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Episode Notes

It is the conclusion of the intelligence community writ large that president Vladimir Putin ordered manipulation of the 2016 United States election, which included cyber intrusion against the Democratic National Committee.

Russia has also been suspected of manipulating elections in Germany, France, the Czech Republic and Holland.

The Department of Justice indictment of four Russian hackers for breaking into and collecting data on 500 million Yahoo! accounts may in itself contain a message directed at the Trump administration.

Devin Nunes

This New York Times piece details why exactly Devin Nunes is dangerous to democracy within his role as the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

And when Nunes gathered reporters around him two days later, it was to say that he’d seen secret documents suggesting that people around Trump may indeed have been subject to surveillance by our government.

This was Nunes at his most irresponsible. To the casual listener, he was insinuating that Trump’s wiretapping charges weren’t so very far from the mark. But they were, and Nunes had to acknowledge that as he clarified his remarks. He was talking about the surveillance of Americans who happened to be in contact with foreign players whose communications were the real subjects of concern. He had no evidence — zilch — of any eavesdropping that targeted Trump.

This week we learned that Nunes got that information during that rendezvous, details of which he has not provided to his fellow committee members, just as he failed to share the information itself with Democrats on the committee before he went public with it.

All of this is irregular enough to peg him as a puppet of the Trump administration or a complete boob. Either way, he has surrendered his investigation’s integrity — and his own.

It is also important, however, to acknowledge that the language of “targeting” contains more ambiguity than it should. The NSA and other intelligence agencies have the ability to legally spy on American citizens through backdoor methods without an official target, as Edward Snowden argues in an interview with the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill:

SNOWDEN: Now, if you are an American citizen and they say, “I want to look at your communications, I want to listen to this person’s phone calls and everyone they contacted,” this in theory is supposed to require a warrant. But the actual reality here is that they can do something different, and they do do this without a warrant… if they look at the other side of that communication, right? The communication that went overseas or involved a non-U.S. person in any way, that’s entirely legal. That happens without a warrant. …

If anybody at the NSA, if anybody at the FBI, wanted to review communications about President Obama, right? Like me, sitting at the NSA, I could do that simply by typing in an IP address that doesn’t even have to be the president’s IP address, right? Or if I want to search for his private email address or something like that, all I have to do is type it in the system, hit ‘enter,’ and say, “show me U.S. results for this.” This is entirely legal, so long as I’m not targeting him officially. So, I’m saying, I’m not interested in Obama, right? I’m interested in this known system that’s affiliated with Chinese cyber espionage or whatever, that just happens to be Obama’s Blackberry…

I think it is possible, based on everything we see and what we hear, there may be some indication that something like this happened on the backend, right? Where there’s been some searches that implicate not Donald Trump directly, right? Because if he had that, he’d be up on the stage waving it around on TV.

Still:

Carter Page

This September 23 story in Yahoo! goes over the investigation of Carter Page specifically and his ties to Russia.

Some of those briefed were “taken aback” when they learned about Page’s contacts in Moscow, viewing them as a possible back channel to the Russians that could undercut U.S. foreign policy, said a congressional source familiar with the briefings but who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. The source added that U.S. officials in the briefings indicated that intelligence reports about the adviser’s talks with senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin were being “actively monitored and investigated.”

A senior U.S. law enforcement official did not dispute that characterization when asked for comment by Yahoo News. “It’s on our radar screen,” said the official about Page’s contacts with Russian officials. “It’s being looked at.”

It’s important to remember that the “reforms” within Russia between 2000 and 2004 resulted in a oligarchal corporate structure where fealty to Putin was the critical currency in the political climate, and a reason that a relationship with Russian oil tycoons is more significant than a typical business relationship.

Putin’s war on the oligarchs was highly selective. Berezovsky who was not allowed to add the aluminium industry to his empire, resigned from the State Duma on 19 July 2000 and fled to the West. Vladimir Gusinsky (Media-MOST) was forced to sell his shares in Gazprom and to cede his television station NTV to his enemies. Putin replaced Rem Viakhirev of Gazprom, the natural gas monopolist and principal shareholder of Gusinsky’s MediaMOST, by his collaborator Aleksei Miller. How should Putin’s move against the oligarchs be interpreted? The oligarchs-as-aclass only had to realign themselves with their president, who soon pronounced the vital Good governance in the era of global neoliberalism 134 words that he would not review the results of privatisation (Kagarlitsky 2002:207). Putin’s coming to power only meant the decline of some oligarchs and the elevation of others.

If you want to read more about the interplay of the oligarchy and its role in politics in Russia, read the Oligarchs by David A. Hoffman.

Michael Flynn

The only link we need to share on Michael Flynn is this one by Fortune magazine, titled The Michael Flynn Scandal Just Got A Lot Worse.

Paul Manafort

Here’s the story on Paul Manafort’s daughter’s texts implicating him (loosely) for what are essentially war crimes in Ukraine. This story in the Atlantic digs deep on Paul Manafort’s history of providing direct support to some of the world’s most awful dictatorships, including Mobutu Sese Seko—the dictator of Zaire for whom the term kleptocracy was invented—and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines.

Ben mentioned the Torturer’s Lobby, which is detailed in this Daily Beast piece. He oversaw a lobby that successfully funneled millions of American dollars to regimes that employed slavery and rape across the globe. Sese Seko is perhaps the worst abuser of Human Rights in recent history and regularly employed torture and rape as enforcement mechanisms, as well as directing the slaughter of students. Manafort and his firm earned $1 million a year from that contract. Manafort’s firm secured foreign aid for Savimbi, who “maimed or killed tens of thousands, creating one of the largest amputee populations in the world through its laying of landmines in farm fields, roads, and school yards.”

Roger Stone

Here’s Politico’s interview with Roger Stone. The Smoking Gun has a summary of all of the various suspicious activities surrounding Stone. They include this timeline:

On August 21, Stone tweeted that it would soon be Podesta’s “time in the barrel.” Stone’s Twitter predictions became more precise in the days before Wikileaks began publishing the contents of Podesta’s Gmail account on October 7. On October 1, Stone declared that “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done.” Two days later, Stone tweeted that he was confident that “my hero Julian Assange” would soon “educate the American people.” In an October 5 tweet, Stone reported that, “Payload coming” and included the hashtag “Lockthemup.”

Stone also went on Jones’s show on October 2 to declare that, “I’m assured the motherlode is coming Wednesday.” He added, “I have reason to believe that it is devastating.”

Also, he’s a James Bond villain.

Russia’s Global Strategy

The Center for American Progress has a good rundown on Russia’s global strategy and how it interacts with the democratic governments of Western Europe and the United States. Something they conclude:

Putin is now trying to export his brand of leadership. He has formed an alliance with many European far-right political parties and their leaders, who have delivered consistent adherence to Russian interests even when it contradicts some of their past positions. This backing of Putin is hard to explain unless it is in exchange for Putin’s overt and covert support. These far-right parties are capitalizing on economic and security crises in Europe to build popular support and now operate as a fifth column that is undermining the Western liberal order from within. President Donald Trump’s unwavering support for Putin and his pursuit of policies that advance Russia’s goals show disturbing similarities to the European far right that are equally difficult to rationalize.

Still, Russia has perhaps not accomplished many of the goals it started out with, and in the short term may end up behind as a result of a Trump presidency, as Max Boot of the Council of Foreign Relations reports for the USA Today. He also substantiates the argument that Russia is faced with an increasingly hostile American legislature.

Democratic Pitfalls

Jeet Heer at the New Republic goes over all the potential pitfalls for the Democrats when it comes to pursuing the Russia story so publicly. He mostly dismisses them, but leaves the concern about internal Democratic reform hanging. In another piece, he goes over in greater detail the concerns about conspiratorializing the left and what the real and imagined risks are behind zealously pursuing a story fundamentally grounded in facts but rife with speculation.

Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept thinks that the Democrats and the left have gone too far, and that there’s early evidence that they’ll be left in the dust when a relatively benign explanation blows up their hype. For what it’s worth, I think that he is mischaracterizing his evidence (e.g. imputing an incorrect meaning on James Clapper’s statements—he argued that he had no evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia at the time he left office, which is no indication of what evidence the FBI or NSA may have now in an investigation they are still pursuing).