Showing posts with label Putin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Putin. Show all posts

02 August 2018

Mata Hari in South Dakota


by Eve Fisher

For those of you who follow my tales of South Dakota politics, I talked about Mariia Butina in my blog post Just Another January in South Dakota. She and Paul Erickson, local South Dakotan, formed a couple of LLCs here in Sioux Falls, and Ms. Butina did the South Dakota speaking tour, all about God, Guns and Let's Be Friends With Russia!, including SDSU, USD, and the Teenage Republicans Camp in the Black Hills, where a number of past and current South Dakota legislatures were counselors, attendees, or just there for the party.

Back in February, almost no one had heard of Mariia Butina, or certainly weren't admitting that they did. But then a couple of weeks ago, she was indicted and arrested for being a Russian agent, and ever since we are in the fire hose of information about her.  Here's a beginning cast list:

(1) Mariia Butina, who introduced herself to America as a pro-Russian Christian gun-rights activist, and managed to get into every NRA convention in her years among us (2012-2017), as well as the National Prayer Breakfast (a private, closed event in case you didn't know) in Washington D.C. in 2017.  Apparently she had a very compelling story... and offered sex for political access and "in exchange for a job at an unidentified “special interest organization.” New York

(2) US Person Number 1 (from the original indictment), a/k/a Paul Erickson - more about him in a minute, but here they are strategizing away:
Maria Butina and Paul Erickson, posted to FB 2013.11.01
(3) US Person Number 2 (from the original indictment) - still unnamed, but described in the court documents as the target of Butina’s efforts to establish a backchannel between U.S. policymakers and representatives of the Russian government...

(4) Butina's handler, Alexander Torshin, Russian politician and Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia. He's also been identified by U.S. intelligence sources as having "established ties" to Russian security forces and a fierce Putin supporter, and by Spanish intelligence (they want to arrest him) as the money launderer for the Russian criminal Tambovskaya Gang. He and Butina founded the Russian-based Right to Bear Arms, and there was a regular correspondence between them that has to be read to be believed. Social media never had it so good.

(5) Her funder, Konstantin Nikolaev, a Russian oligarch worth $1.5 billion by Forbes’s latest estimate. Read USA Today on that: Russian Billionaire Paid Mariia Butina. There's a South Dakota connection to Nikolaev, which I'll get to in a minute.

(6) Her NRA friends: All photos courtesy of Cory Heidelberger at his blog post: (HERE)

Former NRA president David Keene introduces Maria Butina and Alexsandr Torshin to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, April 2015.
Former NRA president David Keene introduces Maria Butina and Alexsandr Torshin to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, April 2015. [Source: Walker’s “Our American Revival” PAC photo album]

David Keene, former NRA President, and Maria Butina [source: Maria Butina, Facebook, 2013.11.03]
Right before or during Mr. Keene's visit to Moscow at her and Torshin's invitation.
(7) Her South Dakota friends. She spoke at South Dakota State University and at University of South Dakota in Vermillion, offering her compelling story, and, as you can see, was front and center at the South Dakota Teenage Republican Camp:
Butina at SD TARS camp, 2015.07.22.
Butina at Rapid City, SD TAR camp, 2015.07.22
The current candidate for South Dakota's lone US Representative seat, Dusty Johnson, ran that TAR Camp, on her visit, and afterwards tweeted:

Dusty Johnson thought Maria Butina was "incredible" at TARS Camp in 2015. Incredible, indeed.


To be fair, Mr. Johnson's current statement is that he was duped. This is also the current statement from USD, SDSU, and innumerable others...  Crickets from the NRA, despite the fact that she was part of their "million dollar donors" group, and was photographed with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, NRA Presidents Sandy Froman, Jim Porter, and Wayne LaPierre.  (See Alleged Spy Mariia Butina/NRA Photographic History)

And, as the cherry on the top, here's Butina asking then-candidate Trump questions at FreedomFest, July 11, 2015, Las Vegas:





She also attended one of the inaugural balls in 2017.

But for a complete timeline, you can't do much better than Mother Jones. Read that article, and then we'll continue with South Dakota's Season of Spies.

First of all, Paul Erickson. I was talking to a friend about him the other day, and she said she kind of felt sorry for him because he was the butt of so many jokes this day. My response:  "Look, if you can't make fun of the man who masterminded the John Wayne Bobbitt "Love Hurts" tour, who can you make fun of?"

Image result for paul erickson south dakota

Paul Erickson, of Vermillion, SD, is a long time Republican and Republican campaign operative. In the 1980s, he served as the national treasurer for the College Republicans in Washington, D.C., where he met Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, and Jack Abramoff.  (If you don't know who these guys are, well, look them up. 

Erickson also served as the national political director / campaign manager for the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan, and later as an advisor to both of Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns. He is a former board member of the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).[5] He worked in SD for the Trump campaign, and in 2016 Erickson claimed he was on the Trump presidential transition team. During the 2016 NRA convention he sent an e-mail to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump via Trump's campaign advisor Rick Dearborn and (for some reason) then-Senator Jeff Sessions with the subtle subject line: "Kremlin Connection":
"Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let's talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions' advice on how to proceed."
No one knows if that meeting took place: Sessions told the House Intelligence Committee he didn't remember the request (even though the e-mail plainly says "Senator Sessions' advice on how to proceed"). I don't know if anyone asked Rick Dearborn.  

Anyway, back in 2013 (or earlier?), Erickson met Mariia Butina, and she recruited him hugely. While a lot of people didn't like Erickson (and even more detest him right about now - you'd be amazed how quickly the SD Republican Party has repudiated him), he was a man with connections. Apparently he knew everybody, and he literally made Butina a list and told her, these are the people you need to contact.  And she did.

She also did what any good Russian agent in a spy novel would do: She befriended him, had sex with him, called him her boyfriend, and shared a Sioux Falls address with him, but...  [sob]
"But this relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities. For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1."   Dakota Free Press
"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to my right, Here I am, stuck in the middle with you..."  would appear to be Mariia's theme song...  (Stealers Wheel)


Erickson and Butina also, as I said, founded two LLCs. The LLCs - "Bridges" in South Dakota in 2016, and another one - Medora Consulting LLC - in 2018 - are both "located" in an apartment complex in Sioux Falls, and neither have any stated purpose or partners. (Argus Leader)  Personally, I think they're shell companies for, perhaps, a connection to Cyprus...

Why Cyprus?  Well, let's go back to Maria's financier, Konstantin Nikolaev, who has been known to enjoy a seat at Putin’s annual oligarch’s dinner in 2014. Nikolaev owns, among other things, a 34% stake in Globaltrans, “Russia’s Leading Freight Rail Group.” Globaltrans had a subsidiary based in Cyprus called Ultracare Holdings. Between December 2007 and April 2008, Ultracare Holdings received three payments totaling $1.5 million from Northern Beef Packers, based in Aberdeen, South Dakota. At that time, Northern Beef Packers was four years and two more rounds of EB-5 visa investment dollars away from slaughtering any cattle. NBP was five years away from its bankruptcy, the suicide of Richard Benda, and the eruption of South Dakota’s EB-5 scandal. (Thanks Cory Heidelberger!)  Granted, to Globaltrans, or Ultracare Holdings, $1.5 million is not a lot of of jack...  But no one outside of NBP and he EB-5 scandal knows what that cash was for.  (Rail cars? the nearest track is a third of a mile away from the plant).  And the plain truth is that the EB-5 scandal was and is huge, and there are still millions of dollars missing, and no one believes it was suicide, and I have written somewhat often about it:

October 2015 - A Little Light Corruption
January 14, 2016 - The Chinese are Coming
April, 2016 - If Only We Had Laws Against This Stuff

But now we have a Russian connection - so I ask, what in God's sweet green earth was NBP doing sending $1.5 million dollars to Ultracare Holdings in Cyprus? Still waiting for answers, Joop Bollen, Senator Mike Rounds, and soon to be ex-Attorney General Marty Jackley!

But wait, there's more!

Because running one scandal at a time is NEVER enough, while Erickson was playing "find the marks" with Butina, he was also passing bogus checks and running a couple of phony investment schemes:
(1) a company called Compass Care he founded in 1997, which he sold to investors as a Christian-based nursing home company that would eventually build 24 facilities, but never built any. Instead, it just lined up investors and never paid anything out.
(2) A 2009 company called Dignity Medical Inc., which he promised would give a rate of return of between 25 and 75 percent. (Argus Leader - this article also has a really great time line about Mr. Erickson's career)
NOTE TO FUTURE INVESTORS:  Any time any one promises you 25%-75% return on your investment, THEY ARE LYING.  
Meanwhile, in case you're wondering, no one knows where Paul Erickson is. Casey Phillips, a political consultant who once worked with Erickson, said the last time he saw Erickson was on a flight from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C. in June. (Argus Leader) Nobody's seen him since. But I'll bet the feds are looking for him...

Meanwhile, Mariia Butina is "cooperating" with authorities.
Meanwhile, the NRA is being as silent as an isolation tank about Mariia Butina.
Meanwhile, the GOP is copy-catting the NRA.
Meanwhile, did I mention that Mariia also was a grad student at American University (on Russian money, of course) in Washington, D.C.?  There she was "in-your-face" with her pro-Russia and pro-Putin views.  "Those who came across Butina said the back of her cellphone prominently displayed a picture of Putin. And while on campus, Butina freely alluded to her activity on behalf of the Russian government, but she made it seem like she was a secretary or held some "low-level" position with a department in the Russian government."  (ABC News)

Hiding in plain sight.  With lots of friends around her...

Anyway, that's the latest from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 
   
Meanwhile, some Blatant Self-Promotion:

  Image may contain: text

Yep, that's me, along with John Floyd and Michael Bracken of SleuthSayers in the 3rd issue of Black Cat Magazine!  Huzzah!


12 April 2017

Keystone Cops - the Trump-Russia Connection


by David Edgerley Gates

Once again, a disclaimer. This post isn't political comment, but thinking out loud about the spycraft involved. Nor do I claim special knowledge. It's pure speculation.



If you're one of the people following what Rick Wilson of The Daily Beast has characterized as "the Trump-Russia intelligence and influence scandal," you can be forgiven for experiencing a certain bemusement. The story keeps wandering off-narrative, the cast doesn't know their lines, the whole thing is like a dress rehearsal for the school play. Lucian K. Truscott IV, writing for SALON, sounds a note of gleeful despair, trying to strike a balance between the giddy anarchy of a Three Stooges routine and the jaws of darkness yawning open beneath our feet. You don't have to take sides to take it seriously, but it has an unreal quality. Farce, caricature, exaggeration of effect, clown noses and oversized shoes. 

What would a working intelligence professional make of all this? If we discount the attitude, and the partisanship, and the Whose-Ox-Is-Being-Gored, and focus on the basic operational dynamics - the tradecraft of recruitment, the servicing of resources, the value of the product - does it show any return on the investment? What's our cost-benefit ratio?

Security operations are often graded on the curve. You might have a downside risk, but if you're blown, the exposure is quantifiable. It's worth losing X to acquire Y. Penetrations are always high-value. Getting someone inside. Philby and Blake. Gunter Guillaume. Alger Hiss. Penkovsky. It's a tightrope act for the spy, of course. For his handlers, not so much. Embarrassment, contrition, crocodile tears. Deep-cover assets understand their vulnerability. It's a buyer's market. You're only as good as your last picture. So forth and so on. The point here being that a penetration is usually considered well worth the money, the extra effort, the aggravation. Any rewards justify the sweat equity. But defectors are known to inflate their resumes. They give themselves better credentials, they claim better access. Another thing to remember is that the more difficult the courtship, and the more it costs, the more highly you value the object of your desire. In other words, we both want to close the sale. It's to our mutual advantage. And who's to say there isn't as much wishful thinking on the one side as on the other?

Intelligence consumers want what's known in the trade as collateral, telling detail that gives your product a material weight, the force of gravity. What we've got here is disconnect. Peripheral vision, low light. Manafort is compromised because he was a bagman for Yanukovych. Kushner met with VneshEconomBank chair Gorkov, and VEB launders dirty money for the Kremlin. Flynn broke bread with Putin at a meet-and-greet sponsored by RT. Page and Stone were coat-trailed by SVR. All of it suggestive, none of it at all imperative.

There's a moment in Smiley's People, about a third of the way through, when George learns that Karla is "looking for a legend, for a girl."  This is the place where the story - the story within, the hidden narrative - begins to shape itself. George first hears that voice, and we're taken into his confidence, and feel its muscularity, and the book turns a corner (its secret just around the next one). 

How do we apply the comforts of a fiction? We suppose not, but hold the phone. The absence of structure tells us something. We're used to the idea of conspiracy, plots laid, inductions devious. I'd suggest this wasn't a concerted effort. Not at either end. I think the Russian services went after targets of opportunity. Putin's an old KGB guy of course, but he seems to have buried the hatchet with GRU. He's made extensive use of both, in Crimea and the Donbass. Russian information warfare strategy has also been formalized. Kaspersky Lab, which on paper is private sector, works in cybersecurity. Once upon a time, this was all under the authority of the Organs, the state apparat, but the chain of command is more flexible. I'm guessing an approach to an American or European businessman could be made by anybody, sanctioned or not. Is it corporate espionage, or government? What's the difference? you might ask. If you're shaking hands with the siloviki, the oligarchs, you're already in bed with the Mafia and state security. It's not at all difficult to imagine a guy like Paul Manafort being recruited, because he'd be recruiting talent himself, working both sides of the street. He's cultivating influence, that's his currency. So let's say we see this happen with other examples. No grand design or discipline, just low-hanging fruit.

Moving ahead, we get to the past summer of an election year, 2016, and evidence of Russian e-mail hacking. We know the FBI opened their investigation in July, and it's now being reported that CIA began briefing the Gang of Eight - the senior majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate, and on the intelligence committees - in mid-August. Slight cognitive dissonance, as the Bureau believed the Russian threat was meant only to disrupt the political process in general, CIA believed it was specifically focused on sabotaging the Clinton campaign and electing Trump. CIA suspects active collusion.

What are the basics? We know any intelligence community is top-heavy with turf warriors. MI5 and MI6. FBI and CIA. SVR and FSB and GRU. But there was a trigger mechanism. My guess is that a ranking somebody in the Russian spy orbits took notice and pulled the various threads together. We imagine frustrations expressed at the top of the food chain, "Who will rid me of this tempestuous priest?" And the barons mount up. I'm also thinking this was as much accident as anything else. The necessary tools were ready to hand. All it required was an organizing principle. The rest is housekeeping, who carried the water.

One last observation. The feckless and the foolish are easily led. You play to their vanities, their limitless self-regard. it's never truer than in the spook trade that you can't cheat an honest man.

Recommended:
Lucian K. Truscott IV in SALON
http://www.salon.com/writer/lucian_k_truscott_iv/