The Trump-John Solomon Attempts to Blame Others for the Vault 7 Leak

As I noted some weeks ago, there was a detail revealed in the Roger Stone trial that cast Donald Trump’s answers to Robert Mueller in significant new light. It wasn’t the evidence that Trump lied when he said he could not recall talking to his rat-fucker about WikiLeaks; there was already far more compelling evidence that Trump lied under oath to Mueller. Rather, it was the evidence that Trump may have lied when he said he didn’t recall discussing pardoning Julian Assange.

The trial revealed discussions on a pardon involving Stone were more extensive than previously known. Even before the election, Randy Credico interspersed his responses to Stone’s demands for information about Assange’s plans with a push for Trump to give Assange asylum.

It was previously known that Credico and Stone continued to discuss their shared support for an Assange pardon into 2018. The new information on this topic revealed at trial was that Credico introduced Margaret Kunstler to Stone in late December 2016 in pursuit of a pardon.

Given how that makes any pardon for Assange look much more like payoff for help getting elected, I wanted to pull together evidence about how Trump and others responded to the Vault 7 leak in early 2017 and afterwards. What follows is speculative. But the significance of it is bolstered by the fact that Trump’s favorite propagandist, John Solomon, has a role.

Back in early January 2017, the lawyer that Assange shared with Oleg Deripaska and Christopher Steele, Adam Waldman, reached out to DOJ organized crime official Bruce Ohr to broker information from Assange about the CIA hacking files he was preparing to release; Assange never committed to holding the release, but he did offer to make redactions.  Waldman met in person with Ohr on February 3. That same day, Waldman reached out to David Laufman, the head of counterintelligence at the time, presumably off a referral from Ohr. The next day, Assange first pitched Vault 7, effectively giving Waldman more leverage to make a deal with DOJ.

At the same time, Waldman started reaching out to Mark Warner, ultimately discussing possible testimony to SSCI with all his clients — Steele, Deripaska, and Assange. In his discussions about Assange with Warner on February 16, Waldman claimed he was trying to protect Democrats, as if a damaging leak would hurt just one or the other party.

Just two days later, however, Warner broke off that part of discussions with Waldman on instructions from Jim Comey. Ultimately, the frothy right would slam Comey for making this call, complaining that he disrupted, “constructive, principled discussions with DOJ that occurred over nearly two months.” By the time of Comey’s call, however, CIA was already conducting their own internal investigation and  had a pretty good idea that Joshua Schulte had leaked the documents.

On March 7, WikiLeaks released the first of a long series of dumps pertaining to CIA’s hacking tools. While WikiLeaks claimed to have redacted damaging information, within days the FBI and CIA identified that WikiLeaks had actually left damaging information that would have required inside information to know to leave in the files (that is, communications with the source, possibly directly with Schulte).

On March 9, Donald Trump called Jim Comey — the single communication he had with Comey that (at least on the surface) did not relate to the Russian investigation — to ask about ” our, an ongoing intelligence investigation,” per later Comey testimony.

On March 9, 2017, Comey had a secure one-on-one telephone call with President Trump. Comey told the OIG that the secure telephone call was “only business,” and that there was “nothing untoward” about the call, other than it was “unusual for the President to call the Director directly.” Comey said he did not prepare a memo to document this call with the President, but said he had [Jim] Rybicki arrange a secure call to Attorney General Sessions immediately afterwards to inform the Attorney General about the telephone call from the President in an effort “to keep the Attorney General in the chain of command between [Comey] and the President.”

I haven’t confirmed that this pertained to Schulte, though the timing suggests it’s a high likelihood.

Even after the first release, David Laufman made some kind of counteroffer to Waldman in mid-March (these files come from Solomon, so can be assumed to be missing key parts).

But then, days later, the FBI obtained the first warrants targeting Joshua Schulte, obtaining a covert search warrant and a warrant for his Google account on March 13. When the FBI arrived at Schulte’s apartment to search it, however, they discovered so many devices they decided they could not conduct the search covertly (they were under a time crunch, because Schulte had a plane ticket for Mexico on March 16). So overnight on March 14, they obtained an overt search warrant.

Mid-day on what appears to be the same day FBI prepared to search Schulte’s apartment, Tucker Carlson accompanied Trump on a trip to Detroit. During the interview, Tucker challenges Trump, asking why he claimed — 11 days earlier — that Obama had “tapped” Trump Tower without offering proof, Trump blurted out that the CIA was hacked during the Obama Administration.

Tucker: On March 4, 6:35 in the morning, you’re down in Florida, and you tweet, the former Administration wiretapped me, surveilled me, at Trump Tower during the last election. Um, how did you find out? You said, I just found out. How did you learn that?

Trump: I’ve been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20th, a NYT article, they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier, the day previous, where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, wait a minute, there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about. I’ve been seeing a lot of things. Now, for the most part I’m not going to discuss it because we have it before the committee, and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon, that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But it’s potentially a very serious situation.

Tucker: So 51,000 people retweeted that, so a lot of people thought that was plausible, they believe you, you’re the president. You’re in charge of the agencies, every intelligence agency reports to you. Why not immediately go to them and gather evidence to support that?

Trump: Because I don’t want to do anything that’s going to violate any strength of an agency. You know we have enough problems. And by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked and a lot of things taken. That was during the Obama years. That was not during, us, that was during the Obama situation. Mike Pompeo is there now, doing a fantastic job. But we will be submitting certain things, and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week. But it’s right now before the Committee, and I think I want to leave it at that. I have a lot of confidence in the committee.

The search on Schulte did not end until hours after this interview was broadcast. After it was broadcast, but before FBI had confiscated Schulte’s passport, he had gone to his office at Bloomberg to access his computer there. That means, Trump provided non-public information that — because it would have made it clear to Schulte that FBI knew the hacking tools had been stolen under Obama — might have confirmed Schulte’s suspicions that he was the target.

WikiLeaks released a second dump two weeks after the first, on March 23. Then Waldman made a proffer on March 28, offering to discuss Russian infiltration of WikiLeaks and ways to mitigate the damage from Vault 7 for safe passage to the US (and possibly immunity, though that may have been only for that discussion). Laufman couldn’t make sense of the demand for “safe passage,” and asked for clarity, which he appears never to have gotten.

Then on April 7, with the third dump and Mike Pompeo’s subsequent naming of Vault 7 as a hostile non-state actor, the negotiations with Laufman may have ceased. Thus ended what appears to be Assange’s efforts to leverage the CIA’s hacking tools and a false show of reasonableness to obtain a way out of the embassy.

To be fair, Trump didn’t successfully undermine the entire Schulte investigation; he was probably just blabbing his mouth. Unsurprisingly, DOJ refused to grant the expansive concessions Assange was demanding.

But there are a few details of these events of particular interest.

First, Trump’s public comments seem to perfectly parrot what Waldman was saying back in February. Both asserted, ridiculously, that Democrats were uniquely to blame for the theft of CIA’s hacking tools and Trump used that fact almost gleefully, to absolve himself of any concern about the leak.

Similarly, because Jim Comey intervened (presumably to preserve the integrity of at least the investigation into Vault 7 but possibly more), someone teed up John Solomon to blame Comey for the leak the week after Schulte was eventually charged for it. Specifically, Solomon “blames” Comey for not agreeing to free Assange temporarily back in early 2017.

Some of the characters are household names, thanks to the Russia scandal: James Comey, fired FBI director. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr. Julian Assange, grand master of WikiLeaks. And American attorney Adam Waldman, who has a Forrest Gump-like penchant for showing up in major cases of intrigue.

Each played a role in the early days of the Trump administration to try to get Assange to agree to “risk mitigation” — essentially, limiting some classified CIA information he might release in the future.

The effort resulted in the drafting of a limited immunity deal that might have temporarily freed the WikiLeaks founder from a London embassy where he has been exiled for years, according to interviews and a trove of internal DOJ documents turned over to Senate investigators.

But an unexpected intervention by Comey — relayed through Warner — soured the negotiations, multiple sources tell me. Assange eventually unleashed a series of leaks that U.S. officials say damaged their cyber warfare capabilities for a long time to come.

John Solomon has been the go-to defense propagandist for Trump from the start. This article is an outlier for its topic. Nevertheless, someone loaded Solomon up with documents to selectively release to fit a particular narrative, which attests to the perceived import of it.

Again, some of this is speculative. But tied to the fact that pardon discussions with Trump may have gone further than previously known, it provides a curious pattern, where Trump responded to the most damaging breach in CIA’s history by instead looking for partisan advantage.

Update: According to a Jim Comey 302 newly liberated by BuzzFeed, he diverted into ODNI to call Trump regarding the March 9 call. (PDF 248)

Note that nothing was withheld for classification reasons, though the call was clearly Top Secret when it occurred. That limits the possible topic still further (though by no means confirms that it is Schulte).

Timeline (all dates 2017)

January 12: Bruce Ohr considers Waldman’s offer

February 3: Laufman reaches out to Waldman

February 4: Wikileaks first pitches Vault 7

February 6: Steele tells Ohr that Oleg Deripaska is upset at being treated like a criminal

February 14: Steele probably shares more information on his relationship with Deripaska

February 15: Waldman reaches out to Warner

February 16: Waldman issues extortion threat against Democrats

February 17: Warner says he’s got important call (with Comey), relays stand down order

March 7: Wikileaks releases first Vault 7 documents

March 9: Trump asks Jim Comey about an intelligence investigation

March 13: Covert search warrant on Schulte’s home and Google account

March 14: FBI obtains overt search warrant for Schulte’s home

Mid-March: Waldman contacts Laufman, suggests Assange is interested

March 15, mid-day: During Tucker Carlson interview, Trump reveals non-public information about Vault 7 leak

March 15: FBI interviews Schulte several times as part of first interview

March 15, 9PM: Probable first airing of Carlson interview

March 16: Adam Schiff warns against Trump leaking about Vault 7

March 20, 2017: Search on Schulte (including of cell phone, from which passwords to his desktop obtained)

March 23: Second Vault 7 release

March 28: Safe passage offer not including details about hack

March 31: Third Vault 7 release

April 5: Laufman asks whether Assange wants safe passage into London or to the US

April 7: Wikileaks posts third dump, which Solomon suggests was the precipitating leak for Mike Pompeo’s declaration of Wikileaks as non-state intelligence service (these are weekly dumps by this point)

White House Putting Political Appointees in Charge of Presidential Records Act Compliance

Axios has a story about how the White House is gutting the CISO staff put into place in the wake of the 2014 APT 29 operation in which Russia targeted the White House. They story is based off the October 17 resignation letter of Dimitrios Vastakis, who was in charge of White House computer network defense, which describes how hostility towards CISO staff has led most of the senior people to resign.

What Axios doesn’t describe, however, is Vastakis’ expressed concern about the effect: that political appointees will be in charge of everything, including compliance with the Presidential Records Act.

I have seen the planned organizational structure for the cybersecurity mission going forward. It essentially transfers the entire mission to the White House Communications Agency (WHCA). All key decision making roles and leadership positions will no longer by [sic] staffed EOP individuals. To me, this is in direct conflict with the recommendations made by the OA Office of General Counsel (OA GC). The main concern of OA GC was the oversight of PRA data and records. Considering the level of network access and privileged capabilities that cybersecurity staff have, it is highly concerning that the entire cybersecurity apparatus is being handed over to non-PRA entities.

That is, it’s not just that Russia will be able to hack the White House again. It’s also that some SysAdmin who knows fuckall about security but who knows how badly Trump needs to suppress or alter key records of his Administration will have the direct access to do that.

In the wake of Trump’s attempt to bury his recent efforts to hide potentially criminal conversations with foreign leaders in a particularly secure server (and in the wake of email or social media retention scandals going back to the first President that Bill Barr helped cover up crimes, Poppy Bush), this concern seems unbelievably important.

[Some of] Where Trump Wants to Go with the Server in Ukraine Story

As I emphasized in this post, before Trump pushed Volodymyr Zelensky to frame Hunter Biden, he first pressed Ukraine’s president to “get to the bottom” of the “what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine.”

The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

Contrary to virtually all the coverage on this, there is reason to believe that Bill Barr can get information from Ukraine that will feed the disinformation about the Russian operation. Trump has obviously been told — and not just by Rudy Giuliani (as Tom Bossert believes) — to ask for this, but some of this is probably part of the disinformation that Russia built in to the operation.

Rudy Giuliani wants to frame Alexandra Chalupa

This morning, Rudy Giuliani explained that he wants to know who in Ukraine provided information damning to Trump during the 2016 campaign.

GIULIANI: I have never peddled it. Have you ever hear me talk about Crowdstrike? I’ve never peddled it. Tom Bossert doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I have never engaged in any theory that the Ukrainians did the hacking. In fact, when this was first presented to me, I pretty clearly understood the Ukrainians didn’t do the hacking, but that doesn’t mean Ukraine didn’t do anything, and this is where Bossert…

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, why does the president keep repeating it?

GIULIANI: Let’s get on to the point…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, this was in the phone call.

GIULIANI: I agree with Bossert on one thing, it’s clear: there’s no evidence the Ukrainians did it. I never pursued any evidence and he’s created a red herring. What the president is talking about is, however, there is a load of evidence that the Ukrainians created false information, that they were asked by the Obama White House to do it in January of 2016, information he’s never bothered to go read. There are affidavits that have been out there for five months that none of you have listened to about how there’s a Ukrainian court finding that a particular individual illegally gave the Clinton campaign information. No one wants to investigate that. Nobody cared about it. It’s a court opinion in the Ukraine. The Ukrainians came to me. I didn’t go to them. The Ukrainians came to me and said…

STEPHANOPOULOS: When did they first come to you?

GIULIANI: November of 2016, they first came to me. And they said, we have shocking evidence that the collusion that they claim happened in Russia, which didn’t happen, happened in the Ukraine, and it happened with Hillary Clinton. George Soros was behind it. George Soros’ company was funding it.

This is an effort to frame Alexandra Chalupa, who while working as a DNC consultant in 2016 raised alarms about Paul Manafort. This is an effort that Trump has pursued since 2017 in part with a story first floated to (!!) Ken Vogel, an effort that key propagandist John Solomon was pursuing in May. Remember, too, that Chalupa was hacked separately in 2016, and believed she was being followed.

Peter Smith’s operation may have asked for help from a hacker in Ukraine

But per the transcript, this is not about Rudy, it’s about Barr. And even leaving Rudy’s antics aside, there is more that Trump may be after.

First, a fairly minor point, but possibly important. According to Charles Johnson, he advised Peter Smith to reach out to Weev for help finding Hillary’s deleted emails.

Johnson said he also suggested that Smith get in touch with Andrew Auernheimer, a hacker who goes by the alias “Weev” and has collaborated with Johnson in the past. Auernheimer—who was released from federal prison in 2014 after having a conviction for fraud and hacking offenses vacated and subsequently moved to Ukraine—declined to say whether Smith contacted him, citing conditions of his employment that bar him from speaking to the press.

At the time (and still, as far as I know), Weev was living in Ukraine. The Mueller Report says that his investigators never found evidence that Smith or Barbara Ledeen (or Erik Prince or Mike Flynn, who were also key players in this effort) ever contacted Russian hackers.

Smith drafted multiple emails stating or intimating that he was in contact with Russian hackers. For example, in one such email, Smith claimed that, in August 2016, KLS Research had organized meetings with parties who had access to the deleted Clinton emails, including parties with “ties and affiliations to Russia.”286 The investigation did not identify evidence that any such meetings occurred. Associates and security experts who worked with Smith on the initiative did not believe that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers and were aware of no such connection.287 The investigation did not establish that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers or that Smith, Ledeen, or other individuals in touch with the Trump Campaign ultimately obtained the deleted Clinton emails.

Weev is a hacker, but not Russian. So if Smith had reached out to Weev — and if Weev had given him any reason for optimism in finding the emails or even the alleged emails that Ledeen obtained — it might explain why Trump would believe there was information in Ukraine that would help him.

CrowdStrike once claimed its certainty on Russian attribution related to a problematic report on Ukraine

But that’s not the CrowdStrike tie.

At least part of the CrowdStrike tie — and what Zelensky actually could feed to Trump — pertains to a report they did in December 2016. They concluded that one of the same tools that was used in the DNC hack had been covertly distributed to Ukrainian artillery units, which (CrowdStrike claimed) led to catastrophic losses in the Ukranian armed forces. When the report came out — amid the December 2016 frenzy as President Obama tried to figure out what to do with Russia given the Trump win — CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch pitched it as further proof that GRU had hacked the DNC. In other words, according to CrowdStrike, their high confidence on the DNC attribution was tied to their analysis of the Ukrainian malware.

In a now deleted post, infosec researcher Jeffrey Carr raised several problems with the CrowdStrike report. He correctly noted that CrowdStrike vastly overstated the losses to the Ukranian troops, which both an outside analyst and then the Ukranian Defense Ministry corrected. CrowdStrike has since updated its report, correcting the claim about Ukrainian losses, but standing by its analysis that GRU planted this malware as a way to target Ukrainian troops.

Carr also claimed to know of two instances — one, another security company, and the other, a Ukrainian hacker — where the tool was found in the wild.

Crowdstrike, along with FireEye and other cybersecurity companies, have long propagated the claim that Fancy Bear and all of its affiliated monikers (APT28, Sednit, Sofacy, Strontium, Tsar Team, Pawn Storm, etc.) were the exclusive developers and users of X-Agent. We now know that is false.

ESET was able to obtain the complete source code for X-Agent (aka Xagent) for the Linux OS with a compilation date of July 2015. [5]

A hacker known as RUH8 aka Sean Townsend with the Ukrainian Cyber Alliance has informed me that he has also obtained the source code for X-Agent Linux. [11]

Carr argued that since CrowdStrike’s attribution of the DNC hack assumed that only GRU had access to that tool, their attribution claim could no longer be trusted. At the time I deemed Carr’s objections to be worthwhile, but not fatal for the CrowdStrike claim. It was, however, damning for CrowdStrike’s public crowing about attribution of the DNC hack.

Since that time, the denialist crowd has elaborated on theories about CrowdStrike, which BuzzFeed gets just parts of here. Something that will be very critical moving forward but which BuzzFeed did not include, is that the president of CrowdStrike, Shawn Henry, is the guy who (while he was still at FBI) ran the FBI informant who infiltrated Anonymous, Sabu. Because the FBI reportedly permitted Sabu to direct Antisec to hack other countries as a false flag, the denialist theory goes, Henry and CrowdStrike must be willing to launch false flags for their existing clients. [See update below, which makes it clear FBI did not direct this.] The reason I say this will be important going forward is that these events are likely being reexamined as we speak in the grand jury that has subpoenaed both Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond.

So Trump has an incentive to damage not just CrowdStrike’s 2016 reports on GRU, but also CrowdStrike generally. In 2017, Ukraine wanted to rebut the CrowdStrike claim because it made it look bad to Ukranian citizens. But if Trump gives Zelensky reason to revisit the issue, they might up the ante, and claim that CrowdStrike’s claims did damage to Ukraine.

I also suspect Trump may have been cued to push the theory that the GRU tool in question may, indeed, have been readily available and could have been used against the DNC by someone else, perhaps trying to frame Russia.

As I’ve noted, the GRU indictment and Mueller Report list 30 other named sources of evidence implicating the GRU in the hack. That list doesn’t include Dutch hackers at AIVD, which provided information (presumably to the Intelligence Community generally, including the FBI). And it doesn’t include NSA, which Bossert suggested today attributed the hack without anything from CrowdStrike. In other words, undermining the CrowdStrike claims would do nothing to undermine the overall attribution to Russia (though it could be useful for Stone if it came out before his November 5 trial, as the four warrants tied to his false statements relied on CrowdStrike). But it would certainly feed the disinformation effort that has already focused on CrowdStrike.

That’s just part of what Trump is after.

Update: Dell Cameron, who’s one of the experts on this topic, says that public accounts significantly overstate how closely Sabu was being handled at this time. Nevertheless, the perception that FBI (and Henry) encouraged Sabu’s attacks is out there and forms a basis for the claim that CrowdStrike would engage in a false flag attack. Here’s the chatlog showing some of this activity. Hammond got to the Brazilian target by himself.

Government Confirms that WikiLeaks Didn’t Release All the Vault 7 Files

Accused Vault 7 hacker Joshua Schulte’s lawyers seem really intent on preventing the government from using evidence obtained while he was using a contraband phone at MCC in his trial for the main leak of CIA’s hacking tools to WikiLeaks.

They’ve already challenged warrants obtained using evidence found in notebooks marked as attorney-client privileged information but then released after a wall team review; in my NAL opinion, that challenge is the most likely of any of his motions to succeed. Last week, they also moved to sever the two MCC charges from the main Espionage ones (they’ve already severed the child porn and copyright violation charges from the Espionage ones), explaining that two of his attorneys, including his lead attorney Sabrina Shroff, would testify to something about discussions from May and June 2018 that would address his state of mind when he leaked and tried to leak CIA materials later in 2018.

To defend against the government’s allegations, Mr. Schulte would call two of his attorneys—Matthew B. Larsen and Sabrina P. Shroff—to present favorable testimony bearing on his state of mind.

This pertains, in some way, to the government’s claim that Schulte wrote classified information in his prison notebooks as part of a plan to leak it.

The government has indicated that its evidence on the MCC Counts will include portions of notebooks seized from Mr. Schulte’s cell, in which he allegedly documented his plans to transmit classified information.

[snip]

Defense counsel expects that at trial, the government will seek to introduce excerpts of Mr. Schulte’s writings in his notebooks as evidence of his specific intent to violate the law.

If they succeed at severing count four from the main Espionage charges, it might make it harder to link what Schulte was doing in jail with what he was allegedly doing over two years earlier. As I noted when Schulte’s team first challenged the MCC warrants, it’s clear why they’re doing this: the MCC evidence indicates he had an ongoing relationship with WikiLeaks.

The FBI investigation proceeded from those notebooks to the WordPress site showing him claiming something identical to disinformation he was packaging up to share with WikiLeaks. They also got from those notebooks to ProtonMail accounts where Schulte offered to share what may or may not be classified information with a journalist. The reason why the defense is pushing to suppress this — one of the only challenges they’re making in his prosecution thus far — is because the stuff Schulte did in prison is utterly damning and seems to confirm both his familiarity with WikiLeaks and his belief that he needed to create disinformation to claim to be innocent.

The government, in a fairly scathing response to Schulte’s motion to sever the trials, confirms that it believes the MCC charges include evidence that help support the main charges on leaking the files to WikiLeaks (what the government calls CIA counts). The government had a “reverse proffer” on December 18, 2018 and laid out all the evidence against Schulte, including pointing out that (as I described) the material seized from MCC helped prove the CIA charges.

About six weeks later, on December 18, 2018, the Government met with defense counsel (the “Reverse Attorney Proffer”). At this meeting, the Government described for defense counsel the theory of the Government’s case with respect to the charges in the Second Superseding Indictment, and answered defense counsel’s questions about the charged counts, including the new counts. The Government also explicitly noted during the Reverse Attorney Proffer that it believed that the material recovered pursuant to the MCC Warrants was relevant evidence with respect to not only the MCC Counts, but also the CIA Counts.

Having laid out the interconnectedness of these charges, the government then explains at some length why having different attorneys defend Schulte in the CIA and MCC counts would cause delays in both, because replacement counsel would need to familiarize themselves with both sets of charges. Now, as I noted, there’s unclassified information that Schulte clearly shared with WikiLeaks both before and while he was in jail. But right there in the middle of this passage is the revelation that Schulte identified classified information in his prison notebooks that he shared with WikiLeaks but that WikiLeaks has not yet published.

Regardless, Schulte’s proposal—further severed trials and new counsel for the MCC Counts—would neither prevent trial delay nor resolve the ethical issue. Rather, it is likely to exacerbate both. First, appointing new counsel on the MCC Counts is likely to cause, rather than prevent, further trial delay and would complicate Schulte’s defense across all counts. Because of the interconnectedness of the MCC Counts and the CIA Counts, as well as the child pornography and copyright counts, new counsel would need to become familiar with the evidence as to all counts in order to appropriately advise and defend Schulte. Indeed, new counsel might determine that the best course with respect to the MCC Counts would be to seek to negotiate a plea that resolves those charges along with some combination of the CIA Counts, child pornography counts, and/or copyright count. Those negotiations could not occur until new counsel was fully familiar with all aspects of the case. This would take a substantial amount of time given that new counsel would have to be cleared and that a substantial portion of the evidence is classified and, thus, must be reviewed in sensitive compartmented information facilities. Moreover, even after new counsel became familiar with the case, it is possible that new counsel might have different views than current counsel concerning a variety of trial strategy decisions, including, among others, the desirability of Schulte testifying, which could impact one or all of the severed trials and would need to be coordinated among all of Schulte’s attorneys. As a result, trial on the CIA Counts could not proceed until new counsel for the MCC Counts was familiar with the entire case. In short, the appointment of new counsel would likely further complicate this case and lead to substantial delays.

Second, severing the CIA Counts from the MCC Counts also would not resolve the purported ethical issue. Even if the trials were severed, evidence of Schulte’s prison conduct, including the Schulte Cell Documents, would still be admissible at the trial addressing the CIA Counts as both direct evidence and Rule 404(b) evidence of those crimes. For example, in the Schulte Cell Documents, Schulte specifically identifies certain classified information that was provided to WikiLeaks but which WikiLeaks has not yet published, which is direct evidence that Schulte transmitted classified information to WikiLeaks as charged in the WikiLeaks Counts. Similarly, Schulte’s prison conduct is also admissible as to the WikiLeaks Counts for a variety of Rule 404(b) purposes including to show, among other things, consciousness of guilt, motive, opportunity, intent, absence of mistake, and modus operandi.5

5 Similarly, during a trial addressing the MCC Counts, the Government would introduce evidence relating to the CIA Counts as direct evidence to complete the story of the crime and, in the alternative, as Rule 404(b) evidence. For example, evidence related to the CIA Counts would establish Schulte’s motive for committing and ability to commit the MCC Counts, as well as his knowledge that the information he unlawfully transmitted was classified national defense information. As a result, even a trial on the MCC Counts would entail introduction of much of the evidence from the Espionage Trial. [my emphasis]

The government doesn’t say whether it knows that WikiLeaks received this information because it found it after seizing Julian Assange’s computers or some other way.

The detail that Schulte referred to information that the government apparently knows WikiLeaks received — but that WikiLeaks has never published — is interesting for an entirely different reason.

On top of asking to sever two more charges, Schulte is also asking for a delay in trial, from November to January. The government says it’s cool with that delay, so long as there won’t be any further delay.

The Government understands that the defendant is seeking to adjourn the Espionage Trial until January 13, 2020. Although the Government is prepared to start trial as scheduled on November 4, 2019, the Government does not oppose the defendant’s adjournment request with the understanding that the defendant will not seek another adjournment of the Espionage Trial absent exceptional and unforeseen circumstances[.]

This story on Jeremy Hammond’s subpoena in EDVA clarifies something about which there has been a great deal of confusion. The US can still add charges against Julian Assange at least until his extradition hearing, which starts on February 25.

Nick Vamos, former head of extradition at the Crown Prosecution Service in England, said the treaty between the two countries still allows for the U.S. to add charges to the Assange case, but that will become more difficult and problematic for the American prosecutors as they get closer to the scheduled extradition hearing in February.

The discussion today has focused on the Stratfor hacks that Hammond is serving time for. Because the five year statute of limitations for CFAA would normally have tolled by now, they are likely pursuing some kind of conspiracy charges, for a conspiracy that continued past 2012.

But given the seeming cooperation while Schulte was in jail and the knowledge that WikiLeaks sat on — or used — one of the other files provided by Schulte, if the government is planning on more conspiracy charges, chances are good that Vault 7 will eventually be included in them.

There Were Two Dick-Waggings Directed at Iran This Week

By all appearances President Trump casually released highly classified information yesterday, as he has done repeatedly in the past.

Within hours of this tweet, CNBC confirmed that this image comes from one of Trump’s intelligence briefings, which led experts to assume Trump had been careless.

A U.S. defense official told CNBC that the picture in Trump’s tweet, which appeared to be a snapshot of a physical copy of the satellite image, was included in a Friday intelligence briefing.

[snip]

But the quality of the photograph quickly raised the eyebrows of national security experts, who say that images this clear are rarely made public.

“I’m not supposed to see stuff this good. He’s not supposed to share it. I’ve honestly never seen an image this sharp,” said Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network and director of the Datayo Project at the One Earth Future Foundation.

Hanham suspected the shot was taken from a high-altitude aerial vehicle using tracking technology, such as an RC-135S Cobra Ball or a similar aircraft.

“This will have global repercussions,” said Joshua Pollack, a nuclear proliferation expert and editor of the Nonproliferation Review.

“The utter carelessness of it all,” Pollack said. “So reckless.”

Even before the NYT weighed in last night, I had my doubts whether this was reckless, or whether it was a calculated decision to dick-wag over the sabotage of a missile program the Iranians deny.

First, the tweet was almost certainly not written by Trump. It has no grammatical errors or typographical anomalies. It uses technical terms and consists of full sentences.

In other words, the tweet has none of the hallmarks of Trump’s reflexive tweeting. Someone helped him tweet this out.

Then there’s the fact that, earlier this week, the US dick-wagged about another successful operation against Iran, a cyberattack that took out the IRGC database that they were using to target western shipping.

The head of United States Cyber Command, Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, describes his strategy as “persistent engagement” against adversaries. Operatives for the United States and for various adversaries are carrying out constant low-level digital attacks, said the senior defense official. The American operations are calibrated to stay well below the threshold of war, the official added.

The strike on the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence group diminished Iran’s ability to conduct covert attacks, said a senior official.

The United States government obtained intelligence that officials said showed that the Revolutionary Guards were behind the limpet mine attacks that disabled oil tankers in the Gulf in attacks in May and June, although other governments did not directly blame Iran. The military’s Central Command showed some of its evidence against Iran one day before the cyberstrike.

[snip]

The database targeted in the cyberattacks, according to the senior official, helped Tehran choose which tankers to target and where. No tankers have been targeted in significant covert attacks since the June 20 cyberoperation, although Tehran did seize a British tanker in retaliation for the detention of one of its own vessels.

Though the effects of the June 20 cyberoperation were always designed to be temporary, they have lasted longer than expected and Iran is still trying to repair critical communications systems and has not recovered the data lost in the attack, officials said.

Officials have not publicly outlined details of the operation. Air defense and missile systems were not targeted, the senior defense official said, calling media reports citing those targets inaccurate.

In the aftermath of the strike, some American officials have privately questioned its impact, saying they did not believe it was worth the cost. Iran probably learned critical information about the United States Cyber Command’s capabilities from it, one midlevel official said.

That story described the views of CyberCommand head General Nakasone, who did some dick-wagging in February over CyberCommand’s role in thwarting Russia’s efforts to tamper in the elections.

Whatever else Nakasone has done with his command, he seems to have made a conscious decision that taking credit for successful operations adds to its effectiveness. There certainly was some debate, both within the NYT story and in discussions of it, whether he’s right. But Nakasone is undoubtedly a professional who, when stories boasting of successful CyberCommand operations get released, has surely thought through the implications of it.

But as I said, last night NYT weighed in on the destroyed missile launch, with a story by long-standing scribes for the intelligence community, David Sanger and William Broad and — listed at the end in the actual story but given equal billing in Sanger’s tweet of it — Julian Barnes, the guy who broke Nakasone’s dick-wagging earlier in the week. It’s a funny story — as it was bound to be, given that virtually no one reported on the explosion itself and while this spends a line doing that, it’s really a story exploring what kind of denial this is.

Trump Denies U.S. Responsibility in Iranian Missile Base Explosion

[snip]

As pictures from commercial satellites of a rocket’s smoking remains began to circulate, President Trump denied Friday on Twitter that the United States was involved.

[snip]

Mr. Trump also included in his tweet a high-resolution image of the disaster, immediately raising questions about whether he had plucked a classified image from his morning intelligence briefing to troll the Iranians. The president seemed to resolve the question on Friday night on his way to Camp David when he told reporters, “We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do.”

There is no denying that, even if it runs the risk of alerting adversaries to American abilities to spy from high over foreign territory. And there is precedent for doing so in more calculated scenarios: President John F. Kennedy declassified photographs of Soviet missile sites during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and President George W. Bush declassified pictures of Iraq in 2003 to support the faulty case that Saddam Hussein was producing nuclear and chemical weapons.

[snip]

Mr. Trump’s denial and the satellite image he released seemed meant to maximize Iran’s embarrassment over the episode.

[snip]

If the accident was linked to a covert action by the United States — one that Mr. Trump would have been required to authorize in a presidential “finding” — he and other American officials would be required by law to deny involvement.

The laws governing covert actions, which stretch back to the Truman administration, focus on obscuring who was responsible for the act, not covering up the action itself. Most American presidents have fulfilled that requirement by staying silent about such episodes, but Mr. Trump does not operate by ordinary rules — and may have decided that an outright denial was his best course. [my emphasis]

Not everyone agrees with the claim that Trump would be required by law to deny a covert operation. He’s the President. He can do what he wants with classified information.

That said, the story may be an attempt to use official scribes to reframe this disclosure to make it closer to the way the intelligence community likes to engage in plausible deniability, with a lot of wink wink and smirking. Amid all the discussion of deny deny deny, after all, the NYT points to several pieces of evidence that this explosion was part of a successful program to sabotage Iran’s missile capabilities.

Two previous attempts at launching satellites — on Jan. 15 and on Feb. 5 — failed. More than two-thirds of Iran’s satellite launches have failed over the past 11 years, a remarkably high number compared with the 5 percent failure rate worldwide.

[snip]

It was the third disaster to befall a rocket launching attempt this year at the Iranian space center, a desert complex east of Tehran named for the nation’s first supreme leader. The site specializes in rocket launchings meant put satellites into orbit.

Tehran announced its January rocket failure but said nothing the one in February that was picked up by American intelligence officials. It has also said nothing officially about Thursday’s blast. Like many closed societies, Iran tends to hide its failures and exaggerate its successes.

The NYT also helpfully links earlier stories on on Iran’s missile program, including one from February by Sanger and Broad that states as fact that the US has accelerated a program to sabotage Iran’s missile program.

The Trump White House has accelerated a secret American program to sabotage Iran’s missiles and rockets, according to current and former administration officials, who described it as part of an expanding campaign by the United States to undercut Tehran’s military and isolate its economy.

Officials said it was impossible to measure precisely the success of the classified program, which has never been publicly acknowledged. But in the past month alone, two Iranian attempts to launch satellites have failed within minutes.

Those two rocket failures — one that Iran announced on Jan. 15 and the other, an unacknowledged attempt, on Feb. 5 — were part of a pattern over the past 11 years. In that time, 67 percent of Iranian orbital launches have failed, an astonishingly high number compared to a 5 percent failure rate worldwide for similar space launches.

Every astute reader who read the earlier Sanger and Broad story would have assumed this explosion was part of the American operation they described. Trump’s tweet would not have changed the extent to which the US could plausibly deny its sabotage operation.

Which means, among all the coyness and winking, this is the most interesting line of the NYT story.

It was unclear if Mr. Trump was using the explosion and the lurking suspicions among Iranians that the United States was again deep inside their nuclear and missile programs to force a negotiation or to undermine one.

Not discussed, however, is the other risk to Trump’s tweet: it has effectively given Iran and our other adversaries a sense of what kind of imagery capabilities we’ve got. That’s what some of the proliferation experts are most troubled by, the possibility that by tweeting out the image, Trump will make it easier for others to evade our surveillance.

But that should be discussed in the same breath as the earlier dick-wagging. While Iran surely suspected the database strike was US work, the earlier NYT story confirms it.

Yes, it’s clear that Trump’s tweet yesterday was dick-wagging. But so was the earlier report on the database hack. So this could reflect a broader change in the US approach to deniability.

The Classified Conversation Trump Had with Comey Was Two Days after the Vault 7 Leak

The other day, I did a long post showing that Trump blabbed details about the FBI’s investigation into the theft of CIA’s hacking tools the same day that the FBI was preparing to take the first step that would alert Joshua Schulte he was FBI’s suspect, a search of his apartment. While in fact, Trump’s comments probably were broadcast after the search had commenced, he made the comments at a time when they could have tipped off Schulte.

In the post, I noted that Jim Comey had had one classified conversation about an intelligence investigation with Trump. “I had one conversation with the president that was classified where he asked about our, an ongoing intelligence investigation, it was brief and entirely professional,” Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The DOJ IG Report on Comey’s memos released today (which I’ll cover at length later) reveals that that conversation took place on March 9, 2017.

On March 9, 2017, Comey had a secure one-on-one telephone call with President Trump. Comey told the OIG that the secure telephone call was “only business,” and that there was “nothing untoward” about the call, other than it was “unusual for the President to call the Director directly.” Comey said he did not prepare a memo to document this call with the President, but said he had [Jim] Rybicki arrange a secure call to Attorney General Sessions immediately afterwards to inform the Attorney General about the telephone call from the President in an effort “to keep the Attorney General in the chain of command between [Comey] and the President.”

That means the conversation took place just two days after the March 7 initial release of the Vault 7 files. The timing makes it far more likely that that’s what they two men spoke about.

More crazy, however, is the detail that Trump initiated that call.

If Trump were calling the FBI Director for information about an investigation into a leak to WikiLeaks (at a time a long effort to get Julian Assange a pardon had already begun), that would change the import of the call significantly.

Revisiting the First Time President Trump Blabbed Out Classified Information for Political Gain

I’d like to revisit what might be the first time in his presidency that Donald Trump blabbed out highly classified information for political gain. Trump appears to have endangered the investigation into CIA’s stolen hacking tools, all to blame Obama for the leak.

It happened on March 15, 2017, during an interview with Tucker Carlson.

Amid a long exchange where Tucker challenges Trump, asking why he claimed — 11 days earlier — that Obama had “tapped” Trump Tower without offering proof, Trump blurted out that the CIA was hacked during the Obama Administration.

Tucker: On March 4, 6:35 in the morning, you’re down in Florida, and you tweet, the former Administration wiretapped me, surveilled me, at Trump Tower during the last election. Um, how did you find out? You said, I just found out. How did you learn that?

Trump: I’ve been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20th, a NYT article, they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier, the day previous, where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, wait a minute, there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about. I’ve been seeing a lot of things. Now, for the most part I’m not going to discuss it because we have it before the committee, and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon, that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But it’s potentially a very serious situation.

Tucker: So 51,000 people retweeted that, so a lot of people thought that was plausible, they believe you, you’re the president. You’re in charge of the agencies, every intelligence agency reports to you. Why not immediately go to them and gather evidence to support that?

Trump: Because I don’t want to do anything that’s going to violate any strength of an agency. You know we have enough problems. And by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked and a lot of things taken. That was during the Obama years. That was not during, us, that was during the Obama situation. Mike Pompeo is there now, doing a fantastic job. But we will be submitting certain things, and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week. But it’s right now before the Committee, and I think I want to leave it at that. I have a lot of confidence in the committee.

Tucker: Why not wait to tweet about it until you can prove it? Does it devalue your words when you can’t provide evidence?

Trump: Well because the NYT wrote about it. You know, not that I respect the NYT. I call it the failing NYT. They did write on January 20 using the word wiretap. Other people have come out with —

Tucker: Right, but you’re the President. You have the ability to gather all the evidence you want.

Trump: I do, I do. But I think that frankly we have a lot right now and I think if you watch, uh, if you watched the Brett Baier and what he was saying and what he was talking about and how he mentioned the word wiretap, you would feel very confident that you could mention the name. He mentioned it and other people have mentioned it. But if you take a look at some of the things written about wiretapping and eavesdropping, and don’t forget when I say wiretap, those words were in quotes, that really covers, because wiretapping is pretty old fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes but that’s a very important thing. But wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you’re going to find some very interesting items over the next two weeks. [my emphasis]

It was clear even at the time that it was a reference to the Vault 7 files, now alleged to have been leaked to WikiLeaks by Joshua Schulte; the first installment of files were released eight days earlier.

The next day, Adam Schiff, who as the then-Ranking HPSCI member, likely had been briefed on the leak, responded to Trump’s comments and suggested that, while Trump couldn’t have broken the law for revealing classified information, he should nevertheless try to avoid releasing it like this, without any kind of consideration of the impact of it.

Last night, the President stated on Fox News that “I just wanted people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken–that was during the Obama years.” In his effort to once again blame Obama, the President appears to have discussed something that, if true and accurate, would otherwise be considered classified information,

It would be one thing if the President’s statement were the product of intelligence community discussion and a purposeful decision to disclose information to the public, but that is unlikely to be the case. The President has the power to declassify whatever he wants, but this should be done as the product of thoughtful consideration and with intense input from any agency affected. For anyone else to do what the President may have done, would constitute what he deplores as “leaks.”

Trump did reveal information the CIA still considered classified. At the very least, by saying that CIA got hacked, he confirmed the Vault 7 documents were authentic files from the CIA, something the government was not otherwise confirming publicly at that time. (Compare Mike Pompeo’s oblique comments about the leak from a month later.)

His reference to the volume of stolen files may have been based on what the CIA had learned from reviewing the initial dump; court filings make it clear the CIA still did not know precisely what had been stolen.

His reference to a hack, rather than a leak, is an interesting word choice, as the compromise has usually been called a leak. But Schulte’s initial search warrants listed both Espionage and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, meaning the government was treating it as (partly) a hacking investigation. And some of the techniques he allegedly used to steal the files are the same that hackers use to obfuscate their tracks (which is unsurprising, given that Schulte wrote some of the CIA’s obfuscation tools).

Perhaps the most damning part of Trump’s statement, however, was the main one: that the theft had taken place under Obama. WikiLeaks’ initial release was totally noncommittal about when they obtained the files, but said it had been “recent[].” By making it clear that the government knew the theft had taken place in 2016 and not more “recently,” Trump revealed a detail that would have made it more likely Schulte would realize they believed he was the culprit (though he knew from the start he’d be a suspect), given that he’d left the agency just days after Trump was elected.

The most damning part of all of this, though, is the timing. Trump made these comments at an unbelievably sensitive time in the investigation.

Tucker did the interview while accompanying Trump to Detroit on March 15, 2017, which means the interview took place sometime between 10:50 AM and 3:30 PM (Tucker said the interview happened at Willow Run Airport, but this schedule says he flew into DTW). Unless it was given special billing, it would have aired at 9PM on March 15.

That means Trump probably made the comments as the FBI was preparing a search of Schulte’s apartment, the first step the FBI took that would confirm for Schulte that he was the main suspect in the leak. Trump’s comments likely aired during the search, before the moment Schulte left his apartment with two passports while the search was ongoing.

CIA had had a bit of advanced warning about the leak. In the lead-up to the leaks (at least by February 3), a lawyer representing Julian Assange, Adam Waldman, was trying to use the Vault 7 files to make a deal with the US government, at first offering to mitigate the damage of the release for some vaguely defined safe passage for Assange. The next day, WikiLeaks first hyped the release, presumably as part of an attempt to apply pressure on the US. Shortly thereafter, Waldman started pitching Mark Warner (who, with Richard Burr, could have granted Assange immunity in conjunction with SSCI’s investigation). On February 17, Jim Comey told Warner to stop his negotiations, though Waldman would continue to discuss the issue to David Laufman at DOJ even after the initial release. Weeks later, WikiLeaks released the initial dump of files on March 7.

An early WaPo report on the leak (which Schulte googled for its information about what the CIA knew before WikiLeaks published) claimed that CIA’s Internal Security had started conducting its own investigation without alerting FBI to the leak (though obviously Comey knew of it by mid-February). The same report quoted a CIA spox downplaying the impact of a leak it now calls “catastrophic.”

By March 13, the day the FBI got its first warrant on Schulte, the FBI had focused on Schulte as the primary target of the investigation. They based that focus on the following evidence, which appears to incorporate information from the CIA’s own internal investigation, an assessment of the first document dump, and some FBI interviews with his colleagues in the wake of the first release:

  • The FBI believed (and still maintains) that the files were stolen from the onsite backup server
  • Schulte was one of a small group of SysAdmins who had privileges to that server (in the initial warrant they said just three people did but have since revised the number to five)
  • The FBI believed (mistakenly) that the files were copied on March 7, 2016, a time when one of the other two known SysAdmins was offsite
  • Schulte had had a blow-up with a colleague that led to him souring on his bosses
  • During the period the CIA was investigating that blow-up, Schulte had reset his administrative privileges to restore his access to the backup server and one project he was working on
  • As part of his August security clearance renewal, some of Schulte’s colleagues said they thought he could be subject to coercion and was not adhering to rules on removable media
  • Just before he left, Schulte created two documents claiming to have raised concerns about the security of the CIA’s servers that (the government claims) he didn’t actually raise
  • Names identifying the two other SysAdmins who had access to the backup server, but not Schulte’s, were included in the initial release
  • In six days since the initial Vault 7 release, Schulte had contacted colleagues and told them he thought he’d be a suspect but was not the leaker

Having obtained a warrant based off that probable cause, on the afternoon of March 13, FBI agents went to conduct a covert search of Schulte’s apartment. The FBI was trying to conduct the search before a trip to Mexico Schulte was scheduled to take on March 16, which (as the affidavit noted) would have been only his second trip outside the US reflected in DHS records. But when the FBI got to Schulte’s apartment, they found a slew of computer devices (listed at PDF 116), making the covert search impractical. So overnight, they obtained a second warrant for an overt search; the FBI obtained that warrant at 1:36 AM on March 14. During that same overnight trip to the magistrate, the FBI also obtained warrants for Schulte’s Google, Reddit, and GitHub accounts.

There’s a lack of clarity about this detail in the public record: the warrant is dated March 14, but it is described as the “March 15 warrant.” The overt search continued through the night in question, so it could either be March 14-15 or March 15-16. The government’s response to Schulte’s motion to suppress the search says, “The Overt Warrant was signed during the early morning hours of March 14, 2017, and the FBI executed the warrant the same day.” But a May 5, 2017 affidavit (starting at PDF 129) says the overt search of Schulte’s apartment took place on March 15.

Whatever day the search happened, it appears that the search started when the lead agent approached Schulte in the lobby of Bloomberg, perhaps as he was leaving work, and asked if he had a role in the leak, which Schulte denied. (This conversation is one basis for Schulte’s false statements charge; the Bill of Particulars describing the interview says it took place on March 15.) The agent got Schulte to confirm he was traveling to Mexico on March 16, then got Schulte to let them into his apartment (Bloomberg is at 120 Park Avenue; Schulte lived at 200 E 39th Street, five blocks away). The search of Schulte’s apartment went through the night. Sometime between 10 and 11 PM, Schulte left his apartment, telling the FBI Agents he’d return around 11:30 PM. By 12:15 AM he hadn’t returned, so the lead FBI Agent went and found him leaving Bloomberg. They told him they had found classified information in his apartment, and asked for his passports. He went back to his workstation to retrieve them, and voluntarily handed them over. The affidavit describes Schulte being put on leave by Bloomberg on March 16, the last day he reported to work at Bloomberg (which would be consistent with the search taking place on the night of March 15-16).

If the search took place overnight on March 14-15, Trump’s statements might have reflected knowledge the search had occurred (and that FBI had found classified information in Schulte’s apartment that would sustain an arrest on false statements and mishandling classified information charges, if need be). If the search took place overnight on March 15-16 (which seems to be what the record implies), it would mean Trump made the comments before the search and they would have been aired on Fox News during it.

In other words, Trump may well have made the comments at a time when FBI was trying to avoid giving Schulte any advance notice because they were afraid he might destroy evidence.

In addition, Trump undoubtedly made the comments (and Schiff highlighted the significance of them) before Schulte had follow-up interviews on March 20 and 21, at which he denied, among other things, ever making CIA’s servers more vulnerable to compromise. If Schulte had read Trump’s comment he’d be more worried about anything akin to hacking.

The question is, how much of what Trump said reflected real knowledge of the investigation, and to what degree should he have known that blurting this out could be unbelievably damaging to the investigation?

Given Trump’s imprecision in speech, his comments could derive entirely from the Vault 7 release itself, or at least a really high level briefing (with pictures!) of the compromise and CIA’s efforts to mitigate it.

But there are two pieces of evidence that suggest Trump may have been briefed in more detail about Schulte as a target.

Jim Comey testified on June 8, 2017 that, in addition to asking him to, “let this [Flynn thing] go,” Trump had asked him about a classified investigation, but that conversation was entirely professional.

WARNER: Tens of thousands. Did the president ever ask about any other ongoing investigation?

COMEY: No.

WARNER: Did he ever ask about you trying to interfere on any other investigation?

COMEY: No.

WARNER: I think, again, this speaks volumes. This doesn’t even get to the questions around the phone calls about lifting the cloud. I know other members will get to that, but I really appreciate your testimony, and appreciate your service to our nation.

COMEY: Thank you, Senator Warner. I’m sitting here going through my contacts with him. I had one conversation with the president that was classified where he asked about our, an ongoing intelligence investigation, it was brief and entirely professional.

Obviously there were a ton of investigations and this conversation could have taken place after Trump made the public comments. But the Vault 7 investigation would have been one of the most pressing investigations in the months before Comey got fired.

More directly on point, in his Presumption of Innocence blog, Schulte describes the interactions with the FBI during the search — which are consistent with them taking place on March 15 — this way (he has not sought to suppress the statements he made that night, which suggests his claims of coercion aren’t strong enough to impress his attorneys):

The FBI set an artificial and misguided deadline on the night before I was to depart NYC for Cancun to prevent me from leaving the country. Despite my insistence with them that the notion someone would flee the country AFTER the publication literally made no sense—if it were me communicating with WikiLeaks then obviously I would have made damn sure to leave BEFORE it happened—they were persistent in their belief that I was guilty. The FBI literally told me that everyone ”up to the top” knew we were having this conversation and that “they” could not afford to let me leave the country. “They” could not afford another national embarrassment like Snowden. “They” would not, under any circumstances, allow me to leave the country. The FBI were prepared and willing to do anything and everything to prevent me from leaving the country including threaten my immediate arrest arrest unless I surrendered my passport. I did NOT initially consent, but the FBI held me against my will without any arrest warrant and even actively disrupted my attempts to contact an attorney. Intimidated, fearful, and without counsel, I eventually consented. I was immediately suspended from work

Schulte’s an egotist and has told obvious lies, especially in his public statements attempting to claim innocence. But if it’s true that the FBI agents told him everyone “up to the top” knew they were having the conversation with him on March 15, it might reflect knowledge that people at least as senior as Comey or Sessions or Pompeo knew the FBI was going to conduct an overt search with one goal being to prevent Schulte from leaving the country. And given the purported reference to Snowden and the way the entire government pursued him, it is not impossible that Trump had been asked to authorize Schulte’s arrest if he didn’t surrender his passports.

In other words, it is certainly possible that when Trump boasted that the CIA’s hacking tools had been stolen under Obama and not under his Administration (an interesting claim to begin with, given the delay in CIA alerting the FBI that WaPo reported), he had been briefed about Schulte within the last 48 hours or even that morning.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that this comment was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the FBI investigation. Trump has a habit of mindlessly repeating whatever he has heard most recently, so if Trump were briefed on the investigative steps against Schulte on the 14th or 15th, it’s not surprising he brought it up when sitting with Tucker mid-day on the 15th, particularly given that they were discussing surveillance.

But imagine how this would look to the FBI as Trump started engaging in outright obstruction of the Russian investigation, particularly by firing Comey. There’s nothing in the public record that suggests a tie between Schulte’s leaks and Russia. But Schulte’s leaks (most notably the Marble Framework he authored) not only would have made it easier for Russia to identify CIA’s Russian targets, but they would have forced CIA to rebuild during a period it was trying to figure out what had happened in 2016 (and NSA would be in the same position, post Shadow Brokers). When the FBI was trying to keep their focus on Schulte secret for one more day so they could get to his apartment before he started destroying things, Trump sat before a TV camera and made a comment that might have alerted Schulte the FBI did, indeed, believe he was the culprit.

And Trump did so all to blame Obama for a catastrophic leak rather than himself.

Judge Crotty Should Let Joshua Schulte Test His Theory of Defense Forensically

At a hearing on July 25, accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte’s lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, argued that it’s possible if the government provides some forensic evidence that the CIA maintains is too classified to share, this case might avoid trial, either by identifying alternate culprits or leading her to advise her client to plead.

Mr. Kamaraju says that I would be forced anyway to then make a Section 5 motion to show relevance, etc. Well, maybe not. Maybe if I got the forensics, I would be able to say, hey, I think the government is completely wrong, Mr. Schulte is completely innocent, and you should go back and relook at your charging decisions because of X, Y, and Z in the forensics.

On the flip side, I could look at the forensics and say to my client, you know, maybe this isn’t the strongest case. Maybe we shouldn’t be going to trial. Not all discovery is asked for or relevant because it is only going to be used at trial. We asked for discovery because it is proper Rule 16 information that the defendant should have that would tell him about the charges and help him make proper decisions in the most serious or the most benign of cases.

At issue, per an order Judge Paul Crotty issued days before the hearing (but which got released publicly afterwards) is evidence that would exist if a narrative Schulte seeded before he left the CIA were true. In addition to all the email he wrote at CIA (the government is giving him what he wrote, but not the responses), he wants “a complete forensic copy of the Schulte Workstation and DevLAN, so that his expert can conduct a comprehensive forensic analysis.” Ultimately, Crotty did not grant Schulte’s request, noting that he “has been accused of leaking information he obtained from his employment at CIA both before he was arrested and from his cell at MCC after his arrest.” Instead, he directed the defense to “submit[] a more tailored request [that] provides good reason for further forensic discovery in a motion to compel. In this context, it would also be helpful, for example, if Schulte would communicate his thinking of how others are responsible for the theft.”

Yet that didn’t work, at least not immediately. In the aftermath of that order, Schulte’s team said the Wall Counsel hasn’t responded substantively to a previously written request. That seems to be a justifiable complaint about the difficulties of working with Classified Information Protect Act and Wall Counsel (to say nothing of really complex technical issues which none of the lawyers fully understand). It’s like a giant game of telephone and Schulte’s right to a fair trial is at stake.

Which is why the government should take this offer from Shroff more seriously than they appear to have done: giving Schulte’s expert direct access to the full set of data he seeks.

We have offered to limit the access to either counsel or go even further and limit the access to just the expert. We have even offered that the CIA need not give it to us. We would go to the CIA or the expert would go to the CIA to review the forensics.

Even while it could use CIPA to limit what they give Schulte’s team, it would serve the government to give his expert this access.

I say that, first of all, because of who Schulte’s expert is: Columbia University CompSci professor Steve Bellovin. He’s not just some forensics guy with clearance. He’s someone who has served in governmental positions (most notably as PCLOB’s tech expert for a year). That means he has already seen government spying in action, and what he’d see here would be a server that got replaced, probably before April, and some hacking tools and targets there were in no way exceptional.

Just as importantly, Bellovin is well-respected in the activist community, both on technical matters and judgment. If Bellovin were to test Schulte’s alternative explanation for the leak of the Vault 7 files and Schulte subsequently pled (suggesting that Shroff had counseled that he not take his theories to trial), it would suggest that Schulte’s story didn’t hold up to Bellovin’s scrutiny.

If that happened, it would be a key statement about not just what Schulte has claimed, but about what WikiLeaks did, in releasing the files in 2017.

As the government tells it, Schulte got in a fight with a colleague in December 2015, which led him to sour on the CIA as early as February 2016. When the agency didn’t respond in the way he wanted to Schulte’s claim that the colleague had threatened him, he started to retaliate in April 2016 by first copying the backup server holding all the CIA’s hacking tools, then sending it to WikiLeaks. In short, the government’s story is that Schulte simply burned the CIA’s hacking capabilities to the ground because he felt like they wronged him, a fairly breathtaking claim for one of the most damaging leaks to the government in history.

Schulte’s story is harder to suss out for a number of reasons: the defense has avoided putting this in writing, in part in an attempt to protect their theory of defense, some of what Schulte has argued is classified and still sealed, and other parts consist of rants he has published online or in dockets, not coherent arguments. Plus, some of Schulte’s claims are clearly lies, most demonstrably his claim that, “Federal Terrrorists [sic] had no evidence of plaintiff actually using cell phone” before they got a warrant relying on an affidavit that included pictures of him using the phone he had in MCC.

Schulte’s theory, as available, consists of three parts:

  • More people had access to the backup server from which the files were stolen than the government claims
  • The files were relatively easier to steal from an offsite backup server than the onsite one the government alleges Schulte stole them from
  • The likely culprits used security vulnerabilities he (claims to have) identified to CIA managers to steal the files

Evidence he’s making the first argument appears in his lawsuit against the Attorney General, where he claims the government has lied about the number of people who could access the server with the hacking tools.

AG lies about the number of people who had access to the classified information

Given a passage from the government’s response to his motion to suppress, Schulte must be referring to the claim that 200 people had access to the servers themselves, not the claim that 3-5 people had access to the backup server from which FBI claims the files were stolen. Schulte’s sealed filing appears to have argued that a second CIA group had access to the server.

Schulte does not dispute that the CIA Group was responsible for using and maintaining the LAN, that as of March 2016 fewer than 200 employees were assigned to the CIA Group, or that only these employees had access to the LAN. (See id. ,r 8(b)). Rather, Schulte argues that Agent Donaldson failed to note in the Covert Affidavit that a second CIA group (“CIA Group-2”), [redacted], allegedly also had access to the LAN.

For what it’s worth, the government disputes this claim outright. They introduce and conclude an otherwise redacted discussion by twice asserting this claim is false.

Schulte’s assertions about CIA Group-2’s access to the LAN are untrue [seven lines redacted] In short, Schulte is simply wrong.

Schulte’s claim that the files were more easily stolen from an offsite backup server may be more of a throwaway, based on what the government provided in discovery, reflecting what a contractor said almost a year into the investigation. (Remember that the government is not meaning to restate Schulte’s theories here, but instead to refute his claim that the initial affidavit against him included reckless errors.)

Schulte does not challenge that the Classified Information was taken from a back-up file, but instead argues that the back-up files were also stored at an offsite location (the “Offsite Server”), based on a network diagram of the LAN, and that, in one CIA Group contractor’s opinion, the “easiest” way to steal those back-up files was from the Offsite Server. None of this information, however, renders Agent Donaldson’s assessment misleading. Initially, while it is true that the back-up files were also stored in an Offsite Server, Agent Donaldson never suggested that the only place that the back-up files existed was the Back-up Server. Nor did Agent Donaldson opine in the abstract on the easiest method of exfiltrating the Classified Information from the LAN. Rather, he merely stated that it was “likely” that the Classified Information had come from the Back-Up Server, an eminently reasonable conclusion, given that the Back-Up Server contained the back-up files that mirrored the Classified Information, and Schulte–whom the FBI properly identified as a likely perpetrator of the theft–had access to it. Gates, 462 U.S. at 230-31 (courts do not isolate each factor of suspicion but look at the totality of the circumstances). The opinion of the contractor–who did not have access to all of the information and who had no relevant investigatory experience–in no way undermines that assessment, particularly when (i) that opinion is contradicted by [redacted], a LAN system administrator and a witness upon whom Schulte relies in his motion, who stated that “the easiest way to steal the data leaked by WikiLeaks” was for someone with administrative access to the LAN to “simply remov[e] the backup file from the network application” (i.e., the Back-Up Server) (Shroff C. Decl., Ex. I); and (ii) even if the contractor’s opinion was relevant, it was not conveyed to the FBI until February 2018, nearly a year after the date of the Covert Affidavit, see Garrison, 480 U.S. at 85.

Significantly, the government bases its claim that Schulte leaked classified information from jail in part on him sharing a “Network Structure Document” with someone (probably a reporter); given that some of the other information he is alleged to have leaked in violation of classification or protective orders was meant to sustain his claims of innocence, this probably does too. If so, that would suggest he was floating this theory about a year ago.

Finally, in his Presumption of Innocence blog, Schulte maintains that the CIA network was vulnerable in ways that he claims he raised with the CIA before he left.

I reported numerous security vulnerabilities that I discovered within our network and particularly issues with system administration, backup, and protection of some of our prominent tool sets. I was continually met with pushback and retaliatory responses that ultimately forced me to resign. My final acts were to file complaints with the OIG and the House Select Committee on Intelligence to hopefully prevent future retaliatory actions against others.

So while the government claims that Schulte retaliated by leaking the CIA’s hacking tools because the CIA wasn’t treating him with the respect he thought he deserved, Schulte appears to be claiming that possibly members of CIA’s Group-2 or perhaps even outsiders stole the files via vulnerabilities he identified before he left.

While not exactly the same, WikiLeaks made related claims when they released the files, in part as rationale for publishing them.

Compare what we can make out of Schulte’s defense with what WikiLeaks published in its “press release” accompanying the first Vault 7 release. WikiLeaks describes CIA “losing control” of its hacking tools, not someone leaking them.

Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized “zero day” exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.

While it mentions former US government hackers (which could include Schulte), it also invokes contractors (the press release elsewhere mentions Hal Martin), and contractors were the presumed source for Vault 7 files at the time. While WikiLeaks acknowledges that the files came from “an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virgina [sic]” the description of the archive circulating in unauthorized fashion suggests that WikiLeaks is claiming the files were more broadly accessible.

The “press release” also suggests CIA’s hacking division had 5,000 users, implying all were involved in the production of hacking tools.

By the end of 2016, the CIA’s hacking division, which formally falls under the agency’s Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI), had over 5000 registered users and had produced more than a thousand hacking systems, trojans, viruses, and other “weaponized” malware.

While that may or may not be the CIA Group-2 Schulte claims had access to the servers, it certainly suggests a far larger universe of potential sources for the stolen files than the 200 the government claims, much less the around 5 SysAdmins who had privileges to the backup server.

The purported motive for releasing these tools — both that of the source and of Assange — is partly the insecurity of having such tools lying around.

In a statement to WikiLeaks the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.

Once a single cyber ‘weapon’ is ‘loose’ it can spread around the world in seconds, to be used by rival states, cyber mafia and teenage hackers alike.

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor stated that “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons’.

[snip]

Securing such ‘weapons’ is particularly difficult since the same people who develop and use them have the skills to exfiltrate copies without leaving traces — sometimes by using the very same ‘weapons’ against the organizations that contain them.

[snip]

Once a single cyber ‘weapon’ is ‘loose’ it can spread around the world in seconds, to be used by peer states, cyber mafia and teenage hackers alike.

In other words, WikiLeaks justified posting development notes for a significant portion of CIA’s hacking tools — and ultimately the source code for one — to prevent “teenage hackers” from obtaining such weapons and using them. (By this February, a security researcher had made his own hacking module based off what WikiLeaks had released.) A key part of that claim is the risk that CIA itself had not sufficiently secured its own tools, that they were “circulat[ing] … in an unauthorized manner.” That is, WikiLeaks purports to be the fulfillment of and remedy for precisely the risk Schulte claims — in his Presumption of Innocence blog — he warned the CIA about.

Except the government claims that’s not true.

It is true, as the affidavit in dispute in Schulte’s motion to suppress lays out, that Schulte wrote a “draft resignation letter” purporting to warn about these dangers and, on his last day, sent the CIA’s Inspector General a letter raising the same issues. The government reviews what he did at length in their response to his motion to suppress.

Agent Donaldson discussed the circumstances of Schulte’s resignation from the CIA in November 2016, including a letter and email he wrote complaining about his treatment. (Id. ,i,i 19-20). On October 12, 2016, Schulte sent an email to another CIA Group employee with the subject line “ROUGH DRAFT of Resignation Letter *EYES ONLY*,” which attached a three-page, single-spaced letter (the “Letter”). (Id. ,i 19(a)). In the Letter, Schulte stated that the CIA Group management had unfairly “veiled” CIA leadership from various of Schulte’s “concerns about the network security of the CIA Group’s LAN” and that “[t]hat ends now. From this moment forward you can no longer claim ignorance; you can no longer pretend that you were not involved.” (Id. ~ 19(a)(ii)). The Letter also stated that Schulte was resigning because management had “‘ignored'” issues he had raised about ‘”security concerns,”‘ including that the LAN was ‘”incredibly vulnerable’ to the theft of sensitive data.” (Id. ~ 19(a)(iii)). In particular, Schulte stated that the “inadequate CIA security measures had ‘left [the CIA Group’s LAN] open and easy for anyone to gain access and easily download [from the LAN] and upload [sensitive CIA Group computer code] in its entirety to the [public] internet.”‘ (Id.~ 19(a)(iv)).

[snip]

However, on November 10, 2016, Schulte’s last day at the CIA, Schulte sent an internal email to the CIA’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”), which Schulte marked “Unclassified,” advising that he had been in contact with the U.S. House of Representatives’ Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence regarding his complaints about the CIA (the “OIG Email”). (Id ~ 19(c)). The OIG Email raised many of the same complaints in the Letter, including “the CIA’s treatment of him and its failure to address the ‘security concerns’ he had repeatedly raised in the past.” (Id ~ 19(c)(i)). Although Schulte had labeled the OIG Email “Unclassified,” the CIA determined that the OIG Email did in fact contain classified information. (Id.~ 19(c)(iii)). Schulte nevertheless printed and removed the email from the CIA when he left that day. (Id ~ 19( c )(ii)).

As the government response notes, the affidavit describes that Schulte never actually sent the resignation letter.

Agent Donaldson noted that Schulte did not appear to send the Letter. (Id. ~ 19(b)).

A later discussion of the resignation letter as part of a summary of the probable cause against Schulte goes still further, claiming that there is no record that Schulte raised security concerns with CIA management (which is presumably one reason he asked for all his emails).

(iv) drafted a purported “resignation email,” in which he claimed essentially that he had warned CIA management about security concerns with the LAN7 that were so significant that the LAN’s contents could be posted online–precisely what happened four months later (see id. ,r 19);

7 There is no record of Schulte reporting any such security concerns to CIA management.

The government makes Schulte’s allegedly false claim to have raised concerns about the security of the CIA tools a key part of its short summary of the probable cause against Schulte, insinuating that Schulte wrote both the resignation letter and the letter to the IG (which he wrote five and six months, respectively, after the government alleges he stole the files) as a way to create a cover story for the leaked documents.

Thus, even if the Covert Affidavit was rewritten to Schulte’s (incorrect) specifications, it would still establish probable cause by showing that Schulte was a CIA employee with a grudge against the CIA and a track record of improperly accessing and taking classified information, who left the CIA claiming that classified information from the LAN would one day be sprayed across the Internet and who worried about the investigation when his “prophecy” came to pass.

Of course, the government — especially intelligence agencies like the NSA and CIA — always dismiss the claims to be whistleblowers of leakers. The CIA claimed Jeffrey Sterling only leaked details of the Merlin operation because he was disgruntled about an EEOC complaint they had denied. NSA denied that Edward Snowden had raised concerns — first at CIA about its security, then at NSA about the boundaries of EO 12333 and Section 702. In the former case, however, the government knows of at least three other people who thought Sterling’s concerns had merit, and the actual details around Merlin’s own activities were a clusterfuck. In the latter, even a really problematic HPSCI report acknowledges that both incidents occurred, and NSA ultimately released enough of the backup to show that the NSA undersold the latter instance (though Snowden’s claims were not as substantive as he claimed).

Thus far, Schulte has presented no such counterevidence (indeed, the docket does not show his team submitted a reply to the government’s response before their August 16 deadline, though a reply could be held up in classification review). [Update: This letter asking to sever the MCC charges from the WikiLeaks charges says they’re still working on their replies.]

There may be a very good reason why Schulte’s defense didn’t go there: because one of the lies the government claims he told to FBI Agents on March 20 and 21, 2017 involves making CIA systems more vulnerable to the theft of data.

On or about March 20 and 21, 2017, Schulte … denied ever making CIA systems vulnerable to the theft of data.

Aside from this mention, this allegation doesn’t otherwise appear in public documents I’m aware of. But the implication is that before Schulte wrote two documents that — the government claims — served to establish a cover story claiming he leaked the documents because CIA’s server was vulnerable to theft, he tampered with the CIA’s server to make it more vulnerable to theft.

There actually is evidence that the server was vulnerable to theft. In Crotty’s opinion, he overruled the government’s effort to withhold some internal reports on the leak under CIPA. He explained,

These documents [redacted] might help Schulte advance a theory that DevLAN’s vulnerabilities could have allowed someone else to have taken the leaked data. They also support the defense’s theory that Schulte’s behavior while an employee of the CIA was consistent with someone who was trying to help the agency address security flaws, rather than someone who was a disgruntled employee.

That’s why it’d be worthwhile for Bellovin to have access to the server directly: to test not just how vulnerable the servers really were (I bet he’d be willing to help improve their security along the way!), but also to test himself whether there’s any evidence that someone besides Schulte exploited those vulnerabilities.

The government’s reliance on CIPA in this case is an attempt to try Schulte for an unbelievably sensitive leak without (as Crotty laid out) giving him opportunity to leak some more.

But the case goes beyond Schulte’s actions, to implicate WikiLeaks’ actions (court filings make it clear that WikiLeak’s claims around this leak were false in another manner, one which I’m not describing at the government’s request). And while details of CIA’s unexceptional hacking program are useful for researchers to have, it would matter if the stated rationale for releasing them was bullshit manufactured after the fact. That’s all the more true if WikiLeaks — which used to boast its perfect record on verification — knew the claim to be false, particularly given how and when it released these files, with an attempt to extort the US government and in the wake of the Russian hacks, at a time CIA would have needed these tools to prevent follow-ups.

Three months after Schulte’s trial (if this does go to trial), the government will be embroiled in attempting to extradite Julian Assange under charges that are rightly being attacked as an assault on the press. The government is never going to reveal all it knows about Assange (including, pertinent to this case, whether there’s any evidence Assange used some of the CIA’s own tools for his own benefit). Bellovin, if he were permitted to review the CIA server, would never be in a position to reveal what he learned; but his role in this case provides a rare opportunity for a trusted outsider to weigh in on a controversial case.

Effectively, a guy who authored CIA’s obfuscation tool and purportedly planned an information war from jail — complete with fake FBI and CIA personas — may have created the vulnerability he claimed to be exposing by leaking the files. If Bellovin were able to test that possibility, it would go a long way to shift an understanding about WikiLeaks recent intentions with the US government.

In Epstein’s Wake: MIT Media Lab, Dirty Money, and Swartz [UPDATE]

[NB: This is definitely not by Marcy; contains some speculative content. Update at bottom. /~Rayne]

MIT Media Lab is in upheaval after the disclosure that its organization accepted financial support from now-deceased pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Ethan Zuckerman announced Tuesday he was moving his work out of the MIT Media Lab by the end of May 2020. He’s been a highly-respected director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, a subset of the Media Lab. Zuckerman explained his decision in a post on Medium:

… My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view. It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship. …

His moral and ethical clarity deserves applause; Zuckerman stands out against the highly compromised tech sector, in both academia and the private sector.

While his announcement was as upbeat as it could possibly be considering the circumstances, a faint sense of betrayal leaks through. It must have been painful to learn one’s boss has undermined their work so badly they have no choice but to leave, even if one enjoys their workplace and their boss.

Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, offered his apology for his having accepted funding from Epstein through organizations Epstein controlled.

The explanation in Ito’s statement and his apology sound banal and will likely be accepted by the wider technology community given how little reaction there’s been from Silicon Valley.

One glaring problem: Ito is an lawyer, a visiting professor at Harvard. There’s little defense he can offer for taking  dirty money from a convicted human trafficker. It matters not if the money was ‘laundered’ through funds if they were under Epstein’s control. The money mattered more than the appearance, more than Media Lab’s ethics.

Ito still has considerable explaining to do. It won’t be enough fast enough to stem the tide, though.

J. Nathan Mathias, visiting scholar working on the CivilServant project at the Lab, has also announced he is leaving:

As part of our work, CivilServant does research on protecting women and other vulnerable people online from abuse and harassment. I cannot with integrity do that from a place with the kind of relationship that the Media Lab has had with Epstein. It’s that simple.

Epstein’s money didn’t directly fund CivilServant yet any of his dirty money funded the Media Lab it supported the infrastructure for CivilServant.

There will be more departures. Worse, there will be people who can’t leave, trapped by circumstance. Epstein’s poisonous reach continues beyond the grave.

~ ~ ~

When I read that Zuckerman was leaving MIT Media Lab, it occurred to me there was a possible intersection between MIT, law enforcement, and another activist who lived their values defending the public’s interest.

Aaron Swartz.

The government was ridiculously ham fisted in its prosecution of Swartz for downloading material from MIT for the purpose of liberating taxpayer-funded information. The excessive prosecution is believed to have pushed Swartz to commit suicide.

What could possibly have driven the federal government to react so intensely to Swartz’s efforts? One might even say the prosecution was in diametric intensity to the prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein a few years earlier.

Why was Swartz hammered by the feds for attempting to release publicly-funded material while Epstein got a slap on the hands — besides the obvious fact women and girls are not valued in this society as much as information is?

At the time I wondered whether it was research materials that might pose a threat to the existing stranglehold of fossil fuel industries. There was certainly enough money in that.

But in retrospect, seeing how Epstein made a concerted effort to inveigle himself into science and technology by way of investment, noting that researchers were among the compromised serviced by Epstein’s underage sex slaves, was it really research that Epstein tried to access?

What might be the overlap between Epstein’s outreach and the DOJ with regard to MIT and to Swartz’s activism?

Is it possible that something else besides scientific research might have interested both Epstein and the federal government, incurring the wrath of the latter?

I can’t help but wonder if Swartz’s work to liberate federal court archive Public Access to Electronic Court Records (PACER) documents might have been that something else.

In 2008, Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.org worked with Swartz, receiving what PACER documents had been downloaded from behind PACER’s pricey paywall.

Upon reading the downloaded content they found court documents rife with privacy violations, including

“names of minor children, names of informants, medical records, mental health records, financial records, tens of thousands of social security numbers.”

Malamud said they contacted

“Chief Judges of 31 District Courts … They redacted those documents and they yelled at the lawyers that filed them … The Judicial Conference changed their privacy rules. … [To] the bureaucrats who ran the Administrative Office of the United States Courts … we were thieves that took $1.6 million of their property. So they called the FBI … [The FBI] found nothing wrong …”

Was the harassment-by-excessive-prosecution intended to stop Swartz and Malamud from exposing any more confidential information exposed in federal prosecutions, shielded from the public by nothing more than a cost-prohibitive per page charge of eight cents?

Would politically-toxic sweetheart deals like the DOJ offered Epstein have been among those with privacy violations and poorly-/non-redacted confidential information?

Or given Epstein’s long relationship with senior members of MIT Media Lab, was Swartz cutting into someone’s turf by liberating data which might otherwise be salable — legally or illegally — if closely held?

~ ~ ~

Putting aside speculation, several things need to be dealt with immediately to remedy the mess post-Epstein.

First, all entities receiving public funding which also received contributions from Epstein-controlled funds must make full disclosure — ditto nonprofits which operate as 501(c)3 entities paying no taxes, like Epstein’s shady Gratitude America, Ltd. Who in each organization was approached, when, how did Epstein communicate his interest in funding their work, how were contributions made, and did any persons affiliated with the entities travel with, to/from an Epstein-controlled venue or Epstein-funded event? Everything these entities do is suspect until they are fully transparent.

It would be in the best interest of affected entities to make disclosures immediately; the court-ordered release of sealed documents from Virginia Giuffre’s defamation lawsuit against Epstein’s alleged procurer Ghislaine Maxwell is not yet complete. Only a portion has been published; failing to make disclosures ahead of the release has not helped Media Lab’s credibility. Nor has this:

MIT declined to comment on the money it received. “While donors, including foundations, may confirm their contributions to the Institute, MIT does not typically comment on the details of gifts or gift agreements,” MIT spokesperson Kimberly Allen told BuzzFeed News by email.

Second, in the case of MIT Media Labs in particular, a  complete narrative history and timeline of the Lab’s origin, work, and funding since it was launched is necessary. There isn’t one that I can find right now — not at the organization’s website, not even on Wikipedia. This lack of transparency is wretched hypocrisy considering the grief members of the Lab expressed upon Swartz’s death. Media Lab’s site Search feature offering content by range or years is inadequate and must be supplemented.

It’s not clear based on publicly available information what Marvin Minsky‘s exact role was and when with the Lab though he is referred to as a founder. Minsky, who died in 2016, is among those Virginia Giuffre has accused of sexual abuse. What effect including financial contributions did Epstein have on MIT Media Lab through his relationship with Minsky?

As Evgeny Morozov found when combing through papers, Epstein’s money could have been present as early as the Lab’s inception. Why can’t the public see this history readily, let alone the researchers, staff, students working in the Media Lab?

Even the work MIT Media Lab encompasses is not shared openly with the public. Mathias’ project CivilServant isn’t listed under Research — it can only be found through the Lab’s Search feature. How can the public learn what may have been shaped by Epstein’s funding if they can’t even see what the Lab is working on?

Third, Swartz’s work toward an Open Access Movement outlined in his Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto remains undone.

The effect of closed/limited access to publicly-funded information may be killing us and our planet. This can’t be stressed enough, based on one example from Malamud’s recollection:

… The last time Aaron had downloaded large numbers of journal articles was in 2008, when he downloaded 441,170 law review articles from Westlaw, a legal search service. He was trying to expose the practice of corporations such as Exxon funding a practice known as “for-litigation research,” which consisted of lucrative stipends given to law professors who in turn produced articles penned specifically so they could be cited in ongoing litigation. In the case of Exxon, they were trying to reduce their $5 billion in punitive damages from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Aaron didn’t release any of the articles he downloaded, but the research he did was published in 2010 in a seminal article in the Stanford Law Review that exposed these ethically questionable practices in the legal academy. …

If Exxon did this for the Valdez Oil Spill, have they also done this with regard to climate change-related documents since the late 1980s?

Why isn’t this kind of work protecting the public’s interest against the malign use of corruptly-controlled data one of the Lab’s research programs?

Open access, too, must apply to MIT Media Labs. It must be as transparent as Swartz would have wished it to be.

You have to wonder how different the course of technology would have been as well as history had open access been baked into publicly-funded research at MIT Media Lab from the beginning.

UPDATE — 9:00 AM EDT 23-AUG-2019 —

Keep an eye on Evgeny Morozov’s Twitter feed as he’s been sharing more material on MIT Media Lab and Jeffrey Epstein.

Like this thread in progress by Media Lab fellow Sarah Szalavitz, who had warned against taking Epstein’s money. Alan Dershowitz pops up in that thread.

Note also community member foggycoast’s comment in which they share quite a few resources to help flesh out MIT Media Lab’s early years as well as Aaron Swartz’s papers.

I’d like to hear from more women who worked at Media Lab because I’m sure they won’t be as blind to predatory behavior as men have been. But then this asks people with less social capital, including some potential victims, to do the work of exposing this hidden form of corruption.

DOJ Says It Never Offered Accused Vault 7 Leaker Joshua Schulte a Plea Deal

As the Joshua Schulte prosecution has inched along against the backdrop of the Julian Assange indictment, I’ve heard chatter about his plans: that the two sides might prosecute the child porn charges and leave the leak untried; that the government was trying to get him to cooperate against Assange.

In the former case, the opposite now seems more likely. Last week, Judge Paul Crotty granted Schulte’s motion to sever his child porn and copyright charges from his Espionage ones. But the minute order states that the Espionage charges will be tried first, in November, with the child porn charges tried some time after that. That’s true, even though the Espionage charges are far more complex to try than the child porn ones. If the government wanted to use the child porn charges to put Schulte away indefinitely and avoid the difficulties of an Espionage trial, they’d try those first. (Update: at the hearing where this was decided, the defense said they wanted the Espionage trial to go first, and all other parties agreed.)

As to the latter, Schulte himself has sown the belief he was being offered a plea deal. In one version of his “Presumption of Innocence” blog, for example, he claimed (falsely, given the warrants he himself released) the government never obtained any evidence implicating him in the leak, and was just pursuing the child pornography charges to “break” him so he’ll cooperate against WikiLeaks.

I’m arrested and charged with a crime that had nothing to do with the initial search warrant and that I was completely innocent. The U.S. Attorney unethically and immorally misleads the court regarding what the initial investigation was about, when they found the illicit materials, and the fact that they did not think I was involved for 5 months until their initial investigation came up empty. I’m denied bail and thrown into prison immediately and they use the situation as leverage telling my attorney every day that he can make this huge embarrassment and misunderstanding all go away if only I would agree to cooperate on the WikiLeaks investigation and admit to it. They admit, unabashedly that these entire charges are nothing more than a ruse, an attempt at leverage to break me.

A version of this claim was repeated in a piece the Intercept did yesterday claiming to track how (a select group of) leakers got identified by the FBI.

Of the four Espionage Act cases based on alleged leaks in the Trump era, the most unusual concerned Joshua Schulte, a former CIA software developer accused of leaking CIA documents and hacking tools known as the Vault 7 disclosures to WikiLeaks. Schulte’s case is different from the others because, after the FBI confiscated his desktop computer, phone, and other devices in a March 2017 raid, the government allegedly discovered over 10,000 images depicting child sexual abuse on his computer, as well as a file and chat server he ran that included logs of him discussing child sexual abuse images and screenshots of him using racist slurs. Prosecutors initially charged Schulte with several counts related to child pornography and later with sexual assault in a separate case, based on evidence from his phone. Only in June 2018, in a superseding indictment, did the government finally charge him under the Espionage Act for leaking the hacking tools. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Schulte was identified as the suspect just like all the other people profiled in the story were: because he was one of the few people who had access to the files that got leaked and his Google searches mapped out a damning pattern of research involving the leak, among other things. In his case, WikiLeaks itself did several things to add to the evidence he was the source. It is true that Schulte was charged with the porn charges first and that it took 15 months for the government to ultimately charge the leak, but the theory of Schulte’s role in the leak has remained largely unchanged since a week after the first files were dropped.

Schulte again suggested he might get a plea deal in his lawsuit against then Attorney General Jeff Sessions for imposing Special Administrative Measures against him when he raised 5K1 letters that might allow someone to avoid mandatory minimum sentencing.

But in last week’s opposition to Schulte’s motion to suppress most of the warrants against him — including some on the grounds that they relied on poisonous fruit of attorney-client privileged material — the government denies ever offering a plea deal.

Schulte claims that the FBI read his thoughts on severance (which the Government has consented to) or a plea offer (which the Government has not made), but none of those “thoughts” are referenced in any subsequent search warrant.

The claim that the government left unredacted a reference to Schulte’s views on a plea deal does not appear in the unredacted version of Schulte’s motion to suppress, but given his lawyers’ claim that his journals were intended to be a discussion of his legal remedies, it may be an attempt to suppress the Presumption of Innocence notes cited above (even though Schulte made the same notes public).

Mr. Schulte’s narrative writings and diary entries contain information he “considered to be relevant to his potential legal remedies.”

There’s lot of room for a discussion short of a plea offer that might be true even given the government claim that “the Government has not made” any offer (such as that one of the series of attorneys who have represented Schulte has recommended that he seek a deal).

But the detail is particularly interesting given the timing of his trial and something the government claimed the last time Chelsea Manning and her lawyers tried to get her out of jail. It insisted they want Manning’s testimony for subjects and charges not included in Assange’s current indictment, and said the submission of the extradition request against Assange does not preclude future charges based on those offenses.

As the government’s ex parte submissions reflect, Manning’s testimony remains relevant and essential to an ongoing investigation into charges or targets that are not included in the superseding indictment. See Gov’t’s Ex Parte Mem. (May 23, 2019). The offenses that remain under investigation are not time barred, see id., and the submission of the government’s extradition request in the Assange case does not preclude future charges based on those offenses, see Gov’t’s Supplement to Ex Parte Mem. (June 14, 2019).

Barring a delay because of Classified Intelligence Protect Act proceedings, Schulte will face trial on the Espionage charges in November, three months before the next hearing in Assange’s extradition. And while there’s no hint in Schulte’s case that WikiLeaks played a role in the front end of Schulte’s alleged leak, there’s abundant evidence that they continued to cooperate with him in the aftermath and even in the initial release itself. Indeed, that’s some of the most damning evidence against Schulte.

Schulte seems to think he could cooperate against Assange and face lesser charges. If the government told the truth last week, he may have little prospect to diminish what would amount to a life sentence if he’s found guilty.

image_print