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Kushner-Kislyak meeting: did US decrypt a Russian signal or was Trump Tower bugged?

The claim US intelligence learnt of the meeting between Jared Kushner and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak by intercepting Russian communications looks implausible, leading to the possibility US intelligence obtained details of the meeting because – despite denials – Trump Tower was bugged.

Alexander Mercouris

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Since the Washington Post first disclosed that Donald Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner discussed in December with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak the idea of setting up a back channel, several US officials have sprung to Kushner’s defence.

President Trump’s National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster, says that he is unconcerned

We have back-channel communications with any number of individual (countries). So generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner.  So it doesn’t pre-expose you to any sort of content or any kind of conversation or anything. So we’re not concerned about it.

About that McMaster is absolutely right.

A similar lack of concern has also been expressed by John F. Kelly, the President’s Homeland Security secretary

He’s a great guy, decent guy. His No. 1 interest, really, is the nation.  So, you know, there’s a lot of different ways to communicate, back channel, publicly with other countries. I don’t see any big issue here relative to Jared.

Perhaps the single most pertinent point about this whole story has however been made by Senator Lindsey Graham, who is not normally considered one of the President’s friends.  He is reported to have said the following

You’ve got the ambassador to Russia (sic) reporting to Moscow on an open channel.  I don’t trust this story as far as I can throw it….The whole storyline is suspicious.

Lindsey Graham is referring to the claim that US intelligence learnt about the Kushner-Kislyak meeting by intercepting a report about it which Kislyak sent to Moscow.  If true that would mean either that Kislyak reported to Moscow via an open (telephone?) channel or that US intelligence decrypted the report he sent about the meeting to Moscow.

In either case alerting the Russians that the US intercepted Kislyak’s report amounts to a major leak of classified information potentially damaging to the national security interests of the US, and compromising its future intelligence gathering capability.

Is the story however even true?  Lindsey Graham is right to be skeptical.

The Russians have long been known to take the security of their communications extremely seriously.  A sign of this is that they began using one-time pads to encrypt their most secret communications as long ago as 1930, long before most other powers.  One-time pads produce encryption which is unbreakable, and it is known that the Russians still use this technique for their most secret communications.

The security provided by using one-time pads, and the extent to which it has defeated US attempts to read Russian signals traffic, can be illustrated by the story of the Venona Project.

The Soviet company that manufactured one-time pads for the USSR’s intelligence agencies during the Second World War made the mistake of producing around 35,000 pages of duplicate key numbers because of the disorganisation caused by the German advance on Moscow in 1941.  The US detected the mistake, and in 1943 set up the Venona Project to try to exploit it.  The idea was to use the mistake to decrypt Soviet signals traffic, thereby reproducing – if only to a certain degree – the US and British wartime success in breaking the German and Japanese codes.

In the event it seems that only signals traffic transmitted between 1942 and 1948 was compromised, with the vast bulk of this traffic being sent between 1942 and 1945, and that only a small fraction of this traffic was ever successfully decrypted.  This despite the fact that US intelligence persisted with the Venona Project from 1943 until 1980 ie. over a span of 37 years.  Whilst the Venona Project did provide the US with some insight into Soviet intelligence gathering activities in the 1940s, by the time it was finally wound up in 1980 this would have been of no more than historical interest.

The fact the US persisted with the Venona Project for so long shows that up to 1980  – ie. throughout the whole period of the Cold War – it must have failed to decrypt other Soviet signals traffic.  That must have been why it devoted so much time and effort to decrypting the small number of Soviet signals from the 1940s that it thought it could decrypt.

The Venona Project is sometimes spoken of as US intelligence success.  In reality it is testimony to the US’s greater intelligence failure.

Of course it could be that since 1980 US intelligence has been more successful in decrypting Soviet and Russian signals traffic.  Russia experienced an existential crisis during the 1990s.  A large number of defections happened during this period, and it would not be surprising if the general collapse of morale caused signals discipline to collapse.  However that would have been reversed when Vladimir Putin – a former intelligence officer – came to power.  By now it is highly likely that the security of Russian signals traffic has been restored to at least the level it had before the USSR collapsed.

Today, though the Russians continue to use one-time pads for their most secret communications, for their less secret communications they use – like other powers – other forms of computer generated encryption, which is less time consuming and labour intensive than one-time pads.

Conceivably Kislyak might have used one of these less secure channels when reporting to Moscow. However even if Kislyak reported to Moscow through one of these less secure channels, it is still unlikely US intelligence would have been able to decrypt his report.

The Vault 7 documents show that the CIA cannot decrypt commercially encrypted communications such as those passing through the mobile phone WhatsApp platform.  Presumably the Russians use more secure forms of encryption for their signals traffic than this.  If the US has not managed to break WhatsApp’s encryption, then it is unlikely it can have succeeded in breaking the encryption of even that part of Russia’s signals traffic which does not depend on one-time pads.

There is a further reason for doubting that the US is decrypting Russian signals traffic.

One other person is known to have been present at the meeting between Kushner and Kislyak.  That person is General Michael Flynn, who was to become for a short period President Trump’s National Security Adviser.

Up to 30th April 2014 General Flynn was one of the most senior intelligence officials in the US, having been appointed Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (the “DIA”) in 2012.

As a former Director of the DIA Flynn would presumably know if US intelligence was decrypting the Russian embassy’s signals traffic.  However he clearly didn’t think it was, since the whole idea of the back channel that he and Kushner proposed to Kislyak involved him communicating directly with Russia’s military leadership through the supposedly secure channels of the Russian embassy so as to keep his discussions secret.

Perhaps despite having been one of the US’s most senior intelligence officials Flynn was ill-informed about the US’s success in decrypting the Russian embassy’s signals traffic.  Or perhaps the breakthrough came in the short period after he left the DIA.  However I have to say that neither of these possibilities look to me at all likely.

Flynn’s participation in the Kushner-Kislyak meeting, and his support for the idea of the back channel discussed during the meeting, is a strong reason to doubt that the Russian embassy’s signals are being decrypted by US intelligence.  Everything else that is known about this question also points to that conclusion.

As to the possibility that Kislyak reported to Moscow about his supposedly secret conversation with Kushner about setting up a supposedly secret back channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow over an open channel, I have to say that I find that every bit as unbelievable as does Lindsey Graham.

There are of course other possibilities.

Possibly the US has a spy in the embassy and is able to read Kislyak’s reports to Moscow that way.  Or perhaps it has a spy in the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, who is reporting to Washington about Kislyak’s reports from the other end.  Or perhaps someone in Moscow gossiped about Kislyak’s report on an open line, and the US found out about it that way.

Whilst any of these alternative possibilities is theoretically possible, I have to say that none of them looks to me very likely.  The fact the obviously bogus Trump Dossier has been given the credence by the US intelligence community that it has, points to the US lacking high placed informants in Russia’s Washington embassy or in the Foreign Ministry in Moscow or at the highest levels of the Russian government.

Frankly the story of US intelligence learning the details of the Kushner-Kislyak conversation from an intercept looks to me like a cover story intended to conceal the actual way US intelligence obtained this information.

If US intelligence did not learn the details of the Kushner-Kislyak conversation from a Russian source, then they must have learnt it either from an informer within the Trump transition team or through electronic eavesdropping.  If it was the latter then that means that one way or another Trump Tower was bugged.

The New York Times when reporting the story – apparently after speaking to the same officials who leaked the story to the Washington Post – has actually hinted that US intelligence did not learn of the Kushner-Kislyak meeting from a Russian source.  This is how the New York Times reports it

American intelligence agencies first learned about the discussion several months ago, according to a senior American official who had been briefed on intelligence reports. It is unclear whether they learned about it from intercepted Russian communications or by other means.

(bold italics added)

Obviously someone has realised that the claim that US intelligence obtained the details of the Kushner-Kislyak meeting from a Russian source is simply too implausible, and exposes those who have leaked the story to accusations that they have revealed too much about the US intelligence gathering capabilities, for it to be wise to persist with it.  The result is that there is now an attempt to row back on this claim, as we see in the New York Times report.

Why however invent a cover story?  There is one possible reason.

US intelligence learnt about the Kushner-Kislyak meeting either very shortly after it happened or as soon as it took place.  We can be sure of this because of the publication by the Washington Post shortly after the meeting of an article about earlier back channels which was obviously inspired by the proposal to set up a back channel made during the Kushner-Kislyak meeting (see my discussion of this in my previous article).

Whilst it is possible that information about the meeting came from an informant, the speed with which US intelligence learnt about the meeting must increase the possibility that the information about the meeting came from electronic eavesdropping.

After Donald Trump’s famous tweets that former President Obama had had his phone in Trump Tower tapped there followed strenuous denials that Trump Tower was ever bugged.  Here is how the BBC reported these denials on 20th March 2017, the day after former FBI Director James Comey gave public testimony to the House Intelligence Committee

FBI Director James Comey for the first time on Monday confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee that the agency is investigating possible links between Russia and Mr Trump’s associates as part of a broader inquiry into Moscow’s interference in last year’s election.

He also disputed Mr Trump’s wiretapping claims.

“With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” he told the panel.

After Mr Trump’s tweets earlier this month, the New York Times quoted unnamed senior officials reporting that Mr Comey had said the claim was false and had asked the justice department to publicly reject it.

Mr Clapper said the intelligence agencies he had supervised did not wiretap Mr Trump last year, and nor did the FBI obtain a court order to monitor Mr Trump’s phones.

As intelligence director, he told NBC, he would have known about a “court order on something like this”.

This is a reference to the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which can grant wiretaps on the grounds of national security.

Several senior Republicans have rejected the allegations after congressional committees looked into them.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr said on 16 March there were “no indications” that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the US government either before or after Election Day 2016.

Earlier that day, House Speaker Paul Ryan also said “no such wiretap existed”.

And the previous day, House of Representatives Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes said: “We don’t have any evidence.”

“I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” he told a news conference.

“Are you going to take the tweets literally?” asked Rep Nunes. “If so, clearly the president was wrong.”

What about the Justice Department?

It hasn’t said yet. It has asked for more time to respond to the House Intelligence Committee’s request that it provide evidence.

But Mr Comey on Monday also said the justice department found no evidence to support the president’s allegations.

(bold italics added)

If US intelligence learnt of the Kushner-Kislyak conversation through electronic eavesdropping, then these denials were untrue, since the meeting between Kushner and Kislyak took place in Trump Tower, which must in that case have been bugged.

Perhaps the bugging was only temporary, and specifically targeted Kislyak, and perhaps Kushner’s and Flynn’s comments were picked up “incidentally”.  However if such bugging did take place, then even if it was only temporary, and even if it specifically targeted only Kislyak, some at least of the people who were denying that bugging of Trump Tower ever took place were lying, or at the very least they were being economical with the truth.

If so, then that would explain the need for a cover story.

Obviously this is speculation.  However – as I hope I have shown – it is speculation based on fact.

I would add that earlier denials that US citizens involved in the Trump campaign were placed under surveillance, and claims that their communications were only intercepted “incidentally”, have turned out to be untrue, with the revelation that a previously undisclosed FISA warrant was obtained during the election period authorising surveillance of Carter Page.

Perhaps those who say that Trump Tower was never bugged are telling the truth, and perhaps US intelligence obtained the details of the Kushner-Kislyak meeting some other way, possibly from an informant.

As things stand however, disclosure of US intelligence’s knowledge of the Kushner-Kislyak meeting, and the painstaking but unconvincing attempt to create a cover story to explain that fact, has re opened the question of whether Trump Tower was bugged, making that a question which now deserves to be revisited.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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French opposition rejects Macron’s concessions to Yellow Vests, some demand ‘citizen revolution’

Mélenchon: “I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization.”

RT

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Via RT…


Macron’s concessions to the Yellow Vests has failed to appease protesters and opposition politicians, such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who called for “citizen’s revolution” to continue until a fair distribution of wealth is achieved.

Immediately after French President Macron declared a “social and economic state of emergency” in response to large-scale protests by members of the Yellow Vest movement, promising a range of concessions to address their grievances, left-wing opposition politician Mélenchon called on the grassroots campaign to continue their revolution next Saturday.

I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization.

Macron’s promise of a €100 minimum wage increase, tax-free overtime pay and end-of-year bonuses, Mélenchon argued, will not affect any “considerable part” of the French population. Yet the leader of La France Insoumise stressed that the “decision” to rise up rests with “those who are in action.”

“We expect a real redistribution of wealth,” Benoît Hamon, a former presidential candidate and the founder of the Mouvement Génération, told BFM TV, accusing Macron’s package of measures that benefit the rich.

The Socialist Party’s first secretary, Olivier Faure, also slammed Macron’s financial concessions to struggling workers, noting that his general “course has not changed.”

Although welcoming certain tax measures, Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally (previously National Front), accused the president’s “model” of governance based on “wild globalization, financialization of the economy, unfair competition,” of failing to address the social and cultural consequences of the Yellow Vest movement.

Macron’s speech was a “great comedy,”according to Debout la France chairman, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who accused the French President of “hypocrisy.”

Yet many found Melanchon’s calls to rise up against the government unreasonable, accusing the 67-year-old opposition politician of being an “opportunist” and “populist,” who is trying to hijack the social protest movement for his own gain.

Furthermore, some 54 percent of French believe the Yellow Vests achieved their goals and want rallies to stop, OpinionWay survey showed. While half of the survey respondents considered Macron’s anti-crisis measures unconvincing, another 49 percent found the president to be successful in addressing the demands of the protesters. Some 68 percent of those polled following Macron’s speech on Monday especially welcomed the increase in the minimum wage, while 78 percent favored tax cuts.

The Yellow Vest protests against pension cuts and fuel tax hikes last month were organized and kept strong via social media, without help from France’s powerful labor unions or official political parties. Some noted that such a mass mobilization of all levels of society managed to achieve unprecedented concessions from the government, which the unions failed to negotiate over the last three decades.

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