Showing posts with label Russia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russia. Show all posts

24 October 2018

Wet Work Redux (the Saudi Sanction)


David Edgerley Gates

Russian military intelligence, the GRU, has always had an adversary relationship with KGB, state security, and in particular with KGB's foreign directorates. (Now known as SVR; the domestic side of the shop is the FSB.) GRU has an unhappy reputation for being ham-handed, and some of their more recent adventures seem to bear that reputation out. The poison attack on Sergei Skripal, in the UK, was reportedly a GRU operation, and certainly there have been others. But this quite possibly misses the point. Far from hiding their light under a bushel, GRU is going out of their way to sign their name.

(In my Cold War spy thriller Black Traffic, KGB general Rzhevsky uses GRU as a patsy in a deception operation, and refers to them as the 'Boots.' I didn't make this up. KGB has always thought these guys were knuckle-draggers.)

For all that Vladimir Putin himself is former KGB, he doesn't have a soft spot for his old crew. GRU and Spetsnaz units were deployed in Donbass and the Crimea, both as irregulars and in uniform, and got results. GRU's higher visibility and preference for muscle over mind looks like a sales strategy. It's no secret Putin favors the blunt instrument, but the new wrinkle here is the lack of plausible deniability. In the past, there was at least the pretense of maintaining a cover story. These days, nobody even makes the effort. The reasoning is brutally simple. Terror tactics don't work unless you show your handwriting. Give fear your own face.

Assassination as a covert means has a long history, but let's confine ourselves to living memory. Everybody's practiced it. CIA probably had a hand in Patrice Lumumba's death, and famously tried more than once for Castro. Mossad went after Black September, and decapitated the PFLP. It depends, to some degree, on whose ox is being gored. And you can argue that Israel, for example, is addressing a direct threat to its existence. But that's a kind of moral relativism. All the same, making it policy to murder reporters - instead of some guy who can design a gas centrifuge - is kicking it up a notch. Which brings us to Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi royal family.

Again, we have the Russian model to follow. Putin has supposedly sanctioned dozens of killings, aside from defectors, the Skripals and Litvinenkos of this world, but people like Anna Politkovskaya, who was targeted because of her writings about the Chechen wars, and her opposition to Putin's rebranded Stalinism. She's just one example, of course, and her death only painted on the radar because she was so visible, and her killing so obviously retaliation.

What makes the Khashoggi murder different, and why it's getting so much press, is that the Saudis set a trap for him, at an embassy in another country, killed him, and lied about it without the slightest embarrassment - clearly not expecting anybody to ask questions, because the lies were so obvious. They not only don't give a rat's ass about the consequences, they don't in fact understand what all the fuss is about. Khashoggi was a fly buzzing around the room. We smacked him. What do you care? In this sense, it's not even the murder itself that's startling, it's the Saudis acting aggrieved, as if they're the ones who've been done the injury. Sorry to say, this is genius.

Further reading, Christopher Dickey in The Daily Beast:
https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-real-reasons-saudi-crown-prince-mohammed-bin-salman-wanted-khashoggi-dead?ref=home




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!


11 July 2018

Wet Work


by David Edgerley Gates

The Russian security services are well-practiced at what's known in the trade as Active Measures: Mokrye Dela, which loosely translates into "Wet Stuff." They've been doing it for a long time now. 

The assassination of Trotsky in Mexico in 1940, or the suspect suicide of defector Walter Krivitsky in a Washington hotel room in 1941. They used an ice axe on Trotsky. Krivitsky was found with a hole in his head and a .38 revolver in his hand.

The methods get more sophisticated. Georgi Markov in London, and Vladimir Kostov in Paris, were targeted by the Bulgarian DS, under KGB discipline. This was 1978. The vehicle was a tiny metal pellet containing ricin. A dose equivalent to a few grains of table salt is fatal. The delivery system was the by-now-notorious poisoned umbrella tip. Markov died, Kostov survived, but due only to a technical failure. The special protective coating on the pellet dissolves at human body temperature and releases the toxin; in Kostov's case, the coating was compromised.

2006. London. Alexander Litvinenko. An unstable polonium isotope. It took him three weeks to die, excruciatingly.

2018. Salisbury, UK. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. A nerve agent in the Novichok family. Both victims survived. (But two British nationals suffered Novichok poisoning symptoms four months after the Skripals, and one died. How they came in contact with that specific toxin is unknown, as of this writing.)

This is by way of prologue, for those who may be skeptical of blaming the Russians for God knows what, or imagine it's some variation on Red-baiting. They've been practicing disinformation for a very long time, as well. If you didn't know, for example, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a forgery cooked up by the Czarist secret service, the Okhrana. You might have guessed which road I'm going down, here. Disinformation and the 2016 election.

Let's dispense with the denials. Facts don't matter, in matters of belief. We know that. Only faith counts. If you want to think Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring out of the basement of a DC pizza parlor, you're not going to doubt your convictions when you find out the pizza joint in question doesn't have a basement. It's obvious I'm only trying to throw sand in your eyes, distract you with inessentials, because the essential is the Deep State, the interlocking conspiracy of - ah, Jesus. I don't have the patience. You can insert [BLANK] here, fluoridation, alien abductions, or whatever the latest grievance is.

Stop me if you've heard this. Let's talk means, motive, and opportunity. Actually, motive doesn't need to take up much of our time. It's obvious the Russians are enjoying terrific benefits at our expense. The minimum damage is a widening mistrust of American political institutions, along with the collapse of a common language and our failure to engage in a national conversation. We've turned a deaf ear to any voices but our own.

Now of course this is a self-inflicted wound, and we didn't need the Russians to help, but why should they stand idly by when the opportunity was  offered to them?

People, understandably, get stuck on the means. Social media seems so transient, and shallow. How can a platform that gives us the internal monologues of Kanye and Kim have such a fatal effect? How can it be so consequential?

The penetration of social media in the everyday, its ubiquity, and the Internet presence generally, is too big a mouthful for me. That's cultural anthropology, or maybe sociopathology, if such exists. I'm just taking a look at the mechanics. If you can fix a horse race, how do you fix the Internet, in that same sense?

There's a tool content providers use called Search Engine Optimization - SEO. It's similar in a way to product placement, in a movie or on TV, a shot of the Apple logo, or a Dos Equis label on a bottle of beer. You want to draw web traffic to your sites, your sponsors, your content. A lot of web content masquerades as information. When you search for 'dental implants,' for example, or 'Mini-Cooper replacement wiper blades,' very often the top result is a tutorial. It appears as information, but it's a stealth sales pitch. The way to get Google's filters to feature this result is with trigger phrases, which optimize the search. The trick is to second-guess which keywords are most likely to be entered as search parameters, which games the system.

Search algorithms provide the closest match. You can load the dice. The higher the frequency of your triggers, the higher your SEO, and the higher results you'll return. It's pretty much an article of faith that most people won't scroll past the first ten results of any given search, and if you could weight the results, it might appear there was consensus on, say, the efficacy of dental implants.

We can apply this lesson in virtual marketing to any kind of content. Suppose we could leverage Benghazi to mean not simply a place on the map, but a leadership failure of the Obama presidency and the personal responsibility of then Secretary of State Clinton. If every web search generated six or eight results that followed this narrative, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was the received wisdom.

Stories like this can be placed using private blog networks or dummy websites. These are the robocall centers of the Internet. One will sell space on 900 sites for twenty bucks a pop. Another publishes on a network of 2,000 sites for $225. These sites aren't curated, not in the sense of being checked for accuracy. Their purpose is to maximize search hits, and boost traffic volume, which multiplies the hits exponentially,  and so on. It's circular.

It's not as dramatic as a daylight terror attack, and it doesn't have the same deterrent effect as throwing a turbulent priest or muck-raking journalist off the top of a forty-story building, but the fact that it's so pedestrian actually recommends it. It's basically a data-driven model of what's long been known as Black Propaganda.

The question isn't why would the Russians want to poison the American political well, the question is why wouldn't they? They're playing the long game. This isn't some anti-Bolshevik hysteria, this is geopolitics, the place of nations, the uses of power. Clandestine warfare is no less real or violent for being hidden.

*

And some BSP.  David Edgerley Gates and Eve Fisher are both featured in the July/August 2018 double issue of ALFRED HITCHCOCK. 



13 April 2017

"Afternoons in Paris" by Janice Law


by Eve Fisher

You remember Francis Bacon:
  File:Pourbus Francis Bacon.jpg  No, not that one, this one:  

Francis Bacon, artist.  Francis Bacon, gambler.  Francis Bacon, bon vivant.  Francis Bacon, gay, asthmatic, Irish, autodidact, devoted to his Nan, louche, rough, crazy...

Well, HE'S BACK!!!!



Yes, my favorite gay artist adventurer is back in Janice Law's "Afternoons in Paris".  Francis is 18 and in the City of Lights, and very glad to be there after the craziness of Berlin (read Janice's "Nights in Berlin":  the book and David Edgerley Gates' review).  Now he's on his own, working for a decorator/designer by day (the somewhat susceptible Armand), visiting galleries with the motherly Madame Dumoulin, and cruising the city by night with the totally unreliable Pyotr, a Russian emigre who, like Francis, has a taste for quick hook-ups and rough trade.

Pyotr has two Russian friends, Igor, who's sinister, and Lev, who's quickly assassinated.  After getting robbed (by Pyotr), beaten up (by 'Cossacks') in Montparnasse, and finding two more waiting to do the same at his lodgings, Francis tries to avoid Russians by moving in with Madame Dumoulin and her brother, Jules, who needs a caretaker.  Well, it could be argued that Francis is the last person to be anyone's companion/caretaker, but our boy knows how to be appreciative.  And Jules, although a traumatized WW1 veteran, is an innocent (at least compared to Francis):  much like Mr. Dick in "David Copperfield", he builds complex machines and flies kites.  Francis can enjoy both.

And then Jules gets a chance to design machines for the theatre group Les Mortes Immortels, and it's back to Paris for all.  Jules' machines are the best part of a production about as audience-friendly as "Finnegan's Wake"; that and the character of Human Hope, played by Inessa, a Russian Helen of Troy who enraptures everyone around her.  Except for those who are using her.

Russians are everywhere, and they're all dangerous:  Pyotr; the NKVD assassin Alexi; the NKVD blackmailer Anoshkin; Inessa's missing brother, Pavel.  And, wouldn't you know it, who's up to his neck in all of this but Francis' Uncle Lastings?  Now known as Claude, art dealer and bon-vivant, but still up to his neck in intrigue, scams, sex, and spying.  Francis has a lot of fast talking, fast running, fast thinking, and fast acting to do to survive...

Soutine's Chemin de la Fontaine
des Tins at Ceret - Wikipedia
As always, it's fascinating to see the world through Francis' eyes, especially at 18, when he is still at the beginning of creating himself.  He has a knack for noticing details, from the "distinctive stink of French drains" to the "most brutal and vigorous thing I'd seen in France" - a dead rooster, painted by Chaim Soutine.  When he writes to Nan that "a glance at her makes me feel more hopeful", we know that Inessa is indeed a remarkable woman, someone to pay attention to.  And, when told that Pavel can't be wandering Paris without proper papers, Francis' reaction is "My own experience in Berlin led me to believe that Monsieur Chaput was exaggerating.  A teenage boy has a number of ways of eluding bureaucrats and busybodies."  And he would know.
Image result for jessie lightfoot
Nan

Emotionally, Francis is still developing, or is he?  At one point he says, regarding his commitment to Jules:  "I had promised Jules, and I believe in friendship.  It tends to be more stable than romance." Not to mention family. As he writes to Nan about his uncle, "I know this is a surprise, but He Who Must Not be Named has secured a job for me, and this time, I have asked to be paid half in advance. You can see I am getting wise to the ways of the world." In fact, the only person Francis trusts implicitly is Nan, in "Afternoons in Paris", "Nights in Berlin", "Fires of London", "The Prisoner of the Riviera", "Moon over Tangier" and in real life.  She will always be the most stable person in his life, not excepting himself.

But even at 18, Francis is already witty, sarcastic, honest, observant, hungry, lustful, reckless, and utterly sure that he will never be among the bourgeoisie. (And how right he is.) He always gives a master class in the art of survival.  Francis Bacon and Paris in the 20s - it's hard to ask for anything more.







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/

19 July 2015

The Spy Who Bagged Me


by Leigh Lundin

Zoya Voskresenskaya
Anna Chapman
Anyone who’s watched a James Bond or a tacky Derek Flint film knows the Russians have licentious taste in spies… well, perhaps not Rosa Klebb, more like famed Zoya Voskresenskaya (Zoya Rybkina, Зоя Рыбкина, née Воскресенская). Deported Anna Chapman wasn’t a very good spy, but her incompetence and stunning looks inspired the New York Post to ask “But can we keep her?”

Such a wistful propensity may have prompted other New York-based spies to opt for Hooters as a clandestine meeting spot. Hooters?

Code name Green Kryptonite

Meet Naveed Jamali. His parents owned a specialty store, Books & Research, in Dobbs Ferry, Westchester, New York. In the latter 1980s, a known Russian agent strolled into the bookshop and asked for arcane but legally obtainable reports available from a proprietary government database run by the Defense Technical Information Center. The FBI asked the family to fulfill those requests and notify the FBI as to Russian interests.

This continued for twenty years until young Naveed took over the store. Motivated by a desire to join Naval Intelligence, he leveraged his relationship with the FBI into becoming an amateur– but authentic– spy, complete with an audio recording watch Q himself might have designed.

Double-O-Nought

The FBI targeted the latest of a series of Russian agents, a trade mission attaché and seasoned operative, Oleg Kulikov. Diplomatic immunity meant the FBI couldn’t arrest Kulikov, but they could bring his career to a close. Considering occasional spy swaps, it was a smart move by the Feds.

The plan called for Jamali’s arrest at Pizzeria Uno in the presence of Kulikov, but at the last moment, the Russian opted to return to Hooters, putting the operation at risk. Nonetheless, federal agents swooped in and handcuffed Jamali in a fake apprehension, thus ending Kulikov’s espionage and usefulness as a clandestine operative.

Look for Naveed Jamali's book about his experience, How to Catch a Russian Spy. Fox Entertainment has negotiated film rights for the story.

Spies Through the Pages


Last year saw the release of a wonderful film about Alan Turing, The Imitation Game. For another great read and a chance to meet Turing’s competition in wartime British Intelligence, read Leo Marks’ autobiographical Between Silk and Cyanide.

08 March 2015

The Kaspersky Code


by Leigh Lundin

Three weeks ago, Kaspersky Lab, the Russian security software maker exposed a cyber-espionage operation that many believe originated within the NSA. The devilishly clever bit of code hides in the firmware of disc drives and has the ability to continuously infect a machine. If you use a Windows computer, there’s a good chance it’s not only infected but was built that way likely without the manufacturers' knowledge.

Kaspersky researcher Costin Raiu says the NSA couldn’t have done it without the source code.

What?!!

The contention that the NSA definitely had access to the source code is not only patent nonsense, it ignores that fact that Kaspersky themselves supposedly didn’t have the code. Having the source code is the easy way, perhaps the preferred way, but it’s hardly the only way.

A Reuters article speculates how the NSA might have obtained the source code and indeed, one of those is a likely scenario. But it’s also feasible to do the job without the source and I’ll show you what I mean, a technique I used to unravel computer fraud programs. Fasten your seat belt because this is going to get technical.

World’s Greatest Puzzle

Those around in my Criminal Brief days know that I love puzzles. For me, the ultimate puzzle has been systems software programming, making the machine do what I want. But sometimes I’ve come up against puzzles, some benign, some not, where I didn’t have the source code.

Let’s try an example. What if we found mysterious code in our computer that looked something like this:

confused pseudo code snippet
Mysterious Snippet of Computer Code

If you can’t make sense out of this, you’re not alone. 98% of computer programmers wouldn’t know what to make of it either. But if you look closely, the data populating the upper block looks different from that in the lower block. This is a clue.

Unlike commercial and scientific programs, systems software deals with the operation of the computer itself– utilities, communications, and especially the operating system. The realm of a computer’s internals are abstract, far more so than the Tron movies. Key aspects seldom relate to real-world equivalents. Sure, we say that RAM is a little like notes spread out on your work table and that disc storage is kinda sorta like a file cabinet… but not really. Even the term RAM– random access memory– is misleading; there’s nothing random about it.

Back in the real world, let’s say you want to write a simple program that adds the number of apples and oranges. In most programming languages, this code would look like this:
total = apples + oranges
Internally, a program loads apples and oranges into registers (kind of like keying them into a calculator), adds them, and stores them in a variable called total. If we were to write this in the argot of the computer, we’d use assembly language mnemonics, an abstraction of the computer’s machine language. Deep, deep down in a program, we’d see nothing but numbers where we count…
0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F
Yes, A-F are digits in this context. Within the computer, our little program above might resemble…

simple pseudo-code program: total=apples+oranges
total = apples + oranges

What isn’t obvious to many programmers is that computer instructions are data. Indeed, some black-hat crackers (the bad guys) have used this property to sneak malware onto unsuspecting computers.

If you look again at the original sneak peek of data, you’ll start to see patterns and may even pick out the machine instructions from our code example above.

clarified pseudo code snippet
Less Mysterious Code Snippet

This puzzle solving is called reverse engineering. It’s possible to write a program called a disassembler (I have) or a de-compiler (I haven’t) to decode the machine language into something more intelligible. The program has to be smart enough to not only separate actual data from instructions, but distinguish the type of data.

As you see, compiling source into binary executable code isn’t a one-way street. With dedication and know-how, reversing the process is well within reach.

How safe do you feel now?

27 January 2013

Chekhov Wrote Crime Stories?


by Louis Willis

From the preface of A Night in the Cemetery and Other Stories of Crime & Suspense:  “In the villages where he practiced, Chekhov accompanied local police on criminal investigations and performed autopsies.”

I never thought of Chekhov, one of my favorite short story writers, as a writer of crime or mystery stories. Of course, if writers use their experiences as material for stories, then it shouldn’t be a surprise that Chekhov tried his hand at writing crime stories. I decided to buy the book after reading the review by Otto Penzler in the New York paper The Sun back in 2008.

The name of the editor who selected the stories for the book is not shown. The name of the translator, Peter Sekirin, is, so I assume he was also the person who selected the stories. Why he included the essay “What You Usually Find In Novels” in which Chekhov lists the elements that go into a novel– character, setting, conflict– is a mystery. Why he chose some of the stories is also a mystery since they are not, properly speaking, crime stories. 

Anyway, for this article, I analyzed what I think are two crime stories and two mystery stories.

“Evildoer” captures the mind of the Russian peasant and Russian officials. Since the crime has already been committed, the story is more a court room drama told in short form. A fisherman is on trial for the crime of unscrewing the nuts that hold down the railroad tracks. He explains to the judge that he uses the nuts as weights for his fishing lines. His explanation baffles the judge who can't believe it and tries to explain to him that unscrewing the nuts causes train wrecks. The fisherman doesn't believe the judge’s explanation and doesn't understand why he is being sent to prison. I like this story because it shows a good story doesn’t always need a surprise ending, only a satisfactory one.

”Misfortune,” one of the best stories in the book, shows Chekhov’s storytelling genius. In a few words, he captures a disastrous moment in a man’s life due to his lack of understanding that signing reports makes him legally responsible for their accuracy. A merchant is a member of the town bank's auditing committee. After the director, accountant, his assistant, and two members of the board are sent to prison for embezzlement, a later investigation reveals the merchant signed the reports. He admits he didn't understand them. He also doesn't understand that signing the reports made him complicit in the embezzlement. Again, no surprise ending but a great story.

“The Swedish Match” is a true locked room mystery with a surprise ending. A retired police officer is missing from his room and believed to have been murdered, but the body cannot be found. It appears the killer entered the room through a window and that the dead man was taken from the room through the same window. Suspects are his sister, his mistress, his butler, and his manager who reported the murder. The surprise ending is not exactly starling but it works.  

The detective story “The Drama At The Hunt: From Notes of A Police Detective” is an abridged version of what seems to be a novella that has a good surprise ending. It has all the ingredients of a good murder mystery: a promiscuous woman, three men who are involved with her, and jealousy: a 19-year-old woman is hit on the head and stabbed several times. Her husband is tried and convicted for the murder.

In the last chapter, which is somewhat confusing, the narrator changes from the investigating detective to a book editor to whom he has submitted the manuscript of a novel based on what he claims is a true story. The abridgment of the novella makes it choppy and at time confusing. Nevertheless, it is the best story in the book, if only it hadn’t been abridged.

I liked some of the stories, but I was disappointed overall in the selection of tales. I’m no linguist and certainly can’t read Russian, but at times I felt the translation wasn’t quite right. Still, I enjoyed those few good stories.