The Scope of the Special Counsel Appointment Is Totally Inadequate

Rod Rosenstein just appointed former FBI Director (and, before that, US Attorney) Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to take over the investigation into Trump and his associates.

I’m agnostic about the selection of Mueller. He has the benefit of credibility among FBI Agents, so will be able to make up for some of what was lost with Jim Comey’s firing. He will be regarded by those who care about such things as non-partisan. With Jim Comey, Mueller stood up to Dick Cheney on Stellar Wind in 2004 (though I think in reality his willingness to withstand Cheney’s demands has been overstated).

But Mueller has helped cover up certain things in the past, most notably with the Amerithrax investigation.

My bigger concern is with the scope, which I believe to be totally inadequate.

Here’s how the order describes the scope:

(b) The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James 8. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including:

(i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and

(ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and

(iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).

As I read this, it covers just the investigation into ties between the Russian government and people associated with Trump’s campaign. Presumably, that includes Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page, among others.

But there are other aspects of the great swamp that is the Trump and Russia orbit that might not be included here. For example, would Manafort’s corrupt deals with Ukrainian oligarchs be included? Would Flynn’s discussions with Turkish officials, or Rudy Giuliani’s attempt to excuse Turkey’s violation of Iran sanctions? Would the garden variety money laundering on behalf of non-governmental Russian mobbed up businessmen be included, something that might affect Manafort, Jared Kushner, or Trump himself?

And remember there are at least two other aspects of the Russian hacking investigation. Back in February, Reuters reported that San Francisco’s office was investigating Guccifer 2.0 and Pittsburgh was investigating the actual hackers.  Somewhere (San Francisco would be the most logical spot), they’re presumably investigating whoever it is that has been dumping NSA’s hacking tools everywhere. I’ve learned that that geography has either changed, or there are other aspects tied to those issues in other corners of the country.

Plus, there’s the Wikileaks investigation in EDVA, the same district where the Mueller-led investigation might reside, but a distinct investigation.

Any one of those investigations might present strings that can be pulled, any one of which might lead to the unraveling of the central question: did Trump’s associates coordinate with the Russian government to become President. Unless Mueller can serve to protect those other corners of the investigation from Trump’s tampering, it would be easy to shut down any of them as they become productive.

Yet, as far as I understand the scope of this, Mueller will only oversee the central question, leaving those disparate ends susceptible to Trump’s tampering.

Update: In its statement on the appointment, ACLU raises concerns about whether this would include the investigation into Trump’s attempt to obstruct this investigation.

Update: WaPo’s Philip Rucker reminds that Mueller is law firm partners with Jamie Gorelick, who has been representing both Ivanka and Kushner in this issue.

Update: Mueller is quitting WilmberHale to take this gig. He’s also taking two WilmerHale former FBI people with him. Still, that’s a close tie to the lawyer of someone representing key subjects of this investigation.

Update: One addition to the ACLU concern about investigating the Comey firing. In the most directly relevant precedent, the Plame investigation, when Pat Fitzgerald expanded his investigation from the leak of Plame’s identity to the obstruction of the investigation, he asked for approval to do so from the Acting Attorney General overseeing the investigation — in that case, Jim Comey.

The Acting Attorney General in this case is Rod Rosenstein. So if Mueller were as diligent as Fitzgerald was, he would have to ask the guy who provided the fig leaf for Comey’s firing to approve the expansion of the investigation to cover his own fig leaf.

Update: Petey noted to me that Jeff Sessions’ narrow recusal may limit how broadly Rosenstein’s order may be drawn. It’s a really interesting observation. Here’s what I said about Sessions’ recusal (which is very similar to what I tried to address in this post).

There are two areas of concern regarding Trump’s ties that would not definitively be included in this recusal: Trump’s long-term ties to mobbed up businessmen with ties to Russia (a matter not known to be under investigation but which could raise concerns about compromise of Trump going forward), and discussions about policy that may involve quid pro quos (such as the unproven allegation, made in the Trump dossier, that Carter Page might take 19% in Rosneft in exchange for ending sanctions against Russia), that didn’t involve a pay-off in terms of the hacking. There are further allegations of Trump involvement in the hacking (a weak one against Paul Manafort and a much stronger one against Michael Cohen, both in the dossier), but that’s in no way the only concern raised about Trump’s ties with Russians.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Last USA: Dana Boente Is the Best Short Term Solution

In the wake of the Comey firing, particularly given the way Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein let himself serve as a pawn, many people have renewed their call for “a special prosecutor.” In the short term, however, I believe Dana Boente — that is, the status quo — is a better solution.

As a reminder, Dana Boente is the US Attorney of Eastern District of VA. With Rosenstein’s confirmation as DAG, Boente is the last remaining confirmed US Attorney in the United States. Boente’s office is overseeing at least two parts of the Russian investigation: the generalized investigation into Wikileaks, and the investigation into Trump’s campaign. The latter investigation recently issued subpoenas to Mike Flynn associates. There are reportedly parts of the investigation in three other places: some work being done in Main Justice, as well a a team investigating Guccifer 2.0/Shadow Brokers in San Francisco, and a team investigating the Russian hackers in Pittsburgh.

But the bulk of what people think of as “the Russian investigation” — the investigation into Trump’s cronies — is happening in EDVA, overseen by The Last USA.

In addition to reporting up to Rosenstein as DAG and Rosenstein as Acting AG for the Russian investigation, Boente just took over as Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Division — the office that reviews things like FISA orders. That means Boente — for better and worse — has more authority, on several levels, than a “Special Counsel” would have.

First, note I use the term “Special Counsel,” not “Special Prosecutor.” Ken Starr was a Special Prosecutor, but in the wake of his fiasco and given persistent questions about the constitutionality of having someone who was totally independent from the structure of DOJ prosecuting people, Congress got rid of the provision supporting Special Prosecutors.

So if Rod Rosenstein wanted to appoint someone “independent” to oversee the Russian investigation, he’d have to use the Special Counsel provision.

While I think it is permissible to hire someone from outside of DOJ to do that job (so it is possible he could call up corporate lawyer Pat Fitzgerald for his third ride on the Special Counsel merry-go-round to, in dramatic fashion, save the investigation undercut by the firing of his good friend Jim Comey), in practice the recent Special Counsel appointments (the UndieBomb 2.0 leak investigation, the StuxNet leak investigation, the John Kiriakou prosecution, the Torture investigation, and the Plame investigation) have all been DOJ prosecutors, either US Attorneys (in all but one case) or an Assistant USA Attorney, in the case of John Durham’s whitewash of torture. Plus, while Fitz is still well-loved at DOJ and FBI as far as I know, if Rosenstein appointed him, I bet Trump would fire him within minutes because he’s sure as hell not going to be “loyal.” And because of Fitz’ past gunning hard for Cheney and Bush, many Republicans might not put up much of a stink there.

If Rosenstein were to adhere to the practice of naming existing DOJ prosecutors, though, it’d mean he’d be choosing between Boente, The Last USA, or an AUSA (perhaps one of the ones who recently reported to him in MD). In both cases, the Special Counsel would report to Rosenstein for AG approvals (as Pat Fitz reported to Jim Comey for the Plame case).

You can see quickly why Boente is the preferable option. First, there’s no reason to believe he isn’t pursuing the investigation (both investigations, into Wikileaks and Trump’s associates) with real vigor. He is a hard ass prosecutor and if that’s what you want that’s what you’d get. His grand jury pool is likely to be full of people with national security backgrounds or at least a predisposition to be hawks.

But — for better and worse — Boente actually has more power than a Special Counsel would have (and more power than Fitz had for the Plame investigation), because he is also in charge of NSD, doing things like approving FISA orders on suspected Russian agents. I think there are problems with that, particularly in the case of a possible Wikileaks prosecution. But if you want concentrated power, Boente is a better option than any AUSA. With the added benefit that he’s The Last USA, which commands some real respect.

Sure. If next week Trump calls Boente to dinner and demands his loyalty on threat of firing, this may change. But the same logic that people are using with a Special Counsel (that if Trump fired that person, maybe then Republicans in Congress would want something more independent) holds for Boente. Firing The Last USA ought to be as incendiary as firing an AUSA, assuming anything will be.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Why Accuracy about Wikileaks Matters

Let me preface this post by saying that I’m perfectly willing to accept that Julian Assange is a narcissist, accused rapist, destructive hypocrite serving as a willful tool of Russia. I’m also happy to concede that his role in publishing the DNC and Podesta emails may have played a significant part in getting Donald Trump elected (though I think it’s down the list behind Comey and Hillary’s own (in)actions). Please loathe Julian Assange–that is your right.

But please, also, try to be accurate about him and Wikileaks.

There have been two funny claims about Wikileaks since the leak of hacked emails from Emmanuel Macron associates was announced on 4Chan on Friday. First, analysis of how the hashtag #MacronLeaks spread emphasized that Wikileaks got more pickup than right wing propagandist Jack Posobiec or the other right wing promoters of it.

The most important surge came when WikiLeaks began tweeting the hashtag. The tweet itself was cautious, pointing out that the leak “could be a 4chan practical joke,” but it was retweeted over 2,000 times, compared with over 600 times for Posobiec.

Yet people have taken that to suggest that everyone who shared Wikileaks’ links to the materials were themselves promoting the emails positively. That is, they ignored the extent to which people share Wikileaks tweets critically, which itself added to the buzz about the dump. The surge in attention, in other words, was in part critical attention to what Wikileaks was doing with respect to the leak.

More troubling, still, outlets including NPR claimed that Wikileaks posted the documents (it has since issued a correction).

Finally, there are absurd pieces like this which, after babbling that, “Macron, by contrast, is favored by those who want … a France looking to the future rather than clinging to the fearful and fictional nostalgia promulgated by Le Pen,” states,

Literally at the 11th hour, before the blackout would silence it, the Macron campaign issued a statement saying it had been hacked and many of the documents that were dumped on the American 4Chan site and re-posted by Wikileaks were fakes.

On top of being poorly edited — Macron’s statement said nothing at all about who dumped the documents — the claims as to both 4Chan and Wikileaks are not technically correct. The documents weren’t dumped on 4Chan, a post on 4Chan included a link to a Pastebin with them. More importantly, Wikileaks didn’t “re-post” them, though it did post magnet links to them.

The importance of the distinction becomes evident just two paragraphs later when the article notes that some of the tweets in which Wikileaks linked to the documents described the vetting process it was undertaking.

Meanwhile, Wikileaks jumped on the document dump, but didn’t seem to be familiar with the material in it. Responding to the Macron statement that some of the items were bogus, Wikileaks tweeted, “We have not yet discovered fakes in #MacronLeaks & we are very skeptical that the Macron campaign is faster than us.”

Curiously, the article doesn’t link to WL’s first tweet, posted less than an hour after the 4Chan post, which said it could be a 4Chan practical joke.

In any case, contrary to what some idiotic readings of this article claim — that Macron succeeded in fooling Wikileaks — in fact, Macron has not succeeded, at least not yet, because Wikileaks has not posted the documents on its own site (Wikileaks could yet claim it had determined the documents to be real only to have Macron present proof they weren’t). Indeed, while Wikileaks expressed skepticism from the start, one thing that really raised questions for Wikileaks was that Macron so quickly claimed to have determined some were fake.

Plus, it’s not actually clear that Macron did fool the hackers who passed them onto the 4Chan source. Here’s the full description from Mounir Mahjoubi, the head of Macron’s digital team, on what their counteroffensive looked like.

“We also do counteroffensive against them,” says Mahjoubi.

[snip]

“We believe that they didn’t break through. We are sure of it,” said Mahjoubi. “But the only way to be ready is to train the people. Because what happened during the Hillary Clinton campaign is that one man, the most powerful, [campaign chairman] John Podesta, logged on to his [fake] page.”

To keep the entire Macron campaign aware of such dangers, Mahjoubi said, “Every week we send to the team screen captures of all the phishing addresses we have found during the week.” But that’s just the first phase of the response. Then the Macron team starts filling in the forms on the fake sites: “You can flood these addresses with multiple passwords and log-ins, true ones, false ones, so the people behind them use up a lot of time trying to figure them out.”

If Mahjoubi was being honest about his certainty the hackers didn’t succeed, then the campaign would have no reason or means to feed disinformation. And the details offered here appear to be about disinformation in response to phishing probes — that is, disinformation about metadata — not disinformation about content.

But now, between the Daily Beast’s gloating and the sharing of it with even less factual gloating, coupled with Macron’s quick declaration that the dump included fake documents, raises real (but potentially unjustified!) questions about whether the campaign added the Cyrillic metadata that got so much attention. Not only has Wikileaks’ vetting process not (yet) been exposed as a fraud, but the reporting may create even more distrust and uncertainty than there was. [Note, I posted a tweet to that effect that I have deleted now that I’m convinced there’s no evidence Macron faked any documents.]

Moreover, even if it is the case that GRU hacked Macron and Wikileaks would have happily published the emails if they passed its vetting process (which are both likely true), Wikileaks didn’t get and post the documents, which itself is worth noting and understanding.

In other words, some inaccuracies — and the rush to gloat against Wikileaks — may actually have been counterproductive to the truth and even the ability to understand what happened.

And this is not the only time. The other most celebrated case where inaccurate accusations against Wikileaks may have been counterproductive was last summer when something akin to what happened with the Macron leak did. Wikileaks posted a link to Michael Best’s archived copy of the AKP Turkish emails that doxed a bunch of Turkish women. A number of people — principally Zeynep Tufekci — blamed Wikileaks, not Best, for making the emails available, and in so doing (and like the Macron dump) brought attention to precisely what she was rightly furious about — the exposure of people to privacy violations and worse. Best argues that had Tufekci spoken to him directly rather than writing a piece drawing attention to the problem, some of the harm might have been avoided.

But I also think the stink surrounding Wikileaks distracted focus from the story behind the curious provenance of that leak. Here’s how Motherboard described it.

Here’s what happened:

First, Phineas Fisher, the hacker notorious for breaching surveillance companies Hacking Team and FinFisher, penetrated a network of the AKP, Turkey’s ruling party, according to their own statement. The hacker was sharing data with others in Rojava and Bakur, Turkey; there was apparently a bit of miscommunication, and someone sent a large file containing around half of akparti.org.tr’s emails to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks then published these emails on July 19, and as some pointed out, the emails didn’t actually seem to contain much public interest material.

Then Phineas Fisher dumped more files themselves. Thomas White, a UK-based activist also known as The Cthulhu, also dumped a mirror of the data, including the contentious databases of personal info. This is where Best, who uploaded a copy to the Internet Archive, comes in.

Best said he didn’t check the contents of the data beforehand in part because the files had already been released.

“I was archiving public information,” he said. “Given the volume, the source, the language barrier and the fact that it was being publicly circulated already, I basically took it on faith and archived a copy of it.”

Without laying out all the details here, I think there are some interesting issues about this hack-and-leak that might have gotten more scrutiny if the focus weren’t Wikileaks. But instead, the focus was entirely on what Wikileaks did (or actually, on blaming Wikileaks for what Best did), rather than how the hack-and-leak really happened.

I get that people have the need, emotionally, to attack Assange, and I have no problem with that. But when emotion disrupts any effort to understand what is really going on, it may make it more difficult to combat the larger problem (or, as lefties embrace coverage of the Bradley Foundation based on hacked documents and more mass hack-and-leak reporting gets journalism awards, to set norms for what might be legitimate and illegitimate hack-and-leaks).

If you hate Assange, your best approach may be to ignore him. But barring that, there really is a case for aspiring to factual accuracy even for Wikileaks.

Update: Fixed description of what WL actually linked to — h/t ErrataRob.

Update: This article provides more detail on the hack and Macron’s attempts to counter the hackers.

“Il y a des dossiers qui ont été ajoutés à ces archives. Des dossiers dont on ne sait pas à quoi ils correspondent. Qui ne sont pas des dossiers d’emails, par exemple. Ensuite, il y a des faux emails qui ont été ajoutés, qui ont été complétés. Il y a aussi des informations que nous-même on avait envoyées en contre-représailles des tentatives de phishing !”, a expliqué Mounir Mahjoubi.

So some of the added documents (which, incidentally, are the ones that show Cyrillic metadata) are from someplace unknown, not the five hacked email boxes. There are fake emails, described has “having been completed,” which may mean (this is a guess) the hackers sent emails that were sitting in draft; if so there might be fake emails that nevertheless come with authenticating DKIM codes. The description of what the campaign did — counter-attacks to phishing attempts — is still not clear as to whether it is metadata (faked emails) or content, but still seems most likely to be metadata.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The WikiLeaks Deterrent Theory, AKA the Arbitrary Official Secrets Act

Three outlets yesterday — first the WaPo, then CNN, then NYT — reported that DOJ is considering charges against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. The discussion of what charges, and for what leaks, differs between the reports.

While mentioning the Vault 7 leaks, WaPo also focuses on Chelsea Manning’s leaks and Assange’s discussions about how to gain access.

In March, WikiLeaks published thousands of files revealing secret cyber-tools used by the CIA to convert cellphones, televisions and other ordinary devices into implements of espionage. The FBI has made significant progress in the investigation of the leak, narrowing the list of possible suspects, officials said. The officials did not describe WikiLeaks’ exact role in the case beyond publishing the tools.

Prosecutors are also reexamining the leaks from Chelsea Manning, the Army soldier who was convicted in 2013 of revealing sensitive diplomatic cables. Manning chatted with Assange about a technique to crack a password so Manning could log on to a computer anonymously, and that conversation, which came up during Manning’s court-martial, could be used as evidence that WikiLeaks went beyond the role of publisher or journalist.

Alexa O’Brien tweeted out some thoughts and links to what any further prosecution of the Manning leak might entail.

CNN, which is the most certain charges have already been drawn up, explains that DOJ believes WikiLeaks’ actions changed in nature with Edward Snowden.

The US view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, disclose a massive cache of classified documents.

I think that may be demonstrably true of Sarah Harrison, who helped a fugitive escape. But I’m not sure the US has equally compelling evidence against Assange.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion comes from NYT, which discusses the ongoing debate — with “senior Justice Department officials … pressuring prosecutors” over what is realistic and what authorities actually want, which is an Espionage conviction.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the details of the discussions remain secret, said senior Justice Department officials had been pressuring prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia to outline an array of possible charges against Mr. Assange.

But the official said prosecutors remained skeptical that they could pursue the most serious charges, of espionage, with regard to the documents Mr. Assange disclosed years ago with the help of an Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning. Ms. Manning was convicted and sent to prison, but President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in January.

Given how few people Trump has confirmed into positions in government, these outlets should be a bit more descriptive. In that passage, for example, and the following from WaPo, what does “senior justice department official” mean when US Attorney Dana Boente is (as I’ve noted but none of these stories do) also acting DAG and acting AG for any Russia-related charges.

Prosecutors in recent weeks have been drafting a memo that contemplates charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, possibly including conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act, officials said. The memo, though, is not complete, and any charges against members of WikiLeaks, including founder Julian Assange, would need approval from the highest levels of the Justice Department.

Would Boente be approving charges filed under Boente’s name?

Though that may not matter. Rod Rosenstein, who will become DAG shortly, has himself pursued excessive charges in leak cases, both against Thomas Drake and Hal Martin.

Perhaps the most interesting claim is that the FBI thought indicting Assange — who likely won’t be prosecuted in any case unless Ecuador suddenly changes their mind about their house guest — would provide some kind of deterrent effect.

Officials have said that the F.B.I. supports prosecuting Mr. Assange. Several years ago, the agency sent a series of documents to the Justice Department outlining charges that investigators claimed to have evidence to support. At the time, F.B.I. counterintelligence agents believed that charging Mr. Assange would deter him from posting new troves of American documents.

I think you’d have to be daft to think prosecuting Assange would deter him from posting more, assuming this happened while he was in the Ecuadoran Embassy. Prosecuting him would only mean he’d have less to lose — and, frankly, more reason to post things that might please America’s adversaries, like Russia.

But it might serve as deterrence for other publishing outlets that aren’t holing up in an Embassy. Short of some really distinguishing actions (and Harrison’s might amount to that in the Snowden case), indicting Assange would put everyone else with a SecureDrop on notice that they, too, might be prosecuted. Surely, DOJ would pick and choose who gets prosecuted. They might choose other easily easily targeted people — people who are gay, people who no longer live in this country, people who have too many dogs — to similarly make examples of (though pity the fool that challenges Glenn Greenwald’s First Amendment rights.

DOJ wants to start cutting away at the First Amendment. All the better for them, if in the name of prosecutorial discretion, Jeff Sessions’ DOJ could pick and choose which publishers’ speech gets curtailed.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Dana Boente Still Has a Job and Why That’s of Interest for WikiLeaks

WaPo has a weird story reporting, erroneously, that Donald Trump has no US Attorneys.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making aggressive law enforcement a top priority, directing his federal prosecutors across the country to crack down on illegal immigrants and “use every tool” they have to go after violent criminals and drug traffickers.

But the attorney general does not have a single U.S. attorney in place to lead his tough-on-crime efforts across the country. Last month, Sessions abruptly told the dozens of remaining Obama administration U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations immediately — and none of them, or the 47 who had already left, have been replaced.

“We really need to work hard at that,” Sessions said when asked Tuesday about the vacancies as he opened a meeting with federal law enforcement officials. The 93 unfilled U.S. attorney positions are among the hundreds of critical Trump administration jobs that remain open.

While it is true that Trump had Sessions ask for the remaining 93 US Attorneys’ resignations, he subsequently announced he was keeping Rod Rosenstein (who contrary to WaPo’s claim that he “served as U.S. attorney for Maryland” is still there, and who will become Deputy Attorney General as soon as he’s confirmed in the next few weeks) and Dana Boente (who is US Attorney for EDVA but also acting AG for the Russia investigation).

Both Boente and Rosenstein made press announcements today; the guys whose custody they announced probably would prefer if they weren’t on the job.

I guess the WaPo wanted to suck up to Jeff Sessions and so didn’t consider the possibility that we’re better off with 91 US Attorney vacancies than 91 racist hacks like Sessions, pushing through his regressive policies.

Anyway, since we’ve established that Boente still has a job and in fact oversees the Russia investigation, I thought I’d point out something I was considering during last week’s threats from CIA Director Mike Pompeo against WikiLeaks.

During Pompeo’s comments at CSIS last week, he said,

Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they are wrong.

[snip]

[W]e have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.

As some people observed, Pompeo’s comments are inconsistent with the practice of Obama’s DOJ, particularly under Holder. While Holder would have happily prosecuted Julian Assange for his role in release of files leaked by Chelsea Manning, he realized that if he did, he’d be criminalizing stuff that the press does.

Pompeo, at least, seems to disagree.

And the reason why Boente’s continued tenure as Eastern District US Attorney — and his role overseeing the Russian investigation — is that he has also been overseeing the ongoing investigation into Wikileaks since 2013.

Consider the fact that Assange’s actions of late may be more incriminating than those involving Manning (even assuming Assange can credibly claim he has no way of knowing whether Russia is responsible for the DNC hack, Assange’s comments about both the DNC and the Vault 7 leak suggest more coordination than in the past). Then add in the fact that Boente, for the next few weeks anyway, might be able to claim to be both US Attorney and Acting AG on any role by WikiLeaks in the publication of the DNC emails. And it raises the possibility that Boente would use this window to indict Assange.

I think that’s unlikely. Moreover, while an indictment would give the US reason to pressure Ecuador even more to boot Assange, it’s not clear they would. But it’s possible.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Pompeo Likens Wikileaks’ Release of CIA’s Hacking Tools to Philip Agee

In a speech designed to generate headlines, CIA Director Mike Pompeo just attacked WikiLeaks as a “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” The speech was explicitly a response to an op-ed Julian Assange had in the WaPo a few days ago.

Now, for those of you who read the editorial page of the Washington Post—and I have a feeling that many of you in this room do—yesterday you would have seen a piece of sophistry penned by Mr. Assange. You would have read a convoluted mass of words wherein Assange compared himself to Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of legitimate news organizations such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. One can only imagine the absurd comparisons that the original draft contained.

But the speech deserves closer analysis for several reasons.

CIA Directors hoping to build trust should fact and hypocrisy check better

First, it had the predictable CIA Director errors. As an example, it pretends to be rebutting “false narratives” purportedly spread by WikiLeaks, but uses as an example “the fanciful nation that they spy on their fellow citizens via microwave ovens,” a suggestion first spread by KellyAnne Conway, not WikiLeaks (though WikiLeaks responded by pointing to ways to spy with microwaves, though not ovens). It suggests Assange “directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information;” had Assange’s direction been that clear cut, he would have been indicted. Perhaps most hilariously, a guy who — nine months ago — was applauding a WikiLeaks release today had this to say:

First, it is high time we called out those who grant a platform to these leakers and so-called transparency activists. We know the danger that Assange and his not-so-merry band of brothers pose to democracies around the world. Ignorance or misplaced idealism is no longer an acceptable excuse for lionizing these demons.

Yes. By all means, we should call out those who grant a platform to WikiLeaks. Like Mike Pompeo.

The never-ending defense of all spying overseas

The speech is also worth reviewing because of something that has become tiresome in recent years.

To rebut that false narrative Pompeo rebuts a claim that’s beside the point to WikiLeaks’ presentation of the CIA Vault 7 files (though it is one WikiLeaks has suggested on Twitter): that CIA spies on Americans.

[W]e are an intelligence organization that engages in foreign espionage. We steal secrets from foreign adversaries, hostile entities, and terrorist organizations. We analyze this intelligence so that our government can better understand the adversaries we face in a challenging and dangerous world.

[snip]

So I’d now like to make clear what CIA doesn’t do. We are a foreign intelligence agency. We focus on collecting information about foreign governments, foreign terrorist organizations, and the like—not Americans. A number of specific rules keep us centered on that mission and protect the privacy of our fellow Americans. To take just one important example, CIA is legally prohibited from spying on people through electronic surveillance in the United States. We’re not tapping anyone’s phone in Wichita.

Assange has focused primarily not on domestic spying, but on how incompetent CIA was for losing its hacking tools and for the proliferation risk it poses. Here’s what Assange said in his op-ed.

Our most recent disclosures describe the CIA’s multibillion-dollar cyberwarfare program, in which the agency created dangerous cyberweapons, targeted private companies’ consumer products and then lost control of its cyber-arsenal. Our source(s) said they hoped to initiate a principled public debate about the “security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”

Pompeo admits aggressive use of tools, and promises better security

That’s not a point that Pompeo really debates, though he does say,

CIA is aggressive in our pursuit of the information we need to help safeguard our country. We utilize the whole toolkit at our disposal, fully employing the authorities and capabilities that Congress,

As for losing the cyber toolkit (Pompeo does not, of course, confirm that that is what WikiLeaks has been releasing), Pompeo does promise these changes to improve CIA’s own security.

Second, there are steps that we have to take at home—in fact, this is a process we’ve already started. We’ve got to strengthen our own systems; we’ve got to improve internal mechanisms that help us in our counterintelligence mission. All of us in the Intelligence Community had a wake-up call after Snowden’s treachery. Unfortunately, the threat has not abated.

I can’t go into great detail, but the steps we take can’t be static. Our approach to security has to be constantly evolving. We need to be as clever and innovative as the enemies we face. They won’t relent, and neither will we.

We can never truly eliminate the threat but we can mitigate and manage it. This relies on agility and on dynamic “defense in depth.” It depends on a fundamental change in how we address digital problems, understanding that best practices have to evolve in real time. It is a long-term project but the strides we have taken—particularly the rapid and tireless response of our Directorate of Digital Innovation—give us grounds for optimism.

If these changes go beyond finally ensuring all devices require multi-factor authentication (something a Mike Pompeo overseen CIA did not have this time last year), then it will be a good thing.

The Philip Agee comparison

But I’m perhaps most interested in the implicit comparison Pompeo makes to start his speech. He suggests a comparison between Philip Agee (and the murder of Chief of Station Richard Welch after being outed by Agee) and WikiLeaks (or perhaps Assange personally).

That man was Philip Agee, one of the founding members of the magazine Counterspy, which in its first issue in 1973 called for the exposure of CIA undercover operatives overseas. In its September 1974 issue, Counterspy publicly identified Richard Welch as the CIA Chief of Station in Athens. Later, Richard’s home address and phone number were outed in the press in Greece.

In December 1975, Richard and his wife were returning home from a Christmas party in Athens. When he got out of his car to open the gate in front of his house, Richard Welch was assassinated by a Greek terrorist cell. At the time of his death, Richard was the highest-ranking CIA officer killed in the line of duty.

That’s a pretty remarkable way to introduce this speech. Perhaps to defend it, in the section of the speech dedicated to painting WikiLeaks as a hostile actor, Pompeo notes AQAP thanked WikiLeaks for tipping it off to a way to fight the US it hadn’t thought of.

Following a recent WikiLeaks disclosure, an al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula member posted a comment online thanking WikiLeaks for providing a means to fight America in a way that AQAP had not previously envisioned.

That’s still a long way from posting CIA officers’ identities.

Security firms begin to expose CIA’s roles

All that said, I can’t help but wonder whether this spat between former WikiLeaks booster Mike Pompeo and WikiLeaks stems from a development that I’ve been anticipating: when security firms start treating US intelligence hackers like they do Russian or Chinese ones.

In the wake of WikiLeaks’ Vault 7 documents, both Symantec and Kaspersky wrote reports on Vault 7 hacks they had seen working with clients. Symantec provided a very convincing table correlating the compilation time of what they’ve seen with the evidence WikiLeaks presented.

Symantec also described the victims generally (including describing what sounds like CIA detasking as soon as they realized they had accidentally attacked a US target).

Longhorn has infiltrated governments and internationally operating organizations, in addition to targets in the financial, telecoms, energy, aerospace, information technology, education, and natural resources sectors. All of the organizations targeted would be of interest to a nation-state attacker.

Longhorn has infected 40 targets in at least 16 countries across the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Africa. On one occasion a computer in the United States was compromised but, following infection, an uninstaller was launched within hours, which may indicate this victim was infected unintentionally.

Kaspersky offered no such public detail.

Nevertheless, these reports are just one of several developments of late (which I hope to return to) that exhibit the US’ hackers being treated like Russian or Chinese hackers are — as general adversaries outside of their country. If, as seems likely given Symantec’s description of European victims, some of the victims are nominal US allies, that’ll grow worse.

If I’m right, it’s a significant development. It may not equate to a CIA officer being outed. But it may case far more problems.

Update: As a number of people have made clear, Agee was not responsible for Welch’s death. So I’ve deleted those words.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The October Non-Surprise

Both the Wikileaks Podesta release and the Access Hollywood tape drowned out the Intelligence Community report on Russia

Earlier this week, in an interview with Politico (the story and the interview transcript seem to be memory holed for now), Obama’s Homeland Security Czar Lisa Monaco insisted that the Obama response to the Russian hack of the DNC was actually quite forceful, but that it got lost in the release of the Access Hollywood video showing Trump threatening to grab women by the pussy.

But strong supporters of Clinton’s campaign argued—some at the time, many more in the wake of the former secretary of state’s shocking November election defeat—that the Obama team should have done more to publicize the hacking for what it was: a heavy-handed Kremlin intervention on behalf of one side in America’s presidential election. Monaco pushed back against that, recalling that the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies issued a joint statement publicly blaming the Russians for the pre-election hack on Oct. 7. “That was an unprecedented statement,” she says, “a fact that sometimes gets lost in this discussion” given that it came on the same day as the revelation of the “Access Hollywood” tape showing Trump joking about sexually assaulting a woman.

I point to Monaco’s argument because it’s a mirror image to claims Hillary supporters make about the same week. They argue that the release of the John Podesta emails drowned out the Access Hollywood video. Here’s John Podesta in a December appearance on Meet the Press.

So October 7th, Wiki– October 7th, let’s go through the chronology. On October 7th, the Access Hollywood tape comes out. One hour later, WikiLeaks starts dropping my emails into the public. One could say that there might, those things might not have been a coincidence.

Monaco is in the right here. The Google Trends graph above maps “Wikileaks emails” in blue, “Access Hollywood” in red, and “Russian hack” in yellow (“Grab them by the pussy” shows a more extreme but shorter spike, “John Podesta” doesn’t show as high). In fact, the Grab them by the pussy video drowned out the first releases of the Podesta emails — which suggests it would have been stupid strategy to intentionally release them at the same time, as doing so would mean fewer people would read the excerpts from Hillary’s speeches that got released on the first day. By the following Tuesday, Wikileaks had taken over. By comparison, the Russian hack was a mere blip compared to those two stories, though.

The Roger Stone and Wikileaks narrative misses a few data points

I return to this chronology for another reason. The events of the week of October 3 have been in the news for another reason: their role in the claim that Roger Stone was coordinating with Wikileaks during that week (which is presumably a big part of the reason Podesta insinuated there was coordination on that timing).

CNN has a timeline of many of Stone’s Wikileaks related comments, which actually shows that in August, at least, Stone believed Wikileaks would release Clinton Foundation emails (a claim that derived from other known sources, including Bill Binney’s claim that the NSA should have all the Clinton Foundation emails).

It notes, as many timelines of Stone’s claims do, that on Saturday October 1 (or early morning on October 2 in GMT; the Twitter times in this post have been calculated off the unix time in the source code), Stone said that on Wednesday (October 5), Hillary Clinton is done.

Fewer of these timelines note that Wikileaks didn’t release anything that Wednesday. It did, however, call out Guccifer 2.0’s purported release of Clinton Foundation documents (though the documents were real, they were almost certainly mislabeled Democratic Party documents) on October 5. The fact that Guccifer 2.0 chose to mislabel those documents is worth further consideration, especially given public focus on the Foundation documents rather than other Democratic ones. I’ll come back to that.

Throughout the week — both before and after the Guccifer 2.0 release — Stone kept tweeting that he trusted the Wikileaks dump was still coming.

Monday, October 3:

Wednesday, October 5 (though this would have been middle of the night ET):

Thursday, October 6 (again, this would have been nighttime ET, after it was clear Wikileaks had not released on Wednesday):

On October 7, at 4:03PM, David Fahrenthold tweeted out the Access Hollywood video.

On October 7, at 4:32 PM, Wikileaks started releasing the Podesta emails.

Stone didn’t really comment on the substance of the Wikileaks release. In fact, even before the Access Hollywood release, he was accusing Bill Clinton of rape, and he continued in that vein after the release of the video, virtually ignoring the Podesta emails.

For its part, Wikileaks was denying it had any knowing contact with Stone within a week, as it had before. CNN finally reported those denials in the wake of reporting on Stone’s August 2016 contacts with Guccifer 2.0. It’s worth noting that in precisely that time period, Wikileaks managed to discredit a still unexplained US-based hoax launched against Julian Assange, accusing him of soliciting a minor via the online dating site Todd and Claire. In addition, this was the period when the odd Alfa Bank story was being pitched to journalists.

Thus far, anyway, the full chronology suggests that either Stone’s information was only vaguely accurate or Wikileaks delayed its release for a few days. That does weird things to Podesta’s narrative, since either Wikileaks delayed their release so the actually newsworthy part of it — Hillary’s speech excerpts — would be overshadowed (as it was) by the Access Hollywood video, or the Access Hollywood video was timed to coincide with the Wikileaks release — which after all had been announced publicly in a way the Access Hollywood video had not been.

Democrats had more warning of impending emails than Podesta makes out

There’s another part of Podesta’s narrative that deserves review. He liked to suggest he had no idea when his emails were being released — in part, to criticize the FBI for not warning him.

It’s not just that Stone appears to have had a vaguer sense of when the next dump (which, as noted, he appeared to believe would be Clinton Foundation emails) was coming than often made out. Democrats also had more warning than often claimed.

In his December Meet the Press appearance, Podesta made a big deal out of the fact that the FBI had not informed him before the October 7 release.

CHUCK TODD:

This is your personal account that was hacked. I’ve got to think you’re getting updates on the investigation that others would not. What can you share?

JOHN PODESTA:

I will share this with you, Chuck. The first time I was contacted by the F.B.I. was two days after WikiLeaks started dropping my emails.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me pause here.

JOHN PODESTA:

The first, the first–

CHUCK TODD:

Two days after?

But as he went on to reveal, he had seen a document released earlier that he had reason to believe may have been from him (I think, but will have to return to this, that it may have been one of the original Guccifer 2.0 documents).

CHUCK TODD:

But when were you aware that you had been hacked? Before October 7th?

JOHN PODESTA:

I think it was confirmed on October 7th in some of the D.N.C. dumps that had occurred earlier.

CHUCK TODD:

Earlier, yeah.

JOHN PODESTA:

And other campaign officials also had their emails divulge earlier than October 7th. But in one of those D.N.C. dumps, there was a document that appeared to me was– that appeared came– might have come from my account. So I wasn’t sure, I didn’t know, I didn’t know what they had, what they didn’t have. It wasn’t until October 7th when Assange both really in his first statements said things that were incorrect, but started dumping them out and said they were going to all dump out. That’s when I knew that they had the contents of my email account.

Even putting aside Podesta’s suspicion one of the release documents had come from him and Stone’s warnings, Podesta would have had one more warning there would be a further release: from the Christopher Steele reports being done as opposition research for the Hillary campaign.

On September 14, Steele reported that the Russians were considering releasing more emails after the September 18 Duma elections, though the Russians thought they might not have to release any more emails to make Hillary look “weak and stupid.”

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.

[snip]

Continuing on this theme, the senior PA official said the situation was that the Kremlin had further “kompromat” on candidate CLINTON and had been considering releasing this via “plausibly deniable” channels after the Duma (legislative elections) were out of the way in mid-September. There was however a growing train of thought and associated lobby, arguing that the Russians could still make candidate CLINTON look “weak and stupid” by provoking her into railing against PUTIN and Russia without the need to release more of her e-mails.

Curiously, as with all other Wikileaks releases, the publicly-released Steele reports never prospectively confirm a release. Steele’s sources seemed to have little prospective insight to offer about non-public events tied to the release of emails. But on October 12, a report (based on undated early October reporting, which raises questions why the reporting on this wasn’t as quick as on some other reports) notes that the Russians have dumped more anti-Clinton material, which would continue until election day.

Russians have injected further anti-CLINTON material into the “plausibly deniable” leaks pipeline which will continue to surface, but best material already in public domain.

[snip]

Speaking separately in confidence to a trusted compatriot in early October 2016, a senior Russian leadership figure and a Foreign Ministry official reported on recent developments concerning the Kremlin’s operation to support Republican candidate Donald TRUMP in the US presidential election. The senior leadership figure said that a degree of buyer’s remorse was setting in among Russian leaders concerning TRUMP, PUTIN and his colleagues were surprised and disappointed that leaks of Democratic candidate, Hillary CLINTON’s hacked e-mails had not had greater impact on the campaign.

Continuing on this theme, the senior leadership figure commented that a stream of further hacked CLINTON material already had been injected by the Kremlin into compliant western media outlets like Wikileaks, which remained at least “plausibly deniable”, so the stream of these would continue through October and up to the election. However s/he understood that the best material the Russians had already was out and there were no real game-changers to come.

Suffice it to say, even without an FBI warning, Podesta had good reason to expect the emails would occur, though he may have had only a vague idea of the timing.

The other missing detail

Which brings me to one final event from that week that rarely makes the timelines, particularly not the Democratic ones (though Glenn Greenwald pointed out some of it in this post).

From at least the time of the DNC email release in July, Democrats insinuated that Russia and/or Wikileaks had doctored the emails, without ever offering proof, besides the original obvious doctoring of metadata in the Guccifer 2.0 documents (though some DNC people have since credibly claimed that not all of their emails got published). Chief among those people was Malcolm Nance, who was writing a book on the hack. He started warning of spoofed emails in late July. He started pitching his book, which predicted the leaks would include tampering, at the end of September.

And then, just over an hour after the Podesta emails dropped (5:44PM) documents including excerpts from Hillary’s speeches, a pro-Clinton Twitter account responded to Michael Tracey’s observations about the excerpts with a badly faked transcript of a Hillary Goldman Sachs speech.

At 7:25PM, one of the key Russian story commenters linked to it, accusing “Trumpists” of “dirtying docs.” Then at 7:43PM, Nance tweeted, “Official Warning: #PodestaEmails are already proving to be riddled with obvious forgeries & #blackpropaganda not even professionally done.”

Click through to Greenwald’s post to see how it went viral after that (MSNBC’s Joy Reid, who had repeatedly had Nance on, was key to both of Nance’s claims of forgeries go viral), including how it got picked up in the Democrats’ own fake news sites.

Here’s the thing: in multiple places, the guy who later claimed credit, under the name “Marco Chacon,” for the hoax stated he had done the transcript in advance of the release of the emails.

The biggest breakout I had came when a Vice reporter, Michael Tracey, was holding forth on Twitter in the wake of the Podesta Email leaks. He was speaking about the Goldman Sachs transcripts—and I had one.

I had written up a fake Goldman Sachs transcript days before, wherein Hillary Clinton is preparing a run for president and is speaking to the board of directors in 2014 about the coming threat to Wall Street and Washington power. That threat? Bronies, adult male fans of the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. She has to explain this “Bronie Threat” to them and, in the process, describes a group of internet denizens she calls a “bucket of losers.”

When I tweeted the link and an image of some of the text at Tracey, I did it because I find him to be something of a self-important git and wanted to poke fun at him. I didn’t know at the time that there were Goldman Sachs transcript fragments in the WikiLeaks release.

Note, too, that his claim that when he tweeted the hoax transcript to Tracey, he didn’t know there were Goldman transcripts in the Wikileaks release is laughable: That’s what Tracey’s tweet was about!

Just days later, Kurt Eichenwald would make another claim that Russia had doctored emails that went even more wildly viral (and became among the most remembered fake news stories of the election cycle). In Eichenwald’s discussions with the Sputnik writer in question, Bill Moran, he insisted that spooks had alerted him to the (mis)use of his story.

There is definitely evidence that Roger Stone had at least enough feedback with those leaking stolen emails to know to expect them the first week of October — though he clearly didn’t know precisely when or what to expect. Moreover, he clearly didn’t have an open channel with Assange to find out when the delayed release would be — it appears, instead, he got a warning, but no update.

But there are at least as many reasons to ask whether the Democrats (or perhaps even a government agency) had advance warning of what was coming, and had planned in response.

And all that played out at the time when, per Lisa Monaco, the Intelligence Community made what they viewed as an unprecedented announcement blaming Russia for the hack of the Democrats.

There are definitely reasons to scrutinize Stone’s foreknowledge in all this. But that is by no means the only feedback loop that appears to have been in operation by this point.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

National Enquirer’s Serial Spy Novel: Featuring Hillary, Flynn, Assange, Pence, and Ryan

The claim that “Trump catches Russia’s White House spy” — clearly an attempt to smear Mike Flynn — actually got me to drop the $4.99 for a copy of the National Enquirer to read the hit job. And it’s actually more than a contrived effort to claim Flynn is a Russian spy: it’s a four-page spread, implicating Hillary and Mike Pence, too.

The story about Flynn is, instead, mostly a story about Jack Barsky, the former Russian spy who has gotten a lot of press of late tied to the release of his book. Just Thursday, CNN published an interview with him claiming, “What is clear is that email accounts of Democrat operatives were hacked and those hacks originated in Russia. Anything beyond that is pure speculation.” But amid a two-page story of Barsky’s life (as if the details of his life — and Barsky himself — were newly discovered), NE includes two quotes. A “national security intelligence source” warns of other Russian spies:

Jack Barsky is a Russian spy that was caught. But what is really frightening is that there are others out there like him embedded deep into Washington D.C. … Barsky being tracked down will greatly help the president smoke out other rats in his ranks.

And amid a four paragraph discussion of Mike Flynn, NE quotes an “administration source.”

The revelations [about Barsky] come as still-unfolding details continue to worm their way into the public eye about Trump’s own White House “turncoat” — now-ousted national security adviser and retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

Flynn was booted from Trump’s cabinet after intercepted phone calls exposed how he had colluded with Russian officials — and then had the chutzpah to lie about it when questioned by Vice President Mike Pence.

“He was, in essence, the Russian spy in Trump’s midst,” said an administration source who spoke to The ENQUIRER on the condition of anonymity. “Trump was lucky to root him out when he did.”

The unfolding Russian spy drama will overshadow the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing investigating alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and Putin, source said.

Of course, Trump transition official Devin Nunes has already canceled the next hearing into ties between Trump’s campaign and Putin, but perhaps Trump plans on magnifying this hit job in upcoming days, replete with spooky language — “embedded,” “smoke out other rats,” “worm their way,” “turncoat,” “root him out,” — to shift the focus on disloyalty within the Trump Administration.

Which brings us to the other main story in this four-page spread.

It describes how “Trump crushe[d] Clinton coup” designed to install Mike Pence, purportedly revealed by Julian Assange in these two tweets (and some follow-up):

It treats Assange’s claims about his arch enemy as credible because, as a “Beltway insider sniffed … Assange is plugged in and has deep connections to Russian intelligence, along with similar networks around the world.”

The story cites a “White House insider” describing Trump giving Pence a loyalty oath.

President Trump called Pence into the Oval Office and forced him to take a lie detecter test to prove his loyalty. Pence swore he had nothing to do with Hillary and was being moved around like a chess piece in evil Hillary’s game!

After alleging Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson might be a cut-out and/or love interest for Assange, the story then turns on Paul Ryan, citing a quote first published in October, the audio of which was released by Breitbart the same day as the Assange tweets, March 14. The NE claimed that Hillary leaked the call to sow dissent before the health care vote.

The timing of the leak is not a coincidence. The call took place in October and leaked now — just as Ryan and Trump are working to muster support for the health care bill to replace Obamacare. Hillary’s people leaked it to drive a wedge between Trump and Ryan, undermine their efforts to reform health care and destroy the president!

In short, the second article is even more fevered than the one implicating Flynn.

Finally, in addition to a short piece attacking Chris Matthews, the spread includes a non-denial denial of Christopher Steele’s dossier, claiming it showed “Trump orgies” and “graphic sex involving hookers,” which is not precisely what pee gate claimed. It then dismisses the claims because “Trump neither drinks nor uses drugs,” as if that would rule out orgies.

Undoubtedly, all this was placed with the cooperation of the White House, if not direct quotes from Trump (which is something he has a history of doing). While the Flynn story has been viewed — particularly alongside unsubstantiated claims that Flynn is cooperating with the FBI — as an attempt to damage him for snitching, it almost certainly dates to earlier than more recent attacks on Flynn, and in conjunction with stories of loyalty oaths from Pence appears tame by comparison.

Trump wants to justify a witch hunt among the National Enquirer set. And at least thus far, Flynn and warnings of replacement by Pence are no more than the excuse for launching it.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Wikileaks Permadrip: “Other Vault 7 Documents”

WikiLeaks has released the second in what they promise to be many further releases of CIA hacking tools it calls Vault 7. This release, which it dubs Dark Matter, consists of just 12 documents, which means (if WikiLkeak’s past claims about how big this leak is are true) the releases could go on forever.

As Motherboard lays out, the tools that got released are old — they date from 2008 to 2013.

While the documents are somewhat dated at this point, they show how the CIA was perhaps ahead of the curve in finding new ways to hacking and compromising Macs, according to Pedro Vilaca, a security researcher who’s been studying Apple computers for years.

Judging from the documents, Vilaca told Motherboard in an online chat, it “looks like CIA were very early adopters of attacks on EFI.”

“It looks like CIA is very interested in Mac/iOS targets, which makes sense since high value targets like to use [those],” Vilaca told me. “Also interesting the lag between their tools and public research. Of course there’s always unpublished research but cool to see them ahead.”

But — because I’m as interested in how Wikileaks is releasing these tools as I am in what it is releasing — it appears that WL may be sitting on more recent documents related to compromising Apple products. WL’s press release describes other Vault 7 documents, plural, that refer to more recent versions of a tool designed to attack MacBook Airs. But it includes just one of those more recent documents in this dump.

While the DerStake1.4 manual released today dates to 2013, other Vault 7 documents show that as of 2016 the CIA continues to rely on and update these systems and is working on the production of DerStarke2.0.

That seems to suggest that there are other, more current Apple tools in WikiLeaks’ possession besides the one developmental document linked. If so it raises the same questions I raised here: is it doing so as a pose of responsible release, withholding the active exploits until Apple can fix them? Or is it withholding the best tools for its own purposes, potentially its own or others’ use? Or, given this account, perhaps Wikileaks is playing a game of chicken with the CIA, seeing whether CIA will self-disclose the newer, still unreleased exploits before Wikileaks posts them. Thus far, neither side is being forthcoming with affected tech companies, if public reports are to be believed.

In either case, I’m just as interested in what Wikileaks is doing with the files it is sitting on as I am the dated ones that have been released.

Update: In his presser the other day, Julian Assange did provide a list of tech companies he had reached out to.

In his March 23 press conference, Assange offered the following timeline relating to WikiLeaks’ communications with technology firms:

  • March 12: WikiLeaks reached out to Apple, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla.

  • March 12: Mozilla replied to WikiLeaks, agreeing to its terms. The aforementioned Cisco engineer also reached out.

  • March 13: Google “acknowledged receipt of our initial approach but didn’t address the terms,” Assange said.

  • March 15: MikroTek contacted WikiLeaks; it makes a controller that’s widely used in VoIP equipment.

  • March 17: Mozilla replied, asked for more files.

  • March 18: WikiLeaks told Mozilla it’s looking for the information.

  • March 20: First contact from Microsoft “not agreeing to the standard terms, but pointing to their standard procedures,” Assange said, including providing a PGP email key. Google also replied the same day, pointing to their standard procedures, and including a PGP email key.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Temporal Feint in Adam Schiff’s Neat Narrative

I did four — count them! four! — interviews on the Russian hearing yesterday. And one thing I realized over the course of the interviews is that people were far more impressed with Adam Schiff’s opening speech than they should have been.

I want to look closely at this passage which — if it were accurate — would be a tight little presentation of quid pro quo tied to the change of platform at the July 18-21, 2016 RNC. But it’s not. I’ve bolded the two claims that are most problematic, though the presentation as a whole is misleading.

In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.

According to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. Intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin (SEH-CHIN), CEO of Russian gas giant Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s. According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by Sechin on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share in Rosneft later takes place, with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees.

Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share – policies which, even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel, have now presciently come to pass.

In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager and someone who was long on the payroll of Pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, attends the Republican Party convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests. Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party convention and meets with Carter Page and additional Trump Advisors JD Gordon and Walid Phares. It was JD Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow. Ambassador Kislyak also meets with Trump campaign national security chair and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests. Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign in altering the platform. But the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states that it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, JD Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision at the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.

Later in July, and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on Wikileaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to Wikileaks. But leading private cyber security firms including CrowdStrike, Mandiant, and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT28 and APT29, who were known to be Russian intelligence services. The U.S. Intelligence community also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. [emphasis on most problematic claims mine]

What Schiff tries to do here is suggest that the Russians offered Trump kompromat on Hillary, Trump’s team changed the GOP platform, and then in response the Russians started releasing the DNC emails through Wikileaks.

Later in the hearing, several Republicans disputed the nature of the change in the platform. Both in and outside of the hearing, Republicans have noted that the changed platform matched the policy in place by the Obama Administration at the time: to help Ukraine, but stop short of arming them. All that said, the story on this has clearly changed. The change in the platform clearly shows the influence of Russophiles moving the party away from its hawkish stance, but it’s not enough, in my opinion, to sustain the claims of quid pro quo. [Update: One of the outside the hearing arguments that the platform was not weakened is this Byron York piece b linked, which argues the platform actually got more anti-Russian.]

The bigger problem with Schiff’s neat narrative is the way it obscures the timeline of events, putting the release of DNC emails after the change in platform. That is true with regards to the Wikileaks release, but not the Guccifer 2 release, which preceded the platform change.  Moreover, the references in Steele’s dossier Schiff invokes are not so clear cut — the dossier alleges Russia offered kompromat on Hillary unrelated to the stolen emails before any discussion of the Wikileaks emails. I’ve put what Schiff’s timeline would look like if it were not aiming to play up the quid pro quo of the RNC below (note this timeline doesn’t include all Steele reports, just those specifically on point; see also this site for a comprehensive Guccifer related timeline). It shows several things:

  • The changes to the platform preceded the meetings with Sergey Kislyak. Indeed, the first public report on the change in platform even preceded the Kislyak meetings by a day.
  • The stolen documents began to be released well before the platform got changed.
  • The early Steele report on discussions of sharing a dossier of kompromat on Hillary pertains to a dossier dating back decades (even though these reports all post-date the first Guccifer releases, so could have included a discussion of hacked materials). The first explicit reference to the DNC hack comes after Wikileaks started releasing documents (and earlier reports which ought to include such references don’t).
  • The later Steele report tying the Wikileaks release to a change in policy came after the policy had already changed and documents had already been released.
  • The alleged quid pro quo tied to the early July Carter Page meeting was for the lifting of sanctions, not the shift on NATO and Ukraine; the Steele dossier describes the latter as the quid pro quo in exchange for the Wikileaks release only after the emails start coming out from Wikileaks.

Also note: the report that first ties Wikileaks (but not Guccifer) to a quid pro quo is one of the reports that made me raise questions about the provenance of the report as we received it.

This is not lethal for the argument that the Trump campaign delivered on a quid pro quo. For example, if there was extensive coordination, Trump could have changed his policy in March after learning that the Russian military intelligence hack — the one allegedly designed to collect documents to leak — had started. Or perhaps the Guccifer leaks were a down-payment on the full batch. But there’s no evidence of either.

In any case, the narrative, as laid out by Adam Schiff, doesn’t hold together on several points. Trump’s team has not yet delivered on the quid pro quo allegedly tied to the Rosneft brokerage fees that were paid to someone (it’s not public whom) in December — that is, the lifting of sanctions. As laid out here, the descriptions of an offer of a dossier of information on Hillary prior to the Republican platform pertained to stuff going back decades, not explicitly to Wikileaks; the shift of discussion to Wikileaks only came after the emails had already appeared and any Ukraine related policy changes had already been made.

There’s plenty of smoke surrounding Trump and his associates. It doesn’t require fudging the timeline in order to make it appear like a full quid pro quo (and given Jim Comey’s reliance on “coordination” rather than “collusion” in Monday’s discussion, it’s not even clear such quid pro quo would be necessary for a conspiracy charge). Adam Schiff can and should be more careful about this evidence in future public hearings.

Update: Given how remarkably late the references to the stolen emails are in the dossier, I’m linking this post showing how later entries included a feedback loop.


March 19: John Podesta phished (DNC compromise generally understood to date to same time period).

March 31: Trump reportedly embraces pro-Russian stance in foreign policy meeting with advisors.

April 19th: DCLeaks.com registered.

June 8th: DCLeaks.com posts leaks (from post dates).

June 13th: First archived record of DCLeaks posts.

June 15: Crowdstrike report names Russia in DNC hack, first Guccifer 2.0 releases via TSG and Gawker.

June 18: Guccifer releases at WordPress site.

June 20: Steele report presents obviously conflicting information on exchanging intelligence with Trump. A senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure said “the Kremlin had been feeding TRUMP and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including … Hillary CLINTON, for several years.” A former top level intelligence officer still active in the Kremlin stated that the Kremlin had been collating a dossier on Hillary, “for many years, dating back to her husband Bill’s presidency, and comprised mainly eavesdropped conversations of various sorts. … Some of the conversations were from bugged comments CLINTON had made on her various trips to Russia and focused on things she had said which contradicted her current position on various issues.” A senior Kremlin official, however, said that the dossier “had not as yet been made available abroad, including to TRUMP or his campaign team.”

July 7-8: Carter Page in Moscow. Allegedly (per later Steele dossier reports) he is offered brokerage fees for the sale of a stake in Rosneft in exchange for ending sanctions on Russia.

July 11-12: Platform drafted.

July 18-21: RNC.

July 18: First report of changes to platform.

July 19: Sergey Kislyak meets numerous Trump associates after a Heritage sponsored Jeff Sessions talk.

July 19: Steele report provides first details of Carter Page meeting in Russia during which Divyekin raises “a dossier of ‘kompromat’ the Kremlin possessed on TRUMP’s Democratic presidential rival, Hillary CLINTON, and its possible release to the Republican’s campaign team.” In context (especially because the same report also warns Trump of kompromat Russia holds on him), this seems to be the dossier going back years also mentioned in the June 20 report, not Wikileaks emails. Certainly no explicit mention of Wikileaks or the hack appears in the report, even though the report is based off July reporting that post-date the first Guccifer 2.0 leaks.

July 22: Wikileaks starts releasing DNC emails.

July 26: Steele report describing conversations from June describes Russian hacking efforts in terms already publicly known to be false. For example, the report claims FSB had not yet had success penetrating American or other “first tier” targets. FSB had success hacking American targets the previous year, including the DNC. This report includes no discussion of the DNC hack or Wikileaks.

Undated July, probably because of report number between July 26 and 30: An “ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP” includes the first reference to the DNC hack and WikiLeaks:

[T]he Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to the Wikileaks platform. The reason for using WikiLeaks was “plausible deniability” and the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team. In return the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterise the subject.

July 30: A Russian emigre close to Trump describes concern in the campaign about the DNC email fallout. This report mentions that the Kremlin “had more intelligence on CLINTON and her campaign but he did not know the details or when or if it would be released.” In context, it is unclear whether this refers to stolen documents, though the reference to the campaign suggests that is likely.

August 5: Steele report describes Russian interference as a botched operation, discusses wishful thinking of Trump withdrawing.

August 10: Steele report discusses the “impact and results of Kremlin intervention in the US presidential election to date” claiming Russia’s role in the DNC hack was “technically deniable.” This report conflicts in some ways with the August 5 report, specifically with regards to the perceived success of the operation.

September 14: Steele report referencing kompromat on Hillary clearly in context of further emails.

October 18: More detailed Steele report account of Carter Page meeting, including date. It asserts that “although PAGE had not stated it explicitly to SECHIN, he had clearly implied that in terms of his comment on TRUMP’s intention to lift Russian sanctions if elected president, he was speaking with the Republican candidate’s authority.”

October 19: More Steele report accounting of Michael Cohen’s August attempts to clean up after Manafort and Page.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.