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The Implicit Threat in Julian Assange’s Ambassador Tweet

The other day, I suggested the Twitter Direct Messages between Wikileaks and Don Jr were underwhelming, in that some of the more damning things we might have expected did not show up in those DMs. Since then, several things have become clear. First, there were some time zone inaccuracies behind the timestamps on one of the most inflammatory claims (that Trump immediately tweeted in response to an October 12 DM from Assange; it probably was 75 minutes). And the password Wikileaks shared with Don Jr had been made available to journalists and may have been passed on by Chuck Johnson, who was currying favor with Assange at the time; that minimizes the possibility that such sharing could be deemed a CFAA or other kind of technical violation though puts Johnson more centrally in this picture.

I didn’t say explicitly enough in that post and I should have, though, that I was speaking about Don Jr, not about Wikileaks.

Wikileaks’ contributions do show the organization (and Assange in particular, in those DMs we know involved him) to be self-interested and rabidly anti-Clinton If you haven’t known the latter fact to be true since Hillary did some pretty crazy things in 2010, then you’re new to this rodeo. That said, the tweets did elicit some righteous betrayal from Barrett Brown, which I totally respect given the price he has paid for the claimed idealism of Wikileaks (see also this story).

It’s worth remembering, as Emma Best notes, because they’ve been under unrelenting surveillance since 2010, “WikiLeaks *knew* the DMs were being monitored in real time. It was inevitable that this would leak. Simply calling this dumb misses the point and ignores the tradecraft at play.” Assange, from the refusal of inside information to the demand for an Ambassadorship, was staging a show, and we should remember that.

That said, I’m far more interested in Assange’s subsequent response to the disclosure of the emails, specifically this tweet. In the full DMs released by Don Jr (I think Wikileaks can fairly claim Atlantic took out some context — Atlantic came close to and I think should have just replicated the content of all the DMs, though Brown disagrees), this was the comment Assange made on December 16 asking to be Ambassador.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

On Tuesday, Assange posted an ostensible follow-up to that one, renewing his offer to serve as Ambassador.

Note, Assange had originally misspelled Don Jr’s twitter handle, so deleted and reposted it.

This has been taking as trolling, with Assange’s notion that he’d open a hotel in DC, as the Trumps have, with “luxury immunity suites” for whistleblowers.

But even that’s not trolling. It’s a public renewal, more explicit this time, of Assange’s request for a pardon from Trump Sr, though here he drops the “offer” of the claims laundered through Dana Rohrabacher that the emails Assange published to help Trump get elected came from an insider and not Russia. Assange wants the fuck out of his embassy closet, and he’s willing to say that explicitly, now, in a public tweet (as Best noted, making this request visible for all).

Remember, Rohrabacher was always clear that someone (or someones, but Chuck Johnson is clearly one of those people) had made clear that Trump wanted this information. Was Don Jr in on that loop?

It’s the rest of the tweet that got less attention. First, Assange’s promise of “a turbo-charged flow of intel about the latest CIA plots to undermine democracy,” a remarkable reference coming as it does in the wake of Mike Pompeo’s consideration of an alternative narrative for how Wikileaks got emails (as I noted, scheduled even as John Kelly thwarted Rohrabacher’s attempts to meet with Trump directly), not to mention Trump’s screed at John Brennan and others over the weekend.

Assange is agreeing with Trump, even if no one else is, even as the two of them both seek to push an alternative narrative that doesn’t have the Russians orchestrating Assange’s actions for Trump’s benefit, that the CIA is undermining Trump’s presidency.

It’s the hashtag, though, that most observers missed: Vault 8.

Vault 8 is the name Wikileaks has given for its release — started just Friday — of actual source code for CIA’s hacking tools, after long releasing “just” the development notes and manuals for the same tools. I noted then both the way Wikileaks was picking up Shadow Brokers’ narrative about Kaspersky, but also the multiple references to Wikileaks having the same set of NSA files as Shadow Brokers had.

I noted last December that with the December 14 Shadow Brokers release of new NSA tools (just days before Assange joked about being ambassador), the persona seemed to be engaging in extortion: “Nice little NSA here, it’d be shame if anything would happen to it.” Since that time, Shadow Brokers made good on the threat, leading to global cyberattacks. What Assange seems to be doing is similar: no longer a quid pro quo for safety in DC, but now a threat, using CIA, and tools released in CIA’s name, as hostage.

Assange is not offering to release secrets about CIA, but instead weapons leaked or stolen from them. Sure, to the extent the Vault 7 releases haven’t already, that’ll allow others to attribute CIA attacks. But it’ll also devastate the agency and badly undermine US power.

That appears to be where Assange’s request for immunity has gotten.

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

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

The Don Jr – WikiLeaks Emails Are Underwhelming

Julia Ioffe has a big scoop on the content of DMs between Don Jr and WikiLeaks turned over to Congress (unless it came indirectly from Don Jr, as it may have, it’s another inappropriate leak that will discredit whatever source turned them over).

And I have to say, the DMs are more telling for what they don’t include than what they do. Most notably, Ioffe cites no DM showing Julian Assange explaining to Don Jr that his source wasn’t Russia, which given more recent efforts to pitch that story, you might have expected.

Just as notable, when Don Jr asks Assange what emails will be coming out the week of October 7 — one of the moments when, Democrats have speculated, some coordination between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign may have occurred — Assange doesn’t answer.

On October 3, 2016, Wikileaks wrote again. “Hiya, it’d be great if you guys could comment on/push this story,” Wikileaks suggested, attaching a quote from then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton about wanting to “just drone” Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

“Already did that earlier today,” Trump Jr. responded an hour-and-a-half later. “It’s amazing what she can get away with.”

Two minutes later, Trump Jr. wrote again, asking, “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?” The day before, Roger Stone, an informal advisor to Donald Trump, had tweeted, “[email protected] is done. #Wikileaks.”

Wikileaks didn’t respond to that message, but on October 12, 2016, the account again messaged Trump Jr. “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications,” Wikileaks wrote. (At a rally on October 10, Donald Trump had proclaimed, “I love Wikileaks!”)

The exchange is interesting for a number of reasons: given my questions about uncertainty over whether these would be Clinton Foundation emails or something else, there’s no discussion from either side about content. Don Jr seems to have gone to Assange rather than Roger Stone to find out about the impending dump. And there’s no talk about other impending dumps — not the Access Hollywood tape, not the Intelligence Community report blaming Russian for the hack.

All in all more exonerating than inculpating, particularly given the expectations around that week.

The other thing that doesn’t appear in these DMs is any hint that Don Jr knew of Peter Smith’s efforts to find and send to Wikileaks hacked copies of emails from Hillary’s server.

It is definitely the case that Assange was trying to gain some value from Trump, but Don Jr, at least, didn’t comply (indeed, as Ioffe notes, with just a few exceptions Don Jr didn’t respond). But (unless Don Jr withheld DMs that Twitter would have already turned over to Mueller) this in no way backs the narrative that Democrats suggested might have happened.

Here are the DMs Ioffe describes:

September 20: Wikileaks warns about PutinTrump (Don Jr promises to ask around, and emailed four people on the campaign telling them WikiLeaks had made contact)

October 3: Wikileaks asks for pushback on Hillary’s threat to drone Wikileaks (Don Jr says he had already done so)

October 3: Don Jr asks about the impending dump (Wikileaks doesn’t respond)

October 7: IC statement tying Wikileaks to the Russian operation

October 12: Wikileaks thanks Don Jr for his dad talking up Wikileaks, provides a preferred link (Don Jr tweets out the link two days later); Shortly after the original tweet, Don Sr tweeted out praise for Wikileaks, but didn’t use the link Assange wanted him to use. [Update: Some caution is due on this last point. While it indeed looks like Don Sr’s tweet closely follows the exchange, the DMs we have are printouts, meaning we can’t check the actual timestamps of the exchanges to verify what time zone they were set to.]

October 21: Wikileaks asks for a tax return to publish, trying to establish impartiality

November 8: Wikileaks suggests Trump not concede and challenge media corruption

November 9: Wikileaks tweets “wow”

December 16: Assange asks to be appointed Australian Ambassador to DC

July 11: Wikileaks offers to publish Don Jr’s Veselnitskaya email (Don Jr posts them himself)

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

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

Trump’s Campaign Didn’t Use Cambridge Analytica’s Pyschographics; Did His SuperPAC?

In the wake of news that the head of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, offered to help Julian Assange with the stolen Hillary emails, Wired has a good story on what Trump’s campaign did with CA. In general, it says that the campaign did not rely on CA’s data, nor did it use CA’s famed psychographics based in part of Facebook data.

Cambridge worked both for the Trump campaign and a Trump-aligned Super PAC. In June 2016, Cambridge sent three staffers, led by chief product officer Matt Oczkowski, to the campaign’s San Antonio office. Oczkowski’s team eventually grew to 13 people, working under Trump digital director Brad Parscale and alongside his staff and outside consultants. According to Parscale, the Cambridge staff provided useful analysis of data about the American electorate. They did not, however, provide the raw data—things like demographic information, contact information, and data about how voters feel about different issues—on which that analysis was done.

That may sound like a small distinction, but it’s a crucial one. Ever since it burst onto the scene of American politics in 2015, Cambridge has trumpeted its massive data trove, boasting 5,000 data points on every American. Cambridge claims to have built extensive personality profiles on every American, which it uses for so-called “psychographic targeting,” based on people’s personality types. It is feared by some, including Hillary Clinton, for conducting a kind of psychological warfare against the American people and dismissed by others as snake oil. Both Parscale and Oczkowski have said repeatedly that the Trump campaign did not use psychographic targeting.

In fact, however, the story suggests Trump’s campaign did use CA data for a month, in July, because the RNC wasn’t yet sharing its data with Trump.

The Cambridge staff helped the campaign identify which voters in the RNC’s data file were most likely to be persuadable, meaning they were undecided but looked likely to swing toward Trump. They also created lists of voters who were most likely to become donors. In August 2016, a Trump aide told me Cambridge was critical to helping the campaign raise $80 million in the prior month, after a primary race that had been largely self-funded by Trump. This was the only period during which Oczkowski’s staff relied on Cambridge’s data, because the RNC was just beginning to share its data with the Trump team.

According to the WSJ, July is when Nix reached out to Assange.

But there’s another implicit revelation in the story: in explaining why he didn’t know about Nix’s outreach to Assange, CA chief product officer Matt Oczkowski, who led CA’s efforts with the campaign, said that they were walled off from CA because of rules prohibiting cooperation between campaigns and SuperPACs.

“I had absolutely no understanding any of this was going on, and I was surprised as everybody else when I saw the story” about Nix’s approach to Assange, Oczkowski says. During the campaign, he says his team was walled off from the rest of Cambridge, because the company was also working with a Trump Super PAC.

Which of course suggests that CA was embedded even more with the SuperPAC.

And that, in turn, raises a slew of other questions. For example, did people who left the Trump campaign — most notably Roger Stone — have any ties with the SuperPAC? After all, Stone had a role in efforts to find Hillary’s emails and surely a bunch of other rat-fuckery (because that’s what rat-fuckers do). So did the wing that was openly asking Russians for help also have closer ties to the more sordid aspects of what CA does?

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

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

Cambridge Analytica and the Hillary Emails

Update: I made an error in this post: WSJ has made it clear the emails in question were the DNC emails, not the Hillary ones. I’ve deleted the parts that are inaccurate accordingly.

For some time, I have been interested in the many pieces of evidence that, partly as a result of late GOP ratfucker Peter Smith’s efforts, Julian Assange ended up with something approximating Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. We know Smith alleged Mike Flynn was involved in the effort. Weev and Chuck Johnson were involved. There are reasons to believe Roger Stone was involved in the effort. And there are reasons to believe Guccifer 2.0 was involved in the effort.

Plus, everyone from Stone to Attorney General Sessions (who “did not recall” whether he had spoken to Russians about email in his SJC testimony) seems to be ignoring that part of the scandal in their denials of colluding with Russians.

And now, Cambridge Analytica — the data firm paid for by far right wing oligarch Bob Mercer that played a big role in getting Trump elected — is involved in it.

The DailyBeast reports that Congressional investigators have found an email from CA head Alexander Nix to some unnamed person (Trump’s digital director Brad Parscale was interviewed by HPSCI yesterday) saying he offered to help Assange with the project.

Nix, who heads Cambridge Analytica, told a third party that he reached out to Assange about his firm somehow helping the WikiLeaks editor release Clinton’s missing emails, according to two sources familiar with a congressional investigation into interactions between Trump associates and the Kremlin. Those sources also relayed that, according to Nix’s email, Assange told the Cambridge Analytica CEO that he didn’t want his help, and preferred to do the work on his own.

Assange, who insists he never says anything to compromise sources, released his own statement saying he rejected the help.

After publication, Assange provided this statement to The Daily Beast: ”We can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks.”

Remember, Stone told the Russian hackers he was soliciting that, allegedly because he couldn’t verify the authenticity of any emails obtained from hackers, they should turn them over to Assange. And both the Nix email and the Assange denial seem to admit that WikiLeaks did, indeed, receive at least one set of those emails. Which would explain why Roger Stone was so certain WikiLeaks was going to drop Clinton Foundation emails — not the Podesta ones that Stone showed no interest in — in October of last year. And it would seem to explain why Guccifer 2.0 had the same belief.

That is, there are a whole bunch of dots suggesting WikiLeaks got something approximating Clinton’s emails, and either because they couldn’t be verified, or because his source was too obviously Russian, or some other unknown reason, he decided not to publish.

If that’s right, all these non-denial denials about the operation seem to point to a confluence of interest around this effort that touched pretty much everyone. And involved Russians, their agents, and GOP ratfuckers willfully working together.

Update: The Trump campaign just did some amazing bus under-throwing of CA. Compare that to this November 10 piece attributing their win to CA.

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

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

Senate Intelligence Committee Tried to Say WikiLeaks Constituted — Not Just Resembled — A Spy

The bill report for the Intelligence Authorization is out. Among other things, it provides more details on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s efforts to get WikiLeaks treated as a non-state hostile intelligence service. It reveals that the original language of the bill

By voice vote, the Committee adopted a second-degree amendment by Senator King to an amendment by Senator Wyden that would have stricken Section 623 of the bill. Section 623 originally provided a Sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and its senior leadership constitute a non-state hostile intelligence service.

By a vote of 13 ayes to 2 noes, the Committee adopted the amendment by Senator Wyden that would have stricken Section 623 of the bill, as modified by the second-degree amendment by Senator King, to provide a Sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and its senior leadership resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service. The votes in person or by proxy were as follows: [my emphasis]

Chairman Burr–aye;

Senator Risch–aye;

Senator Rubio–aye;

Senator Collins–aye;

Senator Blunt–aye;

Senator Lankford–aye;

Senator Cotton–aye;

Senator Cornyn–aye;

Vice Chairman Warner–aye;

Senator Feinstein–aye;

Senator Wyden–no;

Senator Heinrich–aye;

Senator King–aye;

Senator Manchin–aye;

Senator Harris–no.

As you can see, Kamala Harris is the only one, besides Ron Wyden, who voted against this troubling amendment.

Here’s her statement from the report:

In particular, I have reservations about Section 623, which establishes a Sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service. The Committee’s bill offers no definition of “non-state hostile intelligence service” to clarify what this term is and is not. Section 623 also directs the United States to treat WikiLeaks as such a service, without offering further clarity.

To be clear, I am no supporter of WikiLeaks, and believe that the organization and its leadership have done considerable harm to this country. This issue needs to be addressed. However, the ambiguity in the bill is dangerous because it fails to draw a bright line between WikiLeaks and legitimate journalistic organizations that play a vital role in our democracy.

I supported efforts to remove this language in Committee and look forward to working with my colleagues as the bill proceeds to address my concerns.

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

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

John Sipher’s Garbage Post Arguing the Steele Dossier Isn’t Garbage

I generally find former CIA officer John Sipher’s work rigorous and interesting, if not always persuasive. Which is why I find the shoddiness of this post — arguing, just as Republicans in Congress and litigious Russians start to uncover information about the Christopher Steele dossier, that the dossier is not garbage  — so telling.

I don’t think the Steele dossier is garbage.

But neither do I think it supports the claim that it predicted a lot of information we’ve found since, something Sipher goes to great pains to argue. And there are far more problems with the dossier and its production than Sipher, who claims to be offering his wisdom about how to interpret raw intelligence, lets on. So the dossier isn’t garbage (though the story behind its production may well be). But Sipher’s post is. And given that it appears to be such a desperate — and frankly, unnecessary — attempt to reclaim the credibility of the dossier, it raises questions about why he feels the need.

Making and claiming accuracy for a narrative out of raw intelligence

Sipher’s project appears to be taking what he admits is raw intelligence and providing a narrative that he says we should continue to use to understand Trump’s Russian ties.

Close to the beginning of his piece, Sipher emphasizes that the dossier is not a finished intelligence report, but raw intelligence; he blames the media for not understanding the difference.

I spent almost thirty years producing what CIA calls “raw reporting” from human agents.  At heart, this is what Orbis did.  They were not producing finished analysis, but were passing on to a client distilled reporting that they had obtained in response to specific questions.  The difference is crucial, for it is the one that American journalists routinely fail to understand.

[snip]

Mr. Steele’s product is not a report delivered with a bow at the end of an investigation.  Instead, it is a series of contemporaneous raw reports that do not have the benefit of hindsight.

Sipher explains that you need analysts to make sense of these raw reports.

The onus for sorting out the veracity and for putting the reporting in context against other reporting – which may confirm or deny the new report – rests with the intelligence community’s professional analytic cadre.

He then steps into that role, an old clandestine services guy doing the work of the analysts. The result, he says, is a narrative he says we should still use — even in the wake of eight months of aggressive reporting since the dossier came out — in trying to understand what went on with the election.

As a result, they offer an overarching framework for what might have happened based on individuals on the Russian side who claimed to have insight into Moscow’s goals and operational tactics.  Until we have another more credible narrative, we should do all we can to examine closely and confirm or dispute the reports.

[snip]

Looking at new information through the framework outlined in the Steele document is not a bad place to start.

How to read a dossier

One thing Sipher aspires to do — something that would have been enormously helpful back in January — is explain how an intelligence professional converts those raw intelligence reports into a coherent report. He describes the first thing you do is source validation.

In the intelligence world, we always begin with source validation, focusing on what intelligence professionals call “the chain of acquisition.”  In this case we would look for detailed information on (in this order) Orbis, Steele, his means of collection (e.g., who was working for him in collecting information), his sources, their sub-sources (witting or unwitting), and the actual people, organizations and issues being reported on.

He goes to great lengths to explain how credible Steele is, noting even that he “was the President of the Cambridge Union at university.” I don’t dispute that Steele is, by all accounts, an accomplished intelligence pro.

But Sipher unwisely invests a great deal of weight into the fact that the FBI sought to work with Steele.

The fact that the FBI reportedly sought to work with him and to pay him to develop additional information on the sources suggest that at least some of them were worth taking seriously.  At the very least, the FBI will be able to validate the credibility of the sources, and therefore better judge the information.  As one recently retired senior intelligence officer with deep experience in espionage investigations quipped, “I assign more credence to the Steele report knowing that the FBI paid him for his research.  From my experience, there is nobody more miserly than the FBI.  If they were willing to pay Mr. Steele, they must have seen something of real value.”

This is flat-out dumb for two reasons. First, it is one of the things the GOP has used to discredit the dossier and prosecution — complaining (rightly) that the FBI was using a document designed as opposition research, possibly even to apply for a FISA warrant. If the FBI did that, I’m troubled by it.

More importantly, the actual facts about whether FBI did pay Steele are very much in dispute, with three different versions in the public record and Chuck Grassley claiming the FBI has been giving conflicting details about what happened (it’s likely that FBI paid Steele’s travel to the US but not for the dossier itself).

WaPo reported that Steele had reached a verbal agreement that the FBI would pay him to continue his investigation of Russia’s involvement with Trump after still unnamed Democrats stopped paying him after the election. CNN then reported that FBI actually had paid Steele for his expenses. Finally, NBC reported Steele backed out of the deal before it was finalized.

If the FBI planned to pay Steele, but got cold feet after Steele briefed David Corn for a piece that made explicit reference to the dossier, it suggests FBI may have decided the dossier was too clearly partisan for its continued use. In any case, citing a “recently retired senior intelligence officer” claiming the FBI did pay Steele should either be accompanied by a “BREAKING, confirming the detail no one else has been able to!” tag, or should include a caveat that the record doesn’t affirmatively support that claim.

After vouching for Steele (again, I don’t dispute Steele’s credentials), Sipher lays out the other things that need to happen to properly vet raw intelligence, which he claims we can’t do.

The biggest problem with confirming the details of the Steele “dossier” is obvious: we do not know his sources, other than via the short descriptions in the reports.  In CIA’s clandestine service, we spent by far the bulk of our work finding, recruiting and validating sources.  Before we would ever consider disseminating an intelligence report, we would move heaven and earth to understand the access, reliability, trustworthiness, motivation and dependability of our source.  We believe it is critical to validate the source before we can validate the reliability of the source’s information.  How does the source know about what he/she is reporting?  How did the source get the information?  Who are his/her sub-sources?  What do we know about the sub-sources?  Why is the source sharing the information?  Is the source a serious person who has taken appropriate measures to protect their efforts?

The thing is, we actually know answers to two of these questions. First, Steele’s sources shared the information (at least in part) because they were paid. [Update, 11/15: According to CNN, Glenn Simpson testified that Steele did not pay his sources. That somewhat conflicts with suggestions made by Mike Morell, who said Steele paid intermediaries who paid his sources, but Simpson’s testimony may simply be a cute legal parse.] That’s totally normal for spying, of course, but if Sipher aspires to explain to us how to assess the dossier, he needs to admit that money changes hands and that’s just the way things are done (again, that’s all the more important given that it’s one of the bases the GOP is using to discredit the report).

More importantly, Sipher should note that Steele worked one step removed — from London, rather than from Moscow — than an intelligence officer otherwise might. The reports may still be great, but that additional step introduces more uncertainty into the validation. It’s all the more important that Sipher address these two issues, because they’re the ones the GOP has been and will continue to use to discredit the dossier.

Ultimately, though, in his section on vetting the document, Sipher doesn’t deal with some key questions about the dossier. Way at the end of his piece, he questions whether we’re looking at the entire dossier.

We also don’t know if the 35 pages leaked by BuzzFeed is the entirety of the dossier.  I suspect not.

He doesn’t raise two other key questions about the provenance of the dossier we’ve been given, some of which I laid out when the dossier came out when I also noted that the numbering of the dossier by itself makes it clear it’s not the complete dossier. Importantly: is the copy of the dossier leaked to BuzzFeed an unaltered copy of what Steele delivered to Fusion, in spite of the weird textual artifacts in it? And how and why did the dossier get leaked to BuzzFeed, which Steele has told us was not one of the six outlets that he briefed on its contents.

Finally, Sipher includes the obligation to “openly acknowledge the gaps in understanding” outside of the section on vetting, which is telling given that he notes only a few of the obvious gaps in this dossier.

Sipher claims the dossier predicted what wasn’t known

So there are a lot of aspects of vetting Sipher doesn’t do, whether or not he has the ability to. But having done the vetting of checking Steele’s college extracurricular record, he declares the dossier has proven to be “stunningly accurate.”

Did any of the activities reported happen as predicted?

To a large extent, yes.

The most obvious occurrence that could not have been known to Orbis in June 2016, but shines bright in retrospect is the fact that Russia undertook a coordinated and massive effort to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election to help Donald Trump, as the U.S. intelligence community itself later concluded.  Well before any public knowledge of these events, the Orbis report identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including a cyber campaign, leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton, and meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to discuss the receipt of stolen documents.  Mr. Steele could not have known that the Russians stole information on Hillary Clinton, or that they were considering means to weaponize them in the U.S. election, all of which turned out to be stunningly accurate.

Now as I said above, I don’t believe the dossier is junk. But this defense of the dossier, specifically as formulated here, is junk. Central to Sipher’s proof that Steele’s dossier bears out are these claims:

  • Russia undertook a coordinated and massive effort to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election to help Donald Trump
  • The Orbis report identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including
    • A cyber campaign
    • Leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton
    • Meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to discuss the receipt of stolen documents

As I’ll show, these claims are, with limited exceptions, not actually what the dossier shows. Far later into the dossier, the reason Sipher frames it this way is clear. He’s taking validation from recent details about the June 9, 2016 meeting.

Of course, to determine if collusion occurred as alleged in the dossier, we would have to know if the Trump campaign continued to meet with Russian representatives subsequent to the June meeting.

The Steele dossier was way behind contemporary reporting on the hack-and-leak campaign

I consider the dossier strongest in its reports on early ties between Trump associates and Russians, as I’ll lay out below. But one area where it is — I believe this is the technical term — a shit-show is the section claiming the report predicted Russia’s hacking campaign.

Here’s how Sipher substantiates that claim.

By late fall 2016, the Orbis team reported that a Russian-supported company had been “using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.” Hackers recruited by the FSB under duress were involved in the operations. According to the report, Carter Page insisted that payments be made quickly and discreetly, and that cyber operators should go to ground and cover their tracks.

[snip]

Consider, in addition, the Orbis report saying that Russia was utilizing hackers to influence voters and referring to payments to “hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign.” A January 2017 Stanford study found that “fabricated stories favoring Donald Trump were shared a total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of pro-Hillary Clinton shares leading up to the election.”  Also, in November, researchers at Oxford University published a report based on analysis of 19.4 million Twitter posts from early November prior to the election.  The report found that an “automated army of pro-Trump chatbots overwhelmed Clinton bots five to one in the days leading up to the presidential election.”  In March 2017, former FBI agent Clint Watts told Congress about websites involved in the Russian disinformation campaign “some of which mysteriously operate from Eastern Europe and are curiously led by pro-Russian editors of unknown financing.”

The Orbis report also refers specifically to the aim of the Russian influence campaign “to swing supporters of Bernie Sanders away from Hillary Clinton and across to Trump,” based on information given to Steele in early August 2016. It was not until March 2017, however, that former director of the National Security Agency, retired Gen. Keith Alexander in Senate testimony said of the Russian influence campaign, “what they were trying to do is to drive a wedge within the Democratic Party between the Clinton group and the Sanders group.”

Here’s what the dossier actually shows about both kompromat on Hillary and hacking.

June 20: In the first report, issued 6 days after the DNC announced it had been hacked by Russia, and 5 days after Guccifer 2.0 said he had sent stolen documents to WikiLeaks, the dossier spoke of kompromat on Hillary, clearly described as years old wiretaps from when she was visiting Russia. While the report conflicts internally, one part of it said it had not been distributed abroad. As I note in this post, if true, that would mean the documents Natalia Veselnitsaka shared with Trump folks on June 9 was not the kompromat in question.

July 19: After Guccifer 2.0 had released 7 posts, most with documents, and after extended reporting concluding that he was a Russian front, the second report discussed kompromat — still seemingly meaning that dated FSB dossier — as if it were prospective.

July 26: Four days after WikiLeaks released DNC emails first promised in mid-June, Steele submitted a report claiming that Russian state hackers had had “only limited success in penetrating the ‘first tier’ of foreign targets. These comprised western (especially G7 and NATO) governments, security and intelligence services and central banks, and the IFIs.” There had been public reports of FSB-associated APT 29’s hacking of such targets since at least July 2015, and public reporting on their campaigns that should have been identified when DNC did a Google search in response to FBI’s warnings in September 2015. It’s stunning anyone involved in intelligence would claim Russia hadn’t had some success penetrating those first tier targets.

Report 095: An undated report, probably dating sometime between July 26 and July 30, did state that a Trump associate admitted Russia was behind WikiLeaks release of emails, something that had been widely understood for well over a month.

July 30: A few weeks before WikiLeaks reportedly got the second tranche of (Podesta) emails, a report states that Russia is worried that the email hacking operation is spiraling out of control so “it is unlikely that these [operations] would be ratcheted up.”

August 5: A report says Dmitry Peskov, who is reportedly in charge of the campaign, is “scared shitless” about being scapegoated for it.

August 10: Just days before WikiLeaks purportedly got the Podesta tranche of emails, a report says Sergei Ivanov said “Russians would not risk their position for the time being with new leaked material, even to a third party like WikiLeaks.”

August 10: Months after a contentious primary and over two weeks after Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation during the convention (purportedly because of DNC’s preference for Hillary), a report cites an ethnic Russian associate of Russian US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP campaign insider, not a Russian, saying the email leaks were designed to “swing supporters of Bernie SANDERS and away from Hillary CLINTON and across to TRUMP.” It attributes that plan to Carter Page, but does not claim any Russian government involvement in that strategy. Nor would it take a genius for anyone involved in American politics to pursue such a strategy.

August 22: A report on Manafort’s “demise” doesn’t mention emails or any kompromat.

September 14: Three months after Guccifer 2.0 first appeared, the dossier for the first time treated the Russians’ kompromat as the emails, stating that more might be released in late September. That might coincide with Craig Murray’s reported contact with a go-between (Murray has been very clear he did not ferry the emails themselves though he did have some contact in late September).

October 12: A week after the Podesta emails first started appearing, a report states that “a stream of further hacked CLINTON materials already had been injected by the Kremlin into compliant media outlets like Wikileaks, which remained at least “plausibly deniable”, so the stream of these would continue through October and up to the election, something Julian Assange had made pretty clear. See this report for more.

October 18, 19, 19: Three reports produced in quick succession describe Michael Cohen’s role in covering up the Trump-Russia mess, without making any explicit (unredacted) mention of emails. See this post on that timing.

December 20: A virgin birth report produced as the US intelligence community scrambled to put together the case against Russia for the first time ties Cohen to the emails in unredacted form).

What the timeline of the hacking allegations in the Steele dossier (and therefore also “predictions” about leaked documents) reveal is not that his sources predicted the hack-and-leak campaign, but on the contrary, he and his sources were unbelievably behind in their understanding of Russian hacking and the campaign generally (or his Russian sources were planting outright disinformation). Someone wanting to learn about the campaign would be better off simply hanging out on Twitter or reading the many security reports issued on the hack in real time.

Perhaps Sipher wants to cover this over when he claims that, “The Russian effort was aggressive over the summer months, but seemed to back off and go into cover-up mode following the Access Hollywood revelations and the Obama Administration’s acknowledgement of Russian interference in the fall, realizing they might have gone too far and possibly benefitted Ms. Clinton.” Sure, that’s sort of (though not entirely) what the dossier described. But the reality is that WikiLeaks was dropping new Podesta emails every day, Guccifer 2.0 was parroting Russian (and Republican) themes about a rigged election, and Obama was making the first ever cyber “red phone” call to Moscow because of Russia’s continued probes of the election infrastructure (part of the Russian effort about which both the dossier and Sipher’s post are silent).

The quotes Sipher uses to defend his claim are even worse. The first passage includes two clear errors. The report in question was actually the December 13 one, not “late fall 2016” one. And the Trump associate who agreed (in the alleged August meeting in Prague, anticipating that Hillary might win) to making quick payments to hackers was Michael Cohen, not Carter Page. Many things suggest this particular report should be read with great skepticism, not least that it post-dated both the disclosure of the existence of the dossier and the election, and that this intelligence was offered up to Steele, not solicited, and was offered for free.

Next, Sipher again cites the December 13 report to claim Steele predicted something reported in a November Oxford University report (and anyway widely reported by BuzzFeed for months), which seems to require either a time machine or an explanation for why Steele didn’t report that earlier. He attributes a quote sourced to a Trump insider as indicating Russian strategy, which that report doesn’t support. And if you need Keith Alexander to suss out the logic of Democratic infighting that had been clear for six months, then you’re in real trouble!

Sipher would have been better off citing the undated Report 095 (which is another report about which there should be provenance questions), which relies on the same ethnic Russian Trump insider as the August 10 report, which claims agents/facilitators within the Democratic Party and Russian émigré hackers working in the United States — a claim that is incendiary but (short of proof that the Al-Awan brothers or Seth Rich really were involved) — one that has not been substantiated.

In short, the evidence in the dossier simply doesn’t support the claim it predicted two of the three things Sipher claims it does, at least not yet.

The dossier is stronger in sketchy contacts with Russians

The dossier is stronger with respect to some, but not all Trump associates. But even there, Sipher’s defense demonstrates uneven analytic work.

First, note that Sipher relies on “renowned investigative journalist” Michael Isikoff to validate some of these claims.

Renowned investigative journalist Michael Isikoff reported in September 2016 that U.S. intelligence sources confirmed that Page met with both Sechin and Divyekin during his July trip to Russia.

[snip]

A June 2017 Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff described the Administration’s efforts to engage the State Department about lifting sanctions “almost as soon as they took office.”

Among the six journalists Steele admits he briefed on his dossier is someone from Yahoo.

The journalists initially briefed at the end of September 2016 by [Steele] and Fusion at Fusion’s instruction were from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker and CNN. [Steele] subsequently participated in further meetings at Fusion’s instruction with Fusion and the New York Times, the Washington Post and Yahoo News, which took place in mid-October 2016.

That the Yahoo journalist is Isikoff would be a cinch to guess. But we don’t have to guess, because Isikoff made it clear it was him in his first report after the dossier got leaked.

Another of Steele’s reports, first reported by Yahoo News last September, involved alleged meetings last July between then-Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page and two high-level Russian operatives, including Igor Sechin — a longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin who became the chief executive of Rosneft, the Russian energy giant.

In other words, Sipher is engaging in navel-gazing here, citing a report based on the Steele dossier, to say it confirms what was in the Steele dossier.

Sipher similarly cites a NYT article that was among the most criticized for the way it interprets “senior Russian intelligence officials” loosely to include anyone who might be suspect of being a spook.

We have also subsequently learned of Trump’s long-standing interest in, and experience with Russia and Russians.  A February 2017 New York Times article reported that phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian officials in the year before the election.  The New York Times article was also corroborated by CNN and Reuters independent reports.

The two reports he claims corroborate the NYT one fall far short of the NYT claim about talks with Russian intelligence officials — a distinction that is critical given what Sipher claims about Sergey Kislyak, which I note below.

Carter Page

Sipher cites the Carter Page FISA order as proof that some of these claims have held up.

What’s more, the Justice Department obtained a wiretap in summer 2016 on Page after satisfying a court that there was sufficient evidence to show Page was operating as a Russian agent.

But more recent reporting, by journalists Sipher elsewhere cites approvingly, reveals that Page had actually been under a FISA order as early as 2014.

Page had been the subject of a secret intelligence surveillance warrant since 2014, earlier than had been previously reported, US officials briefed on the probe told CNN.

Paul Manafort

I have no complaint with Sipher’s claims about Manafort — except to the extent he suggests Manafort’s Ukrainian corruption wasn’t know long before the election. Sipher does, however, repeat a common myth about Manafort’s influence on the GOP platform.

The quid pro quo as alleged in the dossier was for the Trump team to “sideline” the Ukrainian issue in the campaign.  We learned subsequently the Trump platform committee changed only a single plank in the 60-page Republican platform prior to the Republican convention.  Of the hundreds of Republican positions and proposals, they altered only the single sentence that called for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia, increasing aid for Ukraine and “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian military.  The Trump team changed the wording to the more benign, “appropriate assistance.”

Republicans have credibly challenged this claim about the platform. Bob Dole is credited with making the platform far harsher on China in the service of his Taiwanese clients. And Trump’s team also put in language endorsing the revival of Glass-Steagall, with support from Manafort and/or Carl Icahn.

Michael Cohen

Sipher’s discussion of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is the weirdest of all, not least because the Cohen reports are the most incendiary but also because they were written at a time when Steele had already pitched the dossier to the media (making it far more likely the ensuing reports were the result of disinformation). Here’s how Sipher claims the Steele dossier reports have been validated.

We do not have any reporting that implicates Michael Cohen in meetings with Russians as outlined in the dossier.  However, recent revelations indicate his long-standing relationships with key Russian and Ukrainian interlocutors, and highlight his role in a previously hidden effort to build a Trump tower in Moscow. During the campaign, those efforts included email exchanges with Trump associate Felix Sater explicitly referring to getting Putin’s circle involved and helping Trump get elected.

Go look at that “recent revelations” link. It goes to this Josh Marshall post which describes its own sourcing this way:

TPM Reader BR flagged my attention to this 2007 article in The New York Post.

[snip]

Because two years ago, in February 2015, New York real estate trade sheet The Real Deal reported that Cohen purchased a $58 million rental building on the Upper East Side.

This is not recent reporting!! Again, this is stuff that was publicly known before the election.

More importantly, given Cohen’s rebuttal to the dossier, Marshall supports a claim that Cohen has ties to Ukraine, not Russia. The dossier, however, claims Cohen has ties to the latter, as Cohen mockingly notes.

Felix Sater

Then there are the Trump associates who are now known to have been central to any ties between Trump and the Russians that the Steele dossier didn’t cite — as least not as subjects (all could well be sources, which raises other questions). The first is Felix Sater, whom Sipher discusses three times in suggesting that the dossier accurately predicts Cohen’s involvement in the Russian negotiations.

To take one example, the first report says that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was responsible for Russia’s compromising materials on Hillary Clinton, and now we have reports that Michael Cohen had contacted Peskov directly in January 2016 seeking help with a Trump business deal in Moscow (after Cohen received the email from Trump business associate Felix Sater saying “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this.”).

[snip]

Following the inauguration, Cohen was involved, again with Felix Sater, to engage in back-channel negotiations seeking a means to lift sanctions via a semi-developed Russian-Ukrainian plan (which also included the hand delivery of derogatory information on Ukrainian leaders) also fits with Orbis reporting related to Cohen.

Given that Sater’s publicly known links between mobbed up Russians and Trump go back a decade, why isn’t he mentioned in the dossier? And why does the dossier seemingly contradict these claims about an active Trump Tower deal?

Aras Agalarov and Rinat Akhmetshin

There are far more significant silences about two other Trump associates, Aras Agalarov and Rinat Akhmetshin.

To be fair, the dossier isn’t entirely silent about the former, noting in at one place that Agalarov would be the guy to go to to learn about dirt on Trump in Petersburg (elsewhere he could be a source).

Far, far more damning is the dossier’s silence (again, at least as a subject rather than source) about Akhmetshin. That’s long been one of the GOP complaints about the dossier — that Akhmetshin was closely involved with Fusion GPS on Magnitsky work in parallel with the Trump dossier, which (if Akhmetshin really is still tied to Russian intelligence) would provide an easy feedback loop to the Russians. The dossier’s silence on someone well known to Fusion GPS is all the more damning given the way that Sipher points to the June 9 meeting (which the dossier didn’t report, either) as proof that the dossier has been vindicated.

It was also apparently news to investigators when the New York Times in July 2017 published Don Jr’s emails arranging for the receipt of information held by the Russians about Hillary Clinton. How could Steele and Orbis know in June 2016 that the Russians were working actively to elect Donald Trump and damage Hillary Clinton?

[snip]

To take another example, the third Orbis report says that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was managing the connection with the Kremlin, and we now know that he was present at the June 9 2016 meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, who has reportedly boasted of his ties to ties and experience in Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence.  According to a recent New York Times story, “Akhmetshin told journalists that he was a longtime acquaintance of Paul J. Manafort.”

There’s no allegation that investigations didn’t know about June 2016 plan to hurt Hillary (indeed, the Guccifer 2.0 stuff that Sipher ignores was public to all). Rather they didn’t know — but neither did Fusion, who has an established relationship with Akhmetshin — about the meeting involving Akhmetshin. If you’re going to claim the June 9 meeting proves anything, it’s that the dossier as currently known has a big hole right in Fusion’s client/researcher list.

Sergey Kislyak

Which brings me — finally! — to Sipher’s weird treatment of Sergey Kislyak. Sipher argues (correctly) that Trump associates’ failure to report details of their contacts with Russians may support a conspiracy claim.

 Of course, the failure of the Trump team to report details that later leaked out and fit the narrative may make the Steele allegations appear more prescient than they otherwise might.  At the same time, the hesitancy to be honest about contacts with Russia is consistent with allegations of a conspiracy.

Of course, Trump’s folks have failed to report details of that June 9 meeting as well as meetings with Sergey Kislyak. Having now invested his vindication story on that June 9 meeting, he argues that reports about Kislyak (on which the NYT article he cites approvingly probably rely) are misguided; we need to look to that June 9 meeting intead.

It should be noted in this context, that the much-reported meetings with Ambassador Kislyak do not seem to be tied to the conspiracy. He is not an intelligence officer, and would be in the position to offer advice on politics, personalities and political culture in the United States, but would not be asked to engage in espionage activity.  It is likewise notable that Ambassador Kislyak receives only a passing reference in the Steele dossier and only having to do with his internal advice on the political fallout in the U.S. in reaction to the Russian campaign.

Of course, to determine if collusion occurred as alleged in the dossier, we would have to know if the Trump campaign continued to meet with Russian representatives subsequent to the June meeting.

This seems utterly bizarre. We know what happened after June 9, in part: Per Jared Kushner (who also is not mentioned in the dossier or Sipher’s column), immediately after the election Kislyak started moving towards meeting about Syria (not Ukraine). But in the process, Kushner may have asked for a back channel and at Kislyak’s urging, Kushner took a meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank potentially to talk about investments in his family’s debt-ridden empire. And all that is the lead-up to the Mike Flynn calls with Kislyak about sanctions relief which provide some of the proof that Trump was willing to deliver the quo that the dossier claims got offered for quids.

That latter story — of the meetings Kushner and Flynn did in the wake of the election and events that may have taken place since — is every bit as coherent a narrative as the Steele dossier or the entirely new narratives tied to the June 9 meeting (which Sipher claims are actually the Steele narrative).

Of course, neither is yet evidence of collusion. And that’s, frankly, what we as citizens should be after.

A narrative offered up by an intelligence contractor who was always trying to catch up to the central part of the story — the hack-and-leak — is not what we should be striving for. That’s why this dossier is probably mostly irrelevant to the Mueller probe, no matter how the GOP would like to insinuate the opposite. If there was collusion (or rather, coordination on all this stuff between the campaign and Russia), we should expect evidence of it. The Steele dossier, as I have noted, left out one of the key potential proofs of that, in spite of having ties with someone who attended the meeting.

All that said, it would be useful for someone responsible to respond to GOP criticisms and, where invented (such as with the claim that Steele paying sources diminishes its value), demonstrate that. It would be useful for someone to explain what we should take from the dossier.

Sipher didn’t do that, though. Indeed, his post largely suffers from the same bad analysis he accuses the media of.

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

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

Guccifer 2.0: What about those DCCC and “Clinton Foundation” documents

In this post, I addressed one recent and one not-recent research finding pertaining to Guccifer 2.0 (I had already raised both of them, but I addressed them at more length). I pointed out the conclusions of the research itself (that Guccifer 2.0 put Russian metadata in the first documents he released intentionally, just as he had put the name Felix Dzerzhinsky in one; and that some files released by proxy in September were copied locally) were not that controversial and certainly don’t refute the Intelligence Community conclusion that Russia was behind these hacks.

I also pointed out something that came out of that and related research — the understanding that the documents Guccifer 2.0 first released weren’t the DNC documents released to WikiLeaks at all, and so had absolutely no bearing on the question of whether Guccifer 2.0 provided the DNC documents to WikiLeaks. The NYer’s Raffi Khatchadourian used that same data as part of his argument that Russia was clearly working with WikiLeaks.

Cui bono from DCCC documents

Not only does all this analysis focus on the DNC when it really should focus on Hillary documents, but it almost entirely ignores the later documents Guccifer 2.0. For example, here’s how Adam Carter dismisses the import of the DCCC documents in considering attribution.

The documents he posted online were a mixture of some from the public domain (eg. already been published by OpenSecrets.org in 2009), were manipulated copies of research documents originally created by Lauren Dillon (see attachments) and others or were legitimate, unique documents that were of little significant damage to the DNC. (Such as the DCCC documents)

The DCCC documents didn’t reveal anything particularly damaging. It did include a list of fundraisers/bundlers but that wasn’t likely to cause controversy (the fundraising totals, etc. are likely to end up on sites like OpenSecrets, etc within a year anyway). – It did however trigger 4chan to investigate and a correlation was found between the DNC’s best performing bundlers and ambassadorships. – This revelation though, is to be credited to 4chan. – The leaked financial data wasn’t, in itself, damaging – and some of the key data will be disclosed publicly in future anyway.

Even ignoring that some of these documents provided the DCCC’s views of races and candidates, the notion that data will one day become public in no way minimizes the value of having that data in time for an electoral race, which is what Guccifer 2.0’s release of them did.

Even Khatchadourian simply nods at what, given the timing, are likely the DCCC documents. After laying out what are suggestions of pressure Assange’s source is exerting on WikiLeaks in the early summer, he reveals that in August, Guccifer 2.0 considered leaking documents through Emma Best (who, notably, had just linked the Turkish emails that WikiLeaks would get blamed for at the end of July).

In mid-August, Guccifer 2.0 expressed interest in offering a trove of Democratic e-mails to Emma Best, a journalist and a specialist in archival research, who is known for acquiring and publishing millions of declassified government documents. Assange, I was told, urged Best to decline, intimating that he was in contact with the persona’s handlers, and that the material would have greater impact if he released it first.

Given the mid-August date, those emails are likely the DCCC emails that Guccifer 2.0 first announced on August 12 by publishing the contact information of members and their key staffers (one of the several things over the course of the operation that got suppressed by providers). While Khatchadourian doesn’t dwell on what happened to them instead of release via Best, it is significant: Guccifer 2.0 reached out to local journalists to report on the state-level data. That is, for a limited set of what must have been available at DCCC, a set focused on swing states (which, contrary to what Carter suggests, cannot be bracketed off from the top of the ticket in a presidential year), Guccifer 2.0 worked to magnify these documents too, with mixed success.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone associated with the Democratic party or Crowdstrike  — who both have been accused of being the real insiders behind the Wikileaks documents — would release those documents, no matter how uninteresting people outside of politics find them. Likewise, even the most bitter Bernie supporter would have little reason to help Republicans get elected to Congress. Leaking boring but useful documents that benefit just Republicans doesn’t even fit with the hacktivist persona Guccifer 2.0 presented as. That leaves GOPers, as well as the Russians if they were siding with the GOP, with sufficient motive to hack and leak them.

Moreover, given questions about whether Republicans incorporated data made available by Russia in their own data analysis, the release of these documents may have provided a way to do that while maintaining plausible deniability. This stuff could get more interesting now, given that Ron DeSantis, who benefitted from these state level leaks, wants to cut the Mueller investigation short.

What about Guccifer 2.0’s Clinton Foundation headfake?

Which brings us to some other still unexplained events from last year: Roger Stone’s promises that WikiLeaks would release the Clinton Foundation emails in early October. A lot gets missed in the public narrative of that period. Stone turned out to repeatedly promise files, only to be wrong, which (on its face, anyway) undermines Democratic accusations he was in cahoots with WikiLeaks. And ultimately, WikiLeaks didn’t publish the Clinton Foundation files; instead, it released the Podesta document that included excerpts of Hillary’s speeches. Though — again, contrary to what the Democrats now complain — those were completely drowned out by the Access Hollywood release. No one mentions, either, that Stone sort of sulked away, uninterested in WikiLeaks emails anymore, moving on to Bill Clinton rape allegations. What happened?

Here’s what I laid out in April.

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 3:

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

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

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

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

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

Two parts of this narrative now look very different, given what we know now. As noted, Kachadourian argues that Guccifer 2.0 served as a pressure point for WikiLeaks, pushing Assange to release things on the persona’s timeline. I’ve long been puzzled (for obvious reasons) by Guccifer 2.0’s response to my tweet, calling out his supposed October 4 release of Clinton Foundation documents as the bullshit it was.

There was no private conversation behind this — Guccifer 2.0 and I never spoke by DM. My guess is he chose to respond to my tweet because Glenn Greenwald immediately responded to me and took my debunking seriously, though Guccifer 2.0’s response was quick — within 45 minutes. And only after that tweet did he follow me. It was a rare unsolicited response to someone, and it was one of maybe three tweets he sent responding to a criticism. (Interesting side note: I realized when reviewing his tweets that a few of Guccifer 2.0’s tweets appear in Twitter’s count but are not visible.) In other words, Guccifer 2.0 apparently wanted to respond to my debunking, perhaps because Greenwald found them credible, thereby sustaining the claim he really had Clinton Foundation emails. But it happened at a time when Stone, too, was pushing WikiLeaks to release Clinton Foundation emails.

Now couple that information with the details of GOP rat-fucker Peter Smith’s attempt to hunt down Clinton Foundation emails. As Matt Tait describes, close to the July 22 release of the the DNC emails, Smith contacted him already having been contacted by someone who claimed to have copies of Hillary’s Clinton Foundation emails.

Over the course of a long phone call, he mentioned that he had been contacted by someone on the “Dark Web” who claimed to have a copy of emails from Secretary Clinton’s private server, and this was why he had contacted me; he wanted me to help validate whether or not the emails were genuine.

The WSJ explained that Smith could never authenticate any of the emails he got pitched, which is why they weren’t ever published, and recommended they be dealt to WikiLeaks.

So what if someone actually did deal those emails to WikiLeaks, authentic or not? What if Guccifer 2.0 somehow knew that? It would explain Stone’s certainty they’d come out, Guccifer 2.0’s attempt to claim he had them, and the back-and-forth in early October.

Incidentally, the latest stink in the right wing noise machine is that a guy trying to obtain more Hillary related emails via FOIA got denied because the public interest doesn’t outweigh Hillary’s privacy interests. [Deleted: this was one of the fake Assange accounts–thanks to  Arbed for heads up.] Assange claim he has duplicates.

To be clear, I don’t believe those are Clinton Foundation emails. But I find the possibility that Assange may still be getting and releasing materials damning to Hillary.

Guccifer 2.0’s other propaganda

Finally, it’s worth noting that these reassessments of Guccifer 2.0 largely look at the documents he released, out of context of the things he said.

I think that’s particularly problematic given this last two posts, which align with activities alleged to have ties to Russia. His second-to-last post was typically nonsensical (the FEC’s networks have nothing to do with vote counting). But it attributed any tampering with software to Democrats.

INFO FROM INSIDE THE FEC: THE DEMOCRATS MAY RIG THE ELECTIONS

I’d like to warn you that the Democrats may rig the elections on November 8. This may be possible because of the software installed in the FEC networks by the large IT companies.

As I’ve already said, their software is of poor quality, with many holes and vulnerabilities.

I have registered in the FEC electronic system as an independent election observer; so I will monitor that the elections are held honestly.

I also call on other hackers to join me, monitor the elections from inside and inform the U.S. society about the facts of electoral fraud.

We’ve since learned (most recently in this NYT piece) that there was more risk of tampering with the vote count than initially revealed. And no matter whether or not you believe the Russians did it, there is no credible reason why Democrats would target turnout that they needed to win the election. This message, Guccifer 2.0’s last before the election, could only serve to give pre-emptive cover for any tampering that did get discovered.

Finally, there’s Guccifer 2.0’s last post, bizarrely posted months after he seemed to be done, capitalizing on legitimate complaints about the first Joint Analysis Report released on December 29 to suggest the evidence implicating him as Russian is fake.

The technical evidence contained in the reports doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. This is a crude fake.

Any IT professional can see that a malware sample mentioned in the Joint Analysis Report was taken from the web and was commonly available. A lot of hackers use it. I think it was inserted in the report to make it look a bit more plausible.

But several things are interesting about this post (in addition to the way it coincided with what Shadow Brokers claimed was going to be his last post). In spite of using the singular “this” to refer to the “reports,” Guccifer 2.0 claims that several reports tie him to Russia.

The U.S. intelligence agencies have published several reports of late claiming I have ties with Russia.

But the JAR actually doesn’t mention him at all. What does mention him is the Intelligence Community Assessment.

We assess with high confidence that the GRU used the Guccifer 2.0 persona, DCLeaks.com, and WikiLeaks to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets.

Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be an independent Romanian hacker, made multiple contradictory statements and false claims about his likely Russian identity throughout the election. Press reporting suggests more than one person claiming to be Guccifer 2.0 interacted with journalists.

Guccifer 2.0’s silence about the ICA is all the more interesting given that the post — dated January 12 and so immediately after the leak of the Steele dossier — doesn’t mention that, but says the Obama Administration would release more fake information in the coming week.

Certainly, those who believe Guccifer 2.0 is not Russian even while noting his many false claims will take this post as gospel. But it’s worth noting that it doesn’t actually refute the substance of the claims made about Guccifer 2.0, rather than Russia.

Reassessing the Role of Guccifer 2.0 Should Not Terrify Analysts

I’m glad folks are still poking around the Guccifer 2.0 documents, and applaud the openness of the researchers to respond to criticism. Frankly, it’s a model those who made initial claims about Guccifer 2.0 — most egregiously, that Cyrillic metadata in a document adopting the name of Felix Dzerzhinsky would not be every bit as intentional as that graffiti — should adopt. There were errors in the early analysis of the Guccifer 2.0 persona (such as the assumption he was publishing DNC documents), that, with hindsight, are more clear. One particularly annoying one is the logic that because Guccifer 2.0 got caught pretending to be Romanian — a claim he backed off of in his FAQ a week later in any case — he had to be Russian. The unwillingness to revise early analysis only feeds the distrust of the Russian attribution.

That said, in my opinion nothing about the new analysis undermines the claim of Russian attribution, and the majority of the known evidence does support it (and has since been backed — for example — by Facebook, which has its own set of global data to draw from).

Update: I thought Stone was involved in the Smith effort. This article describes him as chatting to Guccifer 2.0 at the direction of Smith.

“The magnitude of what he was trying to do was kind of impressive,” Johnson said. “He had people running around Europe, had people talking to Guccifer.” (U.S. intelligence agencies have linked the materials provided by “Guccifer 2.0”—an alias that has taken credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee and communicated with Republican operatives, including Trump confidant Roger Stone—to Russian government hackers.)

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

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

The Nameless Non-Agents Arranging Rohrabacher’s Trump Meeting

Sean Hannnity, who himself met with Julian Assange early this year, then went on to champion the Seth Rich hoax, had Dana Rohrabacher on to push Rohrabacher’s efforts to broker a pardon for Assange in exchange for an alternative source for Wikileaks. When asked if he had a specific message for the president, Rohrabacher dodged, saying only, “We discussed what I would tell the president.”

But the funniest dodge came when Hannity asked Rohrabacher about meeting with the president. The congressman answered,

It is my understanding from other parties who are trying to arrange the rendezvous that a rendezvous with myself and the President is being arranged for me to give him the firsthand information from [Assange]

Not only do these other parties not have names, but ultimately, this meeting “is being arranged” like a loveless marriage.

You’d almost think Rohrabacher recognizes the legal problems here.

One wonders whether those nameless non-agents do?

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

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

Senate Intelligence Bill Aims to Label WikiLeaks — and Maybe the Journalists Who Look Like Them — Spooks

I’m reading the draft Senate Intelligence Authorization for 2018; in a follow-up, I will lay out why it is a remarkably useful bill, particularly in the way it addresses vulnerabilities identified in the wake of the Russian efforts to tamper with our election.

But there is a major point of concern, one which led Senator Ron Wyden to vote against the bill in committee. Attached to a must-pass bill, it holds that it is the sense of Congress that WikiLeaks resembles a non-state hostile intelligence service.

SEC. 623. SENSE OF CONGRESS ON WIKILEAKS.

It is the sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States.

In explaining his opposition to the provision, Wyden laid out all the unintended consequences that might come from labeling WikiLeaks a hostile intelligence service. “My concern is that the use of the novel phrase ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’ may have legal, constitutional, and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets,” stated Senator Wyden. “The language in the bill suggesting that the U.S. government has some unstated course of action against ‘non-state hostile intelligence services’ is equally troubling. The damage done by WikiLeaks to the United States is clear. But with any new challenge to our country, Congress ought not react in a manner that could have negative consequences, unforeseen or not, for our constitutional principles. The introduction of vague, undefined new categories of enemies constitutes such an ill-considered reaction.”

Wyden has a point. If WikiLeaks is treated as an intelligence service, for example, then anyone having extensive conversations with them can be targeted for surveillance. Any assistance someone gives — like donations — can be deemed a potential criminal violation. And a lot of people who access and support Wikileaks because of the content it publishes may be deemed suspect.

Wyden did find other things in the bill to praise, including three things he sponsored, two of them explicitly tied to the Russian threat:

  1. A report on the threat to the United States from Russian money laundering. The amendment calls on intelligence agencies to work with elements of the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, such as the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), to assess the scope and threat of Russian money laundering to the United States.
  2. Requires Congressional notification before the establishment of any U.S.-Russia cybersecurity unit, including a report on what intelligence will be shared with the Russians, any counterintelligence concerns, and how those concerns would be mitigated.
  3. A report from the Intelligence Community on whether cyber security vulnerabilities in the U.S. cell network, including known vulnerabilities to SS7, are resulting in foreign government surveillance of Americans. The report follows on a study by the Department of Homeland Security that found major, widespread weaknesses in U.S. mobile networks.

But he nevertheless voted against the bill to register his concerns about the new label for WikiLeaks.

The WikiLeaks language would sure make it harder for Trump to exchange information with Julian Assange in exchange for a pardon. But tacking this onto such an otherwise useful bill seems like a bad idea.

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

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

Why Did WikiLeaks Publish the Turkish Emails?

Foreign Policy has a gotcha story revealing that WikiLeaks turned down some documents on Russia last year. It is absolutely a gotcha, showing that WikiLeaks refused some Russian-related documents at a time when it was saying it’d happily accept some — or some Republican focused ones.

But given the sourcing, I’m wondering whether it instead shows that WikiLeaks won’t accept submissions from certain kinds of sources.

The story is based on “partial chat logs,” showing only WikiLeaks’ side of the conversation.

WikiLeaks declined to publish a wide-ranging trove of documents — at least 68 gigabytes of data — that came from inside the Russian Interior Ministry, according to partial chat logs reviewed by Foreign Policy.

The logs, which were provided to FP, only included WikiLeaks’s side of the conversation.

The language of the gotcha paragraph makes it appear as if the chat logs came from a WikiLeaks person because it uses the first person plural discussing what got sent to WikiLeaks.

“We had several leaks sent to Wikileaks, including the Russian hack. It would have exposed Russian activities and shown WikiLeaks was not controlled by Russian security services,” the source who provided the messages wrote to FP. “Many Wikileaks staff and volunteers or their families suffered at the hands of Russian corruption and cruelty, we were sure Wikileaks would release it. Assange gave excuse after excuse.”

Except further down in the article, “the same source” (whose identity or need for anonymity is never explained) describes feeding something else to Assange.

Approached later that year by the same source about data from an American security company, WikiLeaks again turned down the leak. “Is there an election angle? We’re not doing anything until after the election unless its [sic] fast or election related,” WikiLeaks wrote. “We don’t have the resources.”

In other words, this gotcha appears to be coming from the source (who was unwilling to share its side of the conversation with FP, which is itself suspect), not WikiLeaks after all (note, the source of the files said today he tried to get WikiLeaks interested in publishing them going back to 2014). And FP’s source appears to have been testing WikiLeaks’ willingness to publish a range of things, including both Russian documents and “data from an American security company.” I would be pretty suspicious of a source who was feeding me unrelated dumps. Julian Assange has also suggested he would happily publish documents from intelligence services — and technically did, with the Syria leaks — but it would be different if WikiLeaks suspected the intelligence service was trying to target it.

So it’s a damning story, but the details of it suggest there may be far more to the story (especially when you remember there was a badly executed American-based attempt to smear Assange as a pedophile last year).

Moreover, the story doesn’t mention something else: that a long profile came out this week substantially validating the second excuse, “we don’t have the resources.” A huge part of Raffi Khatchadourian’s NYer profile of Assange focuses on how overwhelmed WikiLeaks was last summer trying to get out the DNC emails, and so had to be forced to publish in timely fashion by the Guccifer 2.0 persona.

Meanwhile, a WikiLeaks team was scrambling to prepare the D.N.C. material. (A WikiLeaks staffer told me that they worked so fast that they lost track of some of the e-mails, which they quietly released later in the year.) On several occasions, and in different contexts, Assange admitted to me that he was pressed for time. “We were quite concerned about meeting the deadline,” he told me once, referring to the Democratic National Convention.

Here’s what I don’t get though.

If WikiLeaks was so overwhelmed, why did it publish emails from Turkey’s ruling party, which the NYer notes was one of the things contributing to the pressure.

In addition to the D.N.C. archive, Assange had received e-mails from the leading political party in Turkey, which had recently experienced a coup, and he felt that he needed to rush them out.

As I have previously noted, there are some interesting details about the hack-and-leak of these files. All the more so, now, given that Emma (then Michael) Best had a role in publishing them.

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

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

Here’s what happened:

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

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

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

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

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

Without laying out all the details here, I think there are some interesting issues about this hack-and-leak that might have gotten more scrutiny if the focus weren’t Wikileaks.

One of the details in the Assange profile I didn’t know is that Guccifer 2.0 offered up Democratic emails — the suggestion is they were the Podesta ones, though that is not affirmatively claimed — to Best in August.

Someone close to WikiLeaks told me that before Assange published the Podesta e-mails he faced this precise scenario. In mid-August, Guccifer 2.0 expressed interest in offering a trove of Democratic e-mails to Emma Best, a journalist and a specialist in archival research, who is known for acquiring and publishing millions of declassified government documents. Assange, I was told, urged Best to decline, intimating that he was in contact with the persona’s handlers, and that the material would have greater impact if he released it first.

The Turkish emails were published (by WikiLeaks and Best) in July, so just as all this was going down. As Motherboard pointed out, the first batch wasn’t all that interesting, and the second one was interesting primarily because of the privacy violation in publishing them.

So if WikiLeaks was so frantic in July, at precisely the time it was scrambling to publish the DNC emails before the Convention, why did it bother publishing the Turkish emails at all? The answer to that may be even more damning than the gotcha that FP presented.

Update: Remember, too, that Assange said he’d publish the ShadowBrokers files last August, but did not.

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

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