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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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Airline wars heat up, as industry undergoes massive disruption (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the global commercial airline industry, which is undergoing massive changes, as competition creeps in from Russia and China.

Reuters reports that Boeing Co’s legal troubles grew as a new lawsuit accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 MAX planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.

The proposed class action filed in Chicago federal court seeks damages for alleged securities fraud violations, after Boeing’s market value tumbled by $34 billion within two weeks of the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX.

*****

According to the complaint, Boeing “effectively put profitability and growth ahead of airplane safety and honesty” by rushing the 737 MAX to market to compete with Airbus SE, while leaving out “extra” or “optional” features designed to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.

It also said Boeing’s statements about its growth prospects and the 737 MAX were undermined by its alleged conflict of interest from retaining broad authority from federal regulators to assess the plane’s safety.

*****

Boeing said on Tuesday that aircraft orders in the first quarter fell to 95 from 180 a year earlier, with no orders for the 737 MAX following the worldwide grounding.

On April 5, it said it planned to cut monthly 737 production to 42 planes from 52, and was making progress on a 737 MAX software update to prevent further accidents.

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Via Zerohedge…

Step aside (fading) trade war with China: there is a new aggressor – at least according to the US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer – in town.

In a statement on the USTR’s website published late on Monday, the US fair trade agency announced that under Section 301 of the Trade Act, it was proposing a list of EU products to be covered by additional duties. And as justification for the incremental import taxes, the USTR said that it was in response to EU aircraft subsidies, specifically to Europea’s aerospace giant, Airbus, which “have caused adverse effects to the United States” and which the USTR estimates cause $11 billion in harm to the US each year

One can’t help but notice that the latest shot across the bow in the simmering trade war with Europe comes as i) Trump is reportedly preparing to fold in his trade war with China, punting enforcement to whoever is president in 2025, and ii) comes just as Boeing has found itself scrambling to preserve orders as the world has put its orderbook for Boeing 737 MAX airplanes on hold, which prompted Boeing to cut 737 production by 20% on Friday.

While the first may be purely a coincidence, the second – which is expected to not only slam Boeing’s financials for Q1 and Q2, but may also adversely impact US GDP – had at least some impact on the decision to proceed with these tariffs at this moment.

We now await Europe’s angry response to what is Trump’s latest salvo in what is once again a global trade war. And, paradoxically, we also expect this news to send stocks blasting higher as, taking a page from the US-China trade book, every day algos will price in imminent “US-European trade deal optimism.”

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

USTR Proposes Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has found repeatedly that European Union (EU) subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States.  Today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) begins its process under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to identify products of the EU to which additional duties may be applied until the EU removes those subsidies.

USTR is releasing for public comment a preliminary list of EU products to be covered by additional duties.  USTR estimates the harm from the EU subsidies as $11 billion in trade each year.  The amount is subject to an arbitration at the WTO, the result of which is expected to be issued this summer.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action. The Administration is preparing to respond immediately when the WTO issues its finding on the value of U.S. countermeasures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.  “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft.  When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

In line with U.S. law, the preliminary list contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.  Once the WTO arbitrator issues its report on the value of countermeasures, USTR will announce a final product list covering a level of trade commensurate with the adverse effects determined to exist.

Background

After many years of seeking unsuccessfully to convince the EU and four of its member States (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) to cease their subsidization of Airbus, the United States brought a WTO challenge to EU subsidies in 2004. In 2011, the WTO found that the EU provided Airbus $18 billion in subsidized financing from 1968 to 2006.  In particular, the WTO found that European “launch aid” subsidies were instrumental in permitting Airbus to launch every model of its large civil aircraft, causing Boeing to lose sales of more than 300 aircraft and market share throughout the world.

In response, the EU removed two minor subsidies, but left most of them unchanged.  The EU also granted Airbus more than $5 billion in new subsidized “launch aid” financing for the A350 XWB.  The United States requested establishment of a compliance panel in March 2012 to address the EU’s failure to remove its old subsidies, as well as the new subsidies and their adverse effects.  That process came to a close with the issuance of an appellate report in May 2018 finding that EU subsidies to high-value, twin-aisle aircraft have caused serious prejudice to U.S. interests.  The report found that billions of dollars in launch aid to the A350 XWB and A380 cause significant lost sales to Boeing 787 and 747 aircraft, as well as lost market share for Boeing very large aircraft in the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets.

Based on the appellate report, the United States requested authority to impose countermeasures worth $11.2 billion per year, commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies.  The EU challenged that estimate, and a WTO arbitrator is currently evaluating those claims

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Mueller report takes ‘Russian meddling’ for granted, offers no actual evidence

RT

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Via RT…


Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report has cleared Donald Trump of ‘collusion’ charges but maintains that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. Yet concrete evidence of that is nowhere to be seen.

The report by Mueller and his team, made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, exonerates not just Trump but all Americans of any “collusion” with Russia, “obliterating” the Russiagate conspiracy theory, as journalist Glenn Greenwald put it.

However, it asserts that Russian “interference” in the election did happen, and says it consisted of a campaign on social media as well as Russian military intelligence (repeatedly referred to by its old, Soviet-era name, GRU) “hacking” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC, and the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.

As evidence of this, the report basically offers nothing but Mueller’s indictment of “GRU agents,” delivered on the eve of the Helsinki Summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in what was surely a cosmic coincidence.

Indictments are not evidence, however, but allegations. Any time it looks like the report might be bringing up proof, it ends up being redacted, ostensibly to protect sources and methods, and out of concern it might cause “harm to an ongoing matter.”

‘Active measures’ on social media

Mueller’s report leads with the claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran an “active measures” campaign of social media influence. Citing Facebook and Twitter estimates, the report says this consisted of 470 Facebook accounts that made 80,000 posts that may have been seen by up to 126 million people, between January 2015 and August 2017 (almost a year after the election), and 3,814 Twitter accounts that “may have been” in contact with about 1.4 million people.

Those numbers may seem substantial but, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out in November 2018, they should be regarded against the background of 33 trillion Facebook posts made during the same period.

According to Mueller, the IRA mind-controlled the American electorate by spending “approximately $100,000” on Facebook ads, hiring someone to walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” and getting Trump campaign affiliates to promote “dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.” Dozens!

Meanwhile, the key evidence against IRA’s alleged boss Evgeny Prigozhin is that he “appeared together in public photographs” with Putin.

Alleged hacking & release

The report claims that the GRU hacked their way into 29 DCCC computers and another 30 DNC computers, and downloaded data using software called “X-Tunnel.” It is unclear how Mueller’s investigators claim to know this, as the report makes no mention of them or FBI actually examining DNC or DCCC computers. Presumably they took the word of CrowdStrike, the Democrats’ private contractor, for it.

However obtained, the documents were published first through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 – which the report claims are “fictitious online personas” created by the GRU – and later through WikiLeaks. What is Mueller’s proof that these two entities were “GRU” cutouts? In a word, this:

That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DCLeaks website tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.(p. 43)

However, the report acknowledges that the “first known contact” between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks was on September 15, 2016 – months after the DNC and DCCC documents were published! Here we do get actual evidence: direct messages on Twitter obtained by investigators. Behold, these “spies” are so good, they don’t even talk – and when they do, they use unsecured channels.

Mueller notably claims “it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks” (the rest of that sentence is redacted), but the report clearly implies the investigators do not actually know how. On page 47, the report says Mueller “cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.”

Strangely, the report accuses WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange of making “public statements apparently designed to obscure the source” of the materials (p.48), notably the offer of a reward for finding the murderer of DNC staffer Seth Rich – even though this can be read as corroborating the intermediaries theory, and Assange never actually said Rich was his source.

The rest of Mueller’s report goes on to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with anyone even remotely Russian and to create torturous constructions that the president had “obstructed” justice by basically defending himself from charges of being a Russian agent – neither of which resulted in any indictments, however. But the central premise that the 22-month investigation, breathless media coverage, and the 448-page report are based on – that Russia somehow meddled in the 2016 election – remains unproven.

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote.

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It is depressing to observe how the United States of America has become the evil empire. Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War and in the Central Intelligence Agency for the second half of the Cold War, I had an insider’s viewpoint of how an essentially pragmatic national security policy was being transformed bit by bit into a bipartisan doctrine that featured as a sine qua non global dominance for Washington. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed the opportunity to end once and for all the bipolar nuclear confrontation that threatened global annihilation was squandered as President Bill Clinton chose instead to humiliate and use NATO to contain an already demoralized and effectively leaderless Russia.

American Exceptionalism became the battle cry for an increasingly clueless federal government as well as for a media-deluded public. When 9/11 arrived, the country was ready to lash out at the rest of the world. President George W. Bush growled that “There’s a new sheriff in town and you are either with us or against us.” Afghanistan followed, then Iraq, and, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats came up with Libya and the first serious engagement in Syria. In its current manifestation, one finds a United States that threatens Iran on a nearly weekly basis and tears up arms control agreements with Russia while also maintaining deployments of US forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places like Mali. Scattered across the globe are 800 American military bases while Washington’s principal enemies du jour Russia and China have, respectively, only one and none.

Never before in my lifetime has the United States been so belligerent, and that in spite of the fact that there is no single enemy or combination of enemies that actually threaten either the geographical United States or a vital interest. Venezuela is being threatened with invasion primarily because it is in the western hemisphere and therefore subject to Washington’s claimed proconsular authority. Last Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council that the White House will remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, preferably using diplomacy and sanctions, but “all options are on the table.” Pence warned that Russia and other friends of Maduro need to leave now or face the consequences.

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.”

Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step. In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade.

But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people.

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

In a a press release by Gardner, who has long been pushing to have Russia listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, a February version of the bill is described as “…comprehensive legislation [that] seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait. The legislation establishes a comprehensive policy response to better position the US government to address Kremlin aggression by creating new policy offices on cyber defenses and sanctions coordination. The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote. It also increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its interference in democratic processes abroad and continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The February version of the bill included Menendez, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as co-sponsors, suggesting that provoking war is truly bipartisan in today’s Washington.

Each Senator co-sponsor contributed a personal comment to the press release. Gardner observed that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the US-led liberal global order.” Menendez noted that “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress” while Graham added that “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria.” Cardin contributed “Congress continues to take the lead in defending US national security against continuing Russian aggression against democratic institutions at home and abroad” and Shaheen observed that “This legislation builds on previous efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its bellicose behavior against the United States and its determination to destabilize our global world order.”

The Senatorial commentary is, of course, greatly exaggerated and sometimes completely false regarding what is going on in the world, but it is revealing of how ignorant American legislators can be and often are. The Senators also ignore the fact that the designation of presumed Kremlin surrogate forces as “foreign terrorist organizations” is equivalent to a declaration of war against them by the US military, while hypocritically calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is bad enough, as it is demonstrably untrue. But the real damage comes from the existence of the bill itself. It will solidify support for hardliners on both sides, guaranteeing that there will be no rapprochement between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future, a development that is bad for everyone involved. Whether it can be characterized as an unintended consequence of unwise decision making or perhaps something more sinister involving a deeply corrupted congress and administration remains to be determined.

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