Friday, July 20, 2018

Why Helsinki? Plus: More on Marcy's Mystery Man

Why don't Trump and Putin pretend to have a fight?

That's the question posed in the first paragraph of this New Yorker piece.
The former C.I.A. operative Jack Devine watched Donald Trump’s performance standing next to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday, and his first thought was, “There is no way Trump is a Russian agent.” The proof, he told me, was right in front of us. If Trump were truly serving as a Russian intelligence asset, there would have been an obvious move for him to make during his joint press conference with Putin. He would have publicly lambasted the Russian leader, unleashing as theatrical a denunciation as possible. He would have told Putin that he may have been able to get away with a lot of nonsense under Barack Obama, but all that would end now: America has a strong President and there will be no more meddling. Instead, Trump gave up his single best chance to permanently put to rest any suspicion that he is working to promote Russian interests.
I made this same point before the election. Why haven't Trump and Putin staged a fake contretemps? If the "Agent Trumpski" theory is valid, then (arguably) the Republican platform should have been more anti-Russian, just to throw off suspicion. (After all, the platform is non-binding.)

The answer to this conundrum is pretty obvious, although it seems to have escaped Jack Devine.

(He is best-known as the supervisor for Aldrich Ames, which may not be the first item one should put on one's resume. Devine also called Edward Snowden "lazy." I doubt that a lazy man could have pulled off that escape.)

Here's the problem: Everyone is considering Trump's treason purely through the lens of domestic politics. The sitch becomes clearer when we consider Russian politics.

I think Putin's support in Russia is a mile wide and an inch deep. As ever, thrones wobble and courtiers stand ready to provide the backstab. We know that Putin fixates on that video of Khaddafy's unhappy end. I doubt that the Russian leader will face such a fate, but the parlous state of the Russian economy makes anything possible: Cheap oil has taken a toll, sanctions have hit hard, poverty is on the rise and the overall quality of life has sunk.

But even if the economic situation worsens, Putin can make an extraordinary boast to the Russian populace: I own the American president.

Time and again, Russian television (which Putin controls) has declared Trump to be nash -- "ours." After Helsinki, an attractive newswoman stood in front of a Russian TV camera and said: "When Trump says our relations are bad because of American foolishness and stupidity, he really smells like an agent of the Kremlin.""

That's one hell of a brag.

That brag explains Helsinki.

Helsinki played out the way it did precisely because Putin wanted those words to be broadcast on Russian television. Russians will grumble less about the rising price of vodka if they know that their leader is the man who humbled the United States.

We now can see why Trump changed the Republican platform: Putin could say "I did that." We can also see why Trump continually praises Putin's "strength," as if the American president were auditioning for the role of O in a new production of The Story of.

Putin is selling a product to his people, and that product is Trump's servility. That's why the two leaders won't stage a rift. That's why we won't hear Trump denounce Putin. Such a denunciation would be smart American politics but disastrous Russian politics.

Trump knows he is both conquered and controlled. As Blake Hounshell notes in a recent piece, the body language tells the story:
With every other world leader, the physically imposing Trump attempts to dominate—witness his alpha-male handshakes with French President Emanuel Macron or his flamboyant man-spreading next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Yet with the diminutive Putin—who is maybe 5 feet, 6 inches tall—he’s oddly submissive. During the public portion of their encounter, Trump was slumping in his chair, as if defeated. Why? Why did he insist on a one-on-one meeting with Putin in the first place?
The man does as ordered. I don't know how the orders were conveyed; I know only that orders were given and received, and that Trump played receiver.

The autumn visit. The announcement that Putin will come to the United States in the fall surprised me more than did the results on election night 2016. Why did Trump make such a bizarre move?

I have three theories.

Theory 1 derives from the argument made above. Perhaps Putin has received a worrying economic forecast; perhaps he sees some other potential threat to his image or to his position. He needs state-run TV to run more footage of the Russian leader dominating and humiliating the American leader.

Theory 2 inverses the argument made above. Perhaps Putin senses that he has gone too far; humiliating Trump at Helsinki weakened the position of the American president. As a corrective, a bogus Trump-Putin spat (as recommended by Jack Devine) would serve nicely, particularly if it arrives just before the American mid-term elections. Perhaps we'll see a bit of theater in which Trump seemingly dominates Putin. After the elections, Trump can resume his customary position of kneeling with mouth agape.

Theory 3 also concerns the mid-terms. Perhaps Putin will reveal some extraordinary new "evidence" of perfidy on the part of Hillary Clinton, George Soros, Bill Browder or some other prominent figure in Alt Right demonology. This "evidence" will be a concoction, of course.

Right now, I favor Theory 3.

Marcy Wheeler made quite a stir when she informed on somebody to the FBI. We still don't know who that "somebody" might be, although Marcy believes that he played a key role in the Russian ratfucking" operation, and that he had inside access to the Trump campaign and/or administration. Note that Marcy became suspicious when this person sent a certain text concerning Michael Flynn.

Who is this Mystery Man? Allow me to repeat the list of clues from a previous post on the topic:

1. Mystery Man is familiar with the argot of intelligence analysts, and thus is probably a former denizen of Spookworld.

2. Mystery Man is pro-Putin and (presumably) anti-Clinton

3. Mystery Man is taken seriously by other journalists, and not just journalists of the Fox persuasion.

4. Mystery Man must know a thing or two about cyber warfare. Marcy accuses him of directly participating in the Russian cyber-attack, and of possibly tampering with her site.

5. Mystery Man is probably someone Marcy came to know as part of her investigations of NSA abuses.

6. Mystery Man does not operate alone.

Based on all of this -- and on what I know about Marcy Wheeler -- I became convinced that our Mystery Man is someone connected with Ray McGovern's group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, or VIPS. I used to admire McGovern until I understood (belatedly) that he is Putin's catamite.

The work Marcy did on the Snowden case -- and on privacy in general -- inspired her to cultivate sources with insider knowledge of how the NSA operates. How else can a writer learn the kinds of things one does not learn from books?

Although she would neither confirm nor deny the VIPS connection to me, she partially de-bagged the cat in this Pod Save America interview. She shows up at about the 49 minute mark.
This person played a significant role in parts of the attack. It took some time before I actually believed that was true. I mean, it's sort of like "You are crazy!" And I'd wake up the next day and think: "No, you really need to think about this."
I...from about June when it first started breaking to December...there were alternate theories. I had some other people pitch me with alternate theories which might actually be part of what Julian Assange or the Russians were hoping to use as part as their plausible deniability. And so beyond the fact that I'm a natural skeptic, I was testing all of these theories while trying to figure out whether this person I knew was actually part of it. So I was juggling with those three things for a long time, and over time more and more public evidence came out that showed that at least the case that Russia had hacked Podesta's emails -- and oh, by the way, we figured out that the emails first released by this Guccifer 2.0 figure were Podesta emails. So it's kind of, once you make that connection, you can sort of ignore Julian Assange for a little while. Although I think Julian Assange...since Friday, a lot of Julian Assange's dead-enders have been trying to understand why I think that their claims about metadata are not sufficient to argue that Julian Assange can play dumb.

So it was a long process. In the indictment Friday, there were several sources, I could point to several paragraphs and say "This is where that source who talked to me in July is" "This is where that source who talked to me in January is." So I did talk to a lot of people. The skeptics all claim that all of this intelligence comes from the NSA, and that simply is not true. I mean, obviously it comes from Crowdstrike, but there are many other places that the intelligence in Friday's indictment came from. And I happened to be well-placed to talk to a bunch of those people as sources and even touch base with them since Friday. So it's actually not the case that it's all about Crowdstrike and the NSA. There was evidence everywhere that this was the Russians. And now in Friday's document, that's all kind of laid out. You don't know who it came from. And everyone assumes it was was the NSA, but that's not true.
Look, I didn't say that she let the entire cat out of the bag. But if you see even a hint of tail, you know that there's a cat in there somewhere.

"What tail?" you may now be asking -- and I can understand your confusion, since I've just hit you with a couple of quotes that are far from easy to follow. Although Marcy is normally a clear thinker, this passage resembles the kind of word salad we've come to expect from Trump himself when he feels pressured.

In part, the impenetrability results from Marcy Wheeler's professorial habit of presuming that her audience knows what she knows. In larger part, the confusion results from the conflict between her desire to lay out the entire complicated story and her need to keep silent about certain matters still under investigation.

To me, the key words are these: "And so beyond the fact that I'm a natural skeptic, I was testing all of these theories..."

She's talking about the theory that the emails came not from from a Russian source but from a DNC insider. In other words, this theory maintains that what Assange and Guccifer 2.0 received was not a hack but a leak. If stretched far enough, this line of inquiry gets us into Seth Rich territory.

Although the Rich angle is pushed only by crankish rightwingers, the "leaked from the inside" theory has been aggressively pushed by certain anti-Clinton pseudoliberals -- mainly VIPS.

The Nation discussed the VIPS analysis here.

The article includes a letter from dissenting members of VIPS. That is: The dissenters disagreed with the "insider leak" theory posited by other VIPS personnel. (VIPS is not a monolith.)

The original VIPS analysis here. At the time, I mostly ignored it, even though Bob Parry published it.

The listed dissenters : Thomas Drake (former NSA, naval intelligence, CIA analyst, Air Force signals intelligence), Scott Ritter (against whom I will not hear one negative word), Lisa Ling (drone expert), Cian Westmoreland (drone expert), and Philip Giraldi (CIA and Army Intelligence; advisor to Ron Paul).

Although Giraldi stood among the dissenters, one can still make a decent argument that he is our Mystery Man.

The "giveaway" text that Marcy Wheeler received -- the one that caused her to rethink everything -- concerned Michael Flynn. Giraldi is former Army Intelligence, and I suspect that he got to know Flynn, who rose to prominence within Army Intelligence. Flynn and Giraldi followed similar intellectual trajectories which took them straight into Conspiracyland.

It may be instructive to read what Giraldi had to say about Michael Flynn last year:
The Flynn case is also a prime example of how the American security services have been politically corrupted, but it is unlikely that Mueller will have any interest in that aspect of the case as the investigation itself has become little more than a political witch hunt in which the Washington-New York Establishment is seeking to explain why its candidate lost in November..
And so on. You should read the rest. It's pretty rank.

Yes, I myself gave Giraldi much positive cyber-ink in years past. I feel like an idiot now -- about a lot of things. You'll have to ask Marcy to learn how she feels.

Of course, there are problems with this identification. Giraldi does not have an NSA background. Marcy was particularly incensed by the drone strikes, so it would also make sense for her to contact the experts in that field.

If you're looking for Mystery Man, your best hunting ground would be the list of names at the bottom of this page. These are the folks who published the original analysis. Note the presence of dear old Larry Johnson, the snakiest snake-in-the-grass ever to slither through anyone's lawn. I thought I heard a rattle. I don't think that he's our Mystery Man, but still...

(Cian Westmoreland appears on both lists. Figure that one out.)

Although I can't name a name, I'm positive that Mystery Man belongs to VIPS. Remember, Marcy spoke of multiple sources, of talking to "a lot of people." So we're talking about a group.
The totally owned hang-dog look when Trump is around Putin?
It's not the Pee Tape, the Evangelical Christians will give him a Mulligan(again).
The bankruptcy IOUs, close.
Trump aledgedly been doing Oligarch laundry at his various properties, home and abroad.
What if at that Helsinki tet-a-tet Vlad told Trump the "Crown Prosecutor" was going to go after the scurvy oligarchs stealing Mother Russia's wealth and Trump would be named as major recipient of the lucre?
Vladimir Putin kills a whole bunch with the Polonium teabag. He gets rid of would be rivals, endears himself to the people and thoroughly FUBARs Washington.
I briefly tried to sell cars (I was desperate). One technique I learned is that if you can get the prospect to take something from your hand -- a card, for instance -- you've taken control of the exchange. Note Putin handing the ball to Trump and then Trump flipping it to Melania. You don't have to be Jane Goodall to recognize a dominance display. The pecking order is clear.
VIPS, itself, was chasing a ghost when it reported that the Russians didn't do the hacking because the data retrieved was a direct download from the DNC computer. Their tracking of incidents began in July of 2016, while the recently released Mueller indictment against 12 Russian officers tracked the break-in of the Democratic Congressional Committee Computer "exactly 7 months before the election." From there, the DNC computer network stored on servers in Illinois and Arizona fell victim to Russian crimes performed from inside our own systems.
I'm grateful for the link, gadfly.

Still, Roger Stone has always made a practice of infiltrating enemy campaigns. So I never completely dismissed the theory that someone physically in the DNC might have done dirty deeds.
When Putin and Trump first walked out of their meeting, Trump appeared to be in a daze. One possible reason, was that Donald had been given a firm reminder that he was an "owned man". A scarier variation would be, that Trump was visibly shaken because Putin had explained what future actions would be necessary for The Donald to come out on top in this fight.
I've wondered if Josh Uretsky could be mixed up in this.
tRump wants Putin in town for the midterms to incite mass demonstrations, which will give him a chance to declare martial law or otherwise torpedo the midterms. Wise people should stay home and vote. Let silence fill DC.
I don't think Putin is in danger of being ousted. What's the basis for saying he "fixates" on that horrible film of Gadhafi's end? That film serves well as a symbol of recent US strategic achievements in the Arab world. Putin's "owning" Trump does play well to the internal market but it's not an essential prop. All Russians, whether they support or oppose Putin, realise he is a leader of a far higher calibre than Trump.

"Perhaps Putin has received a worrying economic forecast".

Yep. The world economy is going to go BANG soon. In Britain the government is preparing to use prison labour to bring in the harvest, it is stockpiling preservable food, and it is about to issue propaganda to the population about food shortages. (Tonight, to increase my appreciation of the propaganda, I'm going to watch the "Protect and Survive" public information films from the 1970s about how to survive a nuclear war). One of the guys involved in crafting the "surviving shortages" narrative in 2018 is the second-in-command of the civil service, John Manzoni, who hails from the oil multinational BP, which indicates that the relationship between Britgov and Big Oil has moved on since the fuel protests of 2000.

Brexit is a massive opportunity for interests that will pocket hundreds of billions while everything falls into the shit, dwarfing Lehmans many times over. Malthusianism will be coming home. It is extremely unlikely that the catastrophe will be confined to Britain, given the importance of the financial dealings that get done through (a little more than a square mile of territory in) that country. The London Stock Exchange is now only the world's sixth biggest, behind Shanghai, but in foreign exchange trading London still leads the world, as it does in gold and shipping insurance. The country is no Iceland or Greece. Economic collapse will have been on the agenda in Helsinki, not just a bump for Russia but a global "correction". Trump and Putin meeting each other, probably several times, to "$ave our way of life" is likely to be in the narrative.
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