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At UN Security Council session Rex Tillerson opens door for negotiations with North Korea

In carefully chosen words at UN Security Council session US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson leaves open possibility for direct negotiations between the US and North Korea, culminating in an agreement to normalise relations in return for limits on North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Alexander Mercouris

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Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, acted today to confirm his authority as the head of US diplomacy by using a UN Security Council session to make what amounted to a peace offer to North Korea.

After sidelining Nikki Haley at the UN Security Council session today, Tillerson signalled what could be a significant shift in the US approach to the Korean crisis, appearing to offer direct talks with North Korea’s leadership with a promise of an eventual normalisation of relations between the US and North Korea, and holding out the prospect of the eventual enuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and of sanctions relief.

The peace offer inevitably came wrapped up with more demands for more sanctions (about which however see below), and with talk of military action remaining an option.  However the thrust of Tillerson’s words was clear enough

Our goal is not regime change. Nor do we desire to threaten the North Korean people or destabilize the Asia Pacific region. Over the years, we have withdrawn our own nuclear weapons from South Korea and offered aid to North Korea as proof of our intent to de-escalate the situation and normalize relations. Since 1995, the United States has provided over $1.3 billion dollars in aid to North Korea, and we look forward to resuming our contributions once the D.P.R.K. begins to dismantle its nuclear weapons and missile technology programs.

…….even though the present condition of that country is bleak, the United States believes in a future for North Korea. These first steps toward a more hopeful future will happen most quickly if other stakeholders in this – in the region and the global security join us.

(bold italics added)

As for Tillerson’s demand for further sanctions, on close examination these turn out to be pitched at a level which he appears to think China and Russia might accept

Third, we must increase North Korea’s financial isolation. We must levy new sanctions on D.P.R.K. entities and individuals supporting its weapons and missile programs, and tighten those that are already in place. The United States also would much prefer countries and people in question to own up to their lapses and correct their behavior themselves, but we will not hesitate to sanction third-country entities and individuals supporting the D.P.R.K.’s illegal activities.

We must bring maximum economic pressure by severing trade relationships that directly fund the D.P.R.K.’s nuclear and missile program. I call on the international community to suspend the flow of North Korean guest workers and to impose bans on North Korean imports, especially coal.

(bold italics added)

These demands appear to pitch sanctions at the level of obstructing development of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes rather than intending them to bring about the wholesale collapse  of North Korea’s economy, something which Tillerson probably realises the Chinese will never agree to.

In passing I should say that whilst the Chinese might be willing to forego imports of coal from North Korea at least for a while, I think it is all but inconceivable that either they or the Russians would suspend the flow of North Korean guest workers to their countries.

Despite his call for  total denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula Tillerson probably knows that the degree of suspicion of the US on the part of the North Korean government is so great that it is all but inconceivable that North Korea will ever agree to give up the nuclear weapons it already has.  Indeed in his remarks to the UN Security Council Tillerson made it fairly clear that his real objective is not to get North Korea to part with all its nuclear weapons – an objective he probably realises is unachievable – but rather to prevent North Korea from developing its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technology to the point were it can threaten the US mainland

With each successive detonation and missile test, North Korea pushes Northeast Asia and the world closer to instability and broader conflict.

The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real.

And it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland.

Indeed, the D.P.R.K. has repeatedly claimed it plans to conduct such a strike. Given that rhetoric, the United States cannot idly stand by. Nor can other members of this council who are within striking distance of North Korean missiles.

If so then a deal might be possible.

It is not inconceivable that North Korea might be open to a deal where it obtains the normalisation of its relations with the US and an end or at least an easing of economic sanctions in return for its agreement to forego developing the capability to strike at the US mainland.

Vassily Kashin, a prominent Russian military analyst, recently discussed the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme for Sputnik.  He made the point that despite impressive recent advances North Korea is still many years away from achieving the capability to launch a strike against the US mainland, and he suggested that North Korea’s real purpose may be to trade the prospect of it eventually achieving that capability – which may in reality be decades away – against the normalisation of its relations with the US.

Vassily Kashin’s comments are so interesting – especially so coming from an expert – that they deserve to be set out at length

At the moment, successful testing of these missiles (the sea-based KN-11 Pukkuksong-1, and its ground-based cousin, the KN-15 Pukkuksong-2 – AM) is being carried out,” the expert explained. “Factually, the North Koreans have reached the same level that China was at in the early 1980s, when Beijing was carrying out flight testing of its JL-1,” China’s first submarine-launched missile, “created on the basis of the ground-based DF-21” (a Chinese mobile medium-range ballistic missile).

Kashin recalled that it took China 5-6 years to complete flight testing on the JL-1. “The North Koreans began flight testing on the Pukkuksong-1 in 2014, and it’s possible that they will be ready to deploy them closer to the end of the decade. These missiles have an estimated range of up to 2,000 km, which is comparable to the JL-1 and the DF-21A.”

According to the analyst, a successful deployment of these missiles could be seen as a real achievement for the North Koreans. “Pyongyang will attain the guaranteed ability to strike at targets anywhere in South Korea and Japan, but still would not be able to reach the United States.”

North Korean engineers are believed to have made about a dozen tests of the Pukkuksong-1 and its ground-based variant since October 2014; the latest test is thought to have taken place in February. In August 2016, Pyongyang carried out a successful submarine-launch of the Pukkuksong-1.

According to Kashin, these successes are creating the basis for further progress. However, “the transition to the creation of an intercontinental ballistic missile in general and a solid-fueled-based ICBM in particular will require a qualitative leap in the development of North Korea’s production base and test infrastructure,” he emphasized.

North Korea has been engaged in the development of the KN-08, also known as the Rodong-C or Hwasong-13, a road-mobile ICBM is believed to have been under development since the early 2010s. Pyongyang has showed off the missile at parades on several occasions, including the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung in April 2012. However, two suspected tests, which US intelligence said had been carried out in October 2016, were believed to have ended in failure.

Kashin stressed that in order to actually produce such advanced weapons, the North Koreans “will have to learn how to produce solid fuel rocket engines with a large diameter. They will have to experiment with new fuels and new missile casing. An important limitation here will be based on their ability or lack thereof to purchase the necessary equipment abroad or create their own (but apparently, also using foreign components).”

Furthermore, the analyst noted, “in order to be tested, the ICBMs will have to be launched over Japanese territory in the direction of the southern Pacific Ocean. As the Chinese experience in testing its DF-5 ICBMs in the early 1980s shows, testing will require the creation of a whole fleet of specialized vessels equipped with complex measuring equipment and, probably, new warships for their protection and escort.”

“Attempts to conduct such tests will be likely to face a backlash from the US and its allies, including attempts to shoot the missiles down during the first stage of their flight (if the US and Japanese missile defense systems in Japan are ready to do so) or attempts to block the measuring equipment onboard the North Korean vessels.”

According to Kashin, the ICBMs’ testing will also take about 5-6 years. China “deployed its DF-31 ICBMs 15-20 years after deploying the Jl-2 and the DF-21.” In other words, according to the analyst, it will be decades before Pyongyang is actually able to successfully field a true intercontinental ballistic missile.

Faced with these limitations, which Pyongyang must surely be aware of, the analyst noted that there are several possible reasons for them to have rolled out their experimental ICBMs at Saturday’s parade.

“Why did the North Koreans feel the need to draw attention to weapons systems which, even under the most optimistic scenario, cannot be deployed until the second half of the 2030s? It’s possible that from Pyongyang’s point of view, this is a demonstration of its determination and, at the same time, an invitation to talks, which North Korea, despite its isolation, intends to conduct from a perceived position of strength.”

It’s possible, Kashin added, “that these potential missile systems are what North Korea is ready to sacrifice in exchange for a reduction in sanctions pressure. The country’s security is guaranteed by its ability to inflict unacceptable damage to key US allies South Korea and Japan in the event of war.”

Ultimately, in Kashin’s view, Pyongyang “will not abandon their nuclear weapons and medium-range missiles, but could agree not to conduct new tests or develop intercontinental missiles (ranged 5,500 km and up) in exchange for economic and political concessions. This, it’s possible, may very well be Pyongyang’s ideal exchange scenario.”

(bold italics added)

If Vassily Kashin’s analysis is right, then taken together with Tillerson’s comments to the UN Security Council today there may be a basis for a settlement.

The North Koreans might be prepared to give up a planned capability to launch a strike against the US mainland – which may in reality be beyond their reach before 2040 – in return for a normalisation of relations with the US and an easing of sanctions now.  If so then that appears sufficiently close to what Tillerson appeared to say today the US wanted to make a deal possible.  In that case with hard work and tough bargaining an agreement might be achieved.

The big question is whether these two countries – the US and North Korea – are capable of negotiating with each other in such a way, and have the political will to stay the course during the long years such a negotiation would require.

We are so poorly informed about the political system in North Korea that it is difficult to say with any confidence what are the exact intentions of its government.  However if Vassily Kashin is right, it would appear that it is willing to talk.  Besides, if there were a desire to talk on the part of the US, the Chinese and Russians would surely put pressure on North Korea to get it to talk.  That after all is what the Chinese have been saying they want – direct talks between North Korea and the US – for some time now.

The bigger uncertainty has to be with the US.

It is difficult enough to predict with any confidence what the policy of the Trump administration will be from one day to another, let alone to have any confidence that it can stay the course over the years of tough bargaining that achieving a settlement with North Korea would require.  Unfortunately there are always hardliners in Washington who can be relied upon to work to undermine any prospect of an agreement, and it is a certainty that if negotiations between the US and North Korea were ever to get underway they will immediately set to work to undermine them.

Tillerson’s grip on the US foreign policy establishment looks shaky enough as it is.  What confidence can there be that either he or someone who thinks like him would be around for long enough to bring negotiations with North Korea to a successful conclusion and to get that settlement accepted in the US, even if that is indeed Tillerson’s objective?  What confidence would there be if such a settlement were ever reached that a succeeding administration would abide by it?

The short answer unfortunately is that there can be no confidence about any of these things.

However on the strength of what Rex Tillerson said to the UN Security Council today, and what Vassily Kashin thinks North Korea’s intentions might be, the possibility of a diplomatic settlement might be there.

The job of diplomats is to explore this possibility.  It is to be hoped that they are given the opportunity to do so.  Past experience unfortunately leaves plenty of room for doubt.

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CIA Director and NYT Accidentally Expose Skripal Poisoning Hoax – DUCKGATE (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 189.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the stunning, inadvertent, admission by the New York Times and CIA Director Gina Haspel that much of what we know from the Salisbury-Skripal poisoning is pure fabrication and manipulation.

‘Duckgate’, as it is now being dubbed, was used to trick US President Trump into expelling 60 Russian Diplomats over false photographic evidence presented to him by Haspel, as it was provided to her by UK authorities.

The manipulation of POTUS Trump, courtesy of CIA Director Haspel, the UK government (and accidentally documented on by the NYT), has now blown open some serious holes into the entire narrative that Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by Russian agents with the deadly Novichok nerve agent.

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Via The Blogmire…


(SEE UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM)

Well this is interesting.

I had intended to put up a new thread for people who want to continue commenting on the Salisbury and Amesbury cases, as the last piece I did on it has reached an unmanageable 1,500+ comments. But just as I was about to do so, I was alerted to an important piece over on the Moon of Alabama website, entitled, “CIA Director Used Fake Skripal Incident Photos To Manipulate Trump“.

The gist of the piece is as follows. Back in April 2018, the Washington Post published an article about the decision taken by the United States to expel 60 Russian diplomats in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning. According to the authors, the day after the decision was made, President Trump reacted in anger when he found out that the French and the Germans were expelling just four diplomats each:

“The next day, when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said. To his shock and dismay, France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials — far fewer than the 60 his administration had decided on. The President, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia.”

Mr Trump, it seems, believed that he had been misled by officials, as the piece goes on to say:

“Growing angrier, Trump insisted that his aides had misled him about the magnitude of the expulsions. ‘There were curse words,’ the official said, ‘a lot of curse words.’”

Whether Mr Trump was misled about the magnitude of the expulsions is impossible to say without a transcript of that meeting. What does seem certain, however, is that he was misled in another, far more important way, as Moon of Alabama goes on to point out.

In an article in today’s New York Times about the head of the CIA, Gina Haspel, an extraordinary piece of information is revealed — albeit unwittingly, it would seem, by authors who probably have no idea of its significance. Pointing to that same meeting mentioned in the Washington Post article, in which Mr Trump was persuaded to expel 60 diplomats, here is the NYT’s account of what took place:

“During the discussion, Ms. Haspel, then deputy C.I.A. director, turned toward Mr. Trump. She outlined possible responses in a quiet but firm voice, then leaned forward and told the president that the “strong option” was to expel 60 diplomats.

To persuade Mr. Trump, according to people briefed on the conversation, officials including Ms. Haspel also tried to show him that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were not the only victims of Russia’s attack.

Ms. Haspel showed pictures the British government had supplied her of young children hospitalized after being sickened by the Novichok nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals. She then showed a photograph of ducks that British officials said were inadvertently killed by the sloppy work of the Russian operatives [my emphasis].”

If you’re late joining the party, and don’t understand what is so extraordinary about this, let me spell it out plainly and unambiguously:

Firstly, there were no dead ducks as a result of poisoning. None. Zilch. Nada!

Secondly, there were no children sickened by nerve agent. None. Zilch. Nada!

Yet even though there were no dead ducks, and no sick children, Mr Trump was apparently persuaded by the head of the CIA to expel 60 diplomats after being shown pictures of dead ducks and sick children.

In addition to the extraordinary nature of this revelation, there is also a huge irony here. Along with many others, I have long felt that the duck feed is one of the many achilles heels of the whole story we’ve been presented with about what happened in Salisbury on 4th March 2018. And the reason for this is precisely because if it were true, there would indeed have been dead ducks and sick children.

According to the official story, Mr Skripal and his daughter became contaminated with “Novichok” by touching the handle of his front door at some point between 13:00 and 13:30 that afternoon. A few minutes later (13:45), they were filmed on CCTV camera feeding ducks, and handing bread to three local boys, one of whom ate a piece. After this they went to Zizzis, where they apparently so contaminated the table they sat at, that it had to be incinerated.

You see the problem? According to the official story, ducks should have died. According to the official story children should have become contaminated and ended up in hospital. Yet as it happens, no ducks died, and no boys got sick (all that happened was that the boys’ parents were contacted two weeks later by police, the boys were sent for tests, and they were given the all clear).

And yet despite the fact that no ducks died and no children were made sick, the director of the CIA (a.k.a. the Canard Invention Association), allegedly using information given to her agency by the British Government, showed the President of the United States pictures of dead ducks and sick children, apparently from Salisbury, to persuade him to take extreme action (Note: You can read more about the duck feed and all the other holes in the official story here). In other words, Mr Trump was lied to, and in a big way, and with potentially huge consequences.

I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the claims made in the New York Times piece, since the purpose of inserting the bit about the ducks and the children was to cast Gina Haspel as a strong leader, rather than to cast doubt on the Skripal story. My guess is that Mr Trump might be quite interested to know that he was misled, either by the director of the CIA and/or the British Government. It might even make him wonder this: if no less a person than the President of the United States was given a false version of events, what are the chances that the rest of the story stacks up?

As ever, someone got some ‘splaining to do.  Discuss among yourselves.


PS. An aside. The Independent, which is apparently a publisher of news, has picked up on this storyhere. In their piece, they basically repeat what was said in the New York Times about how Gina Haspel persuaded Mr Trump using the dead ducks and sick children pics. But here’s the thing. Whilst it doesn’t surprise me that writers in the likes of the Washington Post or New York Times might not know too many details regarding the Salisbury case, the Independent knows full well that there were no dead ducks and no sick children. And so since they are writing about it, they must know that either the CIA director or the British Government, or both, knowingly misled the US President. Yet they say nothing about this in their piece. Why? Simply because they are not journalists, but stenographers, and they have no intention of informing their readers of what is true and what is real. I’m not sure how they live with themselves, but somehow they manage.


UPDATE: The Guardian has published an article (18th April), in which the director of public health at Wiltshire Council, Tracy Daszkiewicz, was asked to comment on the New York Times report. Here is what she said:

“There were no other casualties other than those previously stated. No wildlife were impacted by the incident and no children were exposed to or became ill as a result of either incident [my emphasis].”

So according to Ms Daszkiewicz, not only were no children made ill (which we already knew), but nor were any exposed to the substance. How does this accord with the official narrative? In that scenario, Mr Skripal gave bread to three boys, one of whom ate a piece, less than half-an-hour after his hands had become contaminated. In which case, they would undoubtedly have been exposed to it. Then again, if he wasn’t contaminated at that time … well, that would agree with Ms Daszkiewicz’s assessment, but it would have another consequence involving cans and worms!

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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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