threatened Comey’s job.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 12, 2017, 3:09 pm
  7. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4432052/3-killed-shooting-Russian-intelligence-agencys-office.html#ixzz4ewSqEGmY

    Teenage Neo-Nazi gunman storms Russian intelligence agency killing two people before being shot dead

    By Darren Boyle for MailOnline
    PUBLISHED: 06:14 EDT, 21 April 2017 | UPDATED: 12:23 EDT, 21 April 2017

    – One FSB agent and a civilian were killed in the shooting in Khabarovsk, Russia
    – Police believe a teenage neo-Nazi was responsible for today’s fatal attack 
    – One person was wounded and the gunman was also shot dead during the attack
    – The man opened fire at officials as he approached a metal detector  

    Russia’s FSB intelligence agency says three people were killed – including the attacker – and one wounded in an armed attack at its office in the Far East.

    The FSB, the main successor to the KGB, said in a statement on Friday that an unidentified man passed by metal detectors, entered the reception area of the FSB’s office in Khabarovsk and opened fire at the people who were there. 

    One FSB officer and one visitor were killed on spot and one was wounded. Security shot dead the attacker.

    An attacker opened fire at the FSB’s headquarters building in Khabarovsk, eastern Russia.  

    The FSB would not immediately release any details about the shooter.

    Social media users posted pictures of police cordons around the FSB building in Khabarovsk with special forces standing by.

    According to the Tass news agency: ‘At 17:02 local time (06:02 GMT), an unidentified man entered the FSB receiving office and opened fire before crossing the control zone.’ 

    One FSB officer and a civilian were killed, while another visitor suffered gunshot wounds.

    The gunman, who has been identified as A.V. Konev, is believed to be 18. 

    A spokesman said: ‘Some information points to his being a member of a neo-Nazi group.’ 

    Deadly attacks on Russian law enforcement officials are rare outside the country’s volatile North Caucasus region.

    The country has seen significant support for far-right groups that have sparked brutal confrontations with immigrants from the former Soviet region.

    Despite stoking nationalist sentiment since the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the authorities under President Vladimir Putin have also cracked down on neo-Nazi extremists.

    The country has been on heightened alert since an alleged suicide bomb attack on the metro in the second city of Saint Petersburg on April 3 left 15 people dead.

    Posted by A. Webster | April 21, 2017, 7:04 pm

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