10 Years of emptywheel: Key Non-Surveillance Posts 2011-2012

Happy Birthday to me! To us! To the emptywheel community!

On December 3, 2007, emptywheel first posted as a distinct website. That makes us, me, we, ten today.

To celebrate, over the next few days, the emptywheel team will be sharing some of our favorite work from the last decade. I’ll be doing probably 3 posts featuring some of my most important or — in my opinion — resilient non-surveillance posts, plus a separate post bringing together some of my most important surveillance work. I think everyone else is teeing up their favorites, too.

Putting together these posts has been a remarkable experience to see where we’ve been and the breadth of what we’ve covered, on top of mainstays like surveillance. I’m really proud of the work I’ve done, and proud of the community we’ve maintained over the years.

For years, we’ve done this content ad free, relying on donations and me doing freelance work for others to fund the stuff you read here. I would make far more if I worked for some free-standing outlet, but I wouldn’t be able to do the weedy, iterative work that I do here, which would amount to not being able to do my best work.

If you’ve found this work valuable — if you’d like to ensure it remains available for the next ten years — please consider supporting the site.

 

2011

DOJ Points to David Passaro’s Trial as Proof We Investigate Torture, But It Actually Proves John Yoo Should Be Tried

I’v written a lot about the David Passaro case — the only one associated with the CIA (he was a contractor training Afghans) to be prosecuted for abuse. This post summarizes a lot of the problems with his case and its use to claim that the US ever held itself responsible for torture.

One Year After Collateral Murder Release, DOD’s Networks Are Still Glaring Security Problem

I’ve done a ton of posts on how the government complains about leaks even while it fails to close gaping security holes in its networks. This was one of the first. A day later I noted that DOD wasn’t aspiring to fix these problems until 2013; as it would turn out, Edward Snowden managed to download NSA’s crown jewels before they would fix them.

The Drone War on Westphalia

For Independence Day in 2011, I wrote a post arguing that the damage the use of drones will do to sovereignty will pose a real problem, particularly with regard to the consent of the governed. In a follow-up I argued against invoking “national security” to defend policies that weaken the nation.

Pakistani Bounty Claims: Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif and TD-314/00684-02

In the first of a bunch of posts on Adnan Farhan abd al Latif, I showed that the intelligence report on which his detention relied — which Judge Henry Kennedy had originally deemed unreliable — probably was used to detain a bunch of people turned over with bounties.

49% of Michigan’s African Americans to Lose Their Right to Self-Governance

As the country started focusing on MI’s disastrous policy of  emergency managers, I was the first to note the moment when half of Michigan’s African Americans lost their right to local self-governance.

2012

Why Has the Government Story about Who Ordered the UndieBomber to Attack the US Changed?

As part of an effort to justify drone-killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the government publicly blamed him for all of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attack on the US, blame which should have been shared with others in AQAP. This was the first post where I made that clear.

“The Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification

I discovered that language the government was trying to keep classified in the ACLU torture FOIA was not (as ACLU mistakenly believed) a description about waterboarding, but instead an admission that torture was authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification that authorized a bunch of other programs. This was a key post in a series of posts on the MON.

US Climate Inaction: Blame Dick Cheney

I believe the US invaded Iraq as part of a Cheney-backed decision to double down on our petroleum-based hegemonic position in the world, in the apparent belief that we can clean up the damage from climate change at some later time. Even our shift to fracking is more about power than the environment. Given how catastrophic the Iraq war was, and given everything that has occurred since — not least our singular abstention from the Paris Accord — I think it a particularly ironic choice.

Lanny Breuer Covers Up Material Support for Terrorism

I wrote a ton about Obama’s failure to prosecute the banks that blew up the world’s economy. One of the most important ones was the post where I laid out Lanny Breuer’s efforts to hide the fact that HSBC had materially supported al Qaeda. Of course, it got no more than a hand slap even as Pete Seda was in prison for closely related actions (Seda’s case ultimately blew up).

Other Key Post Threads

10 Years of emptywheel: Key Non-Surveillance Posts 2008-2010

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.

The Bail Fight that Manafort and Gates Can’t Win

Three weeks after their indictment, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are still fighting over their bail conditions.

That was most recently demonstrated by the government’s response to Gates’ request for permission to (basically) serve as house husband, with leave to spend over two hours every day to ferrying his kids to school while purportedly under house arrest, a motion the court denied. The government objected to the request because “To date, only the defendant’s signature secures his bond (together with his house arrest),” though the problem might be more accurately described as Gates fucking around with bail negotiations, probably because he can’t substantiate his assets in such a way that they can be posted for bail.

In a telephone call late on the afternoon of November 15, 2017, defense counsel informed the government that they intended to make a bail modification motion and sought the government’s position. The government responded that it was not able to take a position until it had the opportunity to review the defendant’s motion.

[snip]

Although more than two weeks have passed since the defendant’s arrest, he has not completed any paperwork to post his house, or any other property, and has failed to answer a series of questions about his assets.

[snip]

Only yesterday did the defendant offer to arrange interviews of his two proposed non-family-member sureties, both of whom apparently live outside the Washington, D.C. area.3 Finally, the government continues to have concerns about the accuracy of the defendant’s account of his net assets, which has evolved from the representation that he had “limited assets that include only a single home,” ECF#21 at 5; to his most recent Personal Financial Statement, which included a securities/brokerage account valued at more than $1.3 million and a total net worth of more than $3.4 million.

3 Those interviews are now scheduled for Thursday, November 16, 2017. Counsel has noted that one proposed surety already serves as a surety for a relative who is currently charged in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, a circumstance that, at least at first blush, raises certain concerns.

Though it was even more clearly laid out in the government’s November 5 opposition to Manafort’s request to change his bail conditions, in which the government laid out the difficulties of finding $10 million that Manafort can post for bail. In that they laid out three different line items in Manafort’s assets, two of which he wants to post for bail, that the government believes are inflated.

A. 5th Avenue, New York, NY (claimed net asset value $3 million):

The government does not presently have sufficient information to assess the claimed net asset value of this property, or even to be confident that the property has equity in it at all. Based on communications with Manafort’s counsel, the government understands that the $3 million net asset value is based on a fair market value of $6 million, reduced by a $3 million mortgage on the property obtained from UBS. This fair market value is not, however, backed by an appraisal or even any open source estimates (which in many cases may not be particularly accurate). Rather, Manafort provided the government with an open source estimate for a different unit in the building, listed as approximately $4.5 million, which Manafort believes is below the fair market value of his own unit, which is on a higher floor. Meanwhile, the government has searched open source real estate value estimators and found one that lists the value of Manafort’s own unit as $2.5 million, and another that lists the value as $2.7 million.

Until an independent appraisal of the property is obtained, the government cannot agree that this property is appropriate as a security.

[snip]

C. St. James Drive, Palm Beach Gardens, FL (claimed net asset value $1.5 million):

Based on the information available to the government, we are comfortable with the use of this property as security, although the open source estimate provided to the government by Manafort shows a fair market value of $1.25 million rather than $1.5 million. As a condition of using this property as security, Manafort and his wife should be required to waive any homestead exemption that may be available under Florida law and to agree not to encumber the property in any way.

[snip]

Although Manafort has provided the government with a spreadsheet listing his total assets at approximately $28 million, the government has yet to substantiate Manafort’s net worth. Indeed, we continue to have questions about that sum. For example, with respect to a property held by Manafort in Brooklyn, he asserted the value at $9 million, when a recent appraisal comes in at substantially lower (in the $5 to $6 million range). The spreadsheet provided by Manafort also lists values of other assets, such as securities, that do not match information available to the government or that cannot be substantiated at this time. Additionally, in prior years, through at least 2014, Manafort reported a $6 million asset in Ukraine on his tax returns; Manafort has claimed that it lost all value. In short, the government seeks to further understand the full extent of Manafort’s wealth.

They’re doing this while appearing quite reasonable (for example, letting Manafort’s wife and daughter serve as sureties, not to mention letting them stay out of jail altogether). It seems increasingly clear why: because the very process of trying to negotiate bail, for both men, is involving a whole lot of disclosure — which presumably replicates documentation the government has collected on its own — of further money laundering. In just those three paragraphs, for example, the government has laid out almost $10 million in money that Manafort has either vanished or lost as his money laundering vehicles lose value.

Meanwhile Bloomberg has a piece — the long overdue counterpart to my (still) favorite piece of Manafort journalism, the Weekly Standard piece showing it is impossible to spend $1 million on antique rugs in Alexandria — that lays out the discrepancies between the amounts the indictment say Manafort spent on his homes in the Hamptons and Florida and what his contractors reported would be spent.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in his indictment, says that a Hamptons firm got $5.4 million in wire transfers from Cyprus over 71 payments. But building permits over the same period examined by Bloomberg show that renovations by Manafort’s Hamptons’ contractor were estimated to cost $1.2 million. That’s less than a quarter of what was ultimately sent—an apparent discrepancy that could draw scrutiny from investigators.

[snip]

Building permits in Southampton estimate that the cost of SP & C’s renovations would come to $687,000. In Brooklyn, the work is estimated to cost $527,900 though it isn’t clear whether SP & C or another contractor completed the project. Either way, the estimates fall more than $4 million short of the amount “Vendor A” was paid.

[snip]

During an inspection in April 2013, the Southampton assessor determined that the replacement cost of the pool house was $132,172, a less than a third of the quoted price. A pergola, estimated to cost $35,000, would cost $16,550 to replace by the assessor.

Lisa Goree, Southampton’s sole assessor, said renovation costs aren’t necessarily reflected in a home’s assessed value. “He could spend $1 million on a statue in front of the house,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to increase the assessment by a million dollars.”

There is also a gap between renovation estimates on Manafort’s Florida 3,300-square-foot house—located in a gated community overlooking a golf course and palm-lined canal—and the amount paid to a “Vendor J, a contractor in Florida,” according to the indictment. He wired $432,487 to the Florida contractor; building permits estimate that renovations on his Palm Beach Gardens house would cost about $140,000.

Incidentally, a friend told me one of her friends has been at the Hamptons property, and was led to believe it was actually owned by Manafort’s nephew.

I feel like Mueller’s prosecutors are playing with these two men as cats play with balls, just patiently batting them around, waiting for the inevitable admission that they can’t make bail because they don’t have assets they can put up because everything they own has been laundered. At which point, after getting the judge rule over and over that they’re flight risks, I suppose the government will move to throw them in the pokey, which will finally get them to consider flipping.

Update: Totally unrelated, but totally related, Global Witness has an investigation of how Trump has partnered with a whole lot of mobsters who use his Panama property as a laundering vehicle.

Update: Here we are Monday and Gates and Manafort still haven’t found anything liquid to put up as bail. Not only that, but in a filing raising a potential conflict with one of Gates’ money laundering expert lawyers, prosecutors reveal Gates is trying to have his partner from a movie-related firm’s brother serve as surety while also doing so for the partner.

Marc Brown, the brother of defendant Steven Brown, was proposed by Gates as a potential surety despite the facts that they seemingly do not have a significant relationship, they have not had regular contact over the past ten years, and Marc Brown currently serves as a surety for his brother Steven in his ongoing criminal prosecution in New York. In an interview with the Special Counsel’s Office on November 16, Marc Brown listed as a reason for seeking to support Gates that they belonged to the same fraternity (although they did not attend the same college) and that, as such, he felt duty bound to help Gates. Of note, Marc Brown’s financial assets were significantly lower, almost by half, than previously represented by Gates.

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.

On the Breadcrumbs Suggesting Feds Flipped Reza Zarrab

In response to last week’s WSJ story on Mike Flynn’s sustained discussions about helping Turkey kidnap Fethullah Gulen, I suggested the far more interesting detail was his involvement in brokering a deal for Reza Zarrab, a Turk accused of laundering gold to benefit Iran. That’s because, in addition to any taint of a quid pro quo, it also implicated Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara.

Mostly, the focus has been on the kidnapping part of the story (perhaps, in part, because Republicans tried to attack James Woolsey for his involvement in it a few weeks back). But, because of the timeline, I think the far more interesting side of it is the inclusion of a deal on the Reza Zarrab prosecution — because that implicates Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara, substantiating a parallel case to his firing of Jim Comey.

[snip]

Here’s what the timeline looks like:

November 30: Trump tells Preet he can stay

Mid-December: Flynn has meeting discussing $15 million payoff for doing Turkey’s bidding

March 7: Flynn submits delated FARA registration ending in November

March 11: Trump fires Preet

Given Sessions’ confusion about whether he was really involved in that decision, I would bet there’s a paper trail showing he provided, as he did for the Comey firing, cover for a decision that had already been made.

Today, the Daily Beast has a piece suggesting (albeit backed by a long series of no comments from lawyers) that the Feds may have flipped Zarrab.

Mueller is reportedly looking at a December meeting blocks from Trump Tower where Michael Flynn—shortly before Trump became president and named him national security adviser—was reportedly offered upward of $15 million if he could help Turkey win the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gülen as well as the release of gold trader Reza Zarrab.

Now it appears Zarrab, whose trial for allegedly cheating U.S. sanctions by facilitating gold-for-gas deals between Turkey and Iran is scheduled to begin in just days, may be working with federal prosecutors.

Last month, lawyers for his co-defendant, bank manager Mehmet Atilla, remarked sardonically in court filings that Zarrab, the man at the root of the charges facing their client, had all but vanished, and it seemed “likely that Mr. Atilla will be the only defendant appearing at trial.”

It’s a reasonable suggestion. And one other bread crumb might support it: the tidbit that Mueller’s team added a prosecutor last week, who remains unnamed.

Mueller’s work isn’t just confined to his team of prosecutors, which special counsel spokesman Peter Carr said grew last week to 17 with the addition of an unnamed lawyer.

Zarrab was removed from BOP custody on Wednesday November 8, so the same week that this unnamed additional prosecutor was added to the team.

Mind you, it’s not clear how much Zarrab — who was in jail for the period of the alleged meetings — would know about Flynn’s involvement in any proposed deals. He would, however, know what his lawyers Rudy 9/11 and Michael Mukasey had claimed about such deals.

Of course, it’s also possible he was flipped on someone else, like other officials in the Turkish government, or that something else explains the move.

That said, the prosecutors from SDNY would surely be quite interested in exacting some kind of price for Preet’s abrupt removal, and Zarrab might provide the way to do that.

Update: There has always been confusion about whether Michael (the former AG) or Marc (his son) was the lawyer who weighed in for Zarrab, which continues (as Jim notes). It was Michael, not Marc. I’ve corrected this post accordingly.

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.

Paul Manafort Indicted for Laundering 50 Times as Much Through Rugs as Through Household Labor

In response to yesterday’s server hiccups and in anticipation that Mueller is nowhere near done, we expanded our server capacity overnight. If you think you’ll rely on emptywheel reporting on the Mueller probe, please consider a donation to support the site

One of the nifty things Robert Mueller did with his indictment of Paul Manafort was to lay out all the extravagances he used to launder his money into the US. The most amazing was his $1M antique rug bill.

Mueller also listed $1.4 million laundered through two different clothing stores.

Compare that with the mere $20,000 Manafort spent on the people who clear his NY property.

Admittedly, Manafort appears to have redone his Hamptons and FL properties routinely to launder more money. But it basically means he shorted his staff while spending big on magic carpets.

Which will make Trump’s efforts to give rich shits like Manafort more tax benefits this week even more difficult.

The money laundering through luxury goods isn’t the key crime in Manafort’s indictment. That has to do with serving as an unregistered foreign agent with regards to work from 2012. Importantly, that means Mueller got to point to Tony Podesta’s corruption prominently as one of these two unnamed firms.

The allegation is that by having one Republican and one Democratic lobbyist firm to do the work of pro-Russian Ukrainians, Manafort hid what was really going on.

Just as interesting, Mueller slapped a false statements charge onto the failure to report being a foreign agent, tied to these claims (they carry onto a second page).

That way, if the idea of actually enforcing foreign registry laws doesn’t fly (which is admittedly a novel idea in DC), they still have some crimes to charge Manafort with.

Hopefully, that false statements charge and the idea of charging for failure to register will send a chill through all of DC’s other corrupt influence peddlers.

Importantly, Mueller called for all these toys and much (but not all) of Manafort’s real estate to be forfeited. Which will make it harder for him to pay his lawyers and harder for him to look like a million dollars as he turns himself in.

The money laundering charges here (though not necessarily the foreign registry ones) can be punted down to NY State if Trump pardons Manafort.

Here’s what this does: it applies some pressure to Manafort (and serves as an object lesson to Mike Flynn, who can be charged tomorrow with the same registry related crimes). But it doesn’t yet get into the heart of the Russian influence crimes, which preserves Manafort’s ability to testify about them (that is, to flip).

It’s unclear whether it will work. My biggest question of the day is who is paying for Manafort’s legal bills and how long they’ll be willing to continue doing so.

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.

The Reason Treasury Has Never Complied with Reagan’s EO: Rampant Privacy Violations

For years, I’ve been noting that the Treasury Department, virtually alone among intelligence agencies, does not have procedures to comply with EO 12333’s restrictions on spying on American citizens. Today, BuzzFeed explains why: Treasury’s foreign intelligence wing, OIA, has been engaging in domestic spying. Effectively, they’ve been piggy-backing on FinCen’s access through the Bank Secrecy Act to get information on Americans.

The story describes two big violations. First, when OIA gets masked reports, they call banks to learn the identities of the Americans masked in the reports.

Some sources have also charged that OIA analysts have, in a further legal breach, been calling up financial institutions to make inquiries about individual bank accounts and transactions involving US citizens. Sources said the banks have complied with the requests because they are under the impression they are giving the information to FinCEN, which they are required to do.

One source recalled an instance from 2016 in which OIA personnel, inserting themselves into a domestic money-laundering case, sought information from a Delaware financial institution. In other cases, according to a second source, FinCEN gave OIA reports with the names of US citizens and companies blacked out. OIA obtained those names by calling the banks, then used those names to search the banking database for more information on those American citizens and firms

OIA has also been permitting other agencies — it names CIA and DIA — to put temporary duty officers to access classified banking networks.

Sources also claimed that OIA has opened a back door to officers from other intelligence agencies throughout the government, including the the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Officials from those agencies have been coming to work at OIA for short periods of time, sometimes for as little as a week, and thereby getting unrestricted access to information on US citizens that they otherwise could not collect without strict oversight.

Dean Boyd has a pretty funny non-denial denial of this charge in the article.

The Defense Intelligence Agency did not respond to a request for comment. CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said, “Suggestions that the Agency may be improperly collecting and retaining US persons data through the mechanisms you described are completely inaccurate.”

I suspect the source of this problem is that Treasury is split into two, with one group doing foreign intelligence and another doing domestic intelligence.

Under a seminal Reagan-era executive order, a line runs through the Treasury Department and all other federal agencies separating law enforcement, which targets domestic crimes, from intelligence agencies, which focus on foreign threats and can surveil US citizens only in limited ways and by following stringent guidelines.

Compare that with FBI, which hasn’t been split in two since the PATRIOT Act, and so can access vast swaths of intelligence on Americans by pretending to be looking at foreigners.  I also suspect the reason this hasn’t been changed at Treasury is because it would piss off the banks, making it clear that the mandated spying assistance under the Bank Secrecy Act implicates their customers too.

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.

Michael Cohen Starts Not Recalling His Negotiations with Dmitry Peskov, “Main Protagonist” of Campaign Versus Hillary

In this post, I suggested the WaPo scoop about Felix Sater discussing a Trump Tower deal was Michael Cohen’s attempt to pre-empt the real story, which would begin to come out after those particular emails got delivered to HPSCI.

Once they got delivered, we learned that Sater connected the Trump Tower plan (if there ever was one) with getting Trump elected.

Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins [sic] private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.

The immediate question at that point should have been why Sater would tie this alleged real estate deal to getting Trump elected, but instead the follow-up reporting has been about the alleged deal.

In response to the first release of that language, Cohen “rebutted” that focus on Sater by denying two things that don’t address what the main focus should be.

Mr. Cohen suggested that Mr. Sater’s comments were puffery. “He has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to “salesmanship,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement. “I ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.”

Sater was just engaged in salesmanship. But for what? A tower or a presidency?

Cohen never went to Russia. But did he make the deal without leaving NYC?

Now, a second story based on the emails actually turned over reveals a far more interesting detail: Cohen may not have gone to Russia, but he did reach out to Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov, you may recall, was (per the Steele dossier) the “main protagonist” of the kompromat campaign against Hillary, which initially reportedly — but perhaps not credibly — started as sharing old dirt on Hillary with Trump’s campaign, but by the end, consisted of deciding to leak the second batch of emails.

Russians do have further ‘kompromat’ on CLINTON (e-mails) and considering disseminating it after Duma (legislative elections) in late September. Presidential spokesman PESKOV continues to lead on this.

For his part, Cohen played the key role in brokering relations between Russia and the Trump team after Paul Manafort stepped down during the summer.

Speaking separately to the same compatriot in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider with direct access to the leadership confirmed that a key role in the secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin was being played by the Republican candidates personal lawyer Michael COHEN

So any ongoing discussions between Cohen and Peskov would go to the heart of any coordination between Trump and Russia.

Which is why it is so interesting that Cohen has started to not recall whether there were ongoing conversations after that January email (note, NYT’s Haberman says Cohen sent this to the mail press email for Peskov, not a private one).

“Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower – Moscow project in Moscow City,” Cohen wrote Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email. “Without getting into lengthy specifics. the communication between our two sides has stalled.”

“As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon,” Cohen wrote.

[snip]

In the statement, obtained by the Washington Post, Cohen said Sater suggested the outreach because a massive Trump development in Moscow would require Russian government approval. He said he did not recall receiving a response from Peskov and the project was abandoned two weeks later. [my emphasis]

I wonder if Cohen can recall any more recent conversations with Peskov, such as in advance of the time, in February of this year, when he and Sater delivered a Ukrainian peace plan to Mike Flynn in the days before Trump’s National Security Advisor was forced to quit?

Ah well. I’m sure a good lawyer like Cohen simply forgot these details, rather than giving the classic DC not recall answer that will provide him with another opportunity to tell a cover story the next time inconvenient emails get found.

Update: The WSJ gets into the act, with this report on how Cohen, when asked why he didn’t tell Trump he was going to call Putin’s top advisor for favors while Trump was running for President, did not respond.

In 2015, Mr. Cohen said, he informed the then-candidate that he was working on a licensing deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. He subsequently asked for and received Mr. Trump’s signature on a nonbinding letter of intent for the project in October 2015. And in January 2016, he said, he informed the then-candidate that he had killed the proposal. Mr. Cohen said each conversation was brief.

Mr. Cohen’s communication with the president about the Moscow project may come under scrutiny because of a January 2016 email Mr. Cohen sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top press official to ask for “assistance” in arranging the deal. Mr. Cohen said he didn’t inform Mr. Trump that he had sent the email to the press official, Dmitry Peskov. He didn’t respond when asked why he hadn’t done so.

So Cohen would have you believe he informed Trump at each stage of this process — except the one where he solicited help from a top official from a hostile nation-state.

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.

On the Manafort Raid

This morning, the WaPo reported that Paul Manafort’s Alexandria home was searched in a pre-dawn raid on July 26.

There are several notable details about WaPo’s report.

First, as Julian Sanchez notes, it makes no mention of the fact that to get a search warrant, you have to convince a judge you’ll find evidence of a crime.

Note, too, that WaPo talked to someone who has seen the warrant, which is almost certainly otherwise still sealed.

The search warrant was wide-ranging and FBI agents working with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III departed the home with various records.

[snip]

The search warrant indicates investigators may have argued to a federal judge they had reason to believe Manafort could not be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena.

Having neglected to mention the probable cause bit and reviewed the warrant, WaPo goes to some lengths to suggest the seized documents are ones Manafort would have gladly given over had Robert Mueller’s inquiry just asked nicely.

The raid came as Manafort has been voluntarily producing documents to congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

[snip]

The documents included materials Manafort had already provided to Congress, said people familiar with the search.

“If the FBI wanted the documents, they could just ask [Manafort] and he would have turned them over,” said one adviser close to the White House.

And it specifically points to documents pertaining to the June 9, 2016 meeting that Manafort and everyone else failed to disclose in timely fashion.

Manafort has provided documents to both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate and House intelligence committees. The documents are said to include notes Manafort took while attending a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016.

So the seized documents include documents Manafort turned over willingly, which in turn includes details on that June 9 meeting. But that doesn’t mean (contrary to some shitty derivative reporting on this) that the set of documents seized matches the set of documents provided to Congress. It may also include other things.

Manafort’s attorney is not the source for the story, but Manafort’s allies may be.

Josh Stueve, spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment, as did Reginald Brown, an attorney for Manafort.

[snip]

Manafort’s allies fear that Mueller hopes to build a case against Manafort unrelated to the 2016 campaign, in hopes that the former campaign operative would provide information against others in Trump’s inner circle in exchange for lessening his own legal exposure.

Now consider a detail included in the NYT version of this story but not (as far as I’ve seen) in any of the other coverage: the documents seized include tax documents and foreign banking records.

Investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, recently searched a home of President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for tax documents and foreign banking records, according to a person briefed on the matter.

These are money laundering documents, not campaign documents.

The NYT, curiously, doesn’t report where the raid was, which suggests it was not just a response to WaPo’s reporting, which clearly identified the raid as taking place in Alexandria.

Remember: when high powered people are being investigated, the safest way they can communicate to each other is via leaks to the press. Moreover, such leaks can help spin the story away from one area (perhaps, here, away from the financial documents) and towards another (that June 9 meeting about which Manafort spoke with Congress). Given the Manafort allies’ spin that Mueller may be investigating stuff unrelated to the election campaign, it suggests this may be as much about money laundering (which FBI has been investigating for over a year) that all involved worry will be used to flip Manafort to testify about Trump.

Update: One other interesting question about this story is why it is coming out now. Why did it take two weeks for this story to come out?

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.

The Suspected Assasination of Gareth Williams and Shadow Brokers’ Focus on SWIFT

If you haven’t seen it, BuzzFeed has been doing a superb series on the UK deaths that US spooks included in a secret report on suspected Russian assassinations. Yesterday they published the story I knew had to be coming, confirming that GCHQ spy Gareth Williams is among those deaths suspected to be Russian assassinations.

Police declared the death of Gareth Williams “probably an accident” – but British intelligence agencies have been secretly communicating with their American counterparts about suspicions that the spy was executed by Russian assassins, four US intelligence officials told BuzzFeed News.

An ongoing BuzzFeed News investigation has revealed that British and American spy agencies have intelligence connecting a string of suspected assassinations in the UK to Russian state agents or organised criminals – who sometimes cooperate. One high-ranking US intelligence source said: “The Kremlin has aggressively stepped up its efforts to eliminate and silence its enemies abroad over the past couple of years – particularly in Britain.” A second serving official said the circumstances of Williams’ death and 13 others “suggest Russian involvement” and demand “more investigation from the UK”. In all 14 cases, police ruled out foul play while intelligence agencies secretly compiled information connecting the deaths to Russia.

Williams, a 31-year-old codebreaker for Britain’s Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), had been assigned to MI6, and in the months before his death, sources said, he was working with the US National Security Agency. Two senior British police sources with direct knowledge of the case said some of his work was focused on Russia – and one confirmed reports that he had been helping the NSA trace international money-laundering routes that are used by organised crime groups including Moscow-based mafia cells.

While the report revisits and expands on all the suspicious details of Williams death and the thwarted British investigation into it, that spooks suspected it had ties to Russian mobsters is not new (though that theory does solidly explain why Williams would be among those targeted in this apparent assassination wave). The Daily Mail reported that theory back in 2011.

At the time, I noted that Williams’ impact on the Russian mob was described as a knock-on effect of a generally improved ability to track money laundering, something I tied closely to NSA’s ability to track SWIFT messaging.

[M]oney laundering is money laundering. Terrorists do it. Organized crime does it. Spy services do it. Corporations do it (often legally). And banksters do it, among others.

And there doesn’t appear to be anything about this description to suggest the Russian mafia would be specifically targeted by the technology. Indeed, the description of their exposure as a “knock-on effect” suggests everything would be targeted (which sort of makes sense; you can’t track money laundering unless you track the “legitimate” part of finance that makes it clean).

Which is why I find this latest narrative–with its complete lack of attention on the technology, instead focusing exclusively on the Russian mob–so interesting. Because finding a way to track money laundering, of any sort, would just be a new way to do what US intelligence has already been doing with SWIFT.

The following year, I noted that Gauss, a variant of StuxNet, sounded like the kind of money laundering tracking that might piss off the Russian mob.

That feels so long ago now: before the time we learned, in 2013, that the NSA was double-dipping at SWIFT, accessing SWIFT data directly at targeted customers in addition to its legal access via Europol, and before the time in April when Shadow Brokers not only dumped details of how the NSA hacked SWIFT but also (particularly ominously given the reminder of Williams’ death) doxed the NSA hackers who had carried that out.

Remember: Shadow Brokers has promised more details on “compromised network data from more SWIFT providers and Central banks” as part of its monthly tools of the month club.

There’s a lot that’s going on here. But a big part of it appears to be striking at US asymmetric visibility into the world’s financial system (I don’t say transparency because the US is increasingly the haven of last resort).

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.

Lefties Learn to Love Leaks Again

Throughout the presidential campaign, observers have noted with irony that many on the right discovered a new-found love for WikiLeaks. Some of the same people who had earlier decried leaks, even called Chelsea Manning a traitor, were lapping up what Julian Assange was dealing on a daily basis.

There was a similar, though less marked, shift on the left. While many on the left had criticized — or at least cautioned about — WikiLeaks from the start, once Assange started targeting their presidential candidate, such leaks became an unprecedented, unparalleled assault on decency, which no one seemed to say when similar leaks targeted Bashar al-Assad.

Which is why I was so amused by the reception of this story yesterday.

After revealing that Donald Trump’s Secretary of State nominee “was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, leaked documents show” in the first paragraph, the article admits, in the fourth paragraph that,

Though there is nothing untoward about this directorship, it has not been reported before and is likely to raise fresh questions over Tillerson’s relationship with Russia ahead of a potentially stormy confirmation hearing by the US senate foreign relations committee. Exxon said on Sunday that Tillerson was no longer a director after becoming the company’s CEO in 2006.

The people sharing it on Twitter didn’t seem to notice that (nor did the people RTing my ironic tweet about leaks seem to notice). Effectively, the headline “leaks reveal details I have sensationalized” served its purpose, with few people reading far enough to the caveats that admit this is fairly standard international business practice (indeed, it’s how Trump’s businesses work too). This is a more sober assessment of the import of the document detailing Tillerson’s ties with the Exxon subsidiary doing business in Russia.

This Guardian article worked just like all the articles about DNC and Podesta emails worked, even with — especially with — the people decrying the press for the way it irresponsibly sensationalized those leaks.

The response to this Tillerson document is all the more remarkable given the source of this leak. The Guardian reveals it came from an anonymous source for Süddeutsche Zeitung, which in turn shared the document with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The leaked 2001 document comes from the corporate registry in the Bahamas. It was one of 1.3m files given to the Germany newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source.

[snip]

The documents from the Bahamas corporate registry were shared by Süddeutsche Zeitung with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington DC.

That is, this document implicating Vladimir Putin’s buddy Rex Tillerson came via the very same channel that the Panama Papers had, which Putin claimed, back in the time Russia was rifling around the DNC server, was a US intelligence community effort to discredit him and his kleptocratic cronies, largely because that was the initial focus of the US-NGO based consortium that managed the documents adopted, a focus replicated at outlets participating.

See this column for a worthwhile argument that Putin hacked the US as retaliation for the Panama Papers, which makes worthwhile points but would only work chronologically if Putin had advance notice of the Panama Papers (because John Podesta got hacked on March 19, before the first releases from the Panama Papers on April 3).

There really has been a remarkable lack of curiosity about where these files came from. That’s all the more striking in this case, given that the document (barely) implicating Tillerson comes from the Bahamas, where the US at least was collecting every single phone call made.

That’s all the more true given the almost non-existent focus on the Bahamas leaks before — from what I can tell just one story has been done on this stash, though the documents are available in the ICIJ database. Indeed, if the source for the leaks was the same, it would seem to point to an outside hacker rather than an inside leaker. That doesn’t mean the leak was done just to hurt Tillerson. The leak, which became public on September 21, precedes the election of Trump, much less the naming of Tillerson. But it deserves at least some notice.

For what it’s worth, I think it quite possible the US has been involved in such leaks — particularly given how few Americans get named in them. But I don’t think the Panama Papers, which implicated plenty of American friends and even the Saudis, actually did target Putin.

Still, people are going to start believing Putin’s claims that this effort is primarily targeted at him if documents conveniently appear from the leak as if on command.

I am highly interested in who handed off documents allegedly stolen by Russia’s GRU to Wikileaks. But I’m also interested in who the source enabling asymmetric corruption claims, as if on demand, is.

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.

Wednesday: Tick-Tock Stock

In this post: A short film depicts a failed/successful love story found in electronic debris and the tick-tock behind yesterday’s stock market’s scramble.

Short film for this week by Victoria Mapplebeck examines personal technology detritus. Some of us have been through many generations of electronic devices used for communications, in which highly intimate details may be found. In Mapplebeck’s case, a failed love story followed by a lifelong relationship are bounded by text messages. What’s in your digital scrap heap? What would pixels you’ve left behind tell about you? Will you decode them as Mapplebeck has, or will they be decrypted by others in this life or after you’ve left it? Food for thought.

Tick-tock stock
Something doesn’t sit right about the brief tanking of Boeing’s stock yesterday, besides the absurdity of a president-elect rage-tweeting about the company just before the stock market opened. Let’s take a look at how events unfolded.

FRI 02-DEC-2016 12:00-14:00 CST — Aircraft manufacturer Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg gave a keynote speech to Illinois Manufacturers Association’s annual luncheon in Chicago. He advocated the incoming Trump administration to keep and reopen the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) as it has aided U.S. manufacturers like Boeing to do more business overseas when other forms of financing are unavailable.

FRI 02-DEC-2016 17:58 EST — Bloomberg published a report on Muilenburg’s keynote, with an unspecified update at 19:29 EST.

SAT 03-DEC-2016

SUN 04-DEC-2016

MON 05-DEC-2016 15:24 EST — Washington Post reported, As Trump vows to stop flow of jobs overseas, U.S. plans to make fighter jets in India

TUE 06-DEC-2016 6:40 EST — According to a summary, Fox & Friends cited the Washington Post report that Boeing is building F-16 and F-18 jets in India instead of in the U.S.

TUE 06-DEC-2016 8:30 EST — Chicago Tribune published a story on Muilenburg’s remarks on Trump’s trade policies. The piece does not mention Ex-Im Bank or alternate financing to encourage trade but focuses more closely on Trump’s approach to China and free trade agreements.

TUE 06-DEC-2016 8:52 EST — Trump tweeted, “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”, apparently misunderstanding the costs in the contract and the nature of the aircraft specifications, which must include the ability withstand certain military threats, unlike any aircraft Trump has purchased for himself or his businesses.

TUE 06-DEC-2016 — 10 seconds later, the market began to sell off of Boeing stock. (In comparison, average human response time required for braking while driving is +3 seconds)

TUE 06-DEC-2016 9:30 EST — New York Stock Exchange opened and the sell-off continued (Note that 9:30 EST = 14:30 London (LSE) = 15:30 Frankfurt (FWB) = 17:30 Moscow (RTS) and all these markets were also open at the same time.)

TUE 06-DEC-2016 ~15:30 EST — A CNBC report asked if algorithms traded on Trump’s tweet.

TUE 06-DEC-2016 12:50 EST — The Atlantic’s David Frum tweeted, asking if “we are to accept [Trump’s] unverified word that he sold all his stocks in June?” Frum linked to The Hill’s report, Boeing Responds to Trump: Air Force One deal is for $170 Million, not $4 Billon.

TUE 06-DEC-2016 18:45 EST — Senator Ron Wyden replied, “[email protected] @RealDonaldTrump: I look forward to seeing proof of these stock sales as required by law: https://www2.oge.gov/Web/278eGuide.nsf/Content/Chapter~OGE+Form+278e“, referring to U.S. Office of Government Ethics’ OGE Form 278e.

The timeline spawns questions:

What’s in Trump’s current investment portfolio besides real estate? It’s alleged Trump sold his stocks in June this year, but there is no evidence to that effect. (Timing of such sales is also interesting based on the outcome of the Brexit referendum and Trump’s relationship with pro-Brexit Ukip front man Nigel Farage, but that’s another story.) Will Trump comply with U.S. law and inform the government of his investments? Or will he be as opaque and difficult as he has been so far about his tax returns?

Trump has been in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission before, paying $750,000 in fines back in 1988 without admitting “any violation of the law” after he had purchased large quantities of casino company stock in 1986 without proper notice under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. The transactions then had been masked as “put-call option agreements.” Is it possible Trump or someone close to him has done the same with Boeing stock, avoiding high-frequency trading but operating within a tight time frame?

When exactly did Trump hear about Muilenburg’s comments; are we to believe he didn’t see the Bloomberg report and relied on the Chicago tribune piece as some suggest? Or instead was he riled up by Fox & Friends’ second-hand report, or by the original Washington Post article on Monday afternoon? It seems odd that two to three entire days went by after Muilenburg’s keynote without reaction until Tuesday morning.

Was Trump’s real problem with Boeing the creation of jobs in the U.S., continuing the craptastic narrative behind the Carrier Corporation jobs story last week? Was the rage-tweet Tuesday morning about a perceived attack on Trump’s China policy? Or was it really about Trump’s position on Ex-Im Bank, masked by the three-plus day delay in response and two other news pegs (Fox & Friends and Chicago Tribune)?

 If Trump’s real problem with Boeing is Muilenburg’s protective stance on Ex-Im Bank which Trump wants to eliminate, why is Trump so adamant that the U.S. can’t provide alternative financing to encourage purchasing of U.S. goods and services? Why would he refer to Ex-Im Bank as “featherbedding”?

If Trump has a problem with Muilenburg’s position on trade policy, why is Boeing’s former CEO Jim McInerney meeting with Trump during the first week of the administration as part of the “kitchen cabinet”? Especially since McInerney derided Trump’s trade policies earlier this year?

The timing and tone of Trump’s tweet just don’t make sense given the complexity of Boeing’s situation. How are we supposed to believe his rage-tweet was only about the (misunderstood) cost of the next Air Force One aircraft — the guy who’s going to cost us more than a billion dollars during his term for Secret Service at Trump Towers in NYC?

Especially since Boeing is a client renting office space from a Trump building in Turkey.

Especially since Boeing’s contract to build fighter jets in India maintains a relationship with a potential partner against the spread of radical Islamic fundamentalism.

Especially since Boeing’s relationship with Chinese companies aided by Ex-Im Bank financing creates jobs here in the U.S. (though at a possible loss to Russian competitor United Aircraft Corporation).

Longread: Iceland’s Birgitta Jónsdóttir on reforming democracy
This piece was written nearly two years ago by Jónsdóttir who had been elected an MP in 2013 and co-founded the country’s Pirate Party in 2012. Her concerns then about of the rise of totalitarianism, fascism, and populism, appear prescient now. Worth the time to read what Iceland was doing to address these threats as we may need to do the same here in a hurry. Bonus: she’s a reminder of what WikiLeaks once was for comparison against the organization we see today.

À demain, mes copains!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.