Americans Being Patriotic; the Russian way

Russians Appear to Use Facebook to Push Trump Rallies in 17 U.S. Cities

Daily Beast Exclusive:‘Being Patriotic,’ a Facebook group uncovered by The Daily Beast, is the first evidence of suspected Russian provocateurs explicitly mobilizing Trump supporters in real life.

Suspected Russia propagandists on Facebook tried to organize more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida during last year’s election, The Daily Beast has learned.

The demonstrations—at least one of which was promoted online by local pro-Trump activists— brought dozens of supporters together in real life. They appear to be the first case of Russian provocateurs successfully mobilizing Americans over Facebook in direct support of Donald Trump.

The Aug. 20, 2016, events were collectively called “Florida Goes Trump!” and they were billed as a “patriotic state-wide flash mob,” unfolding simultaneously in 17 different cities and towns in the battleground state. It’s difficult to determine how many of those locations actually witnessed any turnout, in part because Facebook’s recent deletion of hundreds of Russian accounts hid much of the evidence. But videos and photos from two of the locations—Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs—were reposted to a Facebook page run by the local Trump campaign chair, where they remain to this day.

“On August 20, we want to gather patriots on the streets of Floridian towns and cities and march to unite America and support Donald Trump!” read the Facebook event page for the demonstrations. “Our flash mob will occur in several places at the same time; more details about locations will be added later. Go Donald!”

The Florida flash mob was one of at least four pro-Trump or anti-Hillary Clinton demonstrations conceived and organized over a Facebook page called “Being Patriotic,” and a related Twitter account called “march_for_trump.”  (The Daily Beast identified the accounts in a software-assisted review of politically themed social-media profiles.)

Being Patriotic had 200,000 followers and the strongest activist bent of any of the suspected Russian Facebook election pages that have so far emerged. Events promoted by the page last year included a July “Down With Hillary!” protest outside Clinton’s New York campaign headquarters, a September 11 pro-Trump demonstration in Manhattan, simultaneous “Miners for Trump” demonstrations in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in October, and a pro-Trump rally outside Trump Tower last November, after his election victory.

The Being Patriotic Facebook page was closed in August 2017—right when Facebook purged accounts secretly operated by a notorious St. Petersburg troll factory called Internet Research Agency. According to a public report by U.S. intelligence agencies (PDF), Internet Research Agency is financed by “a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence.” Being Patriotic’s posts included scores of pro-Trump or anti-Clinton memes framed and watermarked in the same style as those found on the Heart of Texas and Secured Borders Facebook pages previously identified as Russian operations.

The Being Patriotic Twitter account was suspended at around the same time.

A Facebook spokesman told The Daily Beast the company was “not able to confirm any of the details here,” in response to a question about the Russian origin of Being Patriotic, but did not challenge The Daily Beast’s reporting.

On Sept. 6, Facebook acknowledged for the first time that inauthentic accounts from 2015 to 2017 promoted what the company’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, characterized as “divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum.” But Stamos said that most of the fraudulent activity it found—some 3,000 ads connected to 470 now-shuttered accounts linked to Russian troll farms—“didn’t specifically reference the U.S. presidential election, voting, or a particular candidate.”

After The Daily Beast found known Russian accounts that used Facebook’s Events tool to promote rallies inside the United States, the company said that it was not well positioned to determine “if something like coordination occurred” between the Trump campaign and Russia—something investigators and security researchers doubt because of the social network’s massive trove of information on its customers.

But the discovery of the Being Patriotic rallies suggests that the fraudulent activity on Facebook did indeed involve messaging on behalf of Trump, did prompt at least some Americans to rally on Trump’s behalf, and did result in the Trump campaign volunteers subsequently sharing material from those events.

The pro-Trump events represent “the next level” of suspected Russian influence operations, said Clint Watts, a former FBI agent who has testified about those operations to a Senate committee investigating them.

“This would be a direct effort that they attempted that’s more than online promotion,” Watts told The Daily Beast. “‘Let’s organize and try to get people to move to events in a proactive way around a candidate. Again, if it traces back to Russia, you can’t deny that’s foreign influence in an election.”

The extent of Being Patriotic’s impact is not clear. In June of last year, for example, the Being Patriotic Facebook page asked participants to “gather in front of Trump Tower, N.Y.” The event received call-outs on Facebook and Twitter, and 138 people marked themselves as “attending” on Facebook. Over 400 marked themselves as interested.

March_For_Trump specifically reached out to Nick Toma, a local news anchor in Scranton, Pennsylvania, for coverage of a “Miners for Trump” rally it promoted last October, only a month before the election.

“@NickTomaWBRE Hi, Nick! We’re holding a ‘Miners for Trump’ rally tomorrow. If you’re interested in covering it, please let us know,” March_for_Trump wrote on October 1st.

When Toma was emailed the link to the tweet, he told The Daily Beast: “Don’t recall ever seeing it before.”

Facebook has turned over some of the illicit ads to special prosecutor Robert Mueller after a federal judge issued a search warrant for the material, according to CNN. Facebook also showed congressional investigators that material but did not leave it with them. Legislators investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election have expressed frustration over what they describe as insufficient disclosures to Congress, and have indicated that they will seek public testimony from Facebook and other social-media companies.

Watts, the former FBI agent and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, noted that “plausible deniability is built into any Russian active-measures strategy,” such as using troll farms in St. Petersburg or Macedonia to conceal influence campaigns. But compelling unsuspecting Americans to gather in the streets on behalf of Trump shows the reach and efficacy of those efforts.

The page earned such a large following, a known Macedonian fake news distributor, Nikola Tanevski, purchased BeingPatriotic.com this year, but the page is currently dormant. Tanevski runs popular, pro-Trump fake news factories USATwentyFour.com and TheAmericanBacon.com. Attempts to reach Tanevski did not receive a response.

The layers of deception went beyond Facebook posts and manufactured rallies. When it wasn’t organizing events, Being Patriotic encouraged violence against minorities in incendiary posts. “Arrest and shoot every sh*thead taking part in burning our flag! #BLM vs #USA,” Being Patriotic’s Twitter account posted in April 2016, using the hashtag for the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

The account also advertised a toll-free “Being Patriotic Hotline” to report instances of voter fraud on Election Day.

“Detected a voter fraud? Tell us about it! Call 888-486-8102 or take photo/video and send it to us,” the account wrote on Nov. 8. Being Patriotic’s sister account, @March_for_Trump, plugged the same phone number, as well as a hotline for the “Trump Lawyer Team.” The number is now disconnected.

‘Broward’s Most Famous Trump Fan’

When asked for comment, the White House referred The Daily Beast to the Trump campaign, which, in turn, did not respond to emailed questions. But Susie Wiles, who served as Trump’s campaign manager in Florida, told The Daily Beast that the Broward County portion of the flash mob “was not an official campaign event.”

That’s despite the fact that the event was promoted on “Official Donald J. Trump for President Campaign Facebook Page for Broward County, Florida.” Photos and videos of the demonstration were posted there afterward.

When emailed the link to the Facebook posting, Wiles told The Daily Beast: “There are groups such as this across the state—and maybe other places, too. Groups of people get together and establish a presence such as this but it is unaffiliated with the campaign, per se. The photos ring no bells with me.”

Wiles also said that the Trump campaign’s purported Broward County Facebook page, which markets itself as being “official,” was not set up by the campaign.

“The Donald Trump campaign did not set these Facebook pages up,” she told The Daily Beast. “Rather, supporters (like the lady registered as the contact) set them up to support the campaign and subsequently the president.”

The “lady” registered as the contact is Dolly Trevino Rump, the Trump campaign’s chairwoman for Broward County who, until this April, was also the secretary of the local Republican Party. The Miami Herald described her as “perhaps Broward’s most famous Donald Trump fan.” Rump did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. Neither did the chairman of the Broward County Republican Party.

The Being Patriotic event listings for its Florida flashmobs included the names and phone numbers of people listed as local volunteer coordinators. When contacted by The Daily Beast, two of those coordinators vaguely recalled the events taking place, but not much else.

Betty Triguera, who was listed as a coordinator for a gathering in Sarasota, Florida, told The Daily Beast that she recalled but didn’t attend the event.

“We got the information from it on Twitter but I didn’t go,” Triguera said unable to remember other details.

Jim Frische, who was listed as a coordinator for an event in Clearwater, Florida, told The Daily Beast that he was called about organizing an event and put one together.

He said he was unsure if it was organized by the campaign.

“I don’t recall the group’s name,” Frische said. “I know somebody called and said would you organize something so I put together a group. “I remember doing it and I think we had a dozen or so people out on the street corner. I remember afterward hearing it had happened all over the state.”

 

http://www.thedailybeast.com/russians-appear-to-use-facebook-to-push-pro-trump-flash-mobs-in-florida?

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If Trump was worried about Mueller before he should be poopin’ his pants now

FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the “inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.

The warrant was first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal on Friday night and the news was later confirmed by CNN.

Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for the trajectory of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from President Donald Trump’s campaign team.

“This is big news — and potentially bad news for the Russian election interference ‘deniers,'” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent.

Rangappa, now an associate dean at Yale Law School, explained that to obtain a search warrant a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. The prosecutor then has to show that the information being sought will provide evidence of that crime.

Mueller would not have sought a warrant targeting Facebook as a company, Rangappa noted. Rather, he would have been interested in learning more about specific accounts.

“The key here, though, is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts — and their link to a potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give up the info,” she said. “That means that he has uncovered a great deal of evidence through other avenues of Russian election interference.”

It also means that Mueller is no longer looking at Russia’s election interference from a strict counterintelligence standpoint — rather, he now believes he may be able to obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign entities with a crime.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, now a partner at Thompson Coburn LLP, said that the revelation Mueller obtained a search warrant for Facebook content “may be the biggest news in the case since the Manafort raid.”

The FBI conducted a predawn July raid on the home of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in late July. The bureau is reportedly investigating Manafort’s financial history and overseas business dealings as part of its probe into possible collusion between the campaign and Moscow.

jared kushner

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens as President Donald Trump answer questions regarding the ongoing situation in North Korea, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The Facebook warrant “means that Mueller has concluded that specific foreign individuals committed a crime by making a ‘contribution’ in connection with an election,” Mariotti wrote on Saturday.

“It also means that he has evidence of that crime that convinced a federal magistrate judge of two things: first, that there was good reason to believe that the foreign individual committed the crime. Second, that evidence of the crime existed on Facebook.”

That has implications for Trump and his associates, too, Mariotti said.

“It is a crime to know that a crime is taking place and to help it succeed. That’s aiding and abetting. If any Trump associate knew about the foreign contributions that Mueller’s search warrant focused on and helped that effort in a tangible way, they could be charged.”

Congressional intelligence committees are homing in on the campaign’s data operation as a potential trove of incriminating information.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC earlier this month that he wants to know how sophisticated the Russian-bought ads were — in terms of their content and targets — to determine whether they had any help from the Trump campaign.

The House Intelligence Committee also wants to interview the digital director for Trump’s campaign, Brad Parscale, who worked closely with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Kushner was put in charge of the campaign’s entire data operation and is  now being scrutinized by the FBI over his contacts with Russia’s ambassador and the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank in December.

Facebook said in its initial statement that about 25% of the ads purchased by Russians during the election “were geographically targeted,” and many analysts have found it difficult to believe that foreign entities would have had the kind of granular knowledge of American politics necessary to target specific demographics and voting precincts.

In a post-election interview, Kushner told Forbes that he had been keenly interested in Facebook’s “micro-targeting” capabilities from early on.

“I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner said.

“We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world,” Kushner said. ”

And I asked them how to scale this stuff . . . We basically had to build a $400 million operation with 1,500 people operating in 50 states, in five months to then be taken apart. We started really from scratch,” he added.

http://www.businessinsider.com/mueller-obtains-warrant-for-russia-linked-facebook-ads-and-accounts-2017-9

More on Russia military. The Trojan horse move

Russian Victory Day Soldiers

Russia is about to kick off a war game that is freaking out NATO — Here’s what we know

Russia is going to war on Thursday, and even though it’s against a fictional country, NATO has been panicking about it for months.

Every four years, Moscow conducts its large Zapad military exercises in western Russia and Belarus for six days, and this year it will engage the fictional country of Veishnoriya in a test of its defensive capabilities.

The war games began in the 1970s, but weren’t held after the fall of the Soviet Union until 1999, when Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will be observing the games himself, reinstituted them.

The basic premise of the games is that Veishnoriya, in reality located in Belarus, is being taken over by western-backed militias — Zapad means “west” in Russian — with the help of two other fictional western-backed countries, Lubeniya and Vesbasriya, according to The New York Times. They are scheduled to end on Sep. 20.

But NATO has been fretting about these exercises for two reasons.

The first is that NATO claims Moscow is hiding the true number of the troops taking part in the exercises.

Russia officially says that the games will involve 12,700 troops, under the 13,000 that would require foreign observers according to the Vienna Document, while NATO has been estimating that number to be about 70,000 to 100,000 or more.

The main reason for the disparity in these estimates is caused by the disagreement over whether to count civilian officials and security agents as part of the overall number.

It’s also because Russia might conduct smaller exercises in the area that are not technically part of Zapad, and there’s even a tendency for the west to count full units as having participated in the exercises when in fact only parts of units were there.

Either way, that “100,000 figure is pretty off the wall,” Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague, previously told Business Insider in an email.

Russian Victory Day Soldiers

A number of other analysts previously told Business Insider much the same thing.

Sim Tack, chief military analyst at Force Analysis, and Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at CNA, told Business Insider that the 100,000 figure came from an amateur Ukrainian blog that miscalculated the number based off the total train cars that Moscow said it would use to transport troops to the games.

“A lot of people have just copied that [Ukrainian blog],” Tack said, which Estonia’s Defense Minister Margus Tsahkna first started spreading.

In any event, “it’s hard to know how many troops will be in the [2017 Zapad exercises]” because of the disagreement over who should be counted, Galeotti said.

The second thing NATO has been worried about is that Russia might use the games as a way to covertly keep some of their forces in Belarus permanently, effectively driving a spearhead into NATO’s lines.

“People are worried this is a Trojan horse,” US Army Gen. Ben Hodges told Reuters in July. “They say, ‘We’re just doing an exercise,’ and then all of a sudden they’ve moved all these people and capabilities somewhere.”

“For Russian troops going to Belarus, it is a one-way ticket,” Tsahkna also told Reuters.

But the “likelihood of this exercise serving as cover for some larger nefarious aim, whether it is an attack on Ukraine or Lithuania or a stealth occupation of Belarus, is practically zero,” Gorenburg wrote in The National Interest.

It’s “highly unlikely the Russians would park troops in Belarus uninvited,” Galeotti said. “Minsk has already made it clear that it would not welcome this,” and Moscow doesn’t have the budget to maintain troops there.

Russian Soldiers

Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, walk outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, March 14, 2014. Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters

And while some have even claimed that the west seeing Zapad as a threat helps Moscow, purportedly making Russia seem more powerful than it truly is, NATO has still deployed four international battalions to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia for safety precautions.

But instead of panicking about the games, the west, many have also said, should use the games to study Russia’s military capabilities, which have transformed and been restructured in many ways since the rise of Putin.

“The exercise is actually a very good opportunity for us to … get a better sense of what the Russian military is actually capable of: how it can handle logistics, move different units, or, in an operation, exercise command and control over combined armed formations in the Baltic theater, which is the one we’re principally concerned with, right?” says Michael Kofman, a research scientist at CNA, told RFERL.

“As we’ve seen before, Russians train exactly as they intend to fight,” undersecretary for policy at the Estonian Defense Ministry, Kristjan Prikk, said at an Atlantic Council event, according to RFERL. “Thus, Zapad will give ample information on their military development and certainly on their political thinking, as it is right now.”

http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-is-about-to-kick-off-a-war-game-that-is-freaking-out-nato-2017-9

Russia’s military show of force shakes up Europe, with Trump in charge we should worry too

The Russian Military dominates the Arctic these days and now they have Europe very concerned with their latest moves

TALLINN/VILNIUS (Reuters) – From planes, radar screens and ships in the Baltics, NATO officials say they are watching Russia’s biggest war games since 2013 with “calm and confidence”, but many are unnerved about what they see as Moscow testing its ability to wage war against the West.

NATO believes the exercises, officially starting on Thursday in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, are already underway. It says they are larger than Moscow has publicized, numbering some 100,000 troops, and involve firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

Codenamed Zapad or “West”, NATO officials say the drills will simulate a conflict with the U.S.-led alliance intended to show Russia’s ability to mass large numbers of troops at very short notice in the event of a conflict.

“NATO remains calm and vigilant,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week during a visit to an Estonian army base where British troops have been stationed since March.

But Lithuania’s Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis was less sanguine, voicing widely-felt fears that the drills risk triggering an accidental conflict or could allow Moscow to leave troops in neighboring Belarus.

“We can’t be totally calm. There is a large foreign army massed next to Lithuanian territory,” he told Reuters.

Some Western officials including the head of the U.S. Army in Europe, Gen. Ben Hodges, have raised concerns that Russia might use the drills as a “Trojan horse” to make incursions into Poland and Russian-speaking regions in the Baltics.

The Kremlin firmly rejects any such plans. Russia says some 13,000 troops from Russia and Belarus will be involved in the Sept. 14-20 drills, below an international threshold that requires large numbers of outside observers.

NATO will send three experts to so-called ‘visitor days’ during the exercises, but a NATO official said these were no substitute for meeting internationally-agreed norms at such exercises that include talking to soldiers and briefings.

Moscow says it is the West that threatens stability in eastern Europe because the U.S.-led NATO alliance has put a 4,000-strong multinational force in the Baltics and Poland.

Wrong-footed by Moscow in the recent past, with Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and its intervention in Syria’s war in 2015, NATO is distrustful of the Kremlin’s public message.

In Crimea, Moscow proved a master of “hybrid warfare”, with its mix of cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns and use of Russian and local forces without insignia.

One senior European security official said Zapad would merge manoeuvres across Russia’s four western military districts in a “complex, multi-dimensional aggressive, anti-NATO exercise”.

“It is all smoke and mirrors,” the official said, adding that the Soviet-era Zapad exercises that were revived in 1999 had included simulated nuclear strikes on Europe.

NATO officials say they have been watching Russia’s preparations for months, including the use of hundreds of rail cars to carry tanks and other heavy equipment into Belarus.

As a precaution, the U.S. Army has moved 600 paratroopers to the Baltics during Zapad and has taken over guardianship of the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which lack capable air forces and air defense systems.

NATO‘S NEXT MOVE?

Russia’s military show of force raises some uncomfortable questions for the alliance because NATO cannot yet mass large numbers of troops quickly, despite the United States’ military might, NATO officials and diplomats said.

NATO, a 29-nation defense pact created in 1949 to deter the Soviet threat, has already begun its biggest modernization since the Cold War, sending four battalions to the Baltics and Poland, setting up an agile, high-readiness spearhead force, and developing its cyberspace defenses.

But NATO has deliberately taken a slowly-slowly approach to its military build-up to avoid being sucked into a new arms race, even as Russia has stationed anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles in Kaliningrad, the Black Sea and Syria.

“The last thing we want is a military escalation with Russia,” said one senior NATO official involved in military planning, referring to Zapad.

In the event of any potential Russian incursion into the Baltics or Poland, NATO’s new multinational forces would quickly need large reinforcements. But a 40,000-strong force agreed in 2015 is still being developed, officials say.

Lithuania’s Karoblis said he hoped to see progress by the next summit of NATO leaders in July 2018.

Baltic politicians want more discretion given to NATO to fight any aggressor in the event of an attack, without waiting for the go-ahead from allied governments.

During Zapad, NATO is taking a low-key approach by running few exercises, including an annual sniper exercise in Lithuania. Only non-NATO member Sweden is holding a large-scale drill.

NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Everard told Reuters there was no need to mirror Zapad. “It’s not a competition,” he said during a visit to NATO forces in Latvia.

Fearing Russia, Sweden holds biggest war games in 20 years

GOTHENBURG, Sweden (Reuters) – Neutral Sweden has launched its biggest war games in two decades with support from NATO countries, drilling 19,000 troops after years of spending cuts that have left the country fearful of Russia’s growing military strength.

On the eve of Russia’s biggest maneuvers, since 2013, which NATO says will be greater than the 13,000 troops Moscow says are involved, Sweden will simulate an attack from the east on the Baltic island of Gotland, near the Swedish mainland.

“The security situation has taken a turn for the worse,” Micael Byden, the commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, said during a presentation of the three-week-long exercise.

Sweden, like the Baltics, Poland and much of the West, has been deeply troubled by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula Crimea and its support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.

“Russia is the country that affects security in Europe right now with its actions – the annexation of the Crimea and continued battles in eastern Ukraine – so it is clear that we are watching very closely what Russia is doing,” Byden said.

Around 1,500 troops from the United States, France, Norway and other NATO allies are taking part in the exercise dubbed Aurora.

Non-NATO member Sweden has decided to beef up its military after having let spending drop from over 2 percent of economic output in the early 1990s to around 1 percent, and is re-introducing conscription.

Sweden’s soldiers attend the Aurora 17 military exercise in Gothenburg, Sweden September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Johan Ahlander

The armed forces, which at one point could mobilize more than 600,000, stand at just 20,000, with 22,000 more Home Guard volunteers.

NATO generals say the Aurora exercise is not a response to Russian exercises that start on Thursday.

French soldiers work in weapon systems during the joint NATO exercise ‘Aurora 17’ at Save airfield in Goteborg, Sweden September 13, 2017. Henrik Brunnsgard/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

But Byden, speaking as U.S. and French forces displayed mobile surface-to-air missile systems to be deployed during the exercise, stressed the importance of NATO for Sweden.

“We are a sovereign country that takes care of and is responsible for our safety. We do this together with others, ready to both support and receive help,” he said.

The United States shipped vehicles by sea from Germany, while France brought others by train. They are to be moved via a classified route to Sweden’s east coast for the exercise where U.S. attack helicopters will play the enemy during Aurora.

The government is determined to stick to the country’s formal neutrality. Sweden has not fought a war since it clashed with Norway in 1814.

But like its non-NATO neighbor Finland, Sweden has been drawing closer to NATO, allowing closer cooperation with alliance troops, with a view to working together in the event of an armed conflict.

 

Trump’s Russian dream deal that never happened


WASHINGTON – In the third month of Donald Trump’s presidency, Vladimir Putin dispatched one of his diplomats to the State Department to deliver a bold proposition: The full normalization of relations between the United States and Russia across all major branches of government.
The proposal, spelled out in a detailed document obtained by BuzzFeed News, called for the wholesale restoration of diplomatic, military and intelligence channels severed between the two countries after Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine and Syria.
The broad scope of the Kremlin’s reset plan came with an ambitious launch date: immediately.
By April, a top Russian cyber official, Andrey Krutskikh, would meet with his American counterpart for consultations on “information security,” the document proposed. By May, the two countries would hold “special consultations” on the war in Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear deal, the “situation in Ukraine,” and efforts to denuclearize the “Korean Peninsula.” And by the time Putin and Trump held their first meeting, the heads of the CIA, FBI, National Security Council, and Pentagon would meet face-to-face with their Russian counterparts to discuss areas of mutual interest. A raft of other military and diplomatic channels opened during the Obama administration’s first-term “reset” would also be restored.
“This document represents nothing less than a road map for full-scale normalization of US-Russian relations,” said Andrew Weiss, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, after reviewing the proposal provided by BuzzFeed News.
Besides offering a snapshot of where the Kremlin wanted to move the bilateral relationship, the proposal reveals one of Moscow’s unspoken assumptions – that Trump wouldn’t share the lingering US anger over Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and might accept a lightning fast rapprochement.
“It just ignores everything that caused the relationship to deteriorate and pretends that the election interference and the Ukraine crisis never happened,” said Angela Stent, a former national intelligence officer on Russia during the George W. Bush administration who also reviewed the document.
As of today, only a small fraction of the dozens of proposed meetings have taken place — and many of the formalized talks appear unlikely to happen as Moscow and Washington expel one another’s diplomats and close diplomatic facilities in a tit-for-tat downward spiral.
The Russian Embassy in Washington declined to discuss the document. “We do not comment on closed bilateral negotiations which is normal diplomatic practice,” the embassy said in a statement.
Officials at the White House and State Department declined to say who delivered the document but did not dispute its authenticity. They denied giving the Russians explicit indications that their proposal was feasible. When asked how Moscow got the impression that its terms might be acceptable, a spokesperson for the National Security Council cited misleading news reports about Trump’s infatuation with Russia. “Frankly, I would point more to media coverage than administration overtures,” the spokesperson said.
Of course, Russian officials could simply have listened to Trump’s extensive public remarks, which repeatedly touted the benefits of engagement with Moscow as recently as February. “I would love to be able to get along with Russia,” Trump said at a news conference.
Yet despite Trump’s warm rhetoric, the actual level of engagement between the United States and Russia since the president took office has been fairly limited outside of the open channels used by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and the White House.
Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon and his Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov have held on-and-off discussions on irritants in the US-Russia relationship, but have little to show for it. On Syria, State Department diplomats Michael Ratney and Brett McGurk have held regular discussions with Russian counterparts to discuss a modest ceasefire confined to the southwest of the country. On Ukraine, Special Envoy Kurt Volker’s discussions with his Russian counterpart have only just gotten off the ground.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, has been openly skeptical of engagement with the Russians as it maintains a limited deconfliction channel in Syria. In February, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, in Azerbaijan, but was quick to point out that the meeting did not portend increased cooperation with Russia in Syria or anywhere else. The two met again in Turkey in May.
Defense Secretary James Mattis has also downplayed expectations for cooperation, telling reporters in February, “We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo traveled to Moscow in May for talks with Russian intelligence officials, but an agency spokesman declined to discuss the nature of the meeting.
In pushing its reset plan, Moscow seemed to underestimate the political blowback the Trump administration would face if it carried out a large scale rapprochement amid high-profile investigations by the FBI and Congress into allegations of collusion with Russia.

“Putin doesn’t seem to understand that Trump’s powers are not the same as his,” said Steven Pifer, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution. “The checks and balances, the special prosecutor and congressional investigations have tied Trump’s hands in ways that didn’t occur to Putin.”
When asked if he is disappointed in Trump, given early hopes of improved relations, Putin has responded frostily.
“Your question sounds very naive,” Putin told a reporter at a press conference in China last week. “He is not my bride, and I am not his groom.”
“Each country has its own interests,” he added.
Still, the decision by the US Congress to slap new sanctions on Russia in August, which prompted Moscow to force the firing or transfer of hundreds of US employees in Russia, which in turn prompted the US to shutter Russia’s consulate in San Francisco, is not what Russia’s parliament presumably hoped for when it burst into applause the night of Trump’s surprise election victory over Hillary Clinton.
“When the Russians submitted this proposal, they were under the impression that Trump would do what he said he would do: Make a deal with Putin and normalize relations,” said Stent, who is also director of Eurasian studies at Georgetown University.
“That’s a reflection of the way their own system works,” she said. “If Putin wants something done, the Duma is compliant, the Ministry of Defense is compliant. But in the US, a lot of these things aren’t in the purview of the White House even if you have a president who is inclined.”
A senior State Department official acknowledged that Moscow’s initial expectations were unrealistic. In a July meeting between Tillerson and Lavrov in Hamburg, Tillerson stressed that a broader rapprochement wasn’t possible absent positive Russian action on Ukraine, the official said.
Moscow’s eagerness to dictate new bilateral meetings has at times irritated State Department officials, two US officials said. At a summit in Manila in August, for example, Lavrov left a bilateral meeting with Tillerson and began telling reporters that America’s special envoy for Ukraine would soon travel to Moscow to discuss the Ukraine crisis. US officials, however, had not agreed to hold the meeting in Russia and later demanded it happen elsewhere. The Americans ultimately prevailed, and the meeting took place in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
Despite recent disappointments, the Kremlin hasn’t given up hope for normalized ties with the United States, even if it is still threatening to expel more diplomats and sue Washington over the closure of its US facilities. In an interview two weeks ago, Moscow’s new ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antanov, made a passing reference to the March proposal and suggested the offer was still on the table. “We have always been interested in constructive interaction with Washington on the entire bilateral and international agenda,” Antanov told a Russian news outlet.
But as the White House faces the glare of multiple Russia probes, it has done little to pressure the Pentagon or State Department to engage their Russian counterparts. And absent a push, America’s risk-averse national security bureaucracy is unlikely to move forward on its own, especially given the nomination of prominent Russia hawks in senior positions, such as Wess Mitchell, a Kremlin skeptic slated to become the top US diplomat to Europe and Russia.
“There may not be a willingness by the US to go back to business as usual given that Russia policy on Ukraine and Syria hasn’t changed,” said Pifer.
In an apparent reference to Tillerson’s hawkish advisers, Putin told a business forum last week that the former ExxonMobil CEO has “fallen in with bad company.”
The State Department says it remains open to better ties. “We’ve told the Russians that the path to normalization runs through Ukraine,” a State Department official said.
As written, Russia’s offer from March contains numerous meetings with proposed deadlines that came and went. Perhaps the most forlorn proposal was one calling on both governments to work toward “resuming and promoting mutually beneficial trade and investment cooperation.” Five months after the proposal was delivered, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation that slapped new economic sanctions on Russia while barring Trump from terminating previous sanctions without a congressional review.
Another ambitious proposal called for relaunching a pair of bilateral working groups on cyber security and counterterrorism originally started in 2009 as a part of Barack Obama’s sweeping “reset” with Russia. In July, that proposal looked as if it might succeed when Trump tweeted that he discussed “forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit” with Putin. But after a widespread backlash from Republicans, the president quickly reversed himself. “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t,” he later tweeted.
The initial cybersecurity group launched under Obama was plagued by infighting as the Russian side tried to assert the right of governments to control information, which the American side rejected. “It never went anywhere,” a former official who participated on the US side said. “And with the Russian use of cyber as an instrument in Ukraine and then against us in 2016, the challenge became even greater.”
But even a bilateral channel mired in gridlock can offer Moscow something appealing: The optics of being a seen as a global power going toe-to-toe with the Americans. ●

Direct connection with Russian news organizations and election interference

WASHINGTON — The FBI recently questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik, the Russian-government-funded news agency, as part of an investigation into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

As part of the probe, Yahoo News has learned, the bureau has obtained a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents — material that could potentially help prosecutors build a case that the news agency played a role in the Russian government “influence campaign” that was waged during last year’s presidential election and, in the view of U.S. intelligence officials, is still ongoing.

The emails were turned over by Andrew Feinberg, the news agency’s former White House correspondent, who had downloaded the material onto his laptop before he was fired in May. He confirmed to Yahoo News that he was questioned for more than two hours on Sept. 1 by an FBI agent and a Justice Department national security lawyer at the bureau’s Washington field office.

Feinberg said the interview was focused on Sputnik’s “internal structure, editorial processes, and funding.”

“They wanted to know where did my orders come from and if I ever got any direction from Moscow,” Feinberg told Yahoo News. “They were interested in examples of how I was steered towards covering certain issues.”

It is not clear whether the agent and prosecutor who questioned Feinberg were acting as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s broader investigation into Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 election and possible links to the Trump campaign. “We are not confirming whether specific matters are or are not part of our ongoing investigation,” a spokesman for Mueller emailed. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment, and the FBI did not respond to questions.

But the inquiry comes at a time when members of Congress and others have pushed the Justice Department to strengthen its enforcement of the FARA, especially as it relates to the operations in Washington of two Russian news organizations, Sputnik and RT (formerly known as Russia Today).

“This is incredibly significant,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and now an associate dean of Yale Law School, about the bureau’s questioning of the former Sputnik reporter. “The FBI has since the 1970s taken pains not to be perceived in any way as infringing on First Amendment activity. But this tells me they have good information and intelligence that these organizations have been acting on behalf of the Kremlin and that there’s a direct line between them and the [Russian influence operations] that are a significant threat to our democracy.”

Sputnik is owned by Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian government media operation headed by Dmitri Kiselyov, a belligerent television broadcaster who is known as Putin’s “personal propagandist” and has been sanctioned by the European Union in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. On its website, Sputnik describes itself as a “modern news agency” that “covers global political and economic news targeting an international audience.”

Contacted by Yahoo News, Sputnik’s U.S. editor in chief, Mindia Gavasheli, said, “Any assertion that we are not a news organization is simply false.” He also said he was unaware of the FBI probe. “This is the first time I’m hearing about it, and I don’t think anyone at Sputnik was contacted, so thank you for letting us know,” Gavasheli said.

Gavasheli attributed the push to have Sputnik register through FARA to paranoia surrounding Russia. “I think it tells about the atmosphere of hysteria that we are witnessing now,” Gavasheli said. “Anything being related to Russia right now is being considered a spycraft of some sort.”

Both Sputnik and RT were identified in a U.S. intelligence report in January as being arms of Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine” that served as a “platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.” As an example, the report said, Sputnik and RT “consistently cast President-elect Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional US media outlets that they claimed were subservient to a corrupt political establishment.”

The investigation appears to center on whether Sputnik should be covered by the foreign agents registration law, a 1938 act passed by Congress to combat Nazi propaganda. The law mandates that foreign entities seeking to influence American public opinion and engage in lobbying must file detailed reports with the Justice Department on their funding and operations. If the Justice Department concludes that Sputnik is covered by the law, its executives in the U.S. could face criminal charges and fines, while the news agency’s reports would have to be explicitly labeled as foreign propaganda rather than presented as news.

There is an exemption under the law for media organizations that engage in legitimate news-gathering activity. But Feinberg, the former Sputnik reporter, said the FBI agent and Justice prosecutor who interviewed him focused their questions on how Sputnik determined what stories it would cover, where its directions came from and what he knew about its sources of funding.

(Yahoo first learned about the FBI inquiry from a U.S. intelligence source. Feinberg then confirmed he was interviewed and showed the business cards of the FBI agent and Justice Department lawyer who questioned him.)

While his instructions as White House correspondent came from the senior editors and news directors at Sputnik’s Washington office, Feinberg said these supervisors regularly “would say, ‘Moscow wants this or Moscow wants that.’”

The thumb drive of emails and other documents that Feinberg turned over to the FBI contains messages that could shed light on Sputnik’s funding, its operations in Washington and how it makes editorial decisions. It includes documents Feinberg submitted on behalf of Sputnik to obtain congressional press credentials in which he confirmed that the Russian government is the company’s main funding source.

The questioning of Feinberg, Sputnik’s former White House correspondent, came just two weeks after Yahoo News published an interview in which he claimed he was fired by Sputnik’s D.C. bureau chief for refusing orders to ask the president’s press secretary about a since-discredited Fox News report in a televised briefing. That report claimed that WikiLeaks obtained internal Democratic National Committee emails not from material hacked by Russian intelligence services, as the U.S. government has asserted, but from a low-level DNC staffer, Seth Rich, who was murdered on the streets of Washington in July 2016. (Fox has since retracted the report.)

Feinberg, who first made his allegations on May 26, the day he left Sputnik, has also claimed the company pushed him to ask questions that suggested the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, who is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was not behind chemical attacks in that country. Feinberg said the interviewers specifically asked him about a piece he wrote detailing these claims that was published by Politico on Aug. 21. A spokeswoman for Sputnik has previously denied Feinberg’s allegations and told Yahoo News his contract with the company “was not renewed due to performance-related issues.”

The FBI reached out to Feinberg shortly after another former Sputnik staffer, Joseph John Fionda, sent a letter to the Justice Department’s national security division detailing a series of similar accusations against the news organization and requested that it be investigated for FARA violations.

In a brief conversation over an encrypted messaging app, Fionda told Yahoo News he also sent “a big packet” of information to the division on or about Aug. 15.

In his letter to Justice, Fionda  said he was employed by RIA Global LLC, a media company associated with Sputnik, from Sept. 5 to Oct. 19, 2015. During that time, Fionda wrote, Sputnik conducted “a perception management information warfare program” about Russia’s military involvement in Syria. He said the news organization falsely described Russia’s targets in that country as “terrorists” affiliated with the jihadist group ISIS when, he asserted, the Russian forces were actually bombing other anti-Assad rebel groups.

In another instance, Fionda said, an article he wrote in September 2015 about President Obama’s repatriation of Guantánamo detainees to a number of countries was “censored” to omit any reference to the fact that six of the detainees were being sent back to Russia, where they were later imprisoned.

Fionda said his last straw with Sputnik came on Oct. 19, 2015, after excerpts of private emails from then-CIA Director John Brennan were published by a hacker on Twitter. He claimed Gavasheli, Sputnik’s U.S. editor in chief, asked him to “obtain the CIA Director’s stolen emails” from the hacker.

“I refused because I believed this was a solicitation to espionage,” Fionda wrote.

When he refused the order, Fionda wrote that Gavasheli told him to “get the f— out of my office” and then fired him. Gavasheli, in his interview with Yahoo News, denied this and said Fionda was fired after falsely claiming his father was ill in order to take time off from work.

The probe into Sputnik also comes shortly after the Russian news agency announced a significant expansion in the U.S. capital: It took over a popular Washington FM radio station dedicated to playing bluegrass music and replaced it with an all-talk format with hosts who regularly criticize U.S. policies — as well as one co-host who is a former Breitbart News reporter and Trump supporter. “I’m sure you heard a lot about us,” Gavasheli was quoted as saying by the Washington Post. “Now you can actually listen to us.”

https://www.yahoo.com/amphtml/news/sputnik-russian-news-agency-investigation-fbi-090024231.html

By constantly repeating the same lies Trump is setting a record pace of BS

Trump has a well earned reputation as someone who exaggerates, fabricates, and flat-out lies to advance his personal ambitions.

(Our full interactive graphic can be found here.)

In 214 days, President Trump has made 1057 false and misleading claims

The Washington Post Fact Checker’s ongoing database of the false and misleading claims made by President Trump during his first 365 days in office.

Fact Checker has been tracking President Trump’s false or misleading claims for more than seven months. Somewhere around Aug. 4 or Aug. 5, he broke 1,000 claims, and the tally now stands at 1,057.

That’s an impressive number by any standard. In fact, we are a little late with this update because we have simply been overwhelmed keeping track of the deluge of claims made by the president in the later part of July. Things slowed down during the president’s “working vacation,” so we have finally been able to catch up.

At the president’s current pace, he averages nearly five claims a day. Many are repeats of claims that have been previously debunked. We also include statements that are unacknowledged flip-flops from previously held positions, such as touting new highs in a stock market that he previously derided as being a “big, fat bubble.”

More than 30 of the president’s misleading statements have been repeated three or more times.

Trump’s most repeated claim, uttered 50 times, was some variation of the statement that the Affordable Care Act is dying and “essentially dead.” The Congressional Budget Office has said that the Obamacare exchanges, despite well-documented issues, are not imploding and are expected to remain stable for the foreseeable future. Moreover, Congress has been unable to pass a law that would repeal Obamacare, making the continuation of the law Trump’s problem.

Trump repeatedly takes credit for events or business decisions that happened before he took the oath of office — or had even been elected. Forty-two times, he has touted that he secured business investments and job announcements that had been previously announced and could easily be found with a Google search. And 19 times he has boasted that he achieved a reduction in the cost of Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, even though the price cut had been in the works before he was elected.

But some of the president’s repeated claims have nothing to do with policy but instead rehash discredited campaign rhetoric, such as the false charge that Hillary Clinton gave 20 percent of the U.S. uranium supply to Russia or that the deputy FBI director got $700,000 from Clinton. Both claims were deemed Four-Pinocchios false in 2016. Yet Trump brought them up 11 times.

Some of Trump’s favorite claims are simply odd. Eleven times, he has said that the United States has already spent $6 trillion on “Middle East wars,” money that could have been used instead on building roads in the United States. He often suggests this is a recently calculated figure, but it combines the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which is actually in South Asia) and then includes future obligations for veterans costs and interest on the debt through 2053.

At the six-month mark, the president was averaging 4.6 claims a day, but he has now increased his pace. At his current rate, the president won’t break 2,000 claims in his first year in office. But with five months to go, all bets are off.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/08/22/president-trumps-list-of-false-and-misleading-claims-tops-1000/?utm_term=.8b97420668a5