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Tag Archives: Russia

Russia Metro Bombing Update

Some people began hyperventilating that in yesterday’s post I accused Russian President Putin of orchestrating yesterday’s explosion in the St. Petersburg subway. I of course did no such thing, and I even included a caveat IN THE TITLE ITSELF, as well as in the body of yesterday’s short post, but it doesn’t prevent some frothing dumbshits from running their mouths.

But there is a paranoid part of me that wonders if this hasn’t been perpetrated by their own government as a false flag operation! Yes, I hate the phrase “false flag.” Anytime a tragedy strikes in the United States, the conspiritards don their tin foil accoutrements and go on tirades about evil government engaging in “false flag” operations to misguide and draw attention away from whatever evil things said evil government does. Believe me, I’m not unaware of how it sounds.

Yes, this was complete conjecture on my part, based on some history. Yes, the government did stand to gain from such an attack, which is why I wondered in the first place. Other than distracting from the continuing anti-corruption protests and the resultant arrests, there’s also a continued push to shift focus from Russia’s actions in Ukraine, as well as its malign influence activities in other parts of Europe, and toward “We have common anti-terrorism goals! Look what these bloody bastards did to us!”

So in the interest of fairness (and sticking my fist down idiots’ throats), here’s an update.

Kyrgyzstan’s security service named the suspect as Akbarzhon Jalilov, who was born in the Kyrgyz city of Osh in 1995 and had obtained Russian citizenship.

His name was later confirmed by Russian investigators, who said he also planted a second bomb that did not explode.

In an earlier statement, the Russian state investigative committee said it had concluded the train bomb may have been detonated by a man whose remains were found in the carriage.

No group has said it was behind the bombing.

Also, the death toll now stands at 14, and the city is rightfully in mourning.

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Because I’m paranoid

There was a terrorist attack in Russia today. Details are scant right now, but it looks like at least 10 people were killed in a subway explosion in St. Petersburg.

The head of Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the blast hit the train between Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut stations.

The committee said an explosive device was later found and made safe at another station, Ploshchad Vosstaniya.

President Vladimir Putin said all causes, including terrorism, were being investigated.

The entire system has been shut down, according to BBC, and this is the first attack ever on the St. Petersburg metro.

My heart aches for the people who died and their families, and I can’t imagine the horror of those who were in the vicinity!

But there is a paranoid part of me that wonders if this hasn’t been perpetrated by their own government as a false flag operation! Yes, I hate the phrase “false flag.” Anytime a tragedy strikes in the United States, the conspiritards don their tin foil accoutrements and go on tirades about evil government engaging in “false flag” operations to misguide and draw attention away from whatever evil things said evil government does. Believe me, I’m not unaware of how it sounds.

That said, I’m also not unaware of just how cunning the current Russian leadership is. In 1999 a blast destroyed a nine-story Moscow apartment building, killing dozens of people. The Russian government investigated the explosion as a terrorist act and claimed it was linked to Russia’s war with Islamic separatists. However, several journalists, witnesses, and the late Alexander Litvinenko (several of whom – coincidentally, I’m sure – have died under mysterious circumstances), claimed the tragedy was actually a false flag operation by the FSB (link is in Russian) to drum up popular support for a war with Chechnya, bolster the popularity of then-Prime Minister Putin, and eventually propel him to the presidency.

Given the anti-corruption protests taking place in Russia, and the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalnyy and more than 40 others, and Navalnyy’s increasingly resonating anti-corruption message, nothing would surprise me.

Again, I realize how it sounds, but when it comes to the current Russian leadership, nothing surprises me.

My most heartfelt condolences to the families of those who died in today’s blast. Regardless of who is responsible, it’s an awful tragedy.

Trash Panda Loves Boobs

I’m not talking politics today. It’s too contentious, and I’m not in the mood to fight the stupid today. Frankly, until I read this story, I was in the mood to kill rather than bother with a fair fight, but you know what? You can’t be angry when there’s a lawsuit going on over a raccoon who apparently starred in some porn. It’s a filthy, dark tale of a trash panda gone bad that’s making me giggle like a school kid who saw the word “penis” written down for the first time.

A Russian petting zoo loaned this fat little guy to a production company ostensibly to be used in an advertising video. Things apparently got a bit hinky from there. The zoo claims Thomas the Trash Panda came back from the shoot traumatized and strangely attracted to women’s breasts.

The production company says Thomas wasn’t trained as the zoo claimed, would run off all the time instead of acting like a professional performer, and stole a model’s bra.

As you can imagine, a lawsuit hilarity ensued.

According to the zoo, the deal in August 2016 was for Thomas to be used in a regular advertisement.

But the zoo says that when it saw the footage on social media, featuring a naked model, it complained and asked for all video and photos to be withdrawn.

After the request failed, the zoo filed a lawsuit in October, also demanding compensation for damages caused to the raccoon.

Art-Msk’s Valery Bogatov argued that the video was not erotic because it was destined to be broadcast on federal television. An erotic film would have been illegal, he said.

Anyone who finds a naked woman petting a raccoon erotic needs mental help in my opinion, but what the hell do I know?

Meanwhile Thomas the Trash Panda was sad, because the zoo claims he was programmed to associate boobs with treats, which is pretty much normal for any straight, human male, and demonstrators gathered in Moscow to protest the exploitation of raccoons. It apparently took them some time to deprogram Thomas from his boob fixation, and Thomas didn’t like that. Because boobs.

I’m wondering where the Social Justice Howler Monkey protests are at this mistreatment of an innocent animal. They are messing with this little guy’s mind by training him to not like boobs! Isn’t it something akin to the anti-gay conversion therapy they’re all concerned about Mike Pence imposing on young, gay individuals using our tax dollars?

You can’t make this shit up.

Worse yet, the production company head Valery Bogatov is threatening to counter-sue the zoo and demand payback for the model’s bra that Thomas stole when he went on his criminal boob crusade!

The only thing funnier than this story is the sign one of the protesters held, featuring a cross-eyed raccoon wearing eyeglasses that read “DOWN WITH THE EXPLOITATION OF RACCOONS IN VIDEO!”

I’m wondering why it is that with western sanctions, low oil prices, high prices for everything from food to housing, censorship, and authoritarianism, these people are focusing on protesting the “mistreatment” of a trash panda, who was apparently enticed with treats to like boobs.

I must be a bad person, because I’m laughing like a lunatic.

 

Valid Concerns About Flynn Shouldn’t Excuse Leaks

Retired General Michael Flynn was shitcanned from his job as National Security Adviser this week, which gives him the distinct “honor” of being forced out by not just one, but two Presidents! Yes, that’s a pretty impressive feat, and we need to look at this event from an objective perspective.

First and foremost, spying on foreign ambassadors is nothing new. The press has been reporting on this since before Snowden stole millions of files from NSA and handed them over to foreigners to peruse, and if you think we’re the only ones who spy on foreign ambassadors on our soil, I have this bridge.

U.S. installations abroad also remained a primary target for espionage, particularly by the Soviet Union. Twice in one year, the Department learned that the Soviet intelligence agency had seriously compromised security at the embassy in Moscow. In January 1985, the U.S. Marine Corps announced that one of its security guards at the Embassy had passed classified information to a Russian woman.

The fact that Flynn was talking to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak made him the subject of what is called “incidental collection.” It means he wasn’t the target, but since conversations are two-way things, he was captured in the intercept as well. That’s a concept that has apparently escaped House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who is shitting himself, because “an American citizen had his phone calls recorded.” For the record, no one was spying on Flynn. The target was Kislyak, and the collection on Flynn was incidental. That’s first and foremost.

First, he was talking to the Russian ambassador, who is an agent of a foreign power. Agents of foreign powers are acceptable foreign intelligence targets and the government could have a warrant to surveil Kislyak under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) since 1978.

Next, phone calls are wiretappable. Congress ensured that would be true with the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (CALEA).

Further, while wiretapping in the criminal context involves only recording when the targets talk about illegal activity, foreign intelligence wiretapping is comprehensive. All conversations are collected and important bits mined out after the fact.

So, no. This wasn’t a matter of Obama targeting Trump and trying to destroy him, as some conspiritards claim. It also wasn’t Obama operatives conspiring to target the Trump administration.

Fact is Flynn has been a concern to the Intelligence Community long before Trump decided to even run for President.

GOP 2016 ConventionLet’s remember Flynn in 2010 was removed by current Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, then-CENTCOM commander, and investigated for sharing classified information with Pakistan. Pakistan! Not exactly a close ally. And revealing sensitive U.S. intelligence capabilities being used to monitor the Haqqani network to Pakistan is not exactly something that’s encouraged. This from the same guy who screeched “LOCK HER UP!” about Queen Pantsuit during the Republican National Convention for putting “our nation’s security at extremely high risk with her careless use of her private email server”

So while Hillary used her private email server “carelessly,” Flynn intentionally shared classified information with other countries – more than once – and never punished for it, because he apparently didn’t know better. Sound familiar?

Although Flynn lacked authorization to share the classified material, he was not disciplined or reprimanded after the investigation concluded that he did not act “knowingly” and that “there was no actual or potential damage to national security as a result,” according to Army records obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

Flynn was even bragging of the fact that he shared classified information he was not authorized to share with our allies Britain and Australia! “I’m proud of that one. Accuse me of sharing intelligence in combat with our closest allies, please.”

Really?

Whether he likes it or not, there are protocols and channels through which one has to go to release intelligence – even to our closest allies. Flynn, who was accused of telling allies about the activities of other agencies in Afghanistan, including the CIA, apparently felt he was above such constraints. He wanted to do it, so intelligence protocols be damned! He did what he did, because apparently he felt he was too important to follow procedures, and his mission was too critical to be limited by bureaucracy.

General Igor Sergun GRU Director from December 2011 until his death in January 2016.

General Igor Sergun GRU Director from December 2011 until his death in January 2016.

This was all long before Trump, as was Flynn’s now infamous trip to Russia to celebrate RT’s anniversary alongside President Putin and rub asses with Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). While Flynn was no longer DIA director, having been forced out by the Obama Administration, he received a DIA briefing before heading out to Russia and got paid for speaking there.

Of course, these “speaking fees” weren’t exactly for a traditional address. Flynn received an undisclosed amount of money for agreeing to be used as a propaganda tool by the Russian owned and controlled RT.

‘I was asked by my speaker’s bureau, LAI. I do public speaking. It was in Russia. It was a paid speaking opportunity,’ Flynn told the paper.

‘The gig was to do an interview with [RT correspondent] Sophie Shevardnadze. It was an interview in front of the forum, probably 200 people in the audience,’ he said.

[…]

‘I had a great trip. I was the first U.S. officer ever allowed inside the headquarters of the GRU [Russian intelligence]. I was able to brief their entire staff,’ Flynn said.

‘I gave them a leadership OPD. [a professional development class on leadership] and talked a lot about the way the world’s unfolding.

Uh-huh.

Flynn believes Russia could be an invaluable ally in the war against Islamic extremism. He said so during the RT forum. And he’s not wrong. The problem with sharing those views on a forum like RT is the optics. The forum took place after Russia illegally annexed Crimea, after more than a year of Russian funding of militant separatists in Ukraine, and after two years of the United States imposing economic sanctions against Russia for threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors. It doesn’t look great when the ousted director of DIA heads over to Russia and advocates for closer relations. It looks like a bitter former employee impugning his former boss’ foreign policy.

But besides that, we have no idea what was said in the GRU briefing. Given Flynn’s former penchant for briefing sensitive intelligence about IC operations “unknowingly” in a presentation in Afghanistan, the concerns about his trip aren’t unwarranted.

Again, this was all pre-Trump, so to claim that somehow the IC is targeting the President through Flynn is just disingenuous, given the concerns about Flynn’s continued flaunting and disregard for good intelligence practices, since long before the Presidency was even a gleam in Trump’s eye.

Once Trump won, and announced that Flynn was to be his National Security Adviser, I can’t blame old intel hands for freaking out a bit, given Flynn’s history. When Flynn spoke with Kislyak the day sanctions were announced, and then lied about the conversation to the Vice President, this became an even bigger concern. I said at the time that even if he didn’t mention sanctions – about which the President-Elect Transition Team was briefed prior to them being announced – the optics were worrying, to say the least.

Is it any surprise that a National Security Adviser to the President of the United States who doesn’t understand what he should and should not release to foreign powers, who doesn’t see that perceptions about him impugning U.S. foreign policy on an adversary’s state-owned media channel and chatting with said adversary’s Ambassador prior to a critical foreign policy announcement would be concerning as the leader of our country’s national security apparatus?

No, the IC is not trying to bring down Trump by targeting Flynn. They’re right to be concerned.

Which brings me to the leaker, whoever it might be.

The screeching conspiritards are right in one regard. Whoever leaked the information about the intercepts between Kislyak and Flynn did so illegally. While it’s common knowledge that we spy on the Russians (DUH!), releasing that information is illegal.

Listen I get it. Whoever leaked these conversations to the public had to have been paralyzingly concerned about Flynn. Hell, I was worried about having someone like that sitting in charge of the National Security Council and receiving sensitive information. Flynn was a profound concern for the IC, and whoever leaked that information had to have known that if caught, they would be prosecuted and would likely lose their job and their freedom, but was concerned enough to do it anyway.

And while identifying Flynn internally was legal, because his identity was critical to the analysis of Kislyak’s calls, the leak of the unminimized (unmasked) identity of Kislyak’s interlocutor to the public is and should be punishable by law.

Whoever leaked this information wreaked indescribable havoc.

They gave an adversary information about collection methods – signals intelligence – without which, we probably no longer have the ability to conduct surveillance on our targets.

They handed our enemies insight into the workings of the Presidential administration. Such insight is gold for our adversaries.

It gave Russia a window into the chaos in our national security apparatus.

It showed Russia our weaknesses.

This is unacceptable under any circumstances, no matter how concerning Flynn’s actions were, and make no mistake, they were worrisome.

But there was more at stake than just Flynn, and while we don’t know how compromised he was by the Russians, if at all, and whether his actions were due to arrogant stupidity or an actual desire to betray our country to the Russians, incalculable damage was done by whoever leaked this information to the public, and that cannot be ignored.

So while Flynn’s connections – and anyone else in the Administration who has had questionable interactions with the Russians – are a fair target for law enforcement and intel investigators, so are the people who are leaking this sensitive information.

Leaks are no reason to cheer. They’re a reason to be afraid.

 

Russia: Everything Old is New Again… Again

I’ve blogged previously about Russia’s flirtation with fascism, the rise in authoritarianism and nationalism, and the increased aggression in its near abroad. I don’t need to rehash the propaganda campaigns, the lies, and the efforts to destabilize eastern European nations. Seems Russia is in the news a lot ever since the 2016 election.

Lately, something else seems to be on the rise, but isn’t getting as much attention as the cyber intrusions: corruption and murder which looks very much to be linked to the Kremlin.

nemtsovYou remember the murder of Boris Nemtsov, don’t you? No?

Boris Nemtsov was a leading Russian opposition politician and former Deputy Prime Minister who was murdered in Moscow in February 2015. BBC reported at the time that an unidentified attacker shot Nemtsov four times in the back as he crossed a bridge in view of the Kremlin.

In a recent interview, Mr Nemtsov had said he feared Mr Putin would have him killed because of his opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Mr Nemtsov, 55, served as first deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.

He had earned a reputation as an economic reformer while governor of one of Russia’s biggest cities, Nizhny Novgorod.

Falling out of favour with Yeltsin’s successor, Mr Putin, he became an outspoken opposition politician.

Five ethnic Chechens were tried for the murder, and Chechen leader thug Ramzan Kadyrov quickly proclaimed the defendants not guilty and blamed the United States.

It’s only a coincidence that the accused thugs were Chechen, and it’s only a coincidence that Nemtsov was fearless in his public accusations against Putin and his ally Kadyrov of misappropriating government funds, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture. And it’s only a coincidence that Kadyrov is a close ally and cousin of Duma Deputy and Adam Delimkhanov.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

A British inquiry into the death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko found that Putin had likely approved the polonium tea that killed the spy who fled to Britain after becoming an outspoken Putin critic.

But nothing to see there either.

nemtsov-karamurza-yavlinsky-kasyanov-5mar2012Another Putin critic recently wound up in the hospital. Intrepid journalist Michael Totten posted this article on his Facebook page yesterday about Russian reform advocate Vladimir Kara-Murza who wound up in the hospital for the second time in less than two years.

Vladimir is perhaps the most authentic, articulate, informed, reasoned, effective, and persistent advocate for reform and decency in Russia. He has carried his message to audiences in Washington, and across Europe and his own country. He played a key role in the passage of the Magnitsky Act which restricts travel to the US and freezes the assets of designated Russians whose violations of human rights standards have been especially pronounced. Vladimir is also courageous beyond words. After his friend and colleague Boris Nemtsov was murdered outside the Kremlin almost exactly two years ago, Vladimir chose to return to Moscow to advocate for reform in Russia. He did so at considerable personal risk and sacrifice.

Kara-Murza worked for Open Russia, founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was tossed into the Russian clink for daring to stand up to Putin.

Khodorkovsky was arrested on what appeared to be pretty spurious charges of tax evasion and fraud. He spent the next 10 years in prison, with new charges added on to his sentence, including the accusation that he stole 350 million tons of oil… from himself. His trials were, by all accounts, kangaroo tribunals. It took months just to read the initial charges against Khodorkovsky in a notoriously corrupt judicial system, in which his defense attorney now faces the Russian equivalent of disbarment for failure to defend her client effectively.

He was released in late 2013 and later started Open Russia to promote civil reforms in Russia, and Kara-Murza worked for the NGO and was a good friend of the late Boris Nemtsov. Open Russia – restarted by Khodorkovsky after being harassed by the Russian authorities, and its accounts frozen in 2006 – continued to experience… um… incidental problems, as Kara-Murza wrote in 2014.

Open Russia was revived eight years after being forcibly shut down by the Russian authorities. Its relaunch and the opening videoconference that linked civil society activists in ten cities across Russia—from Kaliningrad to Tomsk—were greeted with the typical official response. Almost all regional locations experienced difficulties with the Internet, which was mysteriously cut off minutes before the conference. In Moscow, conference participants were confronted by “journalists” from the notorious NTV channel, which specializes in slandering civil society and opposition activists (incidentally, the location of the event was never publicly announced). In Yaroslavl, someone sabotaged the door lock the night before the conference, leaving activists unable to enter, and the technical equipment blocked inside. In Nizhny Novgorod, members of a pro-Kremlin group headed by United Russia deputy Yevgeny Fedorov stormed the hall where conference participants were assembled.

Memorial to Anna Politkovskaya

Memorial to Anna Politkovskaya

But move along. Nothing to see here. Russia is innocent. It’s just a coincidence that those critical of the Kremlin and Putin’s policies are either dying or being imprisoned. Magnitsky, Navalny, Litvinenko, Nemtsov, Khodorkovsky, and Kara-Murza. And that’s just the top of the iceberg. If I wanted to go on, I’d mention the list of journalists and freelancers who were murdered, and who were reporting on corruption and human rights abuses, including Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasia Baburova, and Igor Domnikov.

Is it any wonder that the United States late last year passed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act? The legislation augmented the Magnitsky Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, and ensures human rights abusers from anywhere in the world were denied entry into the United States and barred from using our financial institutions. It was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The indomitable Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) last year uncovered an army of Russian trolls attempting to influence U.S. foreign policy by using the White House’s online petition tool to demand that the Magnitsky Act be repealed.

Don’t count on it, motherfuckers.

The freedoms we so take for granted and even condemn others for exercising can have real and tragic consequences in places other than the United States. And the truth reported by journalists elsewhere, which media outlets so take for granted here in the United States, can result in violence, suppression, arrest, and murder.

Interesting aside, however. Kara-Murza in January sent a letter to Bob Corker and Ben Cardin – both on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – asking them to carefully consider the situation in Russia before voting on Rex Tillerson’s nomination.

It is also important to remember that, according to the statues [sic.] of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – of which both the United States and Russia are full members – “issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law… are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.”

I trust that you will take these issues into account as you consider the nomination for Secretary of State and the next steps in U.S.-Russia relations.

Here’s wishing Vladimir Kara-Murza a quick recovery and a safe escape from Moscow. Being deathly ill in a Russian hospital is no joke under the best of circumstances (see my description of my tonsil surgery when I was a kid). But when you challenge the Kremlin, survival becomes a whole different challenge.

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