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The Moscow cyber-crime arrests and the Yahoo hack: was the same gang involved?

The naming of Dmitry Dokuchaev in both the Moscow cyber-arrests and the Yahoo suggests the US and Russia may unwittingly be on the track of the same criminal gang.

Alexander Mercouris

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Earlier this year reports appeared in the Russian media of a series of arrests of Russian FSB officers and cyber specialists, including one Ruslan Stoyanov, an employee of  Russia’s top cyber security company, the Kaspersky Lab.

Subsequently it became known that some of them at least had been charged with treason, in a case that supposedly involved the US, with Stoyanov supposedly charged with passing on Russian state secrets to Verigin, a US company.

Following the arrests numerous reports circulated speculating that these arrests were somehow connected to the hacking of John Podesta’s and the DNC’s computers.

Some sections of the Western media made claims – strongly denied by the Russians – that the individuals arrested were the ones who had carried out the hacking of John Podesta’s and the DNC’s computers.

Others, rather more plausibly, speculated that those arrested were some of the informers who had provided information to the US which was used by the US intelligence community to support its claims of Russian responsibility for the Podesta and DNC hacks.

The case of the arrested FSB officers in Moscow has now taken an extraordinary new twist with the US Department of Justice bringing charges against a group of four Russian cyber criminals, who according to the the Department of Justice’s report, are being charged with

…..the 2014 hack into the network of email provider Yahoo, the theft of information about at least 500 million Yahoo accounts and the use of that information to obtain the contents of accounts at Yahoo and other email providers.

What makes the Yahoo case interesting is that the Department of Justice is saying that two of the individuals who have been charged are FSB officers.  The Department of Justice identifies them as follows

The defendants include two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), an intelligence and law enforcement agency of the Russian Federation and two criminal hackers with whom they conspired to accomplish these intrusions.

Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, both FSB officers, protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the United States and elsewhere.

They worked with co-conspirators Alexsey Belan and Karim Baratov to hack into computers of American companies providing email and internet-related services, to maintain unauthorized access to those computers and to steal information, including information about individual users and the private contents of their accounts.

The defendants targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including cyber security, diplomatic and military personnel. They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities.

(bold italics added)

Dmitry Dokuchaev, one of the FSB officers being charged by the US Justice Department in connection with the Yahoo hack, appears to be the same Dmitry Dokuchaev who has been arrested in Moscow in the treason case, and who The London Times has described – obviously on the basis of information obtained from British intelligence sources – as “a cyber-spy and former hacker”.

The fact that the same man  – Dmitry Dokuchaev – has been charged simultaneously in both cases, the one in Washington and the one in Moscow, makes it at least possible that the two cases – the Yahoo case in Washington and the treason case in Moscow – are in some way connected, and may involve the same group of cyber-criminals.

Importantly, the Department of Justice’s and the FBI’s claims about Dokuchaev and Sushchin, the two FSB officers charged in the Yahoo case, do not necessarily point to them undertaking an intelligence operation on behalf of the Russian government.   Though the wording is not completely clear, it is not inconsistent with Dokuchaev and Sushchin running a rogue operation for the purpose of self-enrichment.  Here is what the Department of Justice report has to say about them

Belan’s notorious criminal conduct and a pending Interpol Red Notice did not stop the FSB officers who, instead of detaining him, used him to break into Yahoo’s networks.

Meanwhile, Belan used his relationship with the two FSB officers and his access to Yahoo to commit additional crimes to line his own pockets with money…..

For those not familiar with the FSB, it is an intelligence and law enforcement agency and a successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB. The FSB unit that the defendants worked for, the Center for Information Security, aka Center 18, is also the FBI’s point of contact in Moscow for cyber-crime matters.

The involvement and direction of FSB officers with law enforcement responsibilities makes this conduct that much more egregious. There are no free passes for foreign state-sponsored criminal behavior.

This appears to suggest that the Department of Justice believes that Dokuchaev and Sushchin recruited Belan to carry out illegal hacks of US companies on behalf of the FSB, and that Belan used the protection this afforded him to carry out more illegal hacks to enrich himself and them.

However it is equally or perhaps more likely that Dokuchaev and Sushchin were Belan’s accomplices in a series of crimes carried out on their own initiative.  It is after all hardly unusual for criminals to enlist the services of corrupt law enforcement officers to help them carry out their crimes.  Such a thing undoubtedly happens in Russia, just as it happens in most other places.

That Dokuchaev at least was a corrupt FSB officer involved in a rogue operation is strongly suggested by what the FBI itself says about him.  Here is the information the FBI has provided about his activities which appears in the Most Wanted Notice the FSB has issued about him.

Conspiring to Commit Computer Fraud and Abuse; Accessing a Computer Without Authorization for the Purpose of Commercial Advantage and Private Financial Gain; Damaging a Computer Through the Transmission of Code and Commands; Economic Espionage; Theft of Trade Secrets; Access Device Fraud; Aggravated Identity Theft; Wire Fraud

(bold italics added)

The words “purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain” point clearly to a rogue criminal operation rather than an official state-sponsored one.

That the FBI’s knowledge of the case still has gaps is strongly suggested by what the FBI has to say about Dokuchaev’s alleged accomplice Igor Sushchin in its Most Wanted Notice about him

Sushchin has Russian citizenship and is known to hold a Russian passport.  Sushchin is alleged to be a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Officer of unknown rank.  In addition to working for the FSB, he is alleged to have served as Head of Information Security for a Russian company, providing information about employees of that company to the FSB.  He was last known to be in Moscow, Russia.

 (bold italics added)

These comments about Sushchin cast doubt on whether Sushchin really is an FSB officer.

The FBI says that Sushchin is simultaneously an officer of the FSB and the head of information security at a Russian company.  Moonlighting in the private sector was a common practice for FSB officers in the chaotic 1990s.  It is hardly conceivable today.

It seems more likely that Sushchin is the head of information security for a Russian company but that because of his relationship with Dokuchaev the FBI supposes him to be an FSB officer.  Its Most Wanted Notice about Sushchin shows that the FBI does not know for a fact that Sushchin actually is an FSB officer.  It merely guesses he is, and on the facts the FBI itself provides it is probably wrong.

To add to the uncertainty there is a question mark about Dokuchaev’s own role within the FSB.  According to reports in Russia, Dokuchaev is not a conventional FSB officer at all but is rather a notorious former hacker and cyber-criminal who was blackmailed by the FSB into working for them.  Here is what the Moscow based Moscow Times has to say about him

Major Dmitry Dokuchaev, one of four cyber-security experts arrested by the Kremlin on charges of treason, has allegedly been revealed as an infamous Russian hacker.

Dokuchaev worked as a hacker under the alias “Forb” until Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) threatened to jail him, an unverified source told the RBC newspaper.

“Forb” gave a interview to Russian newspaper Vedomosti in 2004, revealing that he specialized in “hacking on request” and stealing money from bank cards – an occupation which he said could earn him anywhere between $5,000 and $30,000 a month.

He also claimed that he had carried out a successful attack on U.S. government infrastructure.

The FSB ultimately traced Dokuchaev to the card thefts, and threatened to prosecute the hacker unless he agreed to work for the agency, the source alleged.

If what the Moscow Times article says is true (and the story looks well-sourced) then Dokuchaev’s criminal past makes it even more plausible that what he engaged in was a rogue criminal operation which was not officially sanctioned by the FSB.

Recruiting a notorious cyber-criminal to track down other cyber-criminals is a strange idea, but hardly unique in the world of law-enforcement.  Possibly the FSB, lacking its own trained cyber-specialists as a result of the crisis of the 1990s, looked to people like Dokuchaev in order to fill its ranks quickly.  If so then this has now come back to bite it, with another FSB officer – Sergey Mikhailov, the deputy head of the FSB’s security information centre (the FSB department for which the US Justice Department says Dokuchaev worked), who may have been Dokuchaev’s superior and line manager – seemingly also implicated in Dokuchaev’s activities.

This is a tangled web.  However if what is known about the case in Moscow is put together with what is now known about the case in Washington, then it is at least possible that this is a case of two parallel investigations into the activities of the same gang.  Belan and Dokuchaev would presumably be the ringleaders, but it seems that Dokuchaev has succeeded in involving at least one other person (Mikhailov) within the FSB as well.

Supporting the theory that the treason case in Moscow and the Yahoo case in Washington are the products of two parallel investigations into the activities of the same gang, is a report carried by TASS of the comments of a lawyer familiar with the Moscow case.  The lawyer is reported to have said the following

No CIA is mentioned in the case. It is only the country that is mentioned. Yes, the talk is about America, not about the CIA

(bold italics added)

When I previously discussed this comment in an article written on 2nd February 2017, I assumed it referred to the passing of classified information to the US intelligence community, if not to the CIA itself.  I overlooked the fact that the lawyer’s comment contains no hint of this.  Instead the lawyer merely said that “the talk is about America”.   His words are equally consistent with data theft from the US as with information transfer to the US.

It is likely that both took place.  If the cases in Moscow and Washington involve the activities of the same gang of cyber-criminals, then it seems that they were equally happy to steal information from the US, and to steal information from Russia and sell it to the US.

That would explain the claim about the passing of classified information to Verigin, with which Stoyanov is charged, and which is presumably what lies behind the treason charges.

However in all cases the motive for the gang’s activities would have been the same – the classic criminal one: to make money.

As it happens the fact that the gang was targeting Russians as well as Americans is confirmed by the US Justice Department in its report

The defendants targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including cyber security, diplomatic and military personnel. They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities.

(bold italics added)

There is much that is murky about this affair.  Though the known facts do suggest that the arrests in Moscow and the charges in Washington concern the same gang or at least the same people, that is not yet absolutely certain, and it could be that Dokuchaev, who figures so prominently in both cases, spread his net wide and involved more than one gang in his activities.

If however the two cases do involve the same gang, then unfortunately it is all too clear from the information trickling out of both Washington and Moscow that the relevant law enforcement agencies of the US and Russia are not cooperating with each other and are completely uninformed and possibly even unaware of each other’s investigations.  If so then that is much to be regretted since it can only increase the possibility of the two investigations working against each other and at cross-purposes, as in fact actually seems to be the case.

At this point however a few points can be made with confidence.

Firstly, it is clear that the Moscow arrests have absolutely nothing to do with the hacking of the computers of John Podesta and the DNC.  The case in Moscow is a criminal investigation into the activities of a gang of cyber-criminals, who practised criminal activity for financial gain.  They may be and probably are the same gang the US Justice Department and the FBI say is behind the Yahoo hack.  Regardless all the stories claiming that the Moscow case is somehow connected to the DNC and Podesta leaks are wrong.

Secondly, the claims in the Russian media that the arrests in Moscow had something to do with the Shaltay Boltai hacking group are also clearly wrong.  In that case the confusion is understandable.  It seems there is a wholly separate investigation into the Shaltay Boltai group going on as well.  Unsurprisingly some journalists in Moscow have confused the two, failing to realise that they are two wholly distinct investigations into two different groups of people.

Thirdly, if the investigations in Washington and Moscow are indeed parallel investigations into the activities of the same gang, then this shows the huge damage which has been done by the severing of contacts between the US and Russian law enforcement agencies carried out by the Obama administration.

Instead of information being pooled in order to track down and prosecute the same gang of cyber-criminals, two wholly separate and rival investigations are being conducted in two different countries which quite possibly involve the same gang.

The result is that neither investigation is being provided with all the facts.  Worse, the potential for conflict and misunderstanding between Washington and Moscow has been increased.   Both Washington and Moscow seem to be convinced that what looks to be one and the same gang was working for the intelligence agencies of the other side.  The result is that the US and Russia are blaming each other for the gang’s activities whilst protesting – correctly – their own innocence.

Perhaps one day, if Donald Trump finally comes through with his proposed detente with Russia, this sort of muddle and recrimination will be avoided.  If so then cooperation between the law enforcement agencies of the two countries would be a further important step in reducing misunderstandings and improving relations.

However until that happens the sort confusion, misunderstanding and exchange of blame and recriminations we are now seeing will continue unabated.

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BuzzFeed pushes fake Michael Cohen news, as real news breaks on HUGE conspiracy against Trump at FBI and DOJ (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 169.

Alex Christoforou

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According to Zerohedge, in an almost unprecedented event – having rarely commented on stories related to the special counsel’s investigation – Robert S. Mueller III’s office put out a statement firmly disputing the reporting of the news site BuzzFeed reported that the president instructed his personal attorney to lie to Congress about his push for a Moscow real estate project

BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” the special counsel’s office said.

As The Hill reports, BuzzFeed had released a statement earlier Friday defending the reporters behind the story and saying that it “stands by this story 100%,” and for his part, Cohen adviser Lanny Davis refused to confirm or deny the report during an interview with MSNBC on Friday afternoon.

President Trump retweeted a few social media reactions…

And then made his own views clear:

Meanwhile the real election collusion bombshell had nothing to do with Russia, Moscow hotels, or Michael Cohen, and everything to do with bullet proof evidence that DOJ official, Bruce Ohr, warned all the higher-ups at the FBI and DOJ (Comey, Rosenstein, McCabe, etc…) that the Steele dossier was connected to Hillary Clinton, and was extremely biased against Donald Trump.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss how BuzzFeed pushed out a clear, fake propaganda story on Trump, Cohen, and more stupidity about Moscow hotel deals, as real reporter, John Solomon broke a massive story, with solid evidence and facts, that show the FBI and DOJ knew that the Steele dossier was a complete work of fiction, and knowingly hide that fact from FISA courts.

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Authored by John Solomon, via The Hill

When the annals of mistakes and abuses in the FBI’s Russia investigation are finally written, Bruce Ohr almost certainly will be the No. 1 witness, according to my sources.

The then-senior Department of Justice (DOJ) official briefed both senior FBI and DOJ officials in summer 2016 about Christopher Steele’s Russia dossier, explicitly cautioning that the British intelligence operative’s work was opposition research connected to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and might be biased.

Ohr’s briefings, in July and August 2016, included the deputy director of the FBI, a top lawyer for then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and a Justice official who later would become the top deputy to special counsel Robert Mueller.

At the time, Ohr was the associate deputy attorney general. Yet his warnings about political bias were pointedly omitted weeks later from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant that the FBI obtainedfrom a federal court, granting it permission to spy on whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia to hijack the 2016 presidential election.

Ohr’s activities, chronicled in handwritten notes and congressional testimony I gleaned from sources, provide the most damning evidence to date that FBI and DOJ officials may have misled federal judges in October 2016 in their zeal to obtain the warrant targeting Trump adviser Carter Page just weeks before Election Day.

They also contradict a key argument that House Democrats have made in their formal intelligence conclusions about the Russia case.

Since it was disclosed last year that Steele’s dossier formed a central piece of evidence supporting the FISA warrant, Justice and FBI officials have been vague about exactly when they learned that Steele’s work was paid for by the law firm representing the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

A redacted version of the FISA application released last year shows the FBI did not mention any connection to the DNC or Clinton. Rather, it referred to Steele as a reliable source in past criminal investigations who was hired by a person working for a U.S. law firm to conduct research on Trump and Russia.

The FBI claimed it was “unaware of any derogatory information” about Steele, that Steele was “never advised … as to the motivation behind the research” but that the FBI  “speculates” that those who hired Steele were “likely looking for information to discredit” Trump’s campaign.

Yet, in testimony last summer to congressional investigators, Ohr revealed the FBI and Justice lawyers had no need to speculate: He explicitly warned them in a series of contacts, beginning July 31, 2016, that Steele expressed biased against Trump and was working on a project connected to the Clinton campaign.

Ohr had firsthand knowledge about the motive and the client: He had just met with Steele on July 30, 2016, and Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS, the same firm employing Steele.

“I certainly told the FBI that Fusion GPS was working with, doing opposition research on Donald Trump,” Ohr told congressional investigators, adding that he warned the FBI that Steele expressed bias during their conversations.

“I provided information to the FBI when I thought Christopher Steele was, as I said, desperate that Trump not be elected,” he added. “So, yes, of course I provided that to the FBI.”

When pressed why he would offer that information to the FBI, Ohr answered: “In case there might be any kind of bias or anything like that.” He added later, “So when I provided it to the FBI, I tried to be clear that this is source information, I don’t know how reliable it is. You’re going to have to check it out and be aware.”

Ohr went further, saying he disclosed to FBI agents that his wife and Steele were working for the same firm and that it was conducting the Trump-Russia research project at the behest of Trump’s Democratic rival, the Clinton campaign.

“These guys were hired by somebody relating to, who’s related to the Clinton campaign and be aware,” Ohr told Congress, explaining what he warned the bureau.

Perkins Coie, the law firm that represented both the DNC and the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election, belatedly admitted it paid Fusion GPS for Steele’s work on behalf of the candidate and party and disguised the payments as legal bills when, in fact, it was opposition research.

When asked if he knew of any connection between the Steele dossier and the DNC, Ohr responded that he believed the project was really connected to the Clinton campaign.

“I didn’t know they were employed by the DNC but I certainly said yes that they were working for, you know, they were somehow working, associated with the Clinton campaign,” he answered.

“I also told the FBI that my wife worked for Fusion GPS or was a contractor for GPS, Fusion GPS.”

Ohr divulged his first contact with the FBI was on July 31, 2016, when he reached out to then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and FBI attorney Lisa Page. He then was referred to the agents working Russia counterintelligence, including Peter Strzok, the now-fired agent who played a central role in starting the Trump collusion probe.

But Ohr’s contacts about the Steele dossier weren’t limited to the FBI. He said in August 2016 — nearly two months before the FISA warrant was issued — that he was asked to conduct a briefing for senior Justice officials.

Those he briefed included Andrew Weissmann, then the head of DOJ’s fraud section; Bruce Swartz, longtime head of DOJ’s international operations, and Zainab Ahmad, an accomplished terrorism prosecutor who, at the time, was assigned to work with Lynch as a senior counselor.

Ahmad and Weissmann would go on to work for Mueller, the special prosecutor overseeing the Russia probe.

Ohr’s extensive testimony also undercuts one argument that House Democrats sought to make last year.

When Republicans, in early 2018, first questioned Ohr’s connections to Steele, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee sought to minimize the connection, insisting he only worked as an informer for the FBI after Steele was fired by the FBI in November 2016.

The memo from Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-Calif.) team claimed that Ohr’s contacts with the FBI only began “weeks after the election and more than a month after the Court approved the initial FISA application.”

But Ohr’s testimony now debunks that claim, making clear he started talking to FBI and DOJ officials well before the FISA warrant or election had occurred.

And his detailed answers provide a damning rebuttal to the FBI’s portrayal of the Steele material.

In fact, the FBI did have derogatory information on Steele: Ohr explicitly told the FBI that Steele was desperate to defeat the man he was investigating and was biased.

And the FBI knew the motive of the client and did not have to speculate: Ohr told agents the Democratic nominee’s campaign was connected to the research designed to harm Trump’s election chances.

Such omissions are, by definition, an abuse of the FISA system.

Don’t take my word for it. Fired FBI Director James Comey acknowledged it himself when he testified last month that the FISA court relies on an honor system, in which the FBI is expected to divulge exculpatory evidence to the judges.

“We certainly consider it our obligation, because of our trust relationship with federal judges, to present evidence that would paint a materially different picture of what we’re presenting,” Comey testified on Dec. 7, 2018. “You want to present to the judge reviewing your application a complete picture of the evidence, both its flaws and its strengths.”

Comey claims he didn’t know about Ohr’s contacts with Steele, even though his top deputy, McCabe, got the first contact.

But none of that absolves his FBI, or the DOJ for that matter, from failing to divulge essential and exculpatory information from Ohr to the FISA court.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.

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At Age 70, Time To Rethink NATO

The architect of Cold War containment, Dr. George Kennan, warned that moving NATO into Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics would prove a “fateful error.”

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick Buchanan via The Unz Review:


“Treaties are like roses and young girls. They last while they last.”

So said President Charles De Gaulle, who in 1966 ordered NATO to vacate its Paris headquarters and get out of France.

NATO this year celebrates a major birthday. The young girl of 1966 is no longer young. The alliance is 70 years old.

And under this aging NATO today, the U.S. is committed to treat an attack on any one of 28 nations from Estonia to Montenegro to Romania to Albania as an attack on the United States.

The time is ripe for a strategic review of these war guarantees to fight a nuclear-armed Russia in defense of countries across the length of Europe that few could find on a map.

Apparently, President Donald Trump, on trips to Europe, raised questions as to whether these war guarantees comport with vital U.S. interests and whether they could pass a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

The shock of our establishment that Trump even raised this issue in front of Europeans suggests that the establishment, frozen in the realities of yesterday, ought to be made to justify these sweeping war guarantees.

Celebrated as “the most successful alliance in history,” NATO has had two histories. Some of us can yet recall its beginnings.

In 1948, Soviet troops, occupying eastern Germany all the way to the Elbe and surrounding Berlin, imposed a blockade on the city.

The regime in Prague was overthrown in a Communist coup. Foreign minister Jan Masaryk fell, or was thrown, from a third-story window to his death. In 1949, Stalin exploded an atomic bomb.

As the U.S. Army had gone home after V-E Day, the U.S. formed a new alliance to protect the crucial European powers — West Germany, France, Britain, Italy. Twelve nations agreed that an attack on one would be treated as an attack on them all.

Cross the Elbe and you are at war with us, including the U.S. with its nuclear arsenal, Stalin was, in effect, told. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops returned to Europe to send the message that America was serious.

Crucial to the alliance was the Yalta line dividing Europe agreed to by Stalin, FDR and Churchill at the 1945 Crimean summit on the Black Sea.

U.S. presidents, even when monstrous outrages were committed in Soviet-occupied Europe, did not cross this line into the Soviet sphere.

Truman did not send armored units up the highway to Berlin. He launched an airlift to break the Berlin blockade. Ike did not intervene to save the Hungarian rebels in 1956. JFK confined his rage at the building of the Berlin Wall to the rhetorical: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

LBJ did nothing to help the Czechs when, before the Democratic convention in 1968, Leonid Brezhnev sent Warsaw Pact tank armies to crush the Prague Spring.

When the Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa was crushed in Gdansk, Reagan sent copy and printing machines. At the Berlin Wall in 1988, he called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Reagan never threatened to tear it down himself.

But beginning in 1989, the Wall was torn down, Germany was united, the Red Army went home, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the USSR broke apart into 15 nations, and Leninism expired in its birthplace.

As the threat that had led to NATO disappeared, many argued that the alliance created to deal with that threat should be allowed to fade away, and a free and prosperous Europe should now provide for its own defense.

It was not to be. The architect of Cold War containment, Dr. George Kennan, warned that moving NATO into Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics would prove a “fateful error.”

This, said Kennan, would “inflame the nationalistic and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion” and “restore the atmosphere of the cold war in East-West relations.” Kennan was proven right.

America is now burdened with the duty to defend Europe from the Atlantic to the Baltic, even as we face a far greater threat in China, with an economy and population 10 times that of Russia.

And we must do this with a defense budget that is not half the share of the federal budget or the GDP that Eisenhower and Kennedy had.

Trump is president today because the American people concluded that our foreign policy elite, with their endless interventions where no vital U.S. interest was imperiled, had bled and virtually bankrupted us, while kicking away all of the fruits of our Cold War victory.

Halfway into Trump’s term, the question is whether he is going to just talk about halting Cold War II with Russia, about demanding that Europe pay for its own defense, and about bringing the troops home — or whether he is going to act upon his convictions.

Our foreign policy establishment is determined to prevent Trump from carrying out his mandate. And if he means to carry out his agenda, he had best get on with it.

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The ISIS attack in Syria appears to have failed in its real mission

ISIS probably tried to get Mr. Trump to keep troops in Syria, but in reality this attack shows no compelling reason to remain there.

Seraphim Hanisch

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ISIS is one of the bloodiest, most brutal organizations to ever exist in modern history. During its meteoric rise, the “Caliphate” struck with death and fear across the deserts of Iraq and the wastes of Syria, seducing a seemingly increasing number of recruits from the West, developing its own currency and financing abilities, all the while remaining a death cult, in the conviction that their eventual destruction would trigger a far greater Islamic uprising.

But something changed for them starting in about 2013. While ISIS got quietly aided and abetted by President Obama’s (perhaps not unwitting) support through neglect and then even quieter collaboration (Obama thought ISIS could be “managed” in the effort to oust Bashar Al-Assad from Syria), its power and reach extended through much of Syria.

But then came Russia. Russia didn’t think ISIS should be managed. Russia determined that ISIS should be destroyed. And in 2015, invited by Syria, the Russians came and went to work. They did most of the heavy lifting in terms of driving ISIS back, while (inconveniently for the US and West) also carefully taking back Syrian territory from antigovernment groups that were supported by the US and its coalition of forces operating in the country, including Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and all the names it took on afterwards. This was quietly carried out because the Americans also had face to save, owing to Obama’s clumsy decision to send American forces into the country, which gradually grew and metastasized into a significantly sized fighting force.

With an extremely complicated group of alliances and enemies, the American forces were forced to quietly abandon their mission of removing Bashar al-Assad from power and to pivot to actually destroying ISIS. President Trump does deserve some credit for his part in helping this to happen. He also deserves a lot of credit for his recent decision to pull American troops out of Syria.

This move was severely condemned by the US hawks, resulting in the resignation / firing / retirement of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and, in an amusing show of hypocrisy, the pundits from the Anti-Trump crowd at CNN and other news outlets characterized this decision as the US President proving once and for all that he is a Putin operative, a real-life Manchurian President.

ISIS evidently wanted the US not to leave either, so it conducted an attack on Wednesday, January 16th, tragically killing 19 people, with four Americans among the dead. The New York Times was lightning-fast to jump into the fray to carry out what was probably ISIS’ real mission with this attack: to sow seeds of doubt among the US authorities, and to keep American forces in the region (emphasis added).

Four Americans were among 19 people killed in Syria on Wednesday in a suicide bombing that was claimed by the Islamic State, just weeks after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of United States forces and declared that the extremist group had been defeated.

The attack targeted an American military convoy in the northern city of Manbij while troops were inside the Palace of the Princes, a restaurant where they often stopped to eat during patrols, residents said. While the Americans were inside, a nearby suicide attacker wearing an explosive vest blew himself up.

The bombing raised new questions about Mr. Trump’s surprise decision last month to end the American ground war in Syria. Critics of the president’s plans, including members of his own party, said Mr. Trump’s claim of victory over the Islamic State may have emboldened its fighters and encouraged Wednesday’s strike… Mr. Trump’s withdrawal announcement, made over the objections of his top national security officials, “set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a prominent Trump ally who has nonetheless criticized the military drawdown.

“I saw this in Iraq. And I’m now seeing it in Syria,” Mr. Graham said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

The rest of the article, of course, had the Trump Administration defending itself, with Vice President Mike Pence as the spokesman of that defense.

However, already only two days later, the noise about this seems to have faded. There is no ongoing media fury about the President’s decision to remove troops. In fact, aside from the ongoing investigation to confirm that ISIS indeed did carry out this attack, there is no indication of a change in the troop withdrawal process.

If this situation remains as it is, it is a very good sign for these reasons:

  1. President Trump is showing his resolve and confidence in a decision he knows to be right (to withdraw) and not to accede to the War Party wishes.
  2. ISIS is losing its reputation as a significant fighting force as far as the US population is concerned, as it probably should. With the US gone, Russia can prosecute this war full force without risk of creating more serious incidents with the Americans.
  3. The possibility exists that this attack, already heinous in what we know, could have been a false flag, designed specifically to provoke the US troop withdrawal to stop and be reversed.

This last scenario has oddly not been visibly mentioned, but it should be, because it probably happened in April 2018 and earlier. The Duran covered this quite extensively, and while the “official” (Western) investigation has come up curiously silent on the alleged chemical weapons attack last April in Ghouta, the overwhelming body of reports from the region suggested that the “gas” attack was nothing at all but drama to keep the US ensnared in the region. Remember, President Trump at that time also expressed the intention of withdrawing US troops from the area, and this event caused a reversal for a time.

ISIS tried to become a nation. It operates on terror and theater, but it considers itself free to kill people along the way as it creates its pageantry. For the souls of all those innocent people who perished in this attack, we must pray and not forget.

But ISIS is substantially done, and what is left will be dealt with by Russian and Syrian forces.

For once, the definition of “American courage” might be not to fight. President Trump’s decision to remove the troops remains one of the most significant achievements of his presidency, and one of the most important in terms of restoring balance to the United States that it deserves to have.

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