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The October Non-Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Roger Stone and Wikileaks narrative misses a few data points

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democrats had more warning of impending emails than Podesta makes out

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

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

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

CHUCK TODD:

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

JOHN PODESTA:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Let me pause here.

JOHN PODESTA:

The first, the first–

CHUCK TODD:

Two days after?

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

CHUCK TODD:

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

JOHN PODESTA:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Earlier, yeah.

JOHN PODESTA:

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

The other missing detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicans Prepare to Accuse Hillary of Russian Ties

In Monday’s hearing, Devin Nunes asked Jim Comey for reassurances that if anyone — including a member of the public — brought allegations of Russian attempts to infiltrate the Hillary campaign to the FBI, the FBI would expand the investigation to include those efforts as well.

NUNES:Director Comey, you announced this morning that there’ll be an investigation into Trump associates possible and President Trump and anyone around the campaign and any association with the Russian government.

If this committee or anyone else for that matter, someone from the public, comes with information to you about the Hillary Clinton campaign or their associates or someone from the Clinton Foundation, will you add that to your investigation? They have ties to Russian intelligence services, Russian agents, would that be something of interest to you?

COMEY: People bring us information about what they think is improper unlawful activity of any kind, we will evaluate it. Not just in — not just in this context. Folks send us stuff all the time. They should keep going that.

NUNES: Do you think it’s possible that the Russians would not be trying to infiltrate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, get information on Hillary Clinton and try to get to people that are around that campaign or the Clinton Foundation?

COMEY: I’m not prepared to comment about the particular campaigns but the Russians in general are always trying to understand who the future leaders might be and what levers of influence there might be on them.

NUNES: I just hope that if — if information does surface about the other campaigns, not even just Hillary Clinton’s but any other campaigns, that you would take that serious also if the Russians were trying to infiltrate those campaigns around them.

COMEY: Of course we would.

Yesterday, Politico reported that the RNC paid an intelligence firm that employs a former KGB officer dig up dirt on Hillary.

The payments attracted attention in political and intelligence circles, largely because the Virginia-based firm, Hamilton Trading Group, had particular expertise in Russia, which was emerging as a major campaign issue at the time.

RNC officials and the president and co-founder of Hamilton Trading Group, an ex-CIA officer named Ben Wickham, insisted the payments, which eventually totaled $41,500, had nothing to do with Russia.

[snip]

But RNC officials now acknowledge that most of the cash$34,100 — went towards intelligence-style reports that sought to prove conflicts of interest between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State and her family’s foundation.

The firm produced two dossiers that tried to make the case that Clinton intervened in Bulgaria and Israel, respectively, on behalf of energy companies that had donated to the Clinton Foundation, according to people briefed on the reports.

The oppo firm’s story has been evolving, but thus far, it seems that the former KGB officer, Gennady Vasilenko, did not work on the Hillary project. That said, remember that the Christopher Steele dossier (which is effectively the Clinton counterpart to this oppo project) indicated that Russia held compromising information on Hillary. We don’t know if that was included in the earlier reports shared with Steele’s first, Republican client. If it was, I could imagine the RNC trying to replicate the same information via a different source.

Meanwhile, serial fabulist oppo hit man Jerome Corsi has a piece at Infowars purporting to explain Roger Stone’s August 21, 2016 tweet stating “it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Corsi includes two reports from last summer — one done by Government Accountability Institute and another by himself in response to the Paul Manafort allegations — alleging ties between Hillary and Podesta and Russia.

When this article was published, I suggested to Roger Stone that the attack over Manafort’s ties to Russia needed to be countered.

My plan was to publicize the Government Accountability Institute’s report, “From Russia With Money,” that documented how Putin paid substantial sums of money to both Hillary Clinton and John Podesta.

Putin must have wanted Hillary to win in 2016, if only because Russian under-the-table cash payments to the Clintons and to Podesta would have made blackmailing her as president easy.

On Aug. 14, 2016, I began researching for Roger Stone a memo that I entitled “Podesta.”

I completed that memo on Aug. 31, 2016, and is embedded here in its entirety.

It’s not clear Corsi’s explanation works to absolve Stone: while the earlier (July 31) report does focus on John Podesta, Corsi’s August 31 report focuses primarily on John’s brother Tony.

But it does dig out these Russian allegations just after Nunes raised the possibility private citizens might provide FBI with evidence implicating the Hillary campaign.

I’d say this is all ridiculous, and within the counterintelligence department it probably is, but remember that similar allegations from Steve Bannon got the NY office of the FBI chasing after the Clinton Foundation for months and months.

FISA Is Not a Magic Word

The NYT had an article yesterday reporting on investigations into three (not four) of Donald Trump’s associates. The lead explains that authorities are reviewing “intercepted communications” in an investigation.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.

The article differs from many of the reports on investigations into Trump because it is not so breathless and shows far more understanding of how DOJ works. Sadly, most readers appear not to have gotten this far into the story, which admits it’s not even clear whether the investigation is primarily about ties between Trump and the DNC hack.

It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself. It is also unclear whether the inquiry has anything to do with an investigation into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and other attempts to disrupt the elections in November.

A number of people, including — bizarrely! — former DHS Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs Juliette Kayyem have asked why the NYT article doesn’t mention FISA.

Great piece. Honest ? Is there reason why it doesn’t mention word FISA? I don’t know other ways to intercept comms.

Kayyem asks that, even about an article that partially raises another — the most common — way intercepts get done: by targeting foreigners.

The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.

The Russians alleged to have bought off Manafort, and the Russians alleged to have hacked the DNC are all legal targets without a FISA order (unless they’re targeting in the US, and even then, in some cases you wouldn’t need a FISA order). But these people are described as Russians and Ukrainians in Europe, so no FISA order needed. Moreover, the BBC article that started this line of reporting made clear the investigation arises from an intercept from a Baltic ally. Even if the US did the spying, foreign targets could be collected on under EO 12333 or under Section 702 of FISA without an individual order, and the Manafort sides of those conversations would be read. Indeed, those communications would be read precisely because a US person was having conversations with targets of interest.

So to review, here are the ways that the government might collect data in this case.

  • As the BBC reported, the US gets intercepts from its foreign partners, and appears to have done so here.
  • For foreign targets like those described, much US surveillance takes place under EO 12333. The NSA is collecting on switches and satellites carrying such communications, and to the extent that they’re not encrypted (or encrypted using technology the NSA has broken) those communications are readily available without a court order.
  • Those foreign targets located in Europe are also legal targets under Section 702. For national security cases (including counterintelligence ones) NSA routinely shares the raw feed off such collection with FBI, and FBI is not only allowed to read both sides of those conversations, but to go back and search for US persons in them without any suspicion of wrong-doing.
  • This counterintelligence investigation is primarily about money changing hands. That’s Treasury’s job, and its methods of coercion for collecting information don’t usually involve courts. Banks are obliged to hand over certain kinds of suspicious transfers in any case. Treasury also gets to go to SWIFT and get what it wants. That’s not an “intercept” in the traditional sense, but is likely a key piece of evidence in this case.

The issue, then, is when someone like Manafort becomes the target of the investigation and/or when Russians in the US (but not exclusively at an Embassy) are targeted. In that case, the following might explain intercepts.

  • In some respects, Manafort’s behavior reeks of classic influence peddling, a lobbyist gone wrong. To the extent that’s the case, it might be investigated under regular criminal law with pretty much the same secrecy that FISA will give you (especially given that multiple sources are leaking like sieves about FISA orders now). So FBI could have obtained a criminal warrant targeting Manafort’s communications.
  • To target Manafort anywhere in the world, the FBI/NSA would need a FISA order. Domestically, that’d be a traditional order(s). Given the overseas connection, they’d likely get a 705b order, allowing them to keep spying if Manafort were to leave the country.
  • To target Russians who are in the country but not at the Russian embassy, the government would need a FISA order.

To be sure, there were earlier reports that FBI asked for FISA orders in June and July, finally obtaining one (not three) in October. Even there, the original BBC report suggested the Americans were not the primary targets, but foreign targets, though it misstates who could actually be targeted (and seems to think Russian banks would require a FISA order).

Lawyers from the National Security Division in the Department of Justice then drew up an application. They took it to the secret US court that deals with intelligence, the Fisa court, named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wanted permission to intercept the electronic records from two Russian banks.

Their first application, in June, was rejected outright by the judge. They returned with a more narrowly drawn order in July and were rejected again. Finally, before a new judge, the order was granted, on 15 October, three weeks before election day.

Neither Mr Trump nor his associates are named in the Fisa order, which would only cover foreign citizens or foreign entities – in this case the Russian banks

A more recent, but breathless, version of the story originally misstated the standard for FISA, but does get closer to suggesting Trump’s associates are the targets.

Note that in one place NYT refers to “investigations” plural.

The F.B.I. is leading the investigations, aided by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit.

It is possible that there are separate investigation(s), one targeting Manafort for clear influence peddling, another targeting Roger Stone for apparent involvement in the hand-off of DNC documents to Wikileaks, and a third for corrupt business dealings on the part of Carter Page. It is also possible that such independent investigations could converge on the election, if what the Trump dossier claims is true. It is further possible that if all of those investigations converged into one election-related investigation, there’d still be no way to prove Trump knew of Russian involvement; right now, only his associates have been “targeted,” to the extent even that has occurred. (Roger Stone, of course, is an old hand at giving the President plausible deniability about the rat-fucking done in his name.)

Finally, there’s one more (delicious) detail most people have missed. Just last week the intelligence community rolled out its new EO 12333 sharing guidelines. I suspect such guidelines were in place between FBI and NSA before then; for a variety of reasons I think they may have been sharing such data since … September. But as I’ll show in a follow-up, one very clear objective for the expanded EO 12333 sharing is to give FBI (and CIA) direct access to raw EO 12333 collected information for counterintelligence purposes. That means all those intercepts on Russian and Ukrainian people talking to Manafort, going back over a year? At least as of January 3, the FBI (and CIA) can have those, including Manafort’s side of the conversation, in raw form.