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Descent into absurdity: FBI looks to Walter Mitty figure to prove collusion between Trump and Russia

Focus on a fantasist like Carter Page to prove collusion between Trump and Russia shows how detached from reality Russiagate has become.

Alexander Mercouris

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That the supporters of Russiagate have not given up, but that they are running out of material to keep the scandal going, is confirmed by yet another article based on anonymous leaks published by CNN.

The article begins with a portentous paragraph

The new information adds to the emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election, not only through email hacks and propaganda but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit. The intelligence led to an investigation into the coordination of Trump’s campaign associates and the Russians.

(bold italics added)

Sharp-eyed observers of the Russiagate scandal will note that the words “trying to infiltrate” represent a significant retreat from previous claims made during the Russiagate scandal.  These alleged an active campaign of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

The classic formulation of that claim appeared in the Trump Dossier, which the BBC has admitted is the ‘frame-narrative’ used by the amateur sleuths (including Representative Schiff) who are driving the Russiagate investigation.  Here is how the BBC describes that claim

In the report (ie. the Trump Dossier – AM), Steele spoke of an “established operational liaison between the TRUMP team and the Kremlin… an intelligence exchange had been running between them for at least 8 years.”

Members of the Obama administration believe, based on analysis they saw from the intelligence community, that the information exchange claimed by Steele continued into the election.

“This is a three-headed operation,” said one former official, setting out the case, based on the intelligence: Firstly, hackers steal damaging emails from senior Democrats. Secondly, the stories based on this hacked information appear on Twitter and Facebook, posted by thousands of automated “bots”, then on Russia’s English-language outlets, RT and Sputnik, then right-wing US “news” sites such as Infowars and Breitbart, then Fox and the mainstream media. Thirdly, Russia downloads the online voter rolls.

The voter rolls are said to fit into this because of “microtargeting”. Using email, Facebook and Twitter, political advertising can be tailored very precisely: individual messaging for individual voters.

“You are stealing the stuff and pushing it back into the US body politic,” said the former official, “you know where to target that stuff when you’re pushing it back.”

This would take co-operation with the Trump campaign, it is claimed.

Of course if the Russians were “trying to infiltrate” the Trump campaign, then there cannot have been an “established operational liaison between the TRUMP team and the Kremlin… an intelligence exchange……running between them for at least 8 years” as the Trump Dossier claims.  Why infiltrate what one is already actively colluding with, and has been colluding with for 8 years?

Putting that aside, the claims about attempted Russian infiltration of the Trump campaign centre on an individual called Carter Page, a US businessman with a background in banking and the oil industry who has long established business connections with Russia, where he was based for a time as a Vice-President of Merrill Lynch focusing on Russia’s energy sector.

Carter Page is a supporter of a rapprochement between the US and Russia, and has long established contacts in Russia, mainly of a business nature.  These extend to various Russian officials, one of whom the US intelligence community has identified as a spy. However US officials admit that Carter Page may not have realised this man was a spy (see below).

Carter Page was also for a time connected to the Trump campaign, though as will become clear his actual connection to the campaign was tenuous at best.

Even on the strength of the information provided in the CNN article the whole chain of inference constructed around Carter Page to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia on close scrutiny however instantly collapses.

Firstly the article admits that there is no evidence that Carter Page had any knowledge that any of the Russians he was meeting with were spies, or that he did anything illegal or treasonous during his meetings with them, or even that he colluded with them on behalf of the Trump campaign in any way

These officials made clear they don’t know whether Page was aware the Russians may have been using him. Because of the way Russian spy services operate, Page could have unknowingly talked with Russian agents.

Secondly, it seems that Carter Page had no real role in the Trump campaign and had only a minimal connection to it, making it impossible for him to have been the point-man between the Trump campaign and the Russians, much less someone who could have carried out collusion with the Russians on the Trump campaign’s behalf.

The CNN article shows what a marginal figure in the Trump campaign Carter Page actually was, and the bizarre way he became attached to it, and deserves to be quoted on this point at length

How Page’s name became associated with the campaign is a reflection of how minimal the Trump operation was last year, as establishment national security figures avoided an association with the insurgent operation.  As Trump prepared to meet with The Washington Post editorial page in March 2016, the campaign was under pressure to name national security advisers. Staffers produced a list of names for Trump to refer to, according to a US official close to the campaign. Trump mentioned Page, in part because he had a Ph.D. listed next to his name, the official said.  Trump had never met Page. Sam Clovis, co-chairman of the campaign, helped gather the names that the candidate used.  Campaign officials say there’s no indication Page ever attended any national security meetings at Trump Tower. They insisted he played a junior role and was not an influential figure.  But in a letter Page wrote to the House Intelligence committee offering to testify, Page describes more interactions with the campaign.  “For your information, I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Cafe, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year.”  A US official with close ties to the campaign says Page’s claim he spent time on the fifth floor is meaningless since the campaign no longer used that floor starting in early July. The official also says the places he listed as visiting are public spaces visited by millions of people a year.
This account points up an important aspect of Carter Page’s personality, which has been the source of much confusion and trouble.  This is his habit of self-aggrandisement.  He seems to have fooled Trump into appointing him a foreign policy adviser on the strength of his having a Ph.D, when he doesn’t have a Ph.D.  This is how Carter Page’s Wikipedia entry explains this
Page was one of five people named as foreign policy advisors by Donald Trump in March 2016, and was also attributed by Trump as having a PhD.[19] It is unknown at this time whether Trump was mistaken as to Page’s credentials or if Page falsified them in applying for an advisory position with the Trump team. There is no evidence, as confirmed by Trump campaign staffers, that Page had ever met or briefed Trump.[3]
In addition, as the extract from the CNN article I have quoted shows, instead of frankly admitting that he had only a minimal role in the Trump campaign – saving everyone a great deal of trouble – Carter Page persists in pretending otherwise, and passes off visits to public spaces within Trump Tower as ‘proof’ of this.
This makes it impossible to take Carter Page seriously, and makes it difficult to see how he deserves the attention he is getting.  Moreover Carter Page’s proclivity for self-aggrandisement makes the whole thesis the Russians used him to “try to infiltrate” the Trump campaign – much less that they succeeded in doing so – look immediately fanciful.
 In truth Carter Page comes across as a something of a busy body who briefly managed to fool the Russians last year into thinking he was closer to Trump than he really was.  On the strength of this he was able to wangle an invitation to give a talk to Moscow’s New Economic School at a time last summer when the Russians would have been anxious to know what candidate Trump’s policies towards Russia actually were.  The article provides information from a source in the New Economic School showing how this happened
…..a spokesman for the school told CNN that Page’s ties to Trump helped secure the invitation.  “The organizing committee for the commencement last year thought that he was a colorful and interesting character,” said Denis Klimentov, a spokesman for the New Economic School. “It was partially supported by the fact that The Washington Post, the newspaper, back in the spring of 2016, cited Carter as one of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy advisors.”
 (bold italics added)
Carter Page followed this up with a second invitation in December, after Trump had won the election, when the Russians would have been even more anxious to find out what now President-elect Trump’s policies towards Russia were, and when they would have been especially anxious to hear what someone who they clearly still thought was one of the President-elect’s key foreign policy advisers would say.
That this is what the Russians still thought Carter Page was at the time of his second visit is shown by this comment of Leonid Reshetnikov, the Director of Russia’s Institute of Strategic Studies, quoted by CNN in the article
“It’s quite possible that Trump’s advisor is a pragmatist and a realist.  This is probably not an ordinary visit. He has probably received some instructions from the President-elect. I don’t think that meetings at the highest level will take place, but (the possibility) cannot be excluded.”
 In reality Carter Page had no ‘instructions’ from President-elect Trump, it seems he and Trump had never even met, and – needless to say – no “meetings at the highest level” took place.  Once the new administration was formed it quickly became clear Carter Page had no role in it and was not close to Trump at all and did not speak for the new President.  At that point the misapprehension the Russians had about him would have ended, and they lost interest in him.
 There is not a scintilla of evidence in any of this of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  On the contrary the fact the Russians mistook a Walter Mitty figure like Carter Page for an important adviser of Trump’s shows how poorly informed about Trump they actually were.  That does not speak of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  On the contrary if anything it shows that no such collusion was taking place.
That the FBI is now giving so much attention to Carter Page, at precisely the point the Russians have lost interest in him, is a sure sign the Russiagate investigation is running into the sand.  Further confirmation of this is provided at the end of the CNN article
 The FBI and other US agencies have been combing through information obtained through that FISA as part of its ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.  Intelligence analysts and FBI investigators who analyzed various strands of intelligence from human sources to electronic and financial records have found signs of possible collusion between the campaign and Russian officials. But there is not enough evidence to show that crimes were committed, US officials say.
Part of the problem for investigators has been that they lost their opportunity to conduct the investigation in secret after several leaks last year revealed FBI was looking at people close to the Trump campaign. After those reports, people that the US was monitoring changed their behavior, which made it more difficult for US officials to monitor them.
 (bold italics added)
 In all the ocean of words which have been written about the Russiagate scandal, these must be the most comically self-serving.  The same people who have spent months leaking information about the Russiagate investigation in order to destabilise the Trump administration are now complaining that their own leaks are causing the investigation to fail.
 No words could sum up better the complete absurdity of this whole affair.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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