The Fourth Man; untangling Russia’s election espionage

The Fourth Man: Did a Mole-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named Leak Plot to Elect Trump?

A brave lawyer defending people the Russian government accuses of treason says the case of cyber experts charged with working for the CIA is about the toughest he’s seen.

MOSCOW—For the first time in his two decades defending people accused of treason, Ivan Pavlov has come across a case he says he truly has trouble getting his head around. Everything about it is a guessing game for the defense lawyer, including the charges against his client, whose name he is not allowed to mention in public.

Speaking at his office in St. Petersburg, under a photograph of President Barack Obama shaking his hand, Pavlov, 46, explained to The Daily Beast that the arrest in Russia last December of accused cyber spies is heavy with high-profile politics.

“This is a dangerous case for everybody, including the FSB investigators, attorneys and journalists,” said Pavlov.

To get a sense of just how fraught it may be, let us go back to January. By then, allegations by the American intelligence community about Russian meddling in the American elections had been building for several months. President Obama had warned Putin, eyeball to eyeball, to stop. Two reports had been issued publicly by the U.S. intelligence services in October and in December, but in guarded and less than explicit language as America’s spooks tried to protect the methods and especially the sources that had led them to their conclusions.

As candidate and as president-elect, Donald Trump had received several classified briefings in August, November and afterward but, in public at least, Trump rejected the conclusion that Russia had interfered in the election he won, calling it fake news and the work of disgruntled losers.

Then on January 6, two weeks before Trump’s inauguration, the American intelligence community issued a much more explicit declassified report based on a much more detailed classified one pulled together from the coordinated reporting and analysis of the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

The key conclusions fingered Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, and because there’s been so much obfuscation by the White House, not to mention the Kremlin, they are worth repeating at some length:

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments …

“Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls.’…”

On the specific issues of hacking, as opposed to the broader effort to influence the elections, in late December 2016 the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation together with the Department of Homeland Security distributed a report (PDF) that described the core Russian operation known by various aliases including the fanciful names “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear.” The report updated in February also noted that one technical tool, a malware program used in the attack, had been created originally by a Ukrainian programmer—potentially a very important point as the plot thickened.

The assessment overall was as damning as such documents can be, and in it the U.S. intelligence community had claimed to know the decision making at the very highest level of the Russian government: Putin himself.

The Russian government denied all the allegations and has never acknowledged officially or unofficially that it was involved in this alleged multifaceted campaign about which the FBI and CIA seem to have no doubt.

But in the meantime any intelligence officer reading a document liked the January 6 assessment would surmise that it implicated one or more moles inside the upper levels of the Russian government.

Then, at the end of January, the news broke: Russia’s most secret law enforcement agency had arrested one of its own top officers, and that had happened in the middle of an official meeting. Like a scene out of some Brian de Palma movie, FSB officers grabbed their colleague and put a bag over his head—and afterward they made no effort to keep what they had done a secret.

Two top Federal Security Service officials, Sergei Mikhailov (who’d had the bag over his head) and Dmitry Dokuchayev, both from the FSB cyber intelligence department, were accused officially of state treason for passing confidential information to the CIA, according to the Interfax news agency.

But what sort of information? There was certainly no mention in the Kremlin leaks that these two might have exposed Putin’s direct order to undermine the American elections. Far from it. The crimes described by the news reports in Moscow related to hacking operations with no apparent ties to Trump or U.S. politics.

Also arrested was Ruslan Stoyanov, the head of the cybercrime investigation team at Kaspersky Lab, Russia’s major cybersecurity and anti-virus provider.

And then there was Pavlov’s unnamed client: the Fourth Man.

Now, months have passed, and the office of the U.S. Director of National intelligence, responding to a query for this story, declined to comment in any fashion about the December arrests in Russia or the status of the those who were jailed. Obviously if any of those arrested were indeed working with U.S. intelligence, the American government would not want to confirm that.

After the initial burst of publicity the FSB continues to stay quiet about the details of Pavlov’s client’s charges, and the other three as well, creating a thick curtain of secrecy around the crime. Even for the agency that is the successor of the infamous KGB, that is an unusually long silence.

Pavlov had to sign a gag order before he was allowed to represent his client. Now he and his colleagues, an association of lawyers called Team 29, refer to the Fourth Man simply as “Him.” But Pavlov hints at a world of cyberespionage even murkier and more dangerous than that of spy and counterspy.

“I can tell you something about this case: I believe that the FSB keeps Russia’s top cybersecurity experts under arrest so nobody can interview them, use them—or harm them,” said Pavlov. “It looks like authorities plan to keep the investigation low key at least until after the [Russian] presidential elections next year.”

“If he were not locked in prison, my client could have been murdered by now,” Pavlov said, without elaboration.

The secrecy annoys Team 29, which Pavlov founded in 2015 as an informal association of lawyers and journalists fighting against the Russian government’s increasing reluctance to release information amid fears of traitors and spies.

The name “29” comes from the number of an article in Russia’s constitution that says: “Everyone shall have the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal way.”

The lawyers teamed up soon after the FSB ordered the deportation of Pavlov’s ex-wife, American citizen Jennifer Gaspar, “as a threat to national security.”

The reason is a secret.

“My wife worked for the Hermitage museum; I am convinced that the FSB deported her to hurt me, their opponent,” Pavlov said.

He explained to The Daily Beast why his mission in Russia is so important: “If before Russia’s conflict with Ukraine there were a couple of treason cases a year, now we count up to 15 state treason cases a year,” Pavlov said. “Our job is to educate people about their rights, so not all talented and skillful Russians flee the country.”

For six months, Team 29 has been visiting the Fourth Man at Lefortovo prison, trying to guess from such materials as have been revealed to them how much material remains hidden.

Was their client accused of selling secrets to the CIA or to FBI? Was he a spy helping to hack emails of the Democratic National Committee? That’s a secret.

Meanwhile one of the arrested FSB officers, Dokuchayev, has been indicted in the United States for economic espionage and a massive hacking of Yahoo accounts.

In Russia, many wonder how it is possible that Russia’s leading officials responsible for cybersecurity could have been passing state secrets abroad. The Daily Beast asked Dmitry Artimovich, considered one of the “hacker elite” in Russia and an expert at ChronoPay, a Russian company specialized for online payments. There are not many experts as knowledgeable as Artimovich when it comes to spam, spearphishing, botnets, and other kinds of cyber attacks.

The Daily Beast asked what people like Pavlov’s secret client might have been up to?

Their motivation might have been career growth, the suspects must have shared too much information about Russian hackers with American special services under Obama’s administration, creating an impression that Russia’s hackers are the most dangerous in the world, Artimovich suggested.

Artimovich had his own reasons not to like the kontora, or “the office,” the nickname for the FSB. In 2013, the security service’s cyber department investigated Artimovich for executing a distributed denial of service attack meant to shut down the website of Aeroflot, Russia’s major national airline. The programmer was sentenced to two years and six months in a corrective labor colony, and it was a harrowing experience.

“A guy in my cell tried to recruit me for the FSB,” says Artimovich. “He threatened me that otherwise I would not come out of prison, if I do not work with them.”  But Artimovich says he turned down the offer.

Now, Artimovich offers alternative explanations regarding the arrests last December. He does not believe the order for the attack on the American democratic institutions was coming from the Kremlin and suggests that is a “myth created by the American special services.”

At a technical level, Artimovich says he is skeptical about the malware described in the U.S. reports. “The virus collecting passwords from only one system cannot be described as a cyber-weapon,” he says.

After Trump won the elections, Russian hackers who used to travel freely around Europe before started to be grabbed by law enforcement. One example is Pyotr Levashov, who was arrested on a U.S. warrant four months ago in Spain. They were picked up one after another.

Artimovich suggests that Mikhailov and his associates provided data to the U.S. on Russian hackers at a time when there was cooperation with Washington, and that now looked “unpatriotic.”

“In 2010 our company ChronoPay informed the FSB leadership that Mikhailov was passing personal information about Russian citizens to the U.S. agencies, [so] the FSB leadership must have been aware of what Mikhailov’s department was doing, but they did nothing to stop them,” says Artimovich.

“Since the arrests, the entire FSB management has been distant from their case,” says Artimovich.

Sergei Markov, a member of the Russian Public Chamber thinks that Mikhailov and other suspects were responsible for cyber attacks in the cyber war with the U.S.

“One thing is clear: that the roots of their treason, of their espionage, stretch far beyond Russia’s border,” Markos told The Daily Beast. “This case has a high political price, I do not think we should share any details with Trump’s critics before the [U.S.] elections for Congress [in November 2018],” Markov explained.

Team 29’s strategy is to turn the most absurd cases into a joke, since “the only thing the state system cannot stand is when you laugh at them,” says Pavlov.

Last year the attorney started a campaign in support of his client Oksana Sevastidi,  a 46-year-old mother of seven. In March 2016 Sevastidi had been sentenced for high treason by a secret court in Krasnodar for sending two text messages back in 2008 about Russian movements in the direction of Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia.

“It is absurd for a nuclear power to sentence a market vendor for seven years for state treason,” Pavlov told The Daily Beast.

In March, President Putin pardoned Sevastidi.

But by then there was a long line of convicts charged with treason and extremism asking Team 29 to help them.

Recently Pavlov came to Moscow to meet two more women whose freedom he had won. Annik Kesyan and Marina Dzhadzhgava had served several years for treason for sending messages about Russian army movement in 2008. President Putin pardoned Kesyan and Dzhadzhgava, after Team 29 attracted public attention to their cases.

But Pavlov’s cybersecurity treason case is stuck.

The Kremlin has kept denying any intrusion in the U.S. elections and blamed the reports about Russian hackers on Russophobia. Trump in the immediate wake of the January 6 report conceded grudgingly that Russia had interfered in the U.S. elections, but has since gone back to his allegations of “fake news.”

The level of bitterness about this among veterans of counterintelligence like former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is palpable. Speaking of Trump at the Aspen Security Forum last month, Clapper said, “I sometimes wonder whether … what he’s about is making Russia great again.”

President Putin, for his part, has said he believes that U.S. president Donald Trump agreed with Russia’s denial, which would reinforce the idea that Trump is rejecting the conclusions made by U.S. intelligence agencies and choosing to believe Moscow instead.

Irina Borogan, a Russian independent expert on cybersecurity and cyber wars, told The Daily Beast that it is impossible at a technical level to have any exact attribution about the attacks being ordered by the Kremlin.

“The technical expertise identifies general pieces of coding, the methods of the attack, of botnet, hacker groups,” Borogan said. In this particular case, she said, it might be clear that “the attack was ordered by the Russian Federation, but they did not sign: ‘Moscow, the Kremlin.”

That’s another reason that the positive identification by the U.S. intelligence of Putin as the person who directed the interference in the U.S. elections would seem to be related to human intelligence gathering rather than technical means. But it is also possible that in this dark and dirty game, the four arrested in December were mere scapegoats.

Like many other people in Russia, Borogan, the author of The Red Web about Russia’s attack on internet freedoms, cannot wait to hear what sort of state secrets Pavlov’s client allegedly passed abroad.  “We see a uniquely dumb secrecy, which gives us a sense that the suspects are actually not guilty of treason,” Borogan told The Daily Beast.

Anna Nemtsova Daily Beast  

Spencer Ackerman and Christopher Dickey also contributed to this article.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/did-a-mole-who-must-not-be-named-leak-

Advertisements

Former MI8 officer Christopher Steele ambushed by a bunch of lame Nunes’ hacks

Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele in London. The dossier contained explosive allegations about Trump and the Kremlin. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Two US congressional staffers who traveled to London in July and tried to contact former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele were sent by a long-standing aide to Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House intelligence committee and a close ally of the White House.

The trip has brought back to the surface a continuing struggle for control of the committee’s investigation into Moscow’s role in the 2016 US election. The reliability of a dossier compiled by Steele, containing explosive allegations of extensive secret collusion between Trump and the Kremlin, is a key part of that investigation.

The two staffers turned up unannounced at Steele’s lawyers’ offices while the former MI6 officer was in the building, according to a report by Politico on Friday. But the committee’s leading Democrat, Adam Schiff, said on Sunday neither he nor his Republican counterpart had been informed about the staffers’ London trip.

A congressional official insisted, however, that the staffers were in London on official committee business. He said they had been told to make contact with Steele’s lawyers, rather than Steele himself.

“It was an intelligence committee trip although going to meet with the lawyer was not the sole purpose of the trip. They were also there on other committee business,” the official said, but he added he could not describe what else the committee staffers were doing in London.

“Them being sent to meet with the lawyers was at the behest of the committee staff director,” the official added, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The House intelligence committee’s staff director is Damon Nelson, who worked as deputy chief of staff for Devin Nunes from 2003 until 2014 and then as a senior adviser before moving in 2015 to the staff of the committee which Nunes chairs. Nunes was a member of Trump’s transition team on security and enraged Democrats by maintaining close contact with the president and making a secret visit late at night to the White House in March to view supposedly secret information without telling other committee members.

The staffers were sent by an aide to Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee and a close Trump ally. Photograph: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Nunes stepped aside from the committee’s Russia investigation in April, months before the London trip, after becoming the subject of an inquiry by the House ethics panel into whether he disclosed classified information in a bid to discredit the Obama administration. The Republican congressman Mike Conaway took over Nunes’s duties directing the Russia inquiry. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, has since praised Conaway’s cooperation into investigating the links between the Trump campaign and Moscow, but has also complained that Nunes has continued to intervene in the investigation, despite his understanding to stay out of it pending the ethics inquiry.

The staffers were sent by an aide to Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee and a close Trump ally.View photos

Schiff’s office declined to comment, and Conaway’s office did not reply to a request for comment. But Schiff said on Sunday that neither of them had been told about the London visit aimed at establishing contacts with a key witness.

“I wasn’t aware of it, and I don’t think Mr Conaway was either,” Schiff told CNN. “But the reality is we do want to meet with Mr Steele, would like him to come before the committee. If he’s not willing to do that, we’d be happy – Mr Conaway and myself – to go to London to sit down with him. He does have, certainly, very relevant information that would assist our investigation.”

Steele’s dossier on Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russian government was compiled in 2016 for a Washington research company, Fusion GPS, and commissioned by Trump’s election opponents, first Republicans in the primaries, and then Democrats.

It was presented by Republican Senator John McCain to the then FBI director, James Comey, in December, and has since been part of a wide-ranging inquiry into possible collusion, now under the control of special counsel Robert Mueller.

A congressional official insisted it would not be unusual for a committee staff director to organize a foreign fact-finding trip on his own authority.

However, Adam Blickstein, a former Democrat spokesman on the House intelligence committee, said he found that unlikely in such a sensitive investigation.

“In this specific scenario, I can’t imagine a staff director sending two staffers on this trip without the chairman knowing about it,” Blickstein said. “That wouldn’t pass the smell test.”

“I find the fact that they presumably spent taxpayer money to undertake such a hyperpartisan and unprofessional effort extremely troubling,” John Sipher, a former senior CIA officer said in an emailed comment. “There are normal ways to do this through our existing institutions, and their relationships with our British partners. This is bad on many levels.

“Republicans that are part of the House investigation should not be undertaking efforts without informing their Democratic colleagues,” Sipher added. “Not only is it unprofessional but it is impolite. Mr Steele was a professional who worked on important and compatible issues with the US. He deserves better than being ambushed by a bunch of hacks.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/secretive-search-man-behind-trump-004816327.html

Trump’s 3 am moment looms, and The World feels threatened

So far, the crises that President Donald Trump has faced while in office have all been of his own making.
However, Republican strategist Rick Wilson warns that is going to change — and he says the way the Trump administration so far has responded to its own self-inflicted crises should “terrify us all.”

“Crisis tests the mental acuity and character of presidents,” he writes in the Daily Beast. “It demands a degree of focus and reveals character like nothing else.”

Unfortunately for the United States, writes Wilson, our current president seems completely ill equipped to handle a Cuban missile crisis, a housing market crash, or a 9/11-style terrorist attack.

“What we know of Donald Trump is that he lacks all of these characteristics, and while some of his advisers have shining parts, he ignores those who offer him counsel on how to behave, govern, and lead as a president,” he explains. “The Scaramucci sideshow was one more example of how deeply unready Trump is for a real crisis and how at risk our nation is because the president is temperamentally (and, let’s be real, mentally) unfit to serve.”

So what should we do when an inevitable external crisis arises? Wilson says we should hope for the best — while expecting the worst.

“The way Trump governs himself when America isn’t under overt attack should sober you,” he says. “The prospect of how he’ll respond when we are should terrify us all.”

http://www.rawstory.com/2017/08/trumps-3-a-m-phone-call-is-coming-and-his-response-should-should-terrify-us-all-gop-strategist/

Globally, more people see U.S. power and influence as a major threat

Concerns about American power and influence have risen in countries around the world amid steep drops in U.S. favorability and confidence in the U.S. president.

Across 30 nations surveyed by Pew Research Center both in 2013 and this spring, a median of 38% now say U.S. power and influence poses a major threat to their country, up 13 percentage points from 2013.

Concerns about U.S. power as a threat are comparable to worries over Chinese and Russian power in much of the world. About three-in-ten around the globe name China or Russia as a major threat.

It’s worth noting that worries about all three countries trail concerns about other tested threats. People are much more likely to feel threatened by ISIS and climate change, in particular, but also by the condition of the global economy, cyberattacks, and refugees from countries like Iraq and Syria.

Nevertheless, the proportion of the public that views American power as a major threat to their country grew in 21 of the 30 nations between 2013 and 2017. The largest increases occurred in Spain (42 percentage points), Chile (34 points), and Turkey and Ghana (28 points each).

Just in the past year, perceptions of the U.S. as a major threat have increased by at least 8 percentage points among several long-standing American allies, including Australia (13 points) and the UK (11 points). Concern about U.S. power is up 10 points in Canada, Germany and Sweden, and 8 points in France and the Netherlands.

In other countries, however, fewer people see the U.S. as a major threat compared with four years ago. In Poland and India, for example, the share of people who believe U.S. power is a large concern for their country decreased by 8 percentage points. And in Russia, the Philippines and Jordan, perceptions of American power as a major threat did not change between 2013 and 2017.

 

U.S. power and influence ranks as the top threat in only one country – Turkey (72%) – where it ranks 8 points higher than the second-greatest concern, refugee displacement from countries like Iraq and Syria. (Due to security concerns, the survey did not ask people in Turkey about the threat posed by ISIS.)

In Japan, people see China and the U.S. as almost equally threatening: 62% of Japanese respondents see the U.S. as a major threat while 64% say the same for China. On the other hand, fewer than one-in-five in Israel (17%) and Poland (15%) say American power is a major threat.

America’s neighbors, Mexico and Canada, both see the U.S. as more threatening than either China or Russia. In Mexico, a 61% majority perceives U.S. power as a major threat. And in Canada, 38% feel threatened by the U.S. This figure exceeds Canadians’ threat ratings of Russian and Chinese power (30% and 25%, respectively).

Concerns about U.S. power and influence differ by demographic groups across a number of key U.S. allies. In Australia, for example, women are 20 percentage points more likely than men to feel American power is a major threat. Women are also considerably more likely to view the U.S. as a major concern in Canada (16 points), Japan (11 points), the UK (11 points) and France (10 points).

Those on the ideological left are also more likely than those on the right to see U.S. power and influence as a large concern. In the UK, for example, 52% of those on the left see American power as a major threat to their country. Just 29% of Brits on the right agree. The left-right gap is 22 percentage points in South Korea, 20 points in Canada, 18 points in Australia, 13 points in Greece, 11 points in Sweden and 8 points in the Netherlands.

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/01/u-s-power-and-influence-increasingly-seen-as-threat-in-other-countries/

 

Putin’s got another big treasonous supporter in Congress

Dana Rohrabacher represents California’s 48th District. Orange County California. Congressman Rohrabacher serves as Chairman of the Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and is Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Rohrabacher is a hard right winger and a Trumpster and has won acclaim during his 13 terms from the National Taxpayers Union, Citizens Against Government Waste, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.

 

Financier Bill Browder has accused Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of violating federal sanctions by using information provided by Russian officials to try to convince Congress to overturn those sanctions.

Browder filed a complaint with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control this week saying Rohrabacher and his staff member, Paul Behrends, violated the Magnitsky Act by taking information from a sanctioned Russian official and using the information to try to change the act.

The act is named for attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after accusing several prominent Russians of stealing $230 million in taxes. Browder, who was Magnitsky’s boss, persuaded Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act in 2012. It prevents more than 40 prominent Russians involved in the affair from traveling to or banking in the U.S. The act infuriated Russian President Vladimir Putin, who retaliated by halting U.S. adoptions of Russian children.

The complaint relies heavily on a recent Daily Beast report about a memo Rohrabacher received detailing complaints about Magnitsky and Browder during a 2016 meeting in Moscow with a high-ranking Russian justice official who was among those sanctioned under the act.

Congress was considering expanding the act at the time, and there was an intense lobbying effort by a handful of people with Russian ties on Capitol Hill to have Magnitsky’s name removed from it.

In the complaint, Browder alleges Rohrabacher and Behrends “provided services to one of the central figures targeted by the Magnitsky Act” because they got information from the Russian official and used it to try to change the law.

In a statement responding to the complaint, Rohrabacher said he questions why Browder doesn’t want the congressman to get information from multiple sources.

“Anyone who knows me understands that I am the Member of Congress least likely to take directions from government officials, especially foreign government officials. Because of some grotesquely misleading headlines, Mr. Browder flatters himself by claiming that I contemplated conducting a hearing all about him. Perhaps he protests too much,” Rohrabacher said.

Browder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and called out Rohrabacher as part of Russian efforts to sway Congress to get rid of the Magnitsky Act. It’s unusual for a sitting member of Congress to be called out by a witness on Capitol Hill, but senators didn’t react to the statement.

“We know for sure that part of their campaign was running around Capitol Hill. One of the people that they were able to convince to go along with them is a member of the House of Representatives from Orange County, Dana Rohrabacher, who they have met with on a number of occasions and who has been effectively touting, or spreading their propaganda around the House of Representatives,” Browder said.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-updates-complaint-filed-over-rohrabacher-

 

While you console yourself with all of Trumps failures, remember he’s still a wrecking ball swinging through our country

Trump has been paralyzed on healthcare and tax reform, but his administration has been active in eroding safeguards and protections elsewhere

 

Six ways Trump is ‘dismantling’ the US after six months in office

Business and the economy

Given all that Donald Trump promised the business world during his bombastic campaign, it’s tempting to dismiss the president’s first six months with a “meh”. It would also be myopic.

While protesters are worried about the future, the president has so far failed to pass his tax reforms, which business wanted. But at the same time fears that his China rhetoric, threats of trade wars and Tweets about penalties for US businesses who ship jobs overseas, have not amounted to much.

The economic trends started under Obama have continued: stock markets have continued their giddy ride to uncharted highs, unemployment has continued to drift down and interest rates have remained low.

Trump’s overture may seem a little weak but the president has already made significant moves and still more may be happening in the wings. Trump has ordered a review of Dodd-Frank, the regulations brought in to tame US financial institutions after they triggered the worst recession in living memory. He has appointed a sworn enemy of net neutrality over at the Federal Communications Commission who is now working to dismantle Obama-era open internet protections. He has freed up energy firms to start polluting rivers again and scrapped a rule which barred companies from receiving federal contracts if they had a history of violating wage, labor or safety laws.

After years of gains for consumer, environmental and worker rights groups, the pendulum is being swung the other way – but most often those changes are happening behind closed doors.

In March, Trump pledged to “remove every job-killing regulation we can find” and deregulation teams have been set up to comb through the statutes looking for rules to cull. A recent ProPublica and New York Times investigation found Trump’s deregulation teams were being conducted in the dark in large part by appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts of interest.

It’s hardly surprising given that the Trump administration has literally removed the White House visitors book, so we may never know who has been whispering in the president’s ear. Six months in, it is hard to tell what is being cut and by whom. We may never know the consequences of Trump’s regulation death squads until it’s too late. Dominic Rushe

The environment

In the past week, both Emmanuel Macron and Sir Richard Branson have claimed that Donald Trump has been gripped by regret over his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement. But hopes that the US president will reverse this decision sit uneasily with the consistency of his administration’s environmental rollbacks.

In Scott Pruitt, Trump has an Environmental Protection Agency chief who understands how the agency works and how to hobble it. Pruitt, who has dismissed the mainstream scientific understanding of climate change, has spearheaded a concerted effort to excise or delay dozens of environmental rules.

Emissions standards for cars and trucks, the clean power plan, water pollution restrictions, a proposed ban on a pesticide linked to developmental problems in children, regulations that stop power plants dumping toxins such as mercury into their surrounds – all have been targeted with efficacious zeal by Pruitt.

The EPA administrator was also a fierce proponent of a US exit from the Paris accord, ensuring that Trump wasn’t swayed by doubts raised by Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and Ivanka Trump, his daughter and adviser. The US won’t be able to officially pull out until 2020, but the decision has dealt a hefty blow to the effort to slow dangerous global warming and provided a tangible victory for the nationalist, climate change denying elements that now roam the White House.

Elsewhere, public land has been thrown open to coal mining – an industry repeatedly fetishized by Trump – and oil and gas drilling is being ushered into America’s Arctic and Atlantic waters. Two dozen national monuments are under review, several may be shrunk or even eliminated. In less than six months, Trump has begun to tear up almost all of the key planks of Barack Obama’s environmental agenda. This blitzkrieg is likely to slow now that it faces a thicket of legal action launched by enraged environmental groups and some states, such as New York. But to Trump’s supporters, the president, who pledged during the campaign to reduce the EPA to “tidbits”, is delivering on his crusade to transport the environmental and industrial outlook of the late 19th century to the modern day. Oliver Milman

Immigration

Donald Trump’s bluster over his harsh immigration reform – namely the implementation of a diluted Muslim-targeted travel ban and a crackdown on undocumented immigrants – belies the cost these self-proclaimed victories have had on both the fundamental institutions of democracy and the most vulnerable communities in the United States.

Take the travel ban, which targets refugees and visa applicants from six Muslim majority countries. The president’s first failed order, haphazardly issued in January, provoked scenes of chaos at airports around the country – temporarily separating families, canceling legitimately issued visas and propelling the country towards a constitutional crisis, before a series of federal courts intervened to block it.

After his second attempt in March was blocked again in the lower courts, the president, seemingly without care for due process or respect for the co-equal branches of government, threatened to simply abolish the federal appeals court he incorrectly identified as responsible for the decision.

‘I have the right to be here’: becoming an American under a Trump presidency

Trump’s bullish perseverance on the ban, which has left many in Muslim and refugee communities around the US living in fear, has resulted in a temporary ruling in the supreme court that allows a much-diluted version of the order to come into effect. Although the president heralded the decision a victory, the ultimate test comes in autumn when the country’s highest court will ultimately rule on the ban’s constitutionality.

The president has also moved quickly to supercharge efforts to round up and deport undocumented immigrants. By empowering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), the federal agency responsible deportations, to target essentially anyone in the country without legal paperwork, the number of immigration arrests has soared. Although the administration has celebrated this uptick, it has actually been able to deport people at a much slower rate due to the crippling backlog inside America’s immigration courts.

Trump’s attempt at a solution to this has been to create a network of new courts, attached to remote detention centers and far from the reach of immigration attorneys. The strategy, plagued with due process concerns, has enjoyed mixed success. But, once again, it is those most vulnerable – many of whom have lived in America without paperwork for decades and have no criminal history – who have paid the highest price. Oliver Laughland

no one wants to sit next to the mean kid

Diplomacy

First, the good news. Donald Trump has not started a war. He has, therefore, so far, avoided the worst case scenario that some predicted for his presidency. One-eighth of the way through his term, he does not yet have a stain on his record like George W Bush has with Iraq. Instead, his Twitter spats with cable TV hosts and their indulgence by the media are a luxury of peacetime.

But in other, important ways, the US president has set about diminishing America’s global leadership role and diplomatic standing. He has emphasized the defense of America and western civilization and downplayed democracy and human rights. He has warmed to authoritarian leaders in China, the Philippines, Russia, and Saudi Arabia while going cold on Britain (still no visit), the European Union and Australia. His attacks on the press send an alarming message to dictators everywhere.

The world has noticed. A major survey of 37 countries by Pew Research last month found that just 22% of respondents had some or a great deal of confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. After his performance at Nato and G7 meetings, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said pointedly: “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over. I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.” At the G-20, he cut a lonely, isolated figure.

Trump appears to push aside Montenegro PM at Nato photocall

This damage could be undone relatively quickly but the “America first” president’s proposed 30% cut to the state department, where many top staff have left and not been replaced, threatens to be a lasting legacy. Max Bergmann, a former official, wrote in Politico: “The deconstruction of the state department is well underway… This is how diplomacy dies. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. With empty offices on a midweek afternoon.”

The outlier in Trump’s foreign policy came on 6 April, when the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at an airfield in Syria in retaliation for the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. It was a move welcomed by hawks and loathed by “anti-globalists” in Trump’s support base. But the most urgent issue, enough to test any US president, is North Korea. There is little evidence so far to suggest he will succeed where others have failed. David Smith

 

Gender and Equality

Trump’s White House has wasted little time erasing many of the changes that advocates for trans rights, reproductive rights and survivors of sexual assault achieved under the Obama administration.

The Trump team is in the middle of sharply reversing how the federal government enforces laws against gender bias. In February, the administration withdrew the Obama-era guidelines requiring schools to give transgender students unfettered access to bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity. And Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, may restrict the federal government’s ability to intervene when colleges and universities do a questionable job of handling students’ complaints of sexual assault.

Trump is also attempting to dismantle the nation’s public safety net for family planning, with an assist from his party in Congress. The president has signed legislation encouraging states to withhold federal family planning dollars from Planned Parenthood. The latest version of Republican’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act would eliminate the birth control mandate – which is also under fire from Trump’s health department – not to mention maternity coverage requirements.

Every repeal attempt has contained a measure to block women on Medicaid from using their insurance at Planned Parenthood – measures that would shutter scores of Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. And the administration is poised to give the green light to states, like Texas, that axe Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs.

The White House also has aims to zero out funding for the government-funded Legal Services Corporation, which is the main source of legal assistance for women attempting to escape domestic violence, when Congress passes a budget this fall.

Finally, there’s US supreme court justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia, who observers say “has all the makings of an extreme anti-abortion justice”. Trump named Gorsuch eleven days into his presidency, fulfilling a longtime campaign promise to nominate justices who will vote to overturn Roe v Wade. Molly Redden

 

Criminal justice

Much of what the federal government can do on criminal justice is left to Congress since most criminal justice happens at state and local, rather than federal levels. However, Trump’s administration hasn’t spared much time doing what it can to reverse a roughly decades long retreat from the peak of tough-on-crime, mass-incarceration dogma.

So far, efforts on criminal justice have been much more sizzle than steak, but the prospect of dramatic policy change looms just around the corner. Stuffed in a suite of executive orders signed in February, Trump commissioned a task force to make recommendations on combating “the menace of rising crime”, which has been an enduring theme of the administration despite being debunked by experts. That task force, which reportedly, and curiously, does not include police chiefs or criminologists is scheduled to make its recommendations on 27 July.

“If you’re going to see anything from the Trump administration proposing new [or longer] mandatory minimums and a general return to the tough on crime tactics, I think you’ll see those recommendations made by the task force,” said Ames Grawert, a criminal justice researcher with the Brennan Center for Justice.

It remains unclear how much support there might be in Congress for taking up such recommendations. As recently as December there was real momentum behind a bipartisan bill to make sentencing less punitive, not more.

In the interim, attorney general Jeff Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors to seek the highest possible penalty in every case and has championed initiatives to push state cases for federal prosecutors to obtain harsher sentencing.

In another reversal from the Obama era, Sessions has also signaled that the DoJ will not use its authority to investigate or reform local police departments, even in cases where gross negligence, or rampant civil rights violations may be occurring. Sessions tried and failed, to pause a consent decree negotiated in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray unrest, and his department has so far flaked-out of a similar effort that was slated for Chicago under the previous administration.

“We will not sign consent decrees for political expediency that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of the criminals,” Sessions wrote in an April 18 op-ed in USA Today. Jamiles Lartey

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/19/six-ways-trump-is-dismantling-america-after-six-months-in-white-house?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=235673&subid=9599609&CMP=GT_US_collection

Trump Jr keeps lying and the right wants to get their way no matter what the price

A Russian American lobbyist and veteran of the Soviet military said Friday that he attended a June 2016 meeting between President Trump’s oldest son and a Kremlin-connected attorney.

The presence of Rinat Akhmetshin adds to the number of people in attendance at the Trump Tower gathering that emerged this week as the clearest evidence so far of interactions between Trump campaign officials and Russia.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Akhmetshin said he participated in the session with several others. His role in the meeting was first reported by NBC News and the Associated Press.

Akhmetshin, a U.S. citizen, was lobbying at the time against U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia for human rights violations.

Trump Jr. has waved away concerns about the 30-minute session, which he agreed to because he was promised negative information about his father’s political opponent, Hillary Clinton. He was joined at the meeting by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, then chairman of the Trump campaign.

Trump Jr. has said that he did not receive the negative information on Clinton that he was promised by an acquaintance, Goldstone, and that he did not know the people with whom he was meeting.

Veselnitskaya said she and Akhmetshin were working at the time defending a Russian businessman from federal charges of money laundering in a suit that was settled early this year.

Akhmetshin was born in Russia, served in the military and told people he had worked in intelligence, according to one person who said he worked with Akhmetshin in the past but asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about it.

Akhmetshin emphatically denied to The Washington Post that he ever worked as an intelligence agent though he did confirm that he served as an 18-year-old draftee for two years in a unit of the Soviet military that had responsibility for law enforcement issues as well as some counterintelligence matters.

He said that he became a U.S. citizen in 2009 and is also still a Russian citizen.

According to AP, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin knows nothing about Akhmetshin.

Akhmetshin’s participation raises the level of the concern about the meeting. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said he was disturbed by the news.

“Today’s report that a former Russian counterintelligence officer was also present during the meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, if accurate, adds another deeply disturbing fact about this secret meeting,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

 

 

Rinat Akhmetshin is a Hacker and a spy

Rinat Akhmetshin, the former Russian intelligence officer who took part in Donald Trump Jr.’s infamous meeting at Trump Tower last June 9, has been accused of masterminding an international hacking conspiracy.

The Daily Beast reports that a case filed with New York Supreme Court in 2015 alleges that Akhmetshin successfully orchestrated the hacking of two computer systems and stole documents from International Mineral Resources (IMR), a Russian mining company.

“The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. was told in July 2015 that Akhmetshin had arranged the hacking of a mining company’s private records — stealing internal documents and then disseminating them,” the Daily Beast reports. “The corporate espionage case was brought by IMR, who alleged that Akhmetshin was hired by Russian oligarch Andrey Melinchenko, an industrialist worth around $12 billion.”

Akhmetshin denied that he orchestrated any hacking of the company, but acknowledged that he “found” a hard drive that just happened to contain sensitive IMR documents.

Akhmetshin, a registered congressional lobbyist, has in the past also done work on behalf of Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was also present at the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower.

The Right wants to get their way no matter what the price

To many, the revelation that Donald Trump Jr. was anxious to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians will not come as a surprise. It is but the latest example of the take-no-prisoners, anything-goes politics of our day. Sure, soliciting help from a hostile foreign power is exceptional, and it is certainly true that the Trumps have taken “unconventional” politics to new heights. But how we do politics in the United States, the boundaries of acceptable behavior, has been shifting for two decades.

The real surprise – the part of the story that we should be gravely concerned about – is that this disclosure will not matter to a great many American voters. After thinking and writing about politics for two decades, I have come to the conclusion that the real issue we face is not the conduct of public officials or their surrogates, but how nefarious acts are now sanctioned, and even applauded, by so many on both sides of the partisan fence.

So what’s changed in our politics?

Fear and loathing

For one, the nature of partisanship is different. Until about a decade ago, one’s attachment to a party was centered around policy disputes or cues from groups and associations. But today’s version is grounded in the fear and loathing of the other side. Trunkloads of data, much of it from the Pew Research Center, suggest each side sees the other party as crazy and certainly dangerous. So it does not matter what your side does so long as it keeps the nut jobs on the other side at bay.

A new volume by political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels further helps to fine-tune our understanding how people vote and which party they identify with. Their book, “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” suggests “issue congruence [between voters and parties], in so far as it exists, is mostly a byproduct of other connections, most of them lacking policy content.” In other words, we don’t think through issues, policies and candidate characteristics, but instead see elections as “us versus them.” These scholars argue voters tie themselves with racial, ethnic, occupational, religious, recreational and other groups, with partisanship as the byproduct. Our group identity, not policy concerns or ideology, determines vote choice. That is to say, we gather comfortably with our tribe and tune out other points of view.

A central force propelling hostility toward the “other” party is the partisan media. Many such outlets have figured out a sustainable business model. Smaller audiences can be profitable, so long as they remain loyal. Loyalty springs from “crisis” and, of course, “menace.” This leads to treating every issue as a true threat to our existence or a usurpation of fundamental “rights.” The other party is always the villain, and your side can do no wrong – so long as it is for the grand struggle.

And then there is the online world. Voters rarely explore new ideas and perspectives, but share, like and retweet concordant ones. We fence in and we fence out. As recently noted by journalist and author Megan McArdle, “Social media, of course, makes this problem worse. Even if we are not deliberately blocking people who disagree with us, Facebook curates our feeds so that we get more of the stuff we ‘like.’ What do we ‘like’? People and posts that agree with us.”

Sorting and filtering

Is the filtering of information really a new development? It is not at all clear that voters have ever absorbed a broad range of information or shifted though competing evidence. It is likely party bosses, elected officials, candidates and even media elites have always been able to manipulate mass opinion to a degree. Cognitive time-saving cues, especially party identification, have always been used to sort and filter.

But something very different is happening today. In the recent past, news was more widely viewed as objective, leading to a high degree of accepted facts and authority. When the news media unraveled the story of Watergate, for example, citizens of all partisan stripes accepted it as fact. What scholars dubbed “short-term influences” could override partisan leanings.

Which leads us to “alternative facts,” the aggressive spinning of policies and arguments regardless of contrary verifiable information. This may be a game-changer in our politics. The barrier for evidence has, it seems, evaporated, and emotion-rich information is used to draw more viewers, readers and listeners. If we add the continual drive for fresh “news” and the high costs of creating traditional journalism, we are left with little consensus or authority. New York Times blogger Farhad Manjoo put it this way: “We are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest – we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not.”

Finally, popular culture has also probably contributed to our growing indifference to nefarious acts. We pick our reality show contestant and applaud every backhanded, despicable move that gets him across the finish line. There can’t be two winners or a collective good, only a sole survivor. Or shall we say that only one apprentice can get the job? And the best part of the show – the segment that really gets the producers juiced – is when things get truly ugly.

Democratic accountability

The latest Trump team revelation is a shocker, but even more stunning is the meager impact it will likely have on his supporters. As noted in a recent USA Today story, in Trump country the Russia disclosure is no big deal.

As voters, citizens are called to judge those in power. But there must be an objective standard for the assessment, which is why the framers of the Constitution put so much stock in a free press. The governed in a democracy must be willing and able to fairly judge the acts of the governors. But today “your side” has always done a good job and the “other” party has always failed. Any contrary revelation can be explained away as fake news.

The key ingredient in the democratic accountability process – objectivity – is disappearing, and the foundation of our limited government has been shaken. In Federalist #51 and elsewhere, James Madison wrote, “A dependence upon the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government…” Many are starting to wonder if Americans are up to the job – and whether the fate of the grand experiment is at risk.

excepts From the Washington Post,  Raw Story and The Conversation

Another astoundingly dumb “deal” by Donny Dealmaker; a cybersecurity deal with his BFF Putin

We might as well mail our ballot boxes to Moscow!

Congressman Adam Schiff

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) blasted President Trump’s idea of working together with Russia on election hacking, saying if that were to happen, “we might as well mail our ballot boxes to Moscow.”

“I don’t think we can expect the Russians to be any kind of credible partner in some cyber security unit. I think that would be dangerously naïve for this country. If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow,” Schiff told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”

Trump said in tweets earlier Sunday that he had pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin on Russian election meddling, but said the two leaders discussed forming “an impenetrable Cyber Security unit.” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on the same show called for further cooperation with the Russians on cyber security, despite a lack of trust between Washington and Moscow.

“We need them, you know, what we think should happen, shouldn’t happen, and if we talk to them about it, hopefully we can get them to stop,” Haley said on CNN.

“It doesn’t mean we ever take our eyes off of the ball, it doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia, and we won’t ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don’t trust closer, so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check,” she continued.

Vladimir Putin could be of “enormous assistance”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday joked that he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin could be of “enormous assistance” regarding cybersecurity because he is the one doing the hacking.

During an interview on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” McCain was asked about President Trump’s earlier tweet in which the president said he talked with Putin during their meeting about creating an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to guard against election hacking.

“I’m sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort since he is doing the hacking,” McCain said, laughing.

Valdy casts a loving glance at Donny