Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Attorney Glenn Greenwald @ggreenwald joins Trump defense team

As more of the inside story of the 2016 US election is becoming known, it is becoming increasing clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin mobilized forces at his disposal to help get Donald Trump elected president of the United States. It is also becoming increasingly clear that the Trump campaign invited and supported this nefarious Russian intervention into the US election, and worked in concert with the Russian efforts.

This Russian effort, and the Trump campaign collusion with it, has long been suspected, but short on evidence available to the public. As this situation develops; this is starting to change. Of course there was the CrowdStrike report on the Russian hacking of the DNC servers, but the technical details in it are beyond the understanding of most people, and since it was paid for by the Democratic National Committee, it could easily be dismissed by its critics.

Not so easy to dismiss was the intelligence report on the Russian hacking of US election infrastructure leaked to The Intercept by Reality Winner.  In publishing the report, The Intercept summarized:
RUSSIAN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.
Even less easy to dismiss has been the email chain released by Donald Trump Jr. in which he express his love for the idea that the Russian government had gathered damaging material on Hillary Clinton and was sending a lawyer to discuss the best way to get this "opposition research" to them and the best time to use it. Since that bombshell release, Trump and his supporters have been scrambling to do damage control, and a big part of that damage control has been an attempt to normalized the Trump campaign behavior vis a vis Russia. Monday morning the president tweeted out:

A day earlier, one of Trump's lawyers, Jay Sekulow was making the rounds on the Sunday talk show circuit with statements like:
“There was nothing in that meeting that is illegal, against the law,” on Fox News Sunday.

“I mean, opposition research in campaigns happens all the time,” to CBS’s John Dickerson.
Earlier last week, Glenn Greenwald, one of the founders of The Intercept, reminded everyone that he is also an attorney; saying "as a lawyer, I know this really well," when he was on Democracy Now making the same arguments in defense of Trump in a segment he did with Amy Goodman called Donald Trump Jr.'s Emails Aren't a "Smoking Gun" or Evidence of Criminal Collusion.

Jay Sekulow, and other members of the Trump defense team are arguing that Donald Junior did nothing wrong in getting dirt on his opposition wherever he found it. "He did nothing wrong" and "This happens all the time." Then they claim Clinton and the Democrats did the same thing by going to Ukraine and Russia for dirt on the Trump campaign. "So what's the difference?"

Sekulow can do the Sunday talk show circuit, but he could never come on Democracy Now and peddle this crap to a progressive audience, so it's Glenn Greenwald to the rescue. He is interviewed by Amy and he makes exactly the same arguments. This is convenient for me since I can now address Trump's attorney's arguments by critiquing Greenwald. I suppose this infamous Left-Right convergence does have its advantages after all.

As Greenwald creeps up on what has emerged as the main defense argument, he says:
Now, I guess there’s some sense that it’s wrong for a political campaign to take dirt on your adversary from a foreign government. I don’t think it’s illegal at all to do that, but there’s a claim that it’s somehow sort of immoral.

And here’s what I don’t understand. The Steele dossier that everybody got excited about, that claimed that the Russians had incriminating videos of Trump in a Moscow hotel and other dirt on Trump, that came from somebody who was getting first paid by Republicans and then by Democrats, going to Moscow and getting dirt about Donald Trump from Kremlin-affiliated agents in Moscow. In other words, he went to Russia, talked to people affiliated with the Russian government and said, "Give me dirt about Donald Trump," and then, presumably, got it and put it in the memo. Similarly, there’s an amazing Politico article from January of this year that describes how allies of the Clinton campaign, including somebody being paid by the DNC, met with officials of the Ukrainian government, which was desperate to help Hillary Clinton win and Donald Trump lose, and get information incriminating about Trump from Ukrainian officials. In other words, Ukraine was meddling in our election by giving Democrats incriminating information about Trump.
In other words "nothing new to see here." Both Greenwald and Sekulow want to put us to sleep. They want us to believe that nothing new, unusual, and very dangerous happened in the 2016 US election. Now that emerging facts make denying Russian involvement unfeasible, the new line of defense is that Trump and Russia did nothing wrong or even that unusual.

The two talking points Sekulow and the Republicans have marshaled in their claim that the Democrats did the same thing are the "Steele dossier," and the "Politico article."

The Steele dossier is opposition research on Trump, much of it done in Russia, by British ex-spy Christopher Steele. As Greenwald said, he was "first paid by Republicans and then by Democrats," to go to Moscow, talk to Russians and get dirt on Trump. He went to Moscow because that's where the dirt was. Trump has done a lot of shady business deals with Russians over the years. So far the Steele dossier has held up. Many parts of it have been independently proven, and no part of it has been disproven.

The Politico article refers to a piece they ran in January that "describes how allies of the Clinton campaign, including somebody being paid by the DNC, met with officials of the Ukrainian government," accord to Greenwald. This how Jay Sekulow was using it on ABC News Sunday:
We know for a fact, as was reported extensively in an investigative journalist piece by Politico, that the Ukrainians were in direct contact (ph) with DNC officials and traded information back and forth. 
The Politico article is best used in passing reference, as these two Trump defense attorneys do here, because to go into too much detail will expose their attempts to compare a mountain to a mole hill. Remember Russian support for Trump was much more than the information to be traded at this meeting. It included all the material gathered from the DNC servers and John Podesta's email and given to Wikileaks. It included the support of Russia's extensive social media network of live agents and bots, and it included very open and active support for the anti-Clinton campaign of Jill Stein from Russian media organizations RT and Sputnik. Even Politico says of its new revelations "they were far less concerted or centrally directed than Russia’s alleged hacking and dissemination of Democratic emails." Even that is overstating the article's case. The first two counts in its "indictment" are:
Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter...
There are good reasons why many people have questioned Trump's fitness for office; and I would remind all these Trump supporters that Ukrainian government officials retain "freedom of speech" as a human right; although I don't think their opinions have much effect on US elections. They don't even have an They also retain the right to investigate corruption in Ukraine even when it involves prominent US citizens. Was the timing of that investigation politically motivated? Possibly, but saying they forced the resignation of Manafort is playing the "blame the messenger" game. "The Ukrainian efforts had an impact in the race, helping to force Manafort’s resignation," as the Politico article states, only because the charges of corruption were well founded.

The juiciest charge the Politico article makes is that:
A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.
That sounds very sinister. Uri Freidman looked into this charge for The Atlantic, 13 July, 2017. This is what he reported:
As a paid consultant to the Democratic National Committee, [Ukrainian American political operative Alexandra] Chalupa was tasked with something unrelated to Ukraine: helping the party reach out to various ethnic groups in the United States. But during her time in that role, which ended after the Democratic convention in July, she was also immersed in a side project: investigating Paul Manafort, Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, and the work he did advising the former pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Politico reports that as part of this effort, Chalupa cultivated a network of sources in Ukraine and the United States, including “investigative journalists, government officials, and private intelligence operatives.” She “occasionally shared her findings with officials from the DNC and Clinton’s campaign” and voiced her concerns about Manafort’s Russia ties with Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, during a meeting at the Ukrainian Embassy.
According to the Politico article this research was not used by the Clinton campaign:
A DNC official stressed that Chalupa was a consultant paid to do outreach for the party’s political department, not a researcher. She undertook her investigations into Trump, Manafort and Russia on her own, and the party did not incorporate her findings in its dossiers on the subjects...
So was Ukraine "meddling in our election by giving Democrats incriminating information about Trump," as Greenwald charges? Leaving aside the error that the Ukrainian information was about Manafort not Trump, was this "meddling?" And BTW, throughout his presentation Greenwald introduces a myriad of lawyerly like shifted definitions and alternative facts that feel too tedious to call out at every turn. Like when he says a "special prosecutor" was appointed, Mueller really is a less powerful "special counsel" that Trump can fire at will. I'm sure Attorney at Law Greenwald knows the difference. Or when he describes Chalupa as "somebody being paid by the DNC [that] met with officials of the Ukrainian government." Technically true, but about as honest as saying this blog post was written by someone being paid [for unrelated services] by a certain IT company. Some people have lives after the job. Or when he complains about "bits and pieces of information leaked through the media," when the subject at hand is an email chain made public by Donald Junior himself.

Now that Greenwald's earlier defense that "there is no evidence" of Russian meddling in our election is starting to rot, he is trying to sell us on an overbroad definition of "meddling" that is at the heart of this false parallel between Trump-Russia and Clinton-Ukraine that "has been ricocheting across right-wing media in recent days, advanced by Trump aides such as Sebastian Gorka and Sarah Sanders and commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Kayleigh McEnany," according to The Atlantic. We can now add Glenn Greenwald and Democracy Now to this distinguished company.

Answering questions put to you honestly and openly does not constitute "meddling." If I become suspicious of my partner, and go to my neighbor asking it he has seen any unusual comings and goings in my absence, and he tells me what he knows. That is not meddling. If, on the other hand, my neighbor comes to me, unsolicited, with tales of what he considers suspicious comings and goings in my absence, that is meddling. When the Russian lawyer approached the Trumps with opposition research collected by the Russian government on Clinton's activities in the US that they never asked for - that was meddling. If they did ask for it - that was collusion.

Greenwald continues on Democracy Now:
Now, I, personally, although it’s dirty, think all of these events are sort of the way politics works. Of course if you’re in an important campaign and someone offers you incriminating information about your opponent, you’re going to want it no matter where it comes from, whether it’s Ukrainian officials, whether it’s anti-Trump people in Moscow or whether it’s pro-Trump people in Moscow. So, I want to hear the standard that we’re supposed to use to assess Trump Jr.'s actions. Is it that it's wrong in all cases to get incriminating information about your opponent from a foreign government? In which case, why is it OK for the Democrats to do it with Ukrainian officials or for their investigator to go to Moscow and get dirt on Trump?
There is a big difference between going out and gathering information, and being offered information that has been gathered at someone else's expense. This is the difference Greenwald and the Trump people are trying to obscure. It is not about where the dirt comes from. It is a question of who pays to dig up the dirt so that it can be served up on a silver platter.

It's one things for a US political party to pay investigators to dig up dirt on an opponent, even if they get it in Russia or Ukraine. It's quite another thing when Russia pays "investigators" to dig up dirt on a US politician's dealings in the US, so that they can make a gift of the work product of that "investigation" to the politician's opposition. This is true even if that work product is entirely the result of legal information search methods. Hacking introduces a whole other layer. Journalists have a public interest 1st Amendment right to publish stolen emails, but political campaigns have been successfully sued for misusing mailing lists. They may not share a newspaper's protection when it comes to receiving stolen files. Greenwald continues:
Or is it some other standard that distinguishes what Trump Jr. did in this case versus what Democrats did with the Steele dossier and with Ukraine? And I just don’t see this distinction. 
If he was being paid to be Trump's lawyer I could understand why he doesn't see the distinction. Since he is apparently doing this pro bono, allow me to explain.

In one case, because Trump had shady dealings in Russia, and Manafort had shady dealings for Russian interests in Ukraine, the investigation by opposition researchers went to those places for information on those dealings. Presumably, in this case, it is the candidate that is paying the cost of collecting this opposition research, either by paying Steele's firm, or paying people to making trips and ask questions. Remember this last charge is denied by the Democrats, Greenwald still needs to prove that DNC officials talked to Ukrainian government officials about Manafort. The Politico article doesn't claim that.

In the other case, a Russian government agent representing troves of information illegally obtained about an opposition candidate, is pro-actively seeking to provide that information, for which they have paid the costs of collection, however that information was collected, and not in exchange for direct cash payment like say Steele, or some other firm a campaign might hire for opposition research, but for other considerations that can only be provided if the candidate wins.

Why Attorney Greenwald fails to see the value of information

All of Trump's defense counsel know that Donald Junior's greatest legal jeopardy in relationship to these contacts could come if he is charged with breaking campaign finance laws that make it a crime to accept anything of value from a foreign government, so Attorney Greenwald is quick to assert that there is also nothing of value to see here:
AMY GOODMAN: —breaking campaign finance laws or campaign laws that have to do with getting something of value, not necessarily financial, from a foreign entity, a state or nonstate actor.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. And there’s, I think, a lot more lawyers and a lot more campaign finance lawyers who have said that just getting information about a candidate would not constitute something of value.
Greenwald must have not seen Oliver Stone's Wall Street. Remember Gordon Gekko: "The most valuable commodity I know of is information." This is no less true in real world politics, especially when it costs money to gather the information, but apparently that is not the case in Greenwald's world.

First Republicans and then Democrats, paid Steele to do his investigation. Did his report then "not constitute something of value?" If instead Russia had paid him, or someone like him, to investigate Trump, and then turned the "information" they got for their money over to the Clinton campaign, would not they be guilty of breaking campaign finance laws?

Fortunately, for the sake of argument, Greenwald is willing to pretend information has value:
But let’s assume that that’s true. Let’s take that theory as though it’s true. Why doesn’t it also apply then to the person working for Democrats who went to Moscow and got something of value, namely information about Trump, from Kremlin-connected people in Moscow, or Democrats, including someone working for the DNC, who got something of value from Ukrainian officials? 
Because the person who went to Moscow was "working for the Democrats," who were also presumably paying for the trip. Greenwald doesn't understand the labor theory of value. Gold buried in the ground has no value. It must be found, dug up, and refined. That takes a lot of work and that makes it very valuable. Same concept applies to information. It has no value until it is made available. Google itself is the source of very little information. It makes billions by making otherwise inaccessible information available to the world. Greenwald asks again:
Why isn’t that the same thing?
Information is valuable precisely because it costs money or labor to obtain, so it makes a world of difference whether it is US citizens or the Russian government that is paying for the collection of information, even legal research, let alone hacked files, to be used by any side in the US election.

Also there is a big difference between asking Russians to supply information about what a US politician has been up to in Russia, and asking Russians to supply information about what a US politician has been up to in the United States. The first is called research, the second is called espionage.

No evidence for the Russian hacking?

As the interview with Amy proceeds, it becomes very clear that Greenwald is not thinking like an investigative journalist, but like an attorney, and as an lawyer, what he knows very well is how to careful word a phrase to deceive while at the same time being defensible. He allows that the Donald Junior's emails represent new evidence:
It does lend some credence to the possibility that the Trump administration colluded with the Russians criminally, meaning with their hacking of the DNC and Podesta emails, if in fact the Russians did that as the intelligence agencies claim, although they’ve produced no evidence for it.
Of course, Greenwald doesn't know what the intelligence agencies have produced, he is talking about what they have made public, and even though he questions the credibility of these intelligence agencies, he seeks to limit the question to evidence made public by them.

One thing that Glenn Greenwald doesn't seem to get is that "the intelligence agencies" however you may define them, are not necessarily the sharpest tools in the shed when it comes to cybersecurity and cybercrime. We can all see what a stellar job they have done at protecting government documents from hackers that would send them to Wikileaks, and what a bang-up job they have done at rolling up hacker groups like Anonymous. That is why they so often rely on private firms that specialize in investigating cyber breaches, and hire IT contractors for more money than they are allowed to pay employees.

Sometimes fiction follows the real world, as in the case of Penelope Garcia, the FBI's quirky computer guru in the long running TV series "Criminal Minds." In the series' backstory, she got the job because she hacked the FBI computers, and then was able to trade on her expertise to turn a jail sentence into a job. This is a deal that has been struck by more than one real world hacker when caught, because they possess mad skills the FBI is badly in need of.

So while attorney Glenn Greenwald may find it opportune to stand on the narrow ground of what he might consider "evidence" produced by "the intelligence agencies," there is a wealth of evidence publically available and produced by independent investigators that know their craft well that says the Russian government was behind the hacking of the DNC servers.

The CrowdStrike report, Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee, is probably the most compelling. Describing their work for the DNC in the report, they say:
CrowdStrike Services Inc., our Incident Response group, was called by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the formal governing body for the US Democratic Party, to respond to a suspected breach. We deployed our IR team and technology and immediately identified two sophisticated adversaries on the network – COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR. We’ve had lots of experience with both of these actors attempting to target our customers in the past and know them well. In fact, our team considers them some of the best adversaries out of all the numerous nation-state, criminal and hacktivist/terrorist groups we encounter on a daily basis. Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities including deliberate targeting and ‘access management’ tradecraft – both groups were constantly going back into the environment to change out their implants, modify persistent methods, move to new Command & Control channels and perform other tasks to try to stay ahead of being detected. Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.
The CrowdStrike report pointed to a massive hacking effort that required hundreds of skilled operators with a lot of computing power and bandwidth, the kind of effort that pointed to a state actor. To computer industry insiders this looks like a massive effort. To those less knowledgeable about the IT industry like Donald Trump it could have just as easily been a "guy sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds."

This "lone hacker" theory takes the spotlight off of Russia, and so shortly after the CrowdStrike report came out, an entity using the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be the lone hacker who stole the DNC files. To prove its authenticity, it release some. Guccifer 2.0 is a fakeout. In its 15 June 2016 Update, it stated:
CrowdStrike stands fully by its analysis and findings identifying two separate Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries present in the DNC network in May 2016. On June 15, 2016 a blog post to a WordPress site authored by an individual using the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claimed credit for breaching the Democratic National Committee. This blog post presents documents alleged to have originated from the DNC.

Whether or not this posting is part of a Russian Intelligence disinformation campaign, we are exploring the documents’ authenticity and origin. Regardless, these claims do nothing to lessen our findings relating to the Russian government’s involvement, portions of which we have documented for the public and the greater security community.
They also included this in the update:
Below are some additional links to independent articles that have been published since our original blog:
Some commentators have tried to make a big issue out of the fact that the FBI never seized all the DNC servers and inspected them themselves. These are people who have never dealt with a digital breach in the real world. You don't allow the hacker to shut you down by declaring all your servers "evidence" and quarantining them. That's what the FBI meanly does when they want to shut you down. If you have control, first you make an image of the server. That will capture every detail of the server's state after the breach. Then you fix the damage and patch the breach so that you can keep operating, while the forensic investigation is done on images, as many as you need, each a perfect copy of the server's data at the time the image was made. The charge that the DNC refused to turn over its servers to the FBI, in the middle of a presidential campaign is a herring, Republican red.

In The Intercept, 14 December 2016 Sam Biddle tried to discredit the CrowdStrike report, saying:
We should also bear in mind that private security firm CrowdStrike’s frequently cited findings of Russian responsibility were essentially paid for by the DNC, which contracted its services in June. It’s highly unusual for evidence of a crime to be assembled on the victim’s dime.
We are talking about cybercrime. It's not at all unusual for evidence of cybercrime to be assembled by a contract specialist on the crime victims dime. Usually that is the only way it is done. If Sam Biddle didn't know that, then the didn't know what he was talking about. If he did know that, he was being disingenuous. The FBI itself has used CrowdStrike, and in fact CrowdStrike was still under contract with the FBI for "unspecified services" at the time that it did the DNC investigation. TYT Network reported:
According to a US federal government spending database, CrowdStrike’s “period of performance” on behalf of the FBI was between July 2015 and July 2016. CrowdStrike’s findings regarding the DNC server breach — which continue to this day to be cited as authoritative by everyone from former FBI Director James Comey, to NBC anchor Megyn Kelly — were issued in June 2016, when the contract was still active.
The pro-Putin crowd wants to imply that because the DNC paid for the report they got the report they wanted, but it just doesn't work that way. Why work CrowdStrike throw away an excellent reputation and high dollar contracts with the FBI and Fortune 500 by producing a ginned up report? It would be impossible to make one up that could fool professionals. They aren't political and they aren't a PR firm. They make their money by finding the facts and stopping the breaches.

When CrowdStrike revised the number of artillery pieces it said were lost because of the use of Fancy Bear Android malware in tracking Ukrainian field artillery units downwards from 80% to 15%-20% in another CrowdStrike report on Russian hacking in that conflict, the pro-Putin crowd claimed that meant nothing the company ever did could be trusted. That's the way the propaganda war is played these days.

This brings me to another argument against the digital forensic investigation that the pro-Putin people like to bring up: Digital fingerprints can be faked! As if they have made a discovery that nobody doing cyber forensics ever thought of. Yes, counterfeits can be produced. They can also be discovered. Cybercriminals always try to cover their trails, and still they are caught.

What connects this blog post to the last one I published, White nationalists disrupt Santa Monica anti-racist meeting, is the worldwide struggle against white nationalism that is now developing from Santa Monica to Moscow. Those young thugs have chosen to put themselves on the side of Putin and Trump. So, sadly, has Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald. They both worked very hard to elect him by promoting progressive votes for Jill Stein, so it should not be surprising that they are now coming out to defend his presidency.

Then there are the rest of us. The fate of humanity will be determined by who wins.

Clay Claiborne

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for my posts on the 2016 US Election
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Click here for a list of my other blogs on Libya


  1. Stellar work Clay.

    FYI on use of 'collusion' vs 'conspiracy' this is important

  2. Excellent and wide-ranging. Your reporting is much appreciated.