Updates from the Russian Front

I’m working on a post on the fight over Congressional investigations into the Russian hack, but for the moment I wanted to point to two other pieces of news.

Buzzfeed gets sued

First, BuzzFeed is getting sued.

One of the people named in the partial Trump dossier published by BuzzFeed last month, Aleksej Gubarev, has sued for defamation to himself and his companies, which include the hosting company Webzilla. Gubarev also sued Christopher Steele in the UK. In an interview with CNN, Gubarev described the injury suffered as a result of the publication of the unredacted dossier.

The lawsuit criticizes BuzzFeed for publishing the memos, alleging that “BuzzFeed itself admitted it had no idea what — if anything — in the dossier was truthful.”

Indeed, when the news website published the memos on January 10, it justified “publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”

The lawsuit notes that the BuzzFeed story has been viewed almost six million times, and the news site has written eight follow-up articles that all link back to the unsubstantiated dossier.

Before he filed the lawsuit, Gubarev spoke to CNNMoney about the damage he had already experienced from the leaked dossier.

“I’m really damaged by this story. This is why I’m ready to spend money and go to court about this,” he told CNNMoney in mid-January.

“I have a multimillion dollar business. Why do I need these connections with hackers?” he said, speaking by phone from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus where he lives. “It’s absolutely not true, and I can go to the court and say this.”

In his interview with CNNMoney, Gubarev said that three of XBT’s European bank partners froze the company’s $5 million credit line because of reports about the memos. Gubarev declined to provide CNNMoney proof of those frozen credit lines.

After the suit got filed, Buzzfeed redacted Gubaev’s names from the still-published dossier and apologized.

I’m interested in this development for several reasons. First, Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that he might have sued Steele had the former British spy not gone into hiding. Furthermore, this feels a bit like Peter Thiel. So I wonder whether Gubarev has been advanced as a proxy to go after Buzzfeed.

Also, as noted, the (now-redacted) reference to Gubarev appears in the last entry of the partial dossier Buzzfeed published. As I explained, that last entry is significant because it post-dates any known sharing of the dossier on the part of Steele. That, plus some other aspects of the dossier as released, might have raised more caution in Buzzfeed about provenance before publication. If this suit goes forward, Gubarev would have an opportunity to probe these areas.

Wikileaks didn’t release all DNC emails

Then there’s this story, that reveals numerous DNC staffers and reporters have identified emails of theirs that didn’t get released by WikiLeaks. While multiple people quoted in the story suggest the emails may have been curated to take out worthwhile context, they also admit that there was nothing “explosive” that was excluded.

The question of whether the emails were curated in some way, to appear as damaging as possible to the Democratic Party, has long been whispered about among campaign staffers.

“There was the fact that they were released in drips and drabs, and then, the fact that entire parts of an email chain were missing, which would have given a bit of context to the discussion, but a lot of us weren’t about to say, ‘Hey, you missed some emails!’” said one Democratic Party campaign staffer, who, like others, asked for anonymity to discuss the data breach while investigations continue.

“I think it is unknown that these emails were not just dumped, there was curation happening here,” said another campaign staffer, who also requested anonymity in exchange for discussing the emails. “I would find part of an email chain, but not other parts. At times, the parts missing were the parts that would have given context to the whole discussion.”

Still, he said, among the missing emails was nothing “explosive, or holy shit… a lot of it was mundane stuff or stuff that flushed out and gave context.”

The implication in the story is that WikiLeaks curated the emails (and Assange did not answer Buzzfeed’s query about the missing files).

“The idea that Wikileaks and Julian Assange is about some kind of high minded transparency is totally completely full of shit,” said one former Democratic campaign staffer. “What they wanted was to create the maximum amount of political pain.”

There is precedent for a time when Wikileaks did not publish the entire set of a known dataset — in 2012, when Wikileaks’ version of the Syria files did not include a letter from a Syrian bank to a Russian one reflecting 2 billion Euro in deposits.

[T]he Syria Files should still contain the central bank’s emails from Oct. 26, 2011, concerning its €2 billion and bank account in Moscow: For one, WikiLeaks has published several emails received by the same account ([email protected]) from that day. Secondly, the court records leaked to the Daily Dot reveal the Moscow bank’s emails were, in fact, part of the larger backup file containing numerous emails currently found on the WikiLeaks site. One such email, discussed in depth by RevoluSec members more than nine months before the WikiLeaks release, details the transfer of €5 million from a bank in Frankfurt, Germany, to a European central bank in Austria, the recipient of the email being Central Bank of Syria.

When asked about the missing file, a WikiLeaks spox responded aggressively.

In response to a request for comment, WikiLeaks said the preceding account “is speculation and it is false.” The spokesperson continued: “The release includes many emails referencing Syrian-Russian relations. As a matter of long standing policy we do not comment on claimed sources. It is disappointing to see Daily Dot pushing the Hillary Clinton campaign’s neo-McCarthyist conspiracy theories about critical media.” (WikiLeaks threatened to retaliate against the reporters if they pursued the story: “Go right ahead,” they said, “but you can be sure we will return the favour one day.”)

[snip]

Asked about the possibility it could be duped, WikiLeaks responded flatly: “All Syria files obtained by WikiLeaks have been published and are authentic.”

In both cases, of course, it is possible that WikiLeaks didn’t get all of the documents.

Indeed, perhaps the most interesting detail in this new report — one noted without considering the implications of it — is that at least some staffers at DNC had emails set to delete after 30 days.

Many of the Democratic Party campaign staffers who spoke to BuzzFeed News said it was hard to tell exactly how many messages were missing, since their emails were set to automatically delete every 30 days.

The emails go back to early 2015. Yet GRU — the Russian intelligence service attributed with stealing these emails — didn’t break in until March 2016. The emails would have been backed up (or perhaps not all staffers did have their emails set to delate). But the detail may suggest other things about how the emails obtained by Wikileaks were stolen.

Remember: when the emails were first released, FBI was unsure whether the emails hacked by GRU were the same ones released by Wikileaks.

Trump eyes Poland

Finally, to the actual Russian front. According to this review of Trump’s foreign policy so far, his aides have been seeking information on an alleged incursion by Poland into Belarus, a close Russian ally.

According to one U.S. official, national security aides have sought information about Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request because little evidence of such activities appears to exist. Poland is among the Eastern European nations worried about Trump’s friendlier tone on Russia.

That suggests the aides in question are getting some wacky ideas from … somewhere.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

30 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    I’m interested in this development for several reasons. First, Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that he might have sued Steele had the former British spy not gone into hiding. Furthermore, this feels a bit like Peter Thiel. So I wonder whether Gubarev has been advanced as a proxy to go after Buzzfeed.

    This.

    Peter Thiel’s name went through my head the moment I first heard about this suit.

    Reading your whole post made me think of the message from Reuters’ Editor-in-Chief Steve Adler to his reporters about how to approach covering the Trump administration. He opens with this:

    The first 12 days of the Trump presidency (yes, that’s all it’s been!) have been memorable for all – and especially challenging for us in the news business. It’s not every day that a U.S. president calls journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” or that his chief strategist dubs the media “the opposition party.” It’s hardly surprising that the air is thick with questions and theories about how to cover the new Administration.

    So what is the Reuters answer? To oppose the administration? To appease it? To boycott its briefings? To use our platform to rally support for the media? All these ideas are out there, and they may be right for some news operations, but they don’t make sense for Reuters. We already know what to do because we do it every day, and we do it all over the world.

    To state the obvious, Reuters is a global news organization that reports independently and fairly in more than 100 countries, including many in which the media is unwelcome and frequently under attack. I am perpetually proud of our work in places such as Turkey, the Philippines, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Thailand, China, Zimbabwe, and Russia, nations in which we sometimes encounter some combination of censorship, legal prosecution, visa denials, and even physical threats to our journalists. We respond to all of these by doing our best to protect our journalists, by recommitting ourselves to reporting fairly and honestly, by doggedly gathering hard-to-get information – and by remaining impartial. We write very rarely about ourselves and our troubles and very often about the issues that will make a difference in the businesses and lives of our readers and viewers.

    The whole piece is worth reading, but his opening observation about the attitude of Trump, Bannon, & Co. toward the media fits with the Buzzfeed story and this lawsuit as well. Other administrations might view the press as a necessary evil — part of what goes along with being president in a country with the First Amendment — but Trump et al. appear to see the press as simply evil and are taking as many steps as they can to make it unnecessary.

    I suspect the Buzzfeed lawsuit is one of those steps. Thiel showed how it’s done with his Gawker suit, and whether directly or indirectly (“who will rid me of this meddlesome media outlet?”), I think Trump is going after Buzzfeed the same way.

    Adler’s letter came out before the suit, but I can’t help but note the second of the four examples of tools used by oppressive regimes against Reuters and other journalists that Adler cites in his letter: legal prosecution.

    • Dan says:

      After reading the story, I get the impression the release was meant to “Dan Rather” Buzzfeed.  As with Rather, release a mostly truthful document, but include one small, obvious, demonstrable falsehood and the whole doc, reporter and news org are discredited.

      Evil bastards!

      • emptywheel says:

        I think it may well be disinformation — a limited hangout — but not necessarily targeted at BuzzFeed.

  2. seedeevee says:

    “So I wonder whether Gubarev has been advanced as a proxy to go after Buzzfeed.”

    ” . . . Gubarev said that three of XBT’s European bank partners froze the company’s $5 million credit line because of reports about the memos. ”

    That was easy enough.

  3. Don Bacon says:

    re: “Russian hack

    I must have missed something. Is there some evidence that it was  Russian hack and not a leak?

  4. Don Bacon says:

    1. The FBI-DHS report had this disclaimer: This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.

    2. The lengthy Trump dossier published by Buzzfeed was reportedly created by a single British intelligence source as oppo-research for Trump’s establishment enemies. “The smears boil down to the seemingly ludicrous claim that, going back five years, the Russians have been working a Machiavellian plot to make Trump their puppet president,” explains the Daily Wire’s John Nolte. “Along the way, in order to control him, the Russians have gathered embarrassing information about the President-elect. Moreover, throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump operatives are said to have met secretly with the Russians to plot, scheme, and twist mustaches.”

    3. The CIA report contains three “key judgments”:
    — “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election”;
    — “Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls’”;
    — “We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.”

    Judgments and assessments from proven liar Brennan are worth nothing.

    • emptywheel says:

      I don’t take the dossier to be confirmed, so let’s set that aside.

      I also think the Joint Analysis Report is designed to produce false positives. Whether there’s a reasonable explanation for that or not, I’m agnostic.

      There’s the ODNI/DHS report dated October 7. That asserted Russia had hacked entities (though not necessarily the state election sites), though based the claim that Russia had leaked emails to WL on past practice.

      And then there was the IC report from January. That was stronger.

      All that said, that isn’t the strongest evidence that Russia hacked the DNC. That evidence comes in the form of phishes sent to people, including Podesta, at precisely the time the leaked evidence derived from.

      I’ve also had extensive conversations with someone very close to the hack who described how the two different entities worked, in particular, how the later hackers moved within the DNC, and how the two entities interacted while in the DNC, with a great deal of details about the aftermath. Much of this I can’t go public with yet, but I hope to eventually.

      All that said, that there was a demonstrable hack by entities associated with the Russians (and I agree that someone could have stolen the GRU tools and used them — I even think it possible someone deployed GRU tools and then hacked the DNC using stolen passwords), does not mean there was not also a hack from someone else, either piggybacking on the Russian hack or (as I said) using stolen passwords to steal the emails directly. Which is why some of the oddities of the US response are so interesting.

      As for Assange/Murray claims that they got the emails from a human being, an American, that’s consistent with what the hack reports actually say (which make it clear the files were not passed electronically). But that in no way talks about how that person got the emails.

      The interesting thing about this story is all sides are lying, probably for different reasons. That doesn’t mean the Russians didn’t hack the DNC–there’s actually a good deal of evidence they did or someone made it look like they did (or the FSB hacked the DNC and then someone looking like the GRU did). It does mean that there’s a lot of lying on all sides.

  5. John Casper says:

    Don,

    I’m agnostic about whether the Russians are behind it, but you dismissed, “Along the way, in order to control him, the Russians have gathered embarrassing information about the President-elect.”

    If the shower video doesn’t exist, why isn’t Trump–funded by Peter Thiel–suing all the outlets who have published about it?

    Are Brennan’s credibility issues all you’ve got?

  6. bevin says:

    Sooner rather than later this entire story is going to explode like the hot air balloon that it is.

    To argue that the “Russian hack” story is credible because Trump hasn’t sued is very weak.

    The underlying reality is that, as Marcy’s post above makes clear, there is no evidence before the public that the Russian government was involved in publishing the DNC or Podesta emails.

    At most there are suspicions, most of which appear to emanate from the DNC, and all of which are very likely connected with the close relations between Clinton and the Ukrainian (I hate to stress it but it is significant) neo-nazi regime.

    My guess is that the interests of the fascists in Kiev and those of the Clinton campaigners coincided in this matter and this dangerous and intellectually poisonous campaign blaming Russia and Putin is the result.

    I find it surprising, as a foreigner, that Americans are not more wary about taking another trek down the McCarthyism UnAmerican Activities road, it distorted and debased so much in your country, and led to so many vile crimes, not to mention personal tragedies, that I had thought that there would be great wariness before setting off in that direction again. Instead it looks as if the paranoid style is in rude health.

    Did anyone notice that Shirley Jackson’s centenary was just before Christmas?

     

      • Don Bacon says:

        Clinton as SecState engineered the (anti-Russia) Kiev coup of a democratic government through her neocon agent Victoria Nuland.

      • bmaz says:

        “Tom”, “Rational”, “Hi” or whatever other asshole sock puppet handle you will try next:

        I have warned you before about your rolling sock puppetry. STOP or you will no longer be allowed to post. Those have always been the rules here, and they apply to you too.

        A pseudonym is fine, but our readers deserve to know the voice they are talking to consistently. You are a serial violator. STOP or be gone. What makes you afraid to talk with a single voice??

        • Tom says:

          @bmaz there is no reason. I just felt like using a different name. Didnt think it mattered all that much. I will use “Tom” from now on. I will admit tho i did it a couple times to troll but it was only to troll hillary fans, not the actual site itself.

      • Bob In Portland says:

        When the DNC announced it thought it had been hacked in the summer of 2016 they refused to have the FBI investigate. Instead they brought in CrowdStrike, aka, Dmitri Alperovitch, aka, The Atlantic Council. Alexandra Chalupa. PropOrNot. “Glory to the heroes.”

        I’m with Bevan here. We may not know all the links, criminals can be troublesome that way, but we know the cast of characters and we know their motivations.

        One link we don’t have is any absolute proof that Russia had anything to do with any DNC hacking.

        I sometimes wonder if the kerfluffle over the DNC and the Sanders campaign in the fall of 2015 was the beginning of a sting. And if Russia did not bite, perhaps the Ukrainians stood in to provide some false positives.

        As the fascist government in Ukraine slows to a crawl and falls apart the only thing that they have to rally the citizenry is a Russian invasion, and even that only extends to the Banderites. Ukraine and Poroshenko has nowhere else to go except to war. Meanwhile, the string-pullers in the US are ready to bring in someone else to run the shit show. Heck, if there’s a war in Ukraine and those natural gas lines are attacked, I guess the US would have to provide its fracking natural gas LNG style. Big money there too.

  7. Don Bacon says:

    EW: “All that said, that isn’t the strongest evidence that Russia hacked the DNC. That evidence comes in the form of phishes sent to people, including Podesta, at precisely the time the leaked evidence derived from.”

    Sentence construction aside:  So the phishes caused Podesta to send his revealing emails? Really??

    • emptywheel says:

      No. Nor did I allege that. Podesta was phished on the date that the emails released to WikiLeaks ended. So while (as I said) I think it possible there were multiple people pawning the DNC, the Podesta document set released to Wikileaks is utterly consistent with the known phish being how the people took over his account. And, again, I’ve got corroborating information from someone who has first hand knowledge (more knowledge than, you rightly point out, the FBI).

  8. SpaceLifeForm says:

    From the Department of Redundancy Department:

    Any ‘evidence’ that contains ip addresses is not evidence. The ip addresses are easily forged. Especially if you have hacked upstream routers and have poisoned BGP.

    And we know that has happened.

  9. martin says:

    Don Bacon said

    I must have missed something. Is there some evidence that it was  Russian hack and not a leak?

     

    Bevin says

    No

    but…but…
    Emptywheel says

    Yes

    I’m still missing something.  Please point me to the part that is the evidence. That could be admitted in a court of law.  Not trolling. Seriously. Perhaps I’m blind.

Comments are closed.