Saturday, July 18, 2020

Spooks for Trump: The Israeli-Russian partnership

Even before the election of Donald Trump, a narrative took hold in Liberal-Land -- the narrative of Spooks vs. Trump, the idea that the intelligence community is, and always has been, dead-set against the rise of Trumpism. Fascism may threaten, but our spies will save us. Voices as disparate as John Brennan, Louise Mensch and Malcolm Nance have made this theory into a liberal credo.

(I will confess that it was a little shocking to see Rob Reiner -- Meathead himself! -- interviewing CIA head honchos about Trump's corruption.)

But the intelligence community was never a monolith. There is a "spooks FOR Trump" contingent within the American, British and Israeli intelligence services. The most obvious examples: Michael Flynn (former head of the DIA) and Cambridge Analytica. Largely staffed by former MI6 agents, CA often worked for the American intel community.

Here's a recent example of the "Spooks for Trump" phenomenon:

("Those who do not believe Qanon..." Yeesh. Didn't QAnon promise us that Mueller would put Hillary in jail?)

Let us continue with our "Spooks for Trump" theme: Did you know that Barbara Ledeen is on Lindsey Graham's staff? Barbara is wife to Michael Ledeen, who -- ages ago -- was identified as CIA by an Italian court. (Barbara seems to be quite the operative in her own right.) Graham wants to grill Mueller, which means that the questions will surely be prepared by Barbara Ledeen.

Now let's talk about the Israeli role in getting Trump re-elected in 2020. As we've noted in an earlier post, the Israeli right considers Trump a godsend. They know that he will acquiesce to the annexation of much of the West Bank, something that Joe Biden would never countenance.

The Israeli links to Trump's corruption are, of course, a touchy subject. Although most will prefer to avoid the topic altogether, one cannot ignore the work of Black Cube on behalf of Trump.

The barrier separating the Israeli government from a "private" spy shop like Black Cube is very thin and very permeable. This is standard operating procedure the world over: Spies often set up a "private" firm in order to pursue goals which must be kept plausibly distant from the official Powers-That-Be.

By the way: Superlawyer David Boies was the one who hired Black Cube to try to save Harvey Weinstein's ass. The more I look into Boies, the spookier he seems. Right now, he's the lawyer for Virgnia Roberts Giuffre, who falsely claims to be a "victim" of Jeffrey Epstein. Despite her many lies, our media still treats her as a goddess. Think about it: If she truly cares about the rights of sexual abuse victims, why is she represented by the lawyer for Harvey freakin' Weinstein?

But Black Cube is hardly the sole Israeli connection to the Trump story. There's much more.

Seth Abramson's Proof of Conspiracy points to the important links between Eric Prince and Israeli spies during 2016. It's a complex tale, so you may want to skim the following excerpts -- although I hope that some of you will actually try to digest this stew, as opposed to just getting a whiff of it:
As Prince licked his wounds and considered his next moves, he was developing close ties to the Israeli government as well as to strongmen across the Middle East, with Haaretz reporting that Prince’s “deep Israeli connections” came to include a long-standing business relationship with Ari Harow -- former bureau chief and chief of staff to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- and another with Dorian Barak, Harow’s onetime business partner.
Abramson describe the legal trouble that Harrow got into a couple of years ago. I'll skip that part.
From 2012 on, Prince will hold an investment stake in a company co-managed by Harow and Barak, and by dint of his association with the two men he begins investing in Israeli security companies as well. Barak also tries -- it isn’t known whether successfully or not -- to get Prince to join billionaire Vincent Tchenguiz as a major investor in a new investment project: SCL Group, the parent company of the Trump campaign’s data firm, Cambridge Analytica. Tchenguiz is known as well for being a close business associate of Dmitry Firtash, who is himself a business associate of 2016 Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Tchenguiz is also an investor in Black Cube and Terrogence, two Israeli intelligence companies that will intersect consequentially with the Trump campaign, transition, and administration (see chapters 3, 4, and 8). Black Cube, in particular, has ties to the Israeli government through many employees who are former members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and its advertising “openly” features its “ties to Israeli spy agencies, including Mossad,” according to the New Yorker.
(I know, I know -- Abramson is no easy read. Sorry about that. Proof of Conspiracy is an extremely important work, but it does make your eyes water.)

I've written about Tchenguiz before: See here and here. He was one of the key owners of SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. He's also financially entangled with Dmitry Firtash, the criminal oligarch who connects Trump and Manafort to Putin.

Tchenguiz is a British real estate tycoon, and SCL wasn't a big source of income. Some say it lost money. If that is so, then we must ask: Just why was he involved in Cambridge Analytica, a firm dedicated to subverting democracy?

Allow me to quote from one of my earlier posts:
It may be worthwhile to note here that Russian oligarchs love to park their money -- or launder it -- in real estate located in western countries.

Cambridge Analytica does very sensitive work for the western intelligence services, despite the financial links to Russia. This may be the ghastliest security hole in the history of intelligence. In order to create such a hole, the Russians would have needed to recruit western moneymen to act as fronts.
Now let's get back to Proof of Conspiracy.

Abramson's book discusses another "private" Israeli intelligence firm called Terrogence, which has not received the kind of attention bestowed on Black Cube. (Why? Probably because Black Cube involved itself in the Weinstein scandal. Hey, sex sells.) But Terrogence played a role in a behind-the-scenes maneuver that few now recall, thought it was Big News at one time:
On July 15, 2016, Soviet-born U.S. businessman Sergei Millian...contacts George Papadopoulos on LinkedIn.
On August 23, Millian sends a Facebook message to Papadopoulos -- which Papadopoulos will insist to the special counsel’s office he has no recollection of -- telling him that he wants to “share with [him] a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.” Papadopoulos meets Millian twice more after this offer of campaign assistance, once in November 2016 and once at Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, apparently to discuss, among other things, a possible consulting partnership. The partnership -- Millian’s idea -- does not go forward.
You may be wondering: Where's the Israeli connection? Here it is:
Less than six months after his fourth and final meeting with Millian, Papadopoulos will be approached in Tel Aviv by the founder of Terrogence, an Israeli business intelligence outfit dealing in digital marketing campaigns and intelligence services that could be considered “disruptive” technologies “instrumental” to those political campaigns willing to use them (see chapter 8). Millian is later revealed to be a key source -- if an “unwitting” one -- for much of the dossier compiled by former MI6 Russia desk chief Christopher Steele in 2016 and published in January 2017 by BuzzFeed News.
As you know, I've long speculated that the Russians got wind of Steele's effort and fed him disinfo (which would be standard procedure).

The important take-away here is that it sure as hell looks like the Israelis and the Russians were working together to get Trump elected. This partnership has become The Super-Important Thing We Must Never Mention. This is not the elephant in the room -- it's a secret conspiracy to push the elephant into the room.

No, I'm not saying that Putin and Netanyahu are partners in all things. I'm simply arguing that, when it came to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Putin's and Netanyahu's interests converged.

They still converge.

(Putin is always careful to denounce anti-Semitism in public. Nevertheless, his ultra-nationalism and his paranoia suggest that his thoughts may one day turn toward pogroms. Stalin went in the same direction toward the end.)

The spookery continued after the election. By 2017, according to Abramson, Saudi Arabia had joined the party. You really should pay attention to the following, because the implications are profound:
On June 21, 2017, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman becomes the heir apparent to the throne of his father’s kingdom, having just deposed his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef. The same month, an Israeli business intelligence company that “specializes in cyber espionage tools,” NSO Group, enters into a $55 million agreement with the Saudi government to give the Saudis Pegasus 3 -- proprietary software that will allow MBS and his father to “hack their citizens’ cell phones, and to listen to calls as well as conversations that take place near the phones.” While the NSO deal with Riyadh draws significant public attention, a November 2018 Times of Israel report will disclose that throughout 2017 “Israeli cyber spying companies [meet] several times with Saudi figures at European locations to talk about the sale of various [intelligence] technologies”—suggesting a new era of Israeli-Saudi coordination has begun, one that in short order will have substantial repercussions across the globe. That MBS intends to use such technology to destroy domestic opposition to his regime is evidenced by the fact that “in one [NSO-Saudi] meeting, Israeli representatives refused a Saudi request to identify the user behind an anti-regime Twitter account as a way of showing the ability of their technology” -- though NSO officials did agree to “demonstrate how [Pegasus 3] could take control of a brand-new iPhone [if] it was provided the phone’s number.
I put that last bit in boldface because I want you to ponder the implications. This software can control your phone. All they need is your number.

Think of it: Incriminating phone calls and texts could be made to and from your phone while you sleep. You may have child porn on your phone right now. You'd never know. With tech like this at their disposal, the bad guys can engineer all sorts of "October Surprise" scenarios.

I'm going to take the liberty of offering a huge chunk from Abramson's book. Again, you can skim this stuff -- but I'd advise you to make some coffee, sit down and pay attention. This story really does get interesting. And frightening.
The same month NSO sells Pegasus 3 to the Saudis, another -- or perhaps the same -- UAE-connected “Israeli businessman dealing in defense-related technologies who operates through Cyprus,” Charles Tawil, meets with George Papadopoulos. According to Papadopoulos, on June 8, 2017, Tawil, who identifies himself as a “pro-Trump citizen,” introduces him to Shai Arbel, co-founder of Israeli cyberintelligence company Terrogence, at the Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center Hotel. As reported by the New Yorker, Psy-Group, Joel Zamel’s Israeli business intelligence outfit (see chapters 3 and 4), “emerged more directly from Terrogence” than did other spin-offs of the Israeli business intelligence pioneer, though the company’s first-in-its-field status means that not only Psy-Group but NSO is an heir to its inheritance. Per the New Yorker, “In 2008, [Terrogence co-founder Gadi] Aviran hired an Israel Defense Forces intelligence officer named Royi Burstien to be the vice-president of business development.… Burstien urged Aviran to consider using [online] avatars in more aggressive ways, and on behalf of a wider range of commercial clients. Aviran was wary. After less than a year at Terrogence, Burstien returned to Israel’s military intelligence, and joined an élite unit that specialized in PsyOps, or psychological operations.… [in 2014], Burstien founded Psy-Group.”
See? The distinction between "official" Israeli spooks and "private" Israeli spooks often looks like a legal fiction. We've seen the same trick in other countries, including this one.
Though Burstien is Psy-Group’s founder, Joel Zamel is its owner, via a Cyprus-based company called IOCO Limited. Zamel bases his company in Cyprus to make it easier for Arab states—which often eschew being seen doing business with an Israeli company—to become his clients.91 Psy-Group’s early work in 2016, which involves “mak[ing] money by investigating jihadi networks,” according to the New Yorker, is modeled on the business plan of Terrogence.

Also present at the June 2017 Terrogence-Papadopoulos meeting are several unnamed “founders of an Arabic language digital marketing company” and, according to Papadopoulos, multiple “ex-Israeli intelligence people,” raising the possibility that Papadopoulos is, as he will later say he suspects, meeting with representatives of foreign governments who are incognito. Another possibility is that he is meeting with representatives from Israeli business intelligence firms -- and perhaps their clients -- other than Terrogence. Papadopoulos will later say that the purpose of his meeting with Tawil, Terrogence co-founder Arbel, several Arab businessmen, and former Israeli intelligence officers with unclear affiliations was for the mysterious Israeli veterans to “pitch a social media manipulation operation … [that was] basically what they [the FBI] were accusing the Russians of doing regarding social media” during the 2016 presidential election.”

Papadopoulos is, at the time, so startled by the similarities between the Israeli and Russian interference operations presented to him (a similarity that in retrospect underscores the similarity between the work Zamel did for the Trump campaign and the crimes the Kremlin committed to aid the Trump campaign) that he begins to fear he will be “framed” for a crime if he agrees to go into business with the Israelis.
Whatever “deals” Tawil and Papadopoulos are working on in the summer of 2017, they clearly attract attention at the very highest levels of the Israeli government.
In retrospect, it is unclear why an Israeli business intelligence firm like Terrogence would be interested in an obscure energy consultant like George Papadopoulos, let alone for the Israeli government to invite Papadopoulos to an event that its prime minister was attending -- unless the Israelis believed or had been given reason to believe that Papadopoulos was still representing Trump’s interests long after he had officially left Trump’s employ.
Just like Roger Stone, eh wot?

There's much more, but I've already pilfered too much of Abramson's work. Inevitably, some hacks on Twitter have accused him of anti-Semitism, even though Abramson is Jewish. That claim won't wash. His citations are online, and his sourcing is both copious and convincing.

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