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More Russiagate: The New Yorker, Julian Assange and Guccifer 2.0

Massive article in New Yorker asserting Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian intelligence front and the source of the DNC and Podesta emails published by Wikileaks is riddled with unwarranted claims and assumptions and fails to convince.

Alexander Mercouris

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Every so often during the Russiagate story, whenever one senses growing doubts about some aspect of the story, a gigantic article appears in some part of the US media which appears intended to still those doubts.

The latest example a gigantic article by Raffi Khatchadourian which has recently appeared in the New Yorker, and which is purportedly about Julian Assange, but which when read carefully is actually about Russiagate.

A consistent feature of these articles is that though they present themselves as works of investigative journalism, in terms of actual new information they invariably provide little or nothing that is actually new.  This article in the New York Times is no exception, and as I will discuss what it actually does is repeat – at great length – claims about the persona known as Guccifer 2.0 which have appeared before.

The purpose of the article is to squash doubts about Russian intelligence involvement in the hacks  or alleged hacks of the computers of John Podesta and the DNC, and of Russian intelligence involvement in providing the results of those hacks or alleged hacks to Wikileaks.  It does this by giving heavy focus to the Guccifer 2.0, which it accepts as Russian, and by seeking to provide what it claims is conclusive evidence of a connection between Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0.

The article provides a case study of the danger of the subject of such an article cooperating with its author.

The subject in this case is Julian Assange, who met with the writer of the article – Raffi Khatchadourian – and who provided Khatchadourian with much of the material which is used in the article.  His reward is an article that ignores his repeated denials of Russian involvement in Wikileaks’s publication of the DNC and Podesta emails, and which is filled with not-too-subtle smears of him.  These smears deserve an article in themselves, but this article is not the place for them.

Before discussing what the article says about Guccifer 2.0 I must however comment on one paragraph that I found especially misleading

Ambassador Craig Murray, the friend to WikiLeaks, insisted that Russia was not the source of the D.N.C. e-mails; he knew firsthand, he said, because he had met Assange’s source in the woods behind a chapel at American University. Kim Dotcom, a flamboyant Internet entrepreneur and a close associate of Assange, told me in April that he had firsthand knowledge of the source: an insider who had smuggled in a USB stick with malware on it. “It’s not a Russian hack,” he insisted. Anthony Shaffer, a retired lieutenant colonel, knew firsthand, too; he told me about an intricate conspiracy of retired intelligence workers, unhappy about Clinton’s handling of her State Department e-mails, who formed a “task organization” to dig up material. When I mentioned the theories to Assange, he laughed. “They totally contradict each other!” he said.

I know little of Kim Dotcom and nothing at all of lieutenant colonel Shaffer but what they are reported to have said in private to Khatchadourian cannot be compared to what Craig Murray – a known friend of Assange, and an acknowledged whistleblower and truthsayer – has repeatedly said in public.  Moreover Kim Dotcom’s alleged comment does not actually contradict what Craig Murray has publicly, though Shaffer’s alleged comment obviously does.  Note further that Assange’s reported response to these comments – “they totally contradict each other” – is not a denial that all or any them are true.

I do not know what Assange meant by his comment.  However if one assumes Craig Murray’s public repeated claims are true, then possibly what Assange meant was that Shaffer’s alleged comment contradicts Murray’s – which it does – whilst hinting that Kim Dotcom is pretending to know more than he does – which given Kim Dotcom’s background would not be at all surprising.  More than that Assange obviously did not feel able to say because doing so would have revealed more about his source than he – as Khatchadourian must know – is prepared to say.

This paragraph is clearly intended to discredit Craig Murray’s public claim of knowledge of who the leaker was.  Not only does Craig Murray however have a very well-established reputation for truth-telling, but he has repeatedly and publicly spoken of his surprise that he has not been interviewed about his claim by the FBI.  Nothing Khatchadourian says in the article actually casts doubt on the truth of what Craig Murray is saying, Assange’s reported response certainly does not do so.

Putting this frankly unattractive sleight of hand to one side, here is what Khatchadourian has to say about the identity of Guccifer 2.0 as a Russian intelligence front

Throughout June, cybersecurity analysts built a case that it was a Russian front—a conclusion that was amplified by Democratic operatives. Forensic traces in the records on WordPress, and in the persona’s linguistic quirks, linked it to Russia. Its handlers had also provided the Smoking Gun with the password to the Clinton press aide’s e-mails posted on DCLeaks, demonstrating its unique access to the site, and, by extension, its ties to a coördinated propaganda effort.

In other words the evidence that Guccifer 2.0 is a Russian intelligence front boils down to (1) ‘cybersecurity analysts’ – ie. Crowdstrike, though Khatchadourian in this instance fails to identify them – claiming to have found metadata which suggests that it is; and (2) Guccifer 2.0’s connection to DCLeaks, which supposedly shows that it is part of “a coordinated propaganda effort”.

Claim (2) is circular and should therefore be disregarded.  As for claim (1), it is precisely the fact that metadata associated with Guccifer 2.0 altogether too obviously points to a Russian connection that other cybersecurity analysts and retired intelligence officers have their doubts.  Here for example is what Scott Ritter – a former high ranking US intelligence officer about whom I will have much more to say below – says about precisely this point

My experience with Soviet/Russian intelligence, which is considerable, has impressed me with the professionalism and dedication to operational security that were involved. The APT 28/Fancy Bear cyber-penetration of the DNC and the Guccifer 2.0 operation as a whole are the antithesis of professional.

On any question involving the professionalism and “dedication to operational security” of the Russian intelligence services I prefer the opinion of someone like Scott Ritter – a former US intelligence officer who has actually dealt with them  – to the opinions of someone like Khatchadourian, who as far as I know has not.

If Khatchadourian’s assertion that Guccifer 2.0 is a front for Russian intelligence looks frankly threadbare, what of his assertion that Guccifer 2.0 is the source of the emails that Wikileaks hacked?

Khatchadourian is dismissive of Julian Assange’s vigorous denials that Russian intelligence was the source of the leaks, and in a long passage which touches on the alleged role of Guccifer 2.0 he explains why in a way that also explains what he believes was the role of Guccifer 2.0 in the whole Russiagate scandal

In our many conversations about the election, the most striking thing was Assange’s emotion: the frustration he expressed when faced with suggestions that his material was linked to Russian intelligence, or the way he shook his fist when he insisted that he had been robbed of credit. But his protestations that there were no connections between his publications and Russia were untenable.

There are several, and they go beyond Guccifer 2.0’s insistence that it was responsible for the WikiLeaks releases. In early July, for example, Guccifer 2.0 told a Washington journalist that WikiLeaks was “playing for time.” There was no public evidence for this, but from the inside it was clear that WikiLeaks was overwhelmed. In addition to the D.N.C. archive, Assange had received e-mails from the leading political party in Turkey, which had recently experienced a coup, and he felt that he needed to rush them out. Meanwhile, a WikiLeaks team was scrambling to prepare the D.N.C. material. (A WikiLeaks staffer told me that they worked so fast that they lost track of some of the e-mails, which they quietly released later in the year.) On several occasions, and in different contexts, Assange admitted to me that he was pressed for time. “We were quite concerned about meeting the deadline,” he told me once, referring to the Democratic National Convention.

His original release date for the D.N.C. archive, he explained, was July 18th, the Monday before the Convention; his team missed the deadline by four days. “We were only ready Friday,” he said. “We had these hiccups that delayed us, and we were given a little more time—” He stopped, and then added, strangely, “to grow.” (Later, when I asked about the comment, he argued that my recording of his saying it was faulty.) It was unclear who had given him time, but whoever it was clearly had leverage over his decisions.

A few weeks before WikiLeaks published, Guccifer 2.0 appeared to demonstrate just this type of leverage. Throughout June, as WikiLeaks staff worked on the e-mails, the persona had made frequent efforts to keep the D.N.C. leaks in the news, but also appeared to leave space for Assange by refraining from publishing anything that he had. On June 17th, the editor of the Smoking Gun asked Guccifer 2.0 if Assange would publish the same material it was then doling out. “I gave WikiLeaks the greater part of the files, but saved some for myself,” it replied. “Don’t worry everything you receive is exclusive.” The claim at that time was true. None of the first forty documents posted on WordPress can be found in the WikiLeaks trove; in fact, at least half of them do not even appear to be from the D.N.C., despite the way they were advertised.

But then, on July 6th, just before Guccifer 2.0 complained that WikiLeaks was “playing for time,” this pattern of behavior abruptly reversed itself. “I have a new bunch of docs from the DNC server for you,” the persona wrote on WordPress. The files were utterly lacking in news value, and had no connection to one another—except that every item was an attachment in the D.N.C. e-mails that WikiLeaks had. The shift had the appearance of a threat. If Russian intelligence officers were inclined to indicate impatience, this was a way to do it.

On July 18th, the day Assange originally planned to publish, Guccifer 2.0 released another batch of so-called D.N.C. documents, this time to Joe Uchill, of The Hill. Four days later, after WikiLeaks began to release its D.N.C. archive, Uchill reached out to Guccifer 2.0 for comment. The reply was “At last!”

Given that Assange had barely published before the Convention, I asked if his source ever expressed impatience. “I am not describing communications with a source,” he said. “The source did not mandate a publication time.”

I asked again if his source ever expressed impatience. “Sources have leverage,” I said. “They can take a pile of e-mails and they can give those e-mails to someone else.”

“They could give them to someone else,” he said, curtly. “Sure.”

Someone close to WikiLeaks told me that before Assange published the Podesta e-mails he faced this precise scenario. In mid-August, Guccifer 2.0 expressed interest in offering a trove of Democratic e-mails to Emma Best, a journalist and a specialist in archival research, who is known for acquiring and publishing millions of declassified government documents. Assange, I was told, urged Best to decline, intimating that he was in contact with the persona’s handlers, and that the material would have greater impact if he released it first.

Whatever one thinks of Assange’s election disclosures, accepting his contention that they shared no ties with the two Russian fronts requires willful blindness. Guccifer 2.0’s handlers predicted the WikiLeaks D.N.C. release. They demonstrated inside knowledge that Assange was struggling to get it out on time. And they proved, incontrovertibly, that they had privileged access to D.N.C. documents that appeared nowhere else publicly, other than in WikiLeaks publications. The twenty thousand or so D.N.C. e-mails that WikiLeaks published were extracted from ten compromised e-mail accounts, and all but one of the people who used those accounts worked in just two departments: finance and strategic communications. (The single exception belonged to a researcher who worked extensively with communications.) All the D.N.C. documents that Guccifer 2.0 released appeared to come from those same two departments.

The Podesta e-mails only make the connections between WikiLeaks and Russia appear stronger. Nearly half of the first forty documents that Guccifer 2.0 published can be found as attachments among the Podesta e-mails that WikiLeaks later published. Moreover, all of the hacked election e-mails on DCLeaks appeared to come from Clinton staffers who used Gmail, and of course Podesta was a Clinton staffer who used Gmail. The phishing attacks that targeted all of the staffers in the spring, and that targeted Podesta, are forensically linked; they originated from a single identifiable cybermechanism, like form letters from the same typewriter. SecureWorks, a cybersecurity firm with no ties to the Democratic Party, made this assessment, and it is uncontested. Speaking with Assange, I explained that I would have to acknowledge this. He nodded, and said nothing.

This is an over-complicated way of saying that Khatchadourian thinks that because Guccifer 2.0 at various times expressed impatience with Wikileaks’s delay in publishing the emails, that must means Guccifer 2.0 not only provided the emails to Wikileaks but had “inside knowledge” of what Wikileaks was doing, and was blackmailing Wikileaks to speed up publication of the emails.

In addition because DCLeaks published some of the same material as Wikileaks that supposedly proves it was Guccifer 2.0 which provided Wikileaks with the material.

This is strange logic.

Julian Assange announced in the middle of June 2016 that Wikileaks was preparing to publish information damaging to Hillary Clinton.   When Guccifer 2.0 appeared on the scene in early July 2016 several weeks had already passed after Assange’s announcement.  If Guccifer 2.0 wanted to claim credit for a leak of the emails it actually had nothing do with, then nothing would have been easier than for it to pretend to impatience as the days without the emails appearing.

As for the claim that Guccifer 2.0 was blackmailing Wikileaks by threatening to provide the emails to others unless Wikileaks published them, there is nothing in Khatchadourian’s claim that warrants that claim.  Besides if Guccifer 2.0 wanted the emails published as quickly as possible, why would it go to the trouble of blackmailing Wikileaks rather than simply providing the emails to someone else would be less careful about publishing them?  The blackmail theory not only lacks evidence but lacks logic.

As for some of the other claims Khatchadourian makes, such as that that some of the same material published by Wikileaks was also published by DCLeaks – which Khatchadourian assumes to be connected to Guccifer 2.0 basically because he assumes that both are connected to Russia – I am entirely unable to see why that proves that Wikileaks must have got this material from Guccifer 2.0, let alone from Russia.  As I will discuss below, Scott Ritter is also unable to follow this logic, and is of the same view.

Lastly, I will frankly admit that I don’t understand the point Khatchadourian is making in this paragraph

The Podesta e-mails only make the connections between WikiLeaks and Russia appear stronger. Nearly half of the first forty documents that Guccifer 2.0 published can be found as attachments among the Podesta e-mails that WikiLeaks later published. Moreover, all of the hacked election e-mails on DCLeaks appeared to come from Clinton staffers who used Gmail, and of course Podesta was a Clinton staffer who used Gmail. The phishing attacks that targeted all of the staffers in the spring, and that targeted Podesta, are forensically linked; they originated from a single identifiable cybermechanism, like form letters from the same typewriter. SecureWorks, a cybersecurity firm with no ties to the Democratic Party, made this assessment, and it is uncontested. Speaking with Assange, I explained that I would have to acknowledge this. He nodded, and said nothing.

(bold italics added)

What “single identifiable cybermechanism” is Khatchadourian talking about?  Is he saying that because all the emails published by Wikileaks and DCLeaks were originally sent via Gmail that proves that they must both be the product of a single hack?  If so then that conclusion seems to me unwarranted, especially given the insistence of Craig Murray and others that Wikileaks obtained the emails not as the result of a hack but through a leak.

Frankly the tortuous language of this paragraph – with the parallel it draws between traces left by hacking tools and the unique traces left by mechanical typewriters – which by the way I suspect is both wrong and misleading – looks to me to be intentionally confusing, as if written to suggest that there is more there than there actually is.

 If the question Khatchadourian says he posed to Assange was expressed in anything like the language of this paragraph then I find it completely unsurprising that Assange was baffled by it, so that he failed to respond to it.  Needless to say Khatchadourian treats that as an admission.

Let us now compare Khatchadourian’s vague and convoluted reasoning, with all its unwarranted assumptions and leaps of logic, to the tough minded and fact based assessment of Guccifer 2.0 by Scott Ritter, a senior veteran intelligence officer who incidentally does not share some of the opinions recently expressed by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (“VIPS”) group of which he is a member, whose recent report I discussed previously

On Oct. 6, 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security published a joint statement that noted that the “recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails” by Guccifer 2.0 (and others) “are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts,” without further elaboration beyond declaring that “the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there.”

Rep. Schiff, the aforementioned Democratic co-chair of the House Intelligence Committee, stated in March 2017 that “a hacker who goes by the moniker, Guccifer 2.0, claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to WikiLeaks. … The U.S. intelligence community also later confirmed that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence, and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front.”

The problem is that there simply isn’t any hard data in the public domain to back up these statements of fact. What is known is that a persona using the name Guccifer 2.0 published documents said to be sourced from the DNC on several occasions starting from June 15, 2016. Guccifer 2.0 claims to have stolen these documents by perpetrating a cyber-penetration of the DNC server. However, the hacking methodology Guccifer 2.0 claims to have employed does not match the tools and techniques allegedly uncovered by the cybersecurity professionals from CrowdStrike when they investigated the DNC intrusion. Moreover, cyber-experts claim the Guccifer 2.0 “hack” could not have been executed as he described.

What CrowdStrike did claim to have discovered is that sometime in March 2016, the DNC server was infected with what is known as an X-Agent malware. According to CrowdStrike, the malware was deployed using an open-source, remote administration tool known as RemCom. The malware in question, a network tunneling tool known as X-Tunnel, was itself a repurposed open-source tool that made no effort to encrypt its source code, meaning anyone who gained access to this malware would be able to tell exactly what it was intended to do.

CrowdStrike claimed that the presence of the X-Agent malware was a clear “signature” of a hacking group—APT 28, or Fancy Bear—previously identified by German intelligence as being affiliated with the GRU, Russian military intelligence. Additional information about the command and control servers used by Fancy Bear, which CrowdStrike claims were previously involved in Russian-related hacking activity, was also reported.

The CrowdStrike data is unconvincing. First and foremost, the German intelligence report it cites does not make an ironclad claim that APT 28 is, in fact, the GRU. In fact, the Germans only “assumed” that GRU conducts cyberattacks. They made no claims that they knew for certain that any Russians, let alone the GRU, were responsible for the 2015 cyberattack on the German Parliament, which CrowdStrike cites as proof of GRU involvement. Second, the malware in question is available on the open market, making it virtually impossible to make any attribution at all simply by looking at similarities in “tools and techniques.” Virtually anyone could have acquired these tools and used them in a manner similar to how they were employed against both the German Parliament and the DNC.

The presence of open-source tools is, in itself, a clear indicator that Russian intelligence was not involved. Documents released by Edward Snowden show that the NSA monitored the hacking of a prominent Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, by Russian intelligence, “deploying malicious software which is not available in the public domain.” The notion that the Russians would use special tools to hack a journalist’s email account and open-source tools to hack either the DNC or the German Parliament is laughable. My experience with Soviet/Russian intelligence, which is considerable, has impressed me with the professionalism and dedication to operational security that were involved. The APT 28/Fancy Bear cyber-penetration of the DNC and the Guccifer 2.0 operation as a whole are the antithesis of professional.

Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that no one has linked the theft of the DNC documents to Guccifer 2.0. We do not know either the date or mechanism of penetration. We do not have a list of the documents accessed and exfiltrated from the DNC by APT 28, or any evidence that these documents ended up in Guccifer 2.0’s possession. It is widely assumed that the DNC penetration was perpetrated through a “spear-phishing” attack, in which a document is created that simulates a genuine communication in an effort to prompt a response by the receiver, usually by clicking a specified field, which facilitates the insertion of malware. Evidence of the Google-based documents believed to have been the culprits behind the penetration of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and John Podesta’s email servers have been identified, along with the dates of malware infection. No such information has been provided about the DNC penetration.

Which brings up perhaps the most curious aspect of this entire case: The DNC servers at the center of this controversy were never turned over to the FBI for forensic investigation. Instead, the FBI had to rely upon copies of the DNC server data provided by CrowdStrike. The fact that it was CrowdStrike, and not the FBI, that made the GRU attribution call based upon the investigation of the alleged cyber-penetration of the DNC server is disturbing. As shown here, there is good reason to doubt the viability of the CrowdStrike analysis. That the FBI, followed by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. intelligence community, and the mainstream media, has parroted this questionable assertion as fact is shocking.

The Guccifer 2.0 story is at the center of the ongoing controversy swirling around the Trump White House concerning allegations of collusion with Russia regarding meddling in the 2016 presidential election. While APT 28/Fancy Bear is not the only alleged Russian hacking operation claimed to have been targeting the DNC, it is the one that has been singled out as “weaponizing” intelligence—employing stolen documents for the express purpose of altering public opinion against Hillary Clinton. This act has been characterized as an attack against America, and was cited by President Barack Obama when he imposed sanctions on Russia in December 2016 and expelled 35 Russian diplomats. Congress has also referred to this “attack” as the principal justification for a bill seeking new and tougher sanctions targeting Russia….

To date there has been no examination worthy of the name regarding the facts that underpin the accusations at the center of the American argument against Russia—that the GRU hacked the DNC server and used Guccifer 2.0 as a conduit for the release of stolen documents in a manner designed to influence the American presidential election.

(bold italics added)

In other words it is so unlikely as to be all but impossible that Guccifer 2.0 has anything to do with Russian intelligence; there is no hard evidence that connects Guccifer 2.0 to the alleged hack of the computers of the DNC and John Podesta claimed by Crowdstrike; and there is no evidence which connects Guccifer 2.0 to Wikileaks.

I have nothing to add to Scott Ritter’s points save to say that if Guccifer 2.0 really were a Russian intelligence operation then the logic behind it escapes me.

Why if Guccifer 2.0 really were created by Russian intelligence would the Russians go out of their way through Guccifer 2.0 to claim that Wikileaks had obtained the emails because of a hack, when most people’s assumption would otherwise have been that Wikileaks obtained the emails through a leak?  Would the Russians not realise that claiming it was a hack would draw suspicion upon them? Would it not make far more sense to leave Wikileaks alone to do its job by publishing the emails?  Is that not far more consistent with the sort of covert operation a highly professional intelligence service like the Russian might be expected to carry out than the all-too public bragging of Guccifer 2.0?

As for the Russians needing to use Guccifer 2.0 to pressure Wikileaks to publish the emails, why – as I have said previously – would the Russians if they were becoming impatient with Wikileaks not have provided the emails through someone else?  Why if they wanted to blackmail Wikileaks could they not have done it privately?  Why create a whole public persona like Guccifer 2.0 to do it when again that would merely have drawn suspicion back upon them?

Needless to say, if the Russians nonetheless really did create Guccifer 2.0 in order to blackmail Wikileaks – implausible though that frankly is – would they not have taken basic precautions to ensure their identity was concealed?

Overall the whole Guccifer 2.0 persona looks just too childish and amateur to be the work of Russian intelligence, which is of course precisely the point Scott Ritter makes.

As anyone with knowledge of investigations knows, whenever some great but mysterious public crime or act takes place all sorts of narcisstic and self-aggrandising people come forward to claim responsibility, often doing so anonymously.  Sometimes – usually because of luck or coincidence – they hit on something which may make it appear that they have inside knowledge which in reality they do not have.  Examples of this are legion, starting with the infamous Jack the Ripper “Dear Boss” letter which confused the Victorian police.

The VIPS team on the basis of a forensic report whose conclusions are however questioned by Scott Ritter have hinted that Guccifer 2.0 may have been created as a ‘damage control’ tool by someone wanting to divert attention away from the publication of material by Wikileaks that might have been damaging to Hillary Clinton by casting suspicion that it originated in Russia

Another possibility must however be that Guccifer 2.0 is simply a narcissist who has no connection either to Wikileaks or to Russia to anyone else, but who wants to pretend to a role that he does not have out of a desire for self-aggrandisement.

Either of these theories about Guccifer 2.0 looks to me far more plausible that the threadbare and unconvincing claims made about Guccifer 2.0 by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker.

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Schaeuble, Greece and the lessons learned from a failed GREXIT (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 117.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine a recent interview with the Financial Times given by Wolfgang Schäuble, where the former German Finance Minister, who was charged with finding a workable and sustainable solution to the Greek debt crisis, reveals that his plan for Greece to take a 10-year “timeout” from the eurozone (in order to devalue its currency and save its economy) was met with fierce resistance from Brussels hard liners, and Angela Merkel herself.

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“Look where we’re sitting!” says Wolfgang Schäuble, gesturing at the Berlin panorama stretching out beneath us. It is his crisp retort to those who say that Europe is a failure, condemned to a slow demise by its own internal contradictions. “Walk through the Reichstag, the graffiti left by the Red Army soldiers, the images of a destroyed Berlin. Until 1990 the Berlin Wall ran just below where we are now!”

We are in Käfer, a restaurant on the rooftop of the Reichstag. The views are indeed stupendous: Berlin Cathedral and the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz loom through the mist. Both were once in communist East Berlin, cut off from where we are now by the wall. Now they’re landmarks of a single, undivided city. “Without European integration, without this incredible story, we wouldn’t have come close to this point,” he says. “That’s the crazy thing.”

As Angela Merkel’s finance minister from 2009 to 2017, Schäuble was at the heart of efforts to steer the eurozone through a period of unprecedented turbulence. But at home he is most associated with Germany’s postwar political journey, having not only negotiated the 1990 treaty unifying East and West Germany but also campaigned successfully for the capital to move from Bonn.

For a man who has done so much to put Berlin — and the Reichstag — back on the world-historical map, it is hard to imagine a more fitting lunch venue. With its open-plan kitchen and grey formica tables edged in chrome, Käfer has a cool, functional aesthetic that is typical of the city. On the wall hangs a sketch by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who famously wrapped the Reichstag in silver fabric in 1995.

The restaurant has one other big advantage: it is easy to reach from Schäuble’s office. Now 76, he has been confined to a wheelchair since he was shot in an assassination attempt in 1990, and mobility is an issue. Aides say he tends to avoid restaurants if he can, especially at lunchtime.

As we take our places, we talk about Schäuble’s old dream — that German reunification would be a harbinger of European unity, a step on the road to a United States of Europe. That seems hopelessly out of reach in these days of Brexit, the gilets jaunes in France, Lega and the Five Star Movement in Italy.

Some blame Schäuble himself for that. He was, after all, the architect of austerity, a fiscal hawk whose policy prescriptions during the euro crisis caused untold hardship for millions of ordinary people, or so his critics say. He became a hate figure, especially in Greece. Posters in Athens in 2015 depicted him with a Hitler moustache below the words: “Wanted — for mass poverty and devastation”.

Schäuble rejects the criticism that austerity caused the rise of populism. “Higher spending doesn’t lead to greater contentment,” he says. The root cause lies in mass immigration, and the insecurities it has unleashed. “What European country doesn’t have this problem?” he asks. “Even Sweden. The poster child of openness and the willingness to help.”

But what of the accusation that he didn’t care enough about the suffering of the southern Europeans? Austerity divided the EU and spawned a real animus against Schäuble. I ask him how that makes him feel now. “Well I’m sad, because I played a part in all of that,” he says, wistfully. “And I think about how we could have done it differently.”

I glance at the menu — simple German classics with a contemporary twist. I’m drawn to the starters, such as Oldenburg duck pâté and the Müritz smoked trout. But true to his somewhat abstemious reputation, Schäuble has no interest in these and zeroes in on the entrées. He chooses Käfer’s signature veal meatballs, a Berlin classic. I go for the Arctic char and pumpkin.

Schäuble switches seamlessly back to the eurozone crisis. The original mistake was in trying to create a common currency without a “common economic, employment and social policy” for all eurozone member states. The fathers of the euro had decided that if they waited for political union to happen first they’d wait forever, he says.

Yet the prospects for greater political union are now worse than they have been in years. “The construction of the EU has proven to be questionable,” he says. “We should have taken the bigger steps towards integration earlier on, and now, because we can’t convince the member states to take them, they are unachievable.”

Greece was a particularly thorny problem. It should never have been admitted to the euro club in the first place, Schäuble says. But when its debt crisis first blew up, it should have taken a 10-year “timeout” from the eurozone — an idea he first floated with Giorgos Papakonstantinou, his Greek counterpart between 2009 and 2011. “I told him you need to be able to devalue your currency, you’re not competitive,” he says. The reforms required to repair the Greek economy were going to be “hard to achieve in a democracy”. “That’s why you need to leave the euro for a certain period. But everyone said there was no chance of that.”

The idea didn’t go away, though. Schäuble pushed for a temporary “Grexit” in 2015, during another round of the debt crisis. But Merkel and the other EU heads of government nixed the idea. He now reveals he thought about resigning over the issue. “On the morning the decision was made, [Merkel] said to me: ‘You’ll carry on?’ . . . But that was one of the instances where we were very close [to my stepping down].”

It is an extraordinary revelation, one that highlights just how rocky his relationship with Merkel has been over the years. Schäuble has been at her side from the start, an éminence grise who has helped to resolve many of the periodic crises of her 13 years as chancellor. But it was never plain sailing.

“There were a few really bad conflicts where she knew too that we were on the edge and I would have gone,” he says. “I always had to weigh up whether to go along with things, even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do, as was the case with Greece, or whether I should go.” But his sense of duty prevailed. “We didn’t always agree — but I was always loyal.”

That might have been the case when he was a serving minister, but since becoming speaker of parliament in late 2017 he has increasingly distanced himself from Merkel. Last year, when she announced she would not seek re-election as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, the party that has governed Germany for 50 of the past 70 years, Schäuble openly backed a candidate described by the Berlin press as the “anti-Merkel”. Friedrich Merz, a millionaire corporate lawyer who is the chairman of BlackRock Germany, had once led the CDU’s parliamentary group but lost out to Merkel in a power struggle in 2002, quitting politics a few years later. He has long been seen as one of the chancellor’s fiercest conservative critics — and is a good friend of Schäuble’s.

Ultimately, in a nail-biting election last December, Merkel’s favoured candidate, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, narrowly beat Merz. The woman universally known as “AKK” is in pole position to succeed Merkel as chancellor when her fourth and final term ends in 2021.

I ask Schäuble if it’s true that he had once again waged a battle against Merkel and once again lost. “I never went to war against Ms Merkel,” he says. “Everybody says that if I’m for Merz then I’m against Merkel. Why is that so? That’s nonsense.”

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The conclusion of Russiagate, Part I – cold, hard reality

The full text of Attorney General William P Barr’s summary is here offered, with emphases on points for further analysis.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The conclusion of the Russiagate investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, was a pivotal media watershed moment. Even at the time of this writing there is a great deal of what might be called “journalistic froth” as opinion makers and analysts jostle to make their takes on this known to the world. Passions are running very high in both the Democrat / anti-Trump camps, where the reactions range from despondency to determined rage to not swallow the gigantic red pill that the “no collusion with Russia” determination offers. In the pro-Trump camp, the mood is deserved relief, but many who support the President are also realists, and they know this conflict is not over.

Where the pivot will go and what all this means is something that will unfold, probably relatively quickly, over the next week or two. But we want to offer a starting point here from which to base further analysis. At this time, of course, there are few hard facts other than the fact that Robert Mueller III submitted his report to the US Attorney General, William Barr, who then wrote and released his own report to the public Sunday evening. We reproduce that report here in full, with some emphases added to points that we think will be relevant to forthcoming pieces on this topic.

The end of the Mueller investigation brings concerns, hopes and fears to many people, on topics such as:

  • Will President Trump now begin to normalize relations with President Putin at full speed?
  • In what direction will the Democrats pivot to continue their attacks against the President?
  • What does this finding to to the 2020 race?
  • What does this finding do to the credibility of the United States’ leadership establishment, both at home and abroad?
  • What can we learn about our nation and culture from this investigation?
  • How does a false narrative get maintained so easily for so long, and
  • What do we do, or what CAN we do to prevent this being repeated?

These questions and more will be addressed in forthcoming pieces. But for now, here is the full text of the letter written by Attorney General William Barr concerning the Russia collusion investigation.

Dear Chairman Graham, Chairman Nadler, Ranking Member Feinstein, and Ranking Member Collins:
As a supplement to the notification provided on Friday, March 22, 2019, I am writing today to advise you of the principal conclusions reached by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller and to inform you about the status of my initial review of the report he has prepared.
The Special Counsel’s Report
On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. § 600.8(c). This report is entitled “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.
The report explains that the Special Counsel and his staff thoroughly investigated allegations that members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, and others associated with it, conspired with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, or sought to obstruct the related federal investigations. In the report, the Special Counsel noted that, in completing his investigation, he employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.
The Special Counsel obtained a number of indictments and convictions of individuals and entities in connection with his investigation, all of which have been publicly disclosed. During the course of his investigation, the Special Counsel also referred several matters to other offices for further action. The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public. Below, I summarize the principal conclusions set out in the Special Counsel’s report.
Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
The Special Counsel’s report is divided into two parts. The first describes the results of the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts. The report further explains that a primary consideration for the Special Counsel’s investigation was whether any Americans including individuals associated with the Trump campaign joined the Russian conspiracies to influence the election, which would be a federal crime. The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The Special Counsel’s investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election. As noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that any U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or knowingly coordinated with the IRA in its efforts, although the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian nationals and entities in connection with these activities.
The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election. The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election. But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.
Obstruction of Justice.
The report’s second part addresses a number of actions by the President most of which have been the subject of public reporting that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns. After making a “thorough factual investigation” into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion one way or the other as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The Special Counsel’s decision to describe the facts of his obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime. Over the course of the investigation, the Special Counsel’s office engaged in discussions with certain Department officials regarding many of the legal and factual matters at issue in the Special Counsel’s obstruction investigation. After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense. Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.
In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction. Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding. In cataloguing the President’s actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense.
Status of the Department’s Review
The relevant regulations contemplate that the Special Counsel’s report will be a “confidential report” to the Attorney General. See Office of Special Counsel, 64 Fed. Reg. 37,038, 37,040-41 (July 9, 1999). As I have previously stated, however, I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.
Based on my discussions with the Special Counsel and my initial review, it is apparent that the report contains material that is or could be subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure which imposes restrictions on the use and disclosure of information relating to “matter[s] occurring before grand jury.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(2)(B) Rule 6(e) generally limits disclosure of certain grand jury information in a criminal investigation and prosecution. Id. Disclosure of 6(e) material beyond the strict limits set forth in the rule is a crime in certain circumstances. See, e.g. 18 U.S.C. 401(3). This restriction protects the integrity of grand jury proceedings and ensures that the unique and invaluable investigative powers of a grand jury are used strictly for their intended criminal justice function.
Given these restrictions, the schedule for processing the report depends in part on how quickly the Department can identify the 6(e) material that by law cannot be made public. I have requested the assistance of the Special Counsel in identifying all 6(e) information contained in the report as quickly as possible. Separately, I also must identify any information that could impact other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other offices. As soon as that process is complete, I will be in a position to move forward expeditiously in determining what can be released in light of applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.
* * *
As I observed in my initial notification, the Special Counsel regulations provide that “the Attorney General may determine that public release of” notifications to your respective Committees “would be in the public interest.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.9(c). I have so determined, and I will disclose this letter to the public after delivering it to you.
Sincerely,
William P. Barr
Attorney General

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The consolidation of power of the global military industrial complex

Do Europeans support the notion that the countries of the EU be the nuclear war playground of the United States?

Richard Galustian

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Humanity faces two imminent existential threats: environmental catastrophe and nuclear war.

America has elected to completely ignore scientists warnings that we have 12 years to reverse an environmental disaster.

As far as nuclear obliteration, Trump announced that the US is withdrawing from the INF treaty, which eliminated short range missiles deployed in Western Europe, on Russia’s doorstep. It’s the equivalent of Russia placing nuclear missiles in Venezuela.

A provocation, which enables US supplied missiles to be launched, only a few minutes flight time to Moscow.

That, of course sharply increases the nuclear danger. Historically on both sides, attack warnings given by automated systems have often proved faulty in the past; that, if enacted upon, would have meant the end of life as we know it.

Anyone familiar with contemporary military history knows that it’s a virtual miracle that we have so far avoided nuclear war.

Politically within Europe, the attack on democracy is very clear. Unchallenged undemocratic institutions in Brussels exist that is, in the main, part of the problem of the UK BREXIT negotiations.

Why does the public readily accept wars, engineered by our morally bankrupt governments to create ‘regime change’ in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, the Ukraine and soon to be Venezuela followed by Nicaragua and Iran, with such a muted outcry?

That preemptive nuclear attacks are even thought of shows the insanity of Western leadership controlled by vested financial interests led by the Military/Security Industrial Complex and bankers. Those same interests created both ‘industrialised’ World Wars in the 20th Century.

Our governments do not listen to the people. When two million hit the streets of London before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it made not an iota of difference to Tony Blair’s government.

Today, people’s apathy is notably caused by conditioning’, maybe better described as we’ve been ‘disciplined’ by MSM propaganda and family’s economic necessity to focus on their income, have made us so, due to our governments mismanagement of our economies.

Example, our university students are saddled with impossible to repay debt for a reason; to keep future generations ‘disciplined’.

No one has time or dare show any dissent especially given the Orwellian ‘newspeak’ environment that is created by ‘political correctness’.

Back to the subject of Russia phobia. The Western narrative against Russia is, in the main, the below:

* that Russia tried to murder the Skripals. Let the British government, who seem to be holding the Skripals against their will, prove they are not, by letting them be interviewed by the World’s Press.

* Ukraine – For over four years, the governments of NATO and the MSM have been waging the new cold war against Russia. This began with the ‘Maidan’ protests in Kyiv, Ukraine in early 2014 that culminated in the overthrow, universally acknowledged to have been engineered by the CIA, of Ukraine’s elected president and Parliament in February 2014. Putting in power an ultra neo-Nazi government, that in particular voiced hatred against all things Russian…and Jewish. Which MSM, TV news or newspapers, says so?

* That almost 100% of Crimea’s population are glad and grateful to be part of Russia. US, UK and EU says that is untrue, which is nonsense.

The demonisation of Russia is central to the multinational corporate interests that control our governments; the bankers protecting the steeply declining US Dollar, the institutions of the EU that are really controlled by Washington, who are preparing world public opinion to accept what the United States are now gearing up for, the “defence” of Europe.

At this point let us reflect on history by quoting one of America’s most distinguished soldiers, maybe of its entire history, General Smedley D. Butler, from his book ‘War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America’s Most Decorated Soldier.’

“No one told these American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own brothers here. No one told them that the ships on which they were going to cross might be torpedoed by submarines built with US patents.”

It is recommended to read more about General Smedley Butler, as he was the man chosen by US bankers and particularly the Bush family in the 1930s, to be the new fascist leader of the USA by overthrowing, in a coup, the then President Roosevelt during the period of Hitler’s rise to power. A coincidence one wonders. Butler was a true patriot; he bided his time then revealed the plot to both Congress and President Roosevelt. If you doubt this, it is suggested you research the subject.

We can stop the consolidation of power of the global military/security industrial complex, its war party associates, and specifically the US, UK and EU deep state political and financial elite that no doubt exists. We must elect new leaders, it’s that simple.

To quote Noam Chomsky “….power is always illegitimate, unless it proves itself to be legitimate. So the burden of proof is always on those who claim that some authoritarian hierarchic government is legitimate. If they can’t prove it, then it should be dismantled.”

Implicit in this statement is change by either elections or revolutions.

The French people have shown us when enough is enough by their persistent resistance to their government.

Do Europeans support the notion that the countries of the EU be the nuclear war playground of the United States?

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