Posts Tagged ‘Russian government’

Report shows ‘creeping criminalisation’ of Russia’s internet — “The role of the FSB is growing significantly. De facto it is becoming the main controller of the Russian internet.”

February 5, 2018


© AFP/File | A rights group has warned of the “the creeping criminalisation of the internet” in Russia

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia sentenced 43 people to jail over online posts last year, a rights group said Monday, warning that the country is slowly criminalising internet use as the security service tightens its grip.The Agora rights group presented a report in Moscow on “the creeping criminalisation of the internet,” in which it registered 115,706 cases of restrictions on internet freedom last year.

The report said there was a rise in physical attacks and criminal convictions, with the 43 people sentenced to prison in 2017 up from 32 in 2016.

In a new trend, five people were placed in isolation in psychiatric hospitals.

A total of more than 10 million websites have been blocked in recent years, less than half of those after a court decision, said the internet rights group RosKomSvoboda.

The Agora report listed one murder and 66 cases of violence or threats of violence against bloggers and online journalists in 2017. This was the highest number since they started monitoring this issue since 2011.

Some of the measures that criminalise restrictions on internet freedom in Russia include anti-extremism and anti-separatism laws.

However the report noted a surge in convictions for “inciting terrorism”, which increased 20-fold in the last five years.

The Federal Security Service, the feared KGB successor that probes major crimes against the state, now handles a third of all cases relating to freedom of expression on the internet — up from just 16 percent in 2015.

“The role of the FSB is growing significantly. De facto it is becoming the main controller of the Russian internet, both technologically and as the main repressive organ,” the report said.



Don’t Believe the Liberal F.B.I.

February 2, 2018
 The F.B.I. headquarters in Washington on Thursday. Credit Jim Bourg/Reuters

In the 1960s and 1970s, the American right set about undermining trust in the mainstream media, which it saw as dangerously infected with liberal assumptions. Later, in debates over evolution and the environment, some on the right attacked the validity of modern science. By the turn of the millennium, it was an article of faith among conservative ideologues that whole realms of human expertise were in fact intricate structures of propaganda that trapped the unwary in a matrix of deceit.

In an invaluable 2017 Vox essay titled “Donald Trump and the Rise of Tribal Epistemology,” David Roberts quoted a 2009 Rush Limbaugh rant: “Science has been corrupted. We know the media has been corrupted for a long time. Academia has been corrupted. None of what they do is real. It’s all lies!” With Trump, this ethos reached the White House. And now, to protect Trump, the right has expanded its war on empiricism to that most conservative of institutions, the F.B.I.

That’s the best way to understand the farce surrounding the infamous classified memo written by aides to Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which Trump reportedly believes will help discredit the Russia investigation. The events involved in the creation of this memo, and the multifront political battle over efforts to make it public, are so absurd and convoluted that they’re difficult to summarize, and in some ways that’s the point.

In their attempts to undermine the Russia probe, Republicans aren’t presenting a coherent theory — even a coherent conspiracy theory. They’re just sowing confusion and distrust toward the nation’s premier law enforcement agency in order to protect the president. In December, conservative columnist Kurt Schlichter wrote that, under the influence of the “poisonous” liberal establishment, the once-proud F.B.I. had become “just another suppurating bureaucratic pustule.” That’s exactly how Nunes is treating it.

By all accounts Nunes’s four-page memo, which as of this writing hasn’t been released, is about the process by which the F.B.I. got a classified warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in 2016. The memo reportedly claims that the F.B.I. improperly relied on information from the ex-British spy Christopher Steele. This is supposed to be damning because Steele, though highly trusted in American intelligence circles, gathered information on Page while working for Fusion GPS, whose investigation into Trump was partly funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The memo also reportedly reveals that Rod Rosenstein, Trump’s deputy attorney general, approved an application to renew the warrant.

Intelligence experts say it’s unlikely that Steele’s intelligence formed the sole basis for a warrant, and legally, there was no problem with the F.B.I. using information Steele had gathered, even if Democrats helped fund his work. We already know that it wasn’t Steele who sparked the F.B.I.’s Russia inquiry, but Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who, while drinking with an Australian diplomat in May 2016, said that Russia had dirt on Clinton. Nevertheless, Republicans seem to think that if they can show that the F.B.I. cited Steele in seeking a warrant on Page, they can prove that the whole Russia investigation is a partisan frame-up. It doesn’t really make sense, but it’s not necessarily meant to.

On Monday, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee won a party-line vote to take the highly unusual step of declassifying the Nunes memo for public release. According to a transcript of the meeting where the vote was taken, only two committee members had read the classified underlying intelligence the Nunes memo purports to rely on. Nunes refused to answer a question by Representative Mike Quigley, Democrat of Illinois, about whether any of his staff had worked with the White House in preparing the memo.

Republicans voted down a Democratic motion to have the F.B.I. brief the committee on risks posed by releasing the memo. They also voted down a motion to release a classified 10-page memo written by Representative Adam Schiff, the committee’s ranking Democrat, and Democratic staffers about the Republican memo’s errors and distortions. (Unlike most of his colleagues, Schiff had read the underlying intelligence.)

It’s worth reading the whole transcript of the meeting; it reveals a process that’s half banana republic, half Alice in Wonderland. By the end, Quigley, who is from Chicago, referred to the corruption his city is known for and said: “I saw the worst of the worst. They got nothing on you on this one, folks. This is extraordinary.”

Now the final decision on whether to block the memo from becoming public lies with the White House. The F.B.I., which has reviewed it, issued a rare public warning against its release, citing “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” Nevertheless, reports on Thursday indicated that Trump had decided to allow the memo’s disclosure.

All this drama might make you think that the memo’s claims are scandalous. But part of what’s so weird and disorientating about this whole episode is that, in a normal political environment, no Republican would want to draw attention to the F.B.I.’s reasons for surveilling Page. As The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, Page has been on the radar of counterintelligence agents since at least 2013. A 2015 criminal complaint against two suspected Russian spies, Victor Podobnyy and Igor Sporyshev, cited an intercepted conversation about their efforts to recruit a man “working as a consultant in New York City.” Page has acknowledged that he was the man they were referring to, and admitted to passing documents to the Russians.

According to CNN, Page was the subject of a secret intelligence surveillance warrant in 2014, well before the beginning of Trump’s presidential campaign. Despite this, Trump identified Page as one of his key foreign policy advisers in March 2016. Later that year, the F.B.I. received a new secret warrant to monitor Page’s communications after he traveled to Russia, where he met with multiple Russian government officials.

Thanks to reporting on the memo, we know that Rosenstein, a Trump appointee, saw fit to apply for this warrant’s renewal. This suggests that one of the most senior figures in Trump’s own Justice Department thought it was credible that Trump had someone compromised by Russia on his campaign. Only in a crazy alternate universe does that exculpate the president.

Unless, that is, you believe that it is illegitimate for intelligence agencies to be watching Trump associates. And to believe that, you have to start with the premise that Trump is innocent and the agencies are corrupt. The controversy around the Nunes memo works to insinuate these assumptions into the public debate. It may also give Trump the very thinnest of pretexts to fire Rosenstein, which would be a first step toward attempting to shut down the Russia investigation.

If and when it’s released, the Nunes memo will probably only vindicate Trump among people who already share right-wing assumptions. But it will put the F.B.I. in a difficult position, since to defend itself against accusations that it relied solely on Steele’s findings to get a warrant on Page, it would have to release additional classified evidence. (CBS News reported on Thursday that, if the memo is released, the F.B.I. is prepared to issue a rebuttal.)

To some commentators, it is ironic that liberals are now defending the F.B.I., long a left-wing bête noire. But liberals recognized the dangers of the campaign to broadly discredit the mainstream media even though they had their own passionate criticisms of it. The right’s war on the F.B.I. is a sign of how far some are willing to go to subvert any checks on Trump’s power to create his own reality.

“I think the most disappointing realization for me of the past year was not how bad of a president Trump turned out to be — that was foreseeable — but how unwilling members of Congress would be to stand up and defend our system of government,” Schiff told me. The most dangerous thing about the release of the Nunes memo is not the memo itself, but Republicans’ shamelessness in using national security processes to deceive the people they’re supposed to serve.


Facebook Ads Reveal the Real Russian Game — U.S. intelligence agencies look inept and politicized; lawmakers look powerless

November 2, 2017

U.S. intelligence estimates were wrong: Russian trolls and their Kremlin masters weren’t partisan.

By Leonid Bershidsky


Russian toolbox. Photographer: Drew Angerer

The Facebook ads placed by a Russian troll farm and released on Wednesday by the U.S. Congress Intelligence Committee show that the Russian propaganda campaign of 2016 didn’t favor either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Instead, it mocked and goaded America, holding up a distorted but, in the final analysis, remarkably accurate mirror.

This directly contradicts previous U.S. intelligence community assessments.  “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” the intelligence community assessment released in January stated. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

If the social network ads placed by the St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency — a troll collective linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-connected restaurateur — reflect the strategy of the influence campaign, the intelligence community was wrong. The ads backed white nationalist as well as black causes. They often targeted Clinton before the election but switched to attacking Trump immediately afterwards. The ads against both were even visually similar. Here’s one inviting people to an anti-Clinton event in July:


And here’s an invitation to an anti-Trump protest, also in New York, in November — one which thousands of people apparently attended:


A conceivable defense of the intelligence conclusion is that you can’t interfere in the election after the voters have chosen, so only the anti-Clinton bias of the Russian campaign really made a difference. That argument is lame, however. Neither the trolls with their tiny budgets — at best, hundreds of thousands of dollars compared with the hundreds of millions spent by the candidates and their U.S. backers — nor Russian state media with their laughable reach compared with U.S. cable TV could have hoped to shape the election outcome. That would assume they knew more about U.S.-based influence tools than the entire U.S. political industry, which had been using these tools from the moment they were created, with their creators’ full cooperation.

Even today, the best Russian experts on the political uses of the social networks believe it would have been impossible to tip the scales with that kind of effort. Leonid Volkov, an internet entrepreneur and campaign manager to Putin’s No. 1 domestic foe, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, wrote on Facebook on Thursday:

When people discuss, in all seriousness, “election interference” by means of $100,000 worth of Facebook ads (hundreds of times less than the Clinton and Trump campaigns spent on FB ads), when leading political publications show as “proof” hellish pictures the most viral of which garnered all of 200,000 views (and most got only a few thousand; 500 rubles — not thousand dollars, not even dollars — was spent on promoting some of them) — this is just not done, it is, above all, simply shameful. Darn, we got a total of 2 million views for our social network ads before a rally in Astrakhan, and it cost us 20,000 rubles. So what are you even talking about?

Volkov’s campaigns are among the most sophisticated in Russia today. The St. Petersburg trolls, on entry-level salaries of about $1,000 a month (team leaders make some $2,000), are far less savvy than Navalny’s highly motivated team. The silly mistakes they made in their English — the misuse of modal verbs, the missing articles, the clumsy turns of phrase — are evidence that they were the lowest of infowar foot soldiers. They weren’t playing to win the U.S. election — just to stir things up as much as they could. They weren’t Republicans or Democrats: These parties don’t operate in St. Petersburg. They were trolls, happy to make a dent here, create a disturbance there, amplify an echo somewhere else.

The campaign was not tied to election timelines: It’s permanent, and it will go on while the U.S. and Russia are adversaries. In that sense, it’s no different from the Russian influence campaign in Ukraine. Elections and government changes that do nothing to alter the relationship between countries are just a useful background for propaganda, disinformation and sheer trollery because they politicize the audience and draw its attention to the divisive issues that propagandists exploit. Instability and confusion are the primary goals, and they’re easy to achieve on the cheap.

I’ve written for more than a year that the Kremlin’s goal in the U.S. election was not to promote either of the candidates. Though Russian President Vladimir Putin made no secret of his special dislike for Clinton, he was never short-sighted enough to trust Trump — and no one in a position of power in Russia ever indicated that he did. The influence campaign’s real goal was to amplify America’s organic discord and undermine trust in institutions.

The current hearings about the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube ads, with angry senators and squirming corporate lawyers hoping to avoid heavy-handed, misguided regulation, serve this purpose even better than the original ads did. U.S. legislators look powerless; the Americans who were supposedly taken in by the cheap, badly made ads look ignorant. U.S. intelligence agencies look politicized and incapable of serious analysis, let alone effective resistance, when it comes to Russian “active measures.”

The fit of U.S. self-flagellation likely goes beyond the trolls’ and propagandists’ wildest dreams. A great nation, with the world’s best-funded and most professional media and an institutional framework other nations could only dream of, ought to be able to ignore the Russian propagandists’ pitiful, incompetent efforts. The problem with Facebook and Twitter is not that you can pay in rubles for political ads (the trolls will be careful to use dollars in the future) but that an unknown, probably large percentage of their reported “users” are fake — but U.S. legislators neglect to address it in the face of the firms’ heavy lobbying artillery; while some questions have been asked about it at the hearing, no regulatory remedy has been proposed.

The problem with the American policy (and polity) goes even deeper than that: The U.S. is a bitterly divided country, and it wasn’t Russian propagandists who created these divisions, though they were happy to read about them in the U.S. media and use them in their efforts. It’s time the U.S. used its enormous resources to catch actual spies, if any were involved in the “election interference,” or other collusion, and any agents those spies could have recruited in the U.S. And it’s time U.S. law enforcement turned to the search for the dirty money that has corrupted the U.S. political establishment. Gazing with endless fascination into the trolls’ mirror is counterproductive; one glance should have been enough to see what really needs fixing.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Leonid Bershidsky at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Therese Raphael at

Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort Charged in Russia Probe

October 30, 2017

Manafort expected in federal court later Monday

Paul Manafort arrives at the FBI field office in Washington, D.C., with his lawyer, Kevin Downing, on Monday morning.
Paul Manafort arrives at the FBI field office in Washington, D.C., with his lawyer, Kevin Downing, on Monday morning. PHOTO: DEL QUENTIN WILBER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

WASHINGTON—The former chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been told to surrender to authorities on charges including tax fraud, according to people familiar with the matter.

Paul Manafort is expected in federal court in Washington, D.C., later on Monday, the people said.

Paul Manafort is expected in federal court in Washington, D.C., later on Monday, the people said.

Mr. Manafort was charged in an indictment returned on Friday, and unsealed Monday, along with his former business associate, Rick Gates. They are the first to face arrest in an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director.

Mr. Manafort and his attorney Kevin Downing arrived about 8:15 a.m. at the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Mr. Manafort didn’t respond to questions as he entered the building.

Mr. Mueller’s team, which includes 16 attorneys versed in public-corruption, fraud and national-security matters and more than two dozen FBI agents, has been presenting evidence before a federal grand jury convened in Washington since July.

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U.S. investigators are looking into contacts between several current and former associates of Donald Trump and Russian individuals—some with direct ties to the Russian government or state-owned entities. WSJ’s Niki Blasina provides a who’s who of the Russians at the center of the investigations.

Besides investigating Russian influence in the election, Mr. Mueller has been investigating whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in his firing of FBI Director James Comey, and the business dealings of several former Trump aides, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Manafort has been the focus of an investigation examining whether he violated tax laws or engaged in illicit financial transactions. In July, FBI agents working with Mr. Mueller raided a home of Mr. Manafort’s to obtain documents and other material tied to foreign bank accounts and tax matters.

Mr. Manafort’s spokesman, Jason Maloni, has said in the past that Mr. Manafort didn’t collude with the Russian government to help Moscow interfere in the 2016 election. He couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday.

A lawyer for Mr. Gates didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at and Del Quentin Wilber at

Image may contain: one or more people and people sitting

Photo: Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort leaves his home in Alexandria, Va., Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, in Washington. Andrew Harnik AP Photo


WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort and his former business associate were indicted on Monday on money laundering, tax and foreign lobbying charges, a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over President Trump’s first year in office.

Mr. Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, and his longtime associate Rick Gates, surrendered to the FBI on Monday. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort laundered more than $18 million to buy properties and services.

“Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States without paying taxes on that income,” the indictment reads.

Mr. Gates is accused of transferring more than $3 million from offshore accounts. The two are also charged with making false statements.


Read the Charges Against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates

Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, was indicted on charges including conspiracy, money laundering and other charges. Mr. Manafort’s business associate, Rick Gates, was also charged.

Mr. Gates is a longtime protégé and junior partner of Mr. Manafort. His name appears on documents linked to companies that Mr. Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Eastern Europe, records reviewed by The New York Times show.

Attempts to reach Mr. Gates on Monday were not successful. A spokesman for Mr. Manafort did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Manafort has expected charges since this summer, when F.B.I. agents raided his home and prosecutors warned him that they planned to indict him. That warning raised speculation that Mr. Manafort might try to cut a deal to avoid prosecution.

Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, said there were no concerns that Mr. Manafort would offer damaging information about the president in exchange for a deal.

Read the rest:

Trump says Clinton team funding for Russia info ‘a disgrace’

October 26, 2017

By Eric Tucker
The Associated Press

Donald Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans latched onto revelations tying Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to a dossier of allegations about his ties to Russia. The president said Wednesday it was a “disgrace” that Democrats had helped pay for research that produced the document.

“It’s just really — it’s a very sad commentary on politics in this country,” Trump said in addressing reporters one day after news reports revealed that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, for several months last year, helped fund research that ultimately ended up in the dossier.

The document, compiled by a former British spy and alleging a compromised relationship between Trump and the Kremlin, has emerged this year as a political flashpoint. Law enforcement officials have worked to corroborate its claims. James Comey, FBI director at the time, advised Trump about the existence of the allegations, and the ex-spy who helped assemble the document, Christopher Steele, has been questioned as part of an ongoing probe into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump camp.

President Donald Trump has described as “sad,” reporting that says Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the DNC helped pay for political research over his ties to Russia. Trump also insists there is “great unity,” within the GOP. (Oct. 25)

Trump has derided the document as “phony stuff” and “fake news” and portrayed himself Wednesday as an aggrieved party, posting on Twitter a quote he said was from Fox News that referred to him as “the victim.” The new disclosure about the dossier’s origins is likely to fuel complaints by Trump and his supporters that the document is merely a collection of salacious and uncorroborated claims.

“Well, I think it’s very sad what they’ve done with this fake dossier,” Trump said Wednesday, adding without elaboration that “they paid a tremendous amount of money.” He contended that Democrats had initially denied any connection to the document, but now, “they admitted it, and they’re embarrassed by it.”

AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel

Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin pictured together in 2012  AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel

Separately Wednesday, the editor of Wikileaks confirmed that his group was approached by Cambridge Analytica, a data firm working for Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election.

Julian Assange told The Associated Press that Wikileaks received a “request for information” from Cambridge Analytica. That request, which Assange would not specify, came prior to last November and was rejected. Assange’s comments came after The Daily Beast reported that Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix reached out to Assange during the presidential campaign about the possible release of 33,000 of Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. Those emails have never been publicly released.

A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment. Robert Mercer, a billionaire Trump supporter, is a backer of Cambridge Analytica. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon served as a vice president at the company before joining the administration.

Two people familiar with the newly disclosed dossier matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential client matters, told AP the funding arrangement was brokered in the spring of 2016 by a law firm representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC and that it lasted until right before Election Day. The final memo included in the dossier, a version of which was published online by Buzzfeed in January, is dated December 2016, or after the arrangement had ended.

In March of that year, the person said, the law firm of Perkins Coie was approached by Fusion GPS, a political research firm that had already begun research work on Trump on behalf of an unidentified client during the GOP primary. Fusion GPS expressed interest in continuing to create opposition research on Trump, and Perkins Coie engaged it in April 2016 “to perform a variety of research services during the 2016 election cycle,” according to a letter from the law firm’s general counsel that was obtained by AP.

The identity of the original client has not been revealed, and one of the people who spoke to AP said the law firm did not know who it was. Trump, however, hinted Wednesday that he might know the identity and that it could eventually become public.

“I have one name in mind,” the president said.

 Image result for Robert Mueller, photos
A Sept. 4, 2013 file photo showing incoming FBI Director James Comey, right, talking with retiring FBI Director Robert Mueller at the Justice Department in Washington,D.C.

It’s unclear what Fusion GPS had dug up by the time the law firm hired it, or how much money was involved in the transaction. The Perkins Coie attorney who helped create the arrangement, Marc Elias, did not immediately return an email seeking comment, and representatives of Fusion GPS declined to comment. The Washington Post first reported the funding deal.

The Clinton campaign paid more than $5.6 million to Perkins Coie, recording the expenditures as simply “legal services,” according to Federal Election Commission records. The DNC also paid the law firm more than $2.9 million, nearly all of which was reported as “legal and compliance consulting.” The DNC did report paying the firm $66,500 for research consulting.

The new disclosure placed fresh attention on the world of opposition research and the techniques that political campaigns employ. Trump Jr.’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., received public scrutiny when it was revealed in July that he had met one year earlier with Russians at Trump Tower after being told he would be receiving damaging information on Clinton. In that case, publicly released emails show that Trump Jr. had been told the information was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father.

That June 2016 meeting is being investigated by Robert Mueller, the Justice Department’s special counsel leading an investigation into whether Trump campaign aides coordinated with Russia to influence the outcome of the election.

In a statement Tuesday night, a DNC spokeswoman said the chairman, Tom Perez, was not part of the decision-making and was unaware that Perkins Coie was working with Fusion GPS.

“But let’s be clear, there is a serious federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, and the American public deserves to know what happened,” the statement said.

Former Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said on Twitter that he regretted not knowing about Steele’s hiring before the election, and that had he known, “I would have volunteered to go to Europe and try to help him.”

“I have no idea what Fusion or Steele were paid, but if even a shred of that dossier ends up helping Mueller, it will prove money well spent,” he wrote in another tweet.


Associated Press writers Chad Day, Ken Thomas and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Russian Hackers Stole NSA Data on U.S. Cyber Defense

October 5, 2017

The breach, considered the most serious in years, could enable Russia to evade NSA surveillance and more easily infiltrate U.S. networks

The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md. An NSA contractor took highly sensitive data from the complex and put it on his home computer, from which it was stolen by hackers working for the Russian government, people familiar with the matter said.
The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md. An NSA contractor took highly sensitive data from the complex and put it on his home computer, from which it was stolen by hackers working for the Russian government, people familiar with the matter said.PHOTO: PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON—Hackers working for the Russian government stole details of how the U.S. penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks after a National Security Agency contractor removed the highly classified material and put it on his home computer, according to multiple people with knowledge of the matter.

The hackers appear to have targeted the contractor after identifying the files through the contractor’s use of a popular antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab, these people said.

The theft, which hasn’t been disclosed, is considered by experts to be one of the most significant security breaches in recent years. It offers a rare glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the U.S.

The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn’t discovered until spring of last year, said the people familiar with the matter.

The stolen material included details about how the NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, the computer code it uses for such spying and how it defends networks inside the U.S., these people said.

Having such information could give the Russian government information on how to protect its own networks, making it more difficult for the NSA to conduct its work. It also could give the Russians methods to infiltrate the networks of the U.S. and other nations, these people said.

The breach is the first known incident in which Kaspersky software is believed to have been exploited by Russian hackers to conduct espionage against the U.S. government. The company, which sells its antivirus products in the U.S., had revenue of more than half a billion dollars in Western Europe and the Americas in 2016, according to International Data Corp. By Kaspersky’s own account it has more than 400 million users world-wide.

The revelation comes as concern over Russian infiltration of American computer networks and social media platforms is growing amid a U.S. special counsel’s investigation into whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign sought or received assistance from the Russian government. Mr. Trump denies any impropriety and has called the matter a “witch hunt.”

Intelligence officials have concluded that a campaign authorized by the highest levels of the Russian government hacked into state election-board systems and the email networks of political organizations to damage the candidacy of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

A spokesman for the NSA didn’t comment on the security breach. “Whether the information is credible or not, NSA’s policy is never to comment on affiliate or personnel matters,” he said. He noted that the Defense Department, of which the NSA is a part, has a contract for antivirus software with another company, not Kaspersky.

In a statement, Kaspersky Lab said it “has not been provided any information or evidence substantiating this alleged incident, and as a result, we must assume that this is another example of a false accusation.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in a statement didn’t address whether the Russian government stole materials from the NSA using Kaspersky software. But he criticized the U.S. government’s decision to ban the software from use by U.S. agencies as “undermining the competitive positions of Russian companies on the world arena.”

The Kaspersky incident is the third publicly known breach at the NSA involving a contractor’s access to a huge trove of highly classified materials. It prompted an official letter of reprimand to the agency’s director, Adm. Michael Rogers, by his superiors, people familiar with the situation said.

National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.
National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Adm. Rogers came into his post in 2014 promising to staunch leaks after the disclosure that NSA contractor Edward Snowden the year before gave classified documents to journalists that revealed surveillance programs run by the U.S. and allied nations.

The Kaspersky-linked incident predates the arrest last year of another NSA contractor, Harold Martin, who allegedly removed massive amounts of classified information from the agency’s headquarters and kept it at his home, but wasn’t thought to have shared the data.

Mr. Martin pleaded not guilty to charges that include stealing classified information. His lawyer has said he took the information home only to get better at his job and never intended to reveal secrets.

The name of the NSA contractor in the Kaspersky-related incident and the company he worked for aren’t publicly known. People familiar with the matter said he is thought to have purposely taken home numerous documents and other materials from NSA headquarters, possibly to continue working beyond his normal office hours.

The man isn’t believed to have wittingly worked for a foreign government, but knew that removing classified information without authorization is a violation of NSA policies and potentially a criminal act, said people with knowledge of the breach.

It is unclear whether he has been dismissed from his job or faces charges. The incident remains under federal investigation, said people familiar with the matter.

Kaspersky software once was authorized for use by nearly two dozen U.S. government agencies, including the Army, Navy and Air Force, and the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security, Energy, Veterans Affairs, Justice and Treasury.

The headquarters of the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab.
The headquarters of the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab. PHOTO: SAVOSTYANOV SERGEI/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

NSA employees and contractors never had been authorized to use Kaspersky software at work. While there was no prohibition against these employees or contractors using it at home, they were advised not to before the 2015 incident, said people with knowledge of the guidance the agency gave.

For years, U.S. national security officials have suspected that Kaspersky Lab, founded by a computer scientist who was trained at a KGB-sponsored technical school, is a proxy of the Russian government, which under Russian law can compel the company’s assistance in intercepting communications as they move through Russian computer networks.

Kaspersky said in its statement: “As a private company, Kaspersky Lab does not have inappropriate ties to any government, including Russia, and the company has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.”

Suspicions about the company prompted the Department of Homeland Security last month to take the extraordinary step of banning all U.S. government departments and agencies from using Kaspersky products and services. Officials determined that “malicious cyber actors” could use the company’s antivirus software to gain access to a computer’s files, said people familiar with the matter.

The government’s decision came after months of intensive discussions inside the intelligence community, as well as a study of how the software works and the company’s suspected connections to the Russian government, said people familiar with the events. They said intelligence officials also were concerned that given the prevalence of Kaspersky on the commercial market, countless people could be targeted, including family members of senior government officials, or that Russia could use the software to steal information for competitive economic advantage.

“The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security,” the DHS said Sept. 13 in announcing the government ban.

All antivirus software scans computers looking for malicious code, comparing what is on the machine to a master list housed at the software company. But that scanning also gives makers of the software an inventory of what is on the computer, experts say.

“It’s basically the equivalent of digital dumpster diving,” said Blake Darché, a former NSA employee who worked in the agency’s elite hacking group that targets foreign computer systems.

Kaspersky is “aggressive” in its methods of hunting for malware, Mr. Darché said, “in that they will make copies of files on a computer, anything that they think is interesting.” He said the product’s user license agreement, which few customers probably read, allows this.

“You’re basically surrendering your right to privacy by using Kaspersky software,” said Mr. Darché, who is chief security officer for Area 1, a computer security company.

“We aggressively detect and mitigate malware infections no matter the source and we have been proudly doing it for 20 years,” the company said in its statement. “We make no apologies for being aggressive in the battle against malware and cybercriminals.”

U.S. investigators believe the contractor’s use of the software alerted Russian hackers to the presence of files that may have been taken from the NSA, according to people with knowledge of the investigation. Experts said the software, in searching for malicious code, may have found samples of it in the data the contractor removed from the NSA.

But how the antivirus system made that determination is unclear, such as whether Kaspersky technicians programed the software to look for specific parameters that indicated NSA material. Also unclear is whether Kaspersky employees alerted the Russian government to the finding.

Kaspersky Lab Chief Executive Eugene Kaspersky. The company said it never would help ‘any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.’
Kaspersky Lab Chief Executive Eugene Kaspersky. The company said it never would help ‘any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.’ PHOTO: SHARIFULIN VALERY/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

Investigators did determine that, armed with the knowledge that Kaspersky’s software provided of what files were suspected on the contractor’s computer, hackers working for Russia homed in on the machine and obtained a large amount of information, according to the people familiar with the matter.

The breach illustrates the chronic problem the NSA has had with keeping highly classified secrets from spilling out, former intelligence personnel say. They say they were rarely searched while entering or leaving their workplaces to see if they were carrying classified documents or removable storage media, such as a thumb drive.

The incident was considered so serious that it was given a classified code name and set off alarms among top national security officials because it demonstrated how the software could be used for spying. Members of Congress also were informed, said people familiar with the matter.

Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper pushed President Barack Obama to remove Adm. Rogers as NSA head, due in part to the number of data breaches on his watch, according to several officials familiar with the matter.

The NSA director had fallen out of White House favor when he traveled to Bedminster, N.J., last November to meet with president-elect Donald Trump about taking a job in his administration, said people familiar with the matter. Adm. Rogers didn’t notify his superiors, an extraordinary step for a senior military officer, U.S. officials said.

Adm. Rogers wasn’t fired for a number of reasons, including a pending restructuring of the NSA that would have been further complicated by his departure, according to people with knowledge of internal deliberations. An NSA spokesman didn’t comment on efforts to remove Adm. Rogers.

Write to Gordon Lubold at and Shane Harris at

Senator Endorses Intel on Russia (Except the Part About Trump)

October 5, 2017
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s update on Kremlin interference wasn’t much of an update.
They’ve got answers. You’ve got questions.

 Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Leaving aside the bloviating protests of President Donald Trump, there are two ways to understand Russia’s influence campaign against the 2016 election.

The first is obvious. The Russians tried to elect Trump. You don’t need access to top-secret U.S. government documents to reach this conclusion. It happened in real time. Russians hacked the emails of leading Democrats and distributed them on the internet. Trump touted the disclosures in the final weeks of the campaign.

The other explanation of Russian meddling is that it was more insidious. The Russians aimed to undermine the public’s faith in the electoral system itself. This is what former FBI director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee early this year. He said the Russian hacks were “unusually loud,” and that they “wanted us to see what they were doing.” In this sense, the Russian operation succeeds by persuading voters that the vote was rigged, no matter who wins.

The intelligence community assessment of Russian electoral influence released by the Obama administration on Jan. 6 endorses both views. It says one aim of the Russian operation was to undermine “public faith in the U.S. democratic process.” It also concludes the Russians helped try to elect Trump.

On Wednesday, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, muddied the waters. On the one hand he said, “We trust the conclusions” of the Jan. 6 assessment, though he added the caveat that the committee had not yet closed its consideration of the matter.

On the other hand Burr said he was still agnostic on whether Russia tried to help elect Trump. Indeed, a component of the Russian influence operation — its purchase of advertisements on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter — suggests their main goal was to sow chaos. When asked by a reporter about Russia’s preference for Trump, he said: “We have not come to any determination on collusion or Russia’s preferences. If we use solely the social media we have seen, there is no way you can say this was to help the right side of the political divide or vice versa.”

It’s hard to square that answer with Burr’s remarks that the committee trusts the conclusions of intelligence community assessment. The first bullet point of that document says: “Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

It’s likely that the Russians initially hoped to simply undermine the election, but then modified their strategy as Trump gained momentum.

There’s an important lesson here for Democrats. Russia’s intelligence agencies have no allegiance to either major U.S. political party. The next candidate Russia decides to help could be one of their own.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

See also POLITICO:

5 things we learned from the Senate’s Russia probe update

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Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner (left) and Chairman Richard Burr answer questions after updating the press on the state of the Russia investigation by the panel on Oct. 4. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

There’s Trouble Brewing in Putin’s Heartland

September 13, 2017
With oil prices down, discontent over the economy is growing.

During Russia’s oil-fueled boom, Rashid Tamayev saw steady pay raises at his auto factory job, helping keep his family in relative comfort—and making him a loyal supporter of President Vladimir Putin. But since a plunge in oil prices three years ago, Tamayev has lost faith in the president. Last spring he and dozens of others at the Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant lodged an appeal with the Kremlin when they were fired after pointing out safety problems. They got no answer. “Putin has forgotten about ordinary people,” Tamayev says as he watches workers from the factory leave after their shifts. “We used to live well.”

Tamayev outside the Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant.

As Putin prepares to run for a fourth term in elections next March, the plight of his working-class base across the Russian heartland is emerging as a top domestic challenge. He’s almost certain to win, thanks to the Kremlin’s grip on the media and political life, but the discontent threatens Putin’s popularity as the economy continues to sputter. After the longest recession in his 17-year rule, real incomes have fallen 12 percent over the past three years, sparking protests in areas that provided solid backing for Putin in 2012. While demonstrations around the last elections were limited largely to Moscow, this year tens of thousands of people have marched in anti-Kremlin protests in dozens of cities. Russians “are losing patience,” Valery Fyodorov, the head of state-run pollster VTsIOM, said in August. “People don’t want stability anymore. They want change.”

The government is moving fast to ensure the simmering unrest doesn’t grow into something more dangerous. This year’s budget—under pressure because of low oil prices—calls for increases in social spending and cuts in defense. In June, during Putin’s annual call-in show with carefully selected “ordinary Russians,” the president pledged to address complaints about inadequate pensions, dilapidated public housing, and substandard health care. An “alarming” rise in poverty in recent years “is a matter of serious concern,” he said at the start of the four-hour broadcast.

nascent economic recovery and falling inflation seem to be taking the edge off popular dissatisfaction. Two-thirds of Russians say they want to see Putin reelected, according to a July poll from the independent Levada Center. But even if growth meets government forecasts of 2 percent this year, that’s far below the 7 percent average seen in Putin’s first two terms. “There’s a sense of grievance at the gap between rich and poor, Moscow and the regions,” says Carine Clement, a sociology professor at St. Petersburg State University. “People blame the elites.”

In Ulyanovsk, a gritty industrial city 550 miles east of Moscow that’s been in decline since Soviet times, hundreds turned out for antigovernment protests this spring. Roads in the city of 600,000 are scarred with potholes, stores on the outskirts are almost empty and advertise steep discounts, and the most famous landmark—a house where Lenin spent his childhood—looks forlorn and mostly devoid of visitors.

The discontent surfaced in elections last September, when the local communist leader, Alexey Kurinny, got a quarter of the vote for regional governor, almost clinching a spot in a runoff against the pro-Putin incumbent. Kurinny, a member of the national parliament in Moscow, has since taken up the cause of Tamayev and other workers at the auto factory, where one employee lost four fingers when his hand was crushed by a pressing machine. “You can’t live” on the salaries the factory pays, Kurinny says. “Not if you have mouths to feed.”

Ulyanovsk has been in decline since Soviet times.

Plant workers who have organized protests seeking higher wages to offset inflation won’t speak publicly for fear of reprisal. Dmitry Shestakov, a 37-year-old businessman who runs the campaign office in Ulyanovsk for Alexey Navalny, an opposition candidate for the presidency, says the tax service recently asked him for his landlord’s name and address. A few weeks before Shestakov opened the office in May, the local antiterrorism center called him in for questioning and warned him he may become the target of an attack. “You start to get a little paranoid,” he says.

Management at the plant, which makes an off-road vehicle called the Patriot, dismisses the complaints of angry employees like Tamayev. “You can always find 15 disgruntled people in a workforce of 15,000,” says financial director Mikhail Belobrov. Viktor Bychkov, the head of the plant’s main trade union, is equally unsympathetic. “You can’t expect to get raises for nothing,” he says.

Tamayev, 45, at first put his faith in Putin, even submitting a question for the call-in show. But in August, a court issued a second ruling against him in his bid to get his job back. Tamayev says he lost an offer as a technician at a clinic with a monthly salary of up to 40,000 rubles ($660)—slightly less than he was getting at the auto plant—after management failed to provide a reference. He now makes half that at another car factory in town, but vows he’ll keep fighting to get back the job he held for 23 years. And he won’t be voting for Putin. The president, he says, “is useless.” —With Olga Tanas

BOTTOM LINE – Putin’s working-class base is suffering after a prolonged recession, presenting him with a challenge as he prepares for elections next March.

Trump Attorney Says He Discussed Moscow Tower Deal With Trump During Campaign

August 29, 2017

In an interview, Michael Cohen says he talked with the then-candidate about the licensing deal on three occasions

Michael Cohen, an attorney for President Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York in December.
Michael Cohen, an attorney for President Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York in December. PHOTO: RICHARD DREW/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Updated Aug. 28, 2017 10:07 p.m. ET

Michael Cohen, an attorney for the Trump Organization, discussed a prospective real-estate deal in Moscow with Donald Trump on three occasions during the presidential campaign, Mr. Cohen said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

In 2015, Mr. Cohen said, he informed the then-candidate that he was working on a licensing deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. He subsequently asked for and received Mr. Trump’s signature on a nonbinding letter of intent for the project in October 2015. And in January 2016, he said, he informed the then-candidate that he had killed the proposal. Mr. Cohen said each conversation was brief.

Mr. Cohen’s communication with the president about the Moscow project may come under scrutiny because of a January 2016 email Mr. Cohen sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top press official to ask for “assistance” in arranging the deal. Mr. Cohen said he didn’t inform Mr. Trump that he had sent the email to the press official, Dmitry Peskov. He didn’t respond when asked why he hadn’t done so.

In the email to Mr. Peskov, Mr. Cohen said communication between the Trump Organization and a Russia-based company that was the prospective developer of the tower had “stalled” and said, “As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals.” The email was sent to a broader press email address but was addressed to Mr. Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email.

The email was reported by the Washington Post on Monday and was confirmed by a person familiar with the exchange.

Mr. Cohen said in the Journal interview that he didn’t recall receiving a response from Mr. Peskov and opted to abandon the project weeks later. Mr. Peskov didn’t return a request for comment.

The White House declined to comment and referred questions to Mr. Cohen’s attorney, who didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump associates’ contacts with Russian officials have come under scrutiny as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates Moscow’s efforts to interfere with the U.S. presidential election, as well as whether Trump associates colluded in that effort. Mr. Trump has denied any collusion, and Moscow has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia interfered in the election.

According to a January report from U.S. intelligence agencies, Russia’s interference was directed at the highest levels of its government. Its tactics included hacking state election systems; infiltrating and leaking information from party committees; and disseminating through social media and other outlets negative stories about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and positive ones about Mr. Trump, the report said.

Mr. Trump’s awareness of his company’s efforts to procure a business deal in Moscow, as described by Mr. Cohen, came during the campaign when he often praised Mr. Putin.

In December 2015, while his company was still pursuing the Moscow Trump Tower deal, Mr. Trump in an NBC interview compared Mr. Putin more favorably to then-President Barack Obama. “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Trump repeatedly denied any business ties to Russia, saying at a news conference in July 2016, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

A spokesman for the Trump Organization said in a statement that Mr. Cohen abandoned the Moscow proposal in January 2016 and said the prospective deal “was not significantly advanced (i.e., there was no site, no financing, and no development).”

Mr. Cohen in a statement issued earlier Monday said he rejected the proposal “because I lost confidence that the prospective licensee would be able to obtain the real estate, financing, and government approvals necessary to bring the proposal to fruition.”

Mr. Cohen’s email to Mr. Peskov is the latest example to surface of communications between Trump associates and Russian officials during the campaign.

In July 2016, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and senior campaign aides attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer to discuss allegedly damaging information about Mrs. Clinton they were told was being offered by the Russian government in support of the elder Mr. Trump’s candidacy. The president’s son said the information provided wasn’t helpful.

Felix Sater, whom Mr. Trump hired in 2010 as an unpaid consultant for the Trump Organization, wrote in a November 2015 email to Mr. Cohen that he planned to enlist the help of Mr. Putin.

“Our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it,” he wrote. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

The email was reported by the New York Times on Monday and confirmed by two people familiar with the exchange.

Through an attorney, Mr. Sater confirmed in a statement that he put together a Moscow real estate proposal to build the world’s largest building and approached Mr. Cohen at the Trump Organization.

“During the course of our communications over several months, I routinely expressed my enthusiasm regarding what a tremendous opportunity this was for the Trump Organization. Ultimately, in January 2016 Michael informed me that the Trump Organization decided not to move forward with the project,” Mr. Sater said. He said he would have received no compensation from the Trump Organization if the project had moved forward.

The Trump Organization on Monday turned both email exchanges over to the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the alleged Russian election meddling, a person familiar with the move said.

In a statement provided to the committee, Mr. Cohen said he had emailed Mr. Peskov at the suggestion of Mr. Sater, “since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued.”

Mr. Cohen also said Mr. Sater “constantly asked me to travel to Moscow” to move the proposal forward, and also asked him to have Mr. Trump travel to Russia. Mr. Cohen said he told Mr. Sater Mr. Trump “would not travel to Russia unless there was a definitive agreement in place.”

Mr. Cohen also said in the statement that he did not “ask or brief” Mr. Trump or his family members before opting to abandon the proposal. “The decision to pursue the proposal initially, and later to abandon it, was unrelated to the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign,” he said.

Earlier this year, Mr. Sater worked with Mr. Cohen to try to get a Ukrainian parliament member’s proposal for peace with Russia to the White House. The proposal doesn’t appear to have been passed on to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump last year told the Journal he didn’t know Mr. Sater well but for a time let him pitch deals as a consultant, none of which he liked.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at

Appeared in the August 29, 2017, print edition as ‘Lawyer Says Trump Told of Moscow Deal.’


Trump Associate Boasted That Moscow Business Deal ‘Will Get Donald Elected’

The New York Times

Russian-American lobbyist also at Trump Tower Meeting With Donald Trump Jr., Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, The Associated Press Finds

July 15, 2017


Image may contain: 1 person, suit and indoor

Donald Trump Jr. is interviewed by host Sean Hannity on his Fox News Channel television program, in New York Tuesday, July 11, 2017. (Richard Drew – Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A prominent Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer attended a meeting with President Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman last year, the lobbyist said Friday, adding a new wrinkle to the Trump team’s evolving explanations about the June 2016 session.


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Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his involvement to The Associated Press in an interview. He had not been previously identified as a participant in the meeting at Trump Tower in New York, which was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help the Republican’s White House campaign.

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Rinat Akhmetshin

A Russian-American lobbyist says he attended a June 2016 meeting with President Donald Trump’s son, marking another shift in the account of a discussion that was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s campaign. (July 14)

The meeting has heightened questions about whether Trump’s associates coordinated with Russia to meddle in the presidential election — to help him and thwart Hillary Clinton — and whether they’ve been forthcoming about their foreign contacts. Federal and congressional investigators are probing possible connections between the campaign and Moscow.

Akhmetshin has been reported to have ties to Russian intelligence, a characterization he dismisses as a “smear campaign.” He’s a well-known Washington presence, lobbying for Russian interests trying to undermine the allegations of a lawyer who died in a Russian prison and is the namesake of a U.S. sanctions law.

Akhmetshin told the AP he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence but he was never formally trained as a spy.

In emails posted by Donald Trump Jr. earlier this week, a music publicist said he arranged the meeting because a Russian lawyer wanted to pass on negative information about Democrat Clinton. The go-between stated that the discussion was part of a Russian government effort to help the GOP candidate.

While Trump Jr. has confirmed that Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya was in the meeting, he has not disclosed Akhmetshin’s presence. The president’s son has publicly discounted the meeting, saying he did not receive the information he was promised.

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Natalia Veselnitskaya

In a statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said the attorney had said she had information that people tied to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Clinton, a description that Akhmetshin backed up in his interview with the AP.

In his first public interview about the meeting, Akhmetshin said he accompanied Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower where they met an interpreter. He said he had learned about the meeting only that day when Veselnitskaya asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats, Akhmetshin said. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the campaign, he said.

“This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” Akhmetshin recalled her saying.

Trump Jr. asked the attorney if she had sufficient evidence to back up her claims, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more. After that, Trump Jr. lost interest, according to Akhmetshin.

“They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he said.

Akhmetshin said he does not know if Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room or simply left them behind, he said.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting. Akhmetshin said he recognized Kushner and Trump Jr. He also said he recognized Manafort because they worked in “adjacent political circles” but never together.

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Paul Manafort

He said there were others in the room but he didn’t know them. Publicist Rob Goldstone, who brokered the meeting via email with Trump Jr., has told the AP that he was there.

Asked about Akhmetshin’s participation, Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni declined comment. Trump Jr.’s attorney did not respond to inquiries, nor did a spokesman for Kushner. Veselnitskaya has denied having any ties to the Russian government. When reached by the AP this week, she declined comment. She did not respond to additional attempts to contact her Friday.

The confirmation of Akhmetshin’s participation in the meeting drew swift reaction from the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who said he wanted Akhmetshin to appear before the committee and provide “any relevant documents and information.”

Image result for Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner

Schiff said whether Akhmetshin is connected to Russian intelligence or not “it is clear the Kremlin got the message that Donald Trump welcomed the help of the Russian government in providing dirt on Hillary Clinton.” Schiff said Trump Jr.’s omission of Akhmetshin’s role in his public account of the meeting and the president’s son’s shifting explanations “paint a portrait of consistent dissembling and deceit.”

Kushner disclosed the meeting on his security clearance paperwork, but Schiff said the Akhmetshin revelation raises questions about how much Kushner disclosed about it. He said he believes Kushner’s clearance should be reviewed, and “if he was not perfectly candid,” the clearance should be revoked.

Akhmetshin, who spoke to the AP while on vacation in France where he said he has been surfing, said the meeting was “not substantive” and he “actually expected more serious” discussion.

“I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest,” he said.

The Russian government has denied any involvement or knowledge of the June 2016 meeting. Asked Friday about Akhmetshin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters: “We don’t know anything about this person.”

Akhmetshin has been identified in media reports as a former officer in Russia’s military intelligence service known as the GRU. He has denied that, saying he served in the Soviet Army from 1986 to 1988 after he was drafted but was not trained in spy tradecraft. He said his unit operated in the Baltics and was “loosely part of counterintelligence.”

Akhmetshin said he has not been contacted by the U.S. special counsel’s office or the FBI about the meeting with Trump Jr. He said he’s willing to talk with the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman has pressed the Justice Department about why Akhmetshin has not registered as a foreign agent.

The chairman, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said in a March letter that Akhmetshin has “reportedly admitted to being a ‘Soviet counterintelligence officer’ and has a long history of lobbying the U.S. government for pro-Russia matters.”

Akhmetshin said that the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit sent him a letter in April and told him, “it has come to our attention you should have filed for FARA.” He said he didn’t believe he needed to file. He has previously registered with Congress for the lobbying work, and he plans to raise this issue before Grassley’s committee.

“I think I have a legal right to tell my story,” he said.

Separately on Friday, the data and digital director for Trump’s presidential campaign said he will speak with the House Intelligence committee later this month as part of its own Russia probe.

Brad Parscale said in a statement that he is “unaware of any Russian involvement” in the data and digital operations but will voluntarily appear before the panel.


Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Stephen Braun and Julie Pace contributed to this report.


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Donald Trump Jr: Former Soviet counterintelligence officer confirms he attended Russian lawyer meeting

Mr Trump Jr has dismissed the controversy as a ‘big yawn’

The Independent

A Russian former military operative with links to counterintelligence also attended Donald Trump Jr’s notorious meeting with a Russian lawyer about obtaining possibly incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Rinat Akhmetshin, a dual Russian-American citizen and lobbyist who has been accused of acting as “an unregistered agent for Russian interests” and with ties to Russian military intelligence service, or GRU, has confirmed he attended the meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Also participating in the meeting was a US-based Russian translator, Anatoli Samochornov, who had worked previously for Ms Veselnitskaya and the US State Department at various points.

Mr Akhmetshin said he accompanied Ms Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower on 9 June 2016. Although he had known and worked with Ms Veselnitskaya for a number of years, he said he had only learned about the meeting that day when she asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Mr Trump Jr’s account of the meeting, which has shifted several times, failed to mention the presence of Mr Akhmetshin, or the translator. Mr Trump Jr said he had agreed to the meeting, also attended by Mr Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort, because he was told Ms Veselnitskaya had material damaging to Ms Clinton that was “high level and sensitive information [and] is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”.

Mr Akhmetshin said Ms Veselnitskaya brought a plastic folder with her, containing printed documents that detailed what she believed could potentially be the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee. Ms Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign, he said.

Mr Trump Jr asked the lawyer if she had all the evidence to back up her claims, according to Mr Akhmetshin, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Ms Veselnitskaya allegedly claimed the Trump campaign would need to research it more.

After that exchange, Mr Trump Jr lost interest, Mr Akhmetshin said. “They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he told the Associated Press.

Mr Akhmetshin said he does not know if Ms Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room, or simply left them behind, he said.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said that the reports about Mr Akhmetshin add “another deeply disturbing fact about this secret meeting”.

Mr Trump Jr has insisted the meeting did not amount to much, that he was offered no information on Ms Clinton and that in truth Ms Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about the Magnitsky Act, a piece of US legislation that sanctions a handful of Russians the US believes might be linked to the 2009 death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Ms Veselnitskaya has denied offering any information to Mr Trump Jr and working for the Russian state.

Ms Veselnitskaya has denied working for the Russian government (AP)

Mr Akhmetshin has been closely associated with Ms Veselnitskaya for several years and has worked with her in an effort to overturn the Magnitsky Act. Mr Samochornov did translation for Ms Veselnitskaya in relation to her lobbying and legal work in the US.

In 2016, Ms Veselnitskaya’s client, Denis Katsyv, head of the company Prevezon, registered a nonprofit company in Delaware called the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGIF) in February 2016, which says its aim is to overturn an adoption ban on impacting American couples but which many believe is a front to lobby against the Magnitsky Act, the passage of which is said to have infuriated Vladimir Putin.

The HRAGIF’s registered lobbyist was Mr Akhmetshin, who took UK citizenship in 2009.

Earlier this year, Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wanted to learn more about Mr Akhmetshin’s activities.

In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in April, Mr Grassley wrote: “I write to obtain information regarding Mr Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian immigrant to the United States who has been accused of acting as an unregistered agent for Russian interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence.”

He added: “Mr Akhmetshin is a Russian immigrant to the US who has admitted having been a ‘Soviet counterintelligence officer’. In fact, it has been reported that he worked for the GRU and allegedly specialises in ‘active measures campaigns, subversive political influence operations often involving disinformation and propaganda.”

Rinat Akhmetshin has worked as a lobbyist on behalf of various Russia-related issues for a number of years (Bill Browder)

Mr Akhmetshin has denied that he worked for the GRU, saying he served in the Soviet Army from 1986 to 1988 after he was drafted but was not trained in spy tradecraft. He said his unit operated in the Baltics and was “loosely part of counterintelligence”.

The development has infuriated President Trump, who had hoped to get away from the Russia story, even as special prosecutor Robert Mueller continues a probe into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged effort to interfere in the 2016 election.

Mr Akhmetshin said he has not been contacted by Mr Mueller’s office or the FBI about the meeting with Mr Trump Jr. He said he is willing to talk with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Earlier this week, Mr Trump was obliged to defend his eldest son, saying that “anyone” would have taken the meeting.

Speaking in France, where he was meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, he said: “I do think this, that taken from a practical standpoint … most people would’ve taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent. I’ve only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up, ‘Oh gee, we have information on this factor or this person,’ or, frankly, Hillary.”

He added: “That’s very standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world.”

Mr Akhmetshin did not respond to repeated inquiries from The Independent. President Trump’s lawyers also failed to respond.

Elsewhere, a former Trump campaign adviser, Michael Caputo, said after he testified to the House Intelligence Committee in closed session on Friday that he had no contact with Russians and never heard of anyone in the campaign “talking with Russians”.