Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 09, 2019

Isikoff, Who First Peddled The Fake Steele Dossier, Invents New 'Russian Influence' Story

Michael Isikoff was the first reporter who peddled the fake Steele dossier about alleged Russian influence over Donald Trump. He later admitted that the claims therein were 'likely false'. Today Isikoff came up with a new fake story about 'Russian influence'.

Isikoff claims that the conspiracy theory, that Seth Rich, a DNC staffer, was killed because he stole the DNC emails which Wikileaks later published, was planted by Russia's foreign intelligence service.

Exclusive: The true origins of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.

WASHINGTON — In the summer of 2016, Russian intelligence agents secretly planted a fake report claiming that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was gunned down by a squad of assassins working for Hillary Clinton, giving rise to a notorious conspiracy theory that captivated conservative activists and was later promoted from inside President Trump’s White House, a Yahoo News investigation has found.

Russia’s foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR, first circulated a phony “bulletin” — disguised to read as a real intelligence report —about the alleged murder of the former DNC staffer on July 13, 2016, according to the U.S. federal prosecutor who was in charge of the Rich case. That was just three days after Rich, 27, was killed in what police believed was a botched robbery while walking home to his group house in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., about 30 blocks north of the Capitol.

Isikoff points to the whacky website On July 13 2016 it published this:

A somber Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) report circulating in the Kremlin today says that a top American Democratic Party staffer preparing to testify against Hillary Clinton was assassinated this past Sunday during a secret meeting in Washington D.C. he believed he was having with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, but who turned out, instead, to be a “hit team”—and who, in turn, were captured yesterday after a running gun battle with US federal police forces just blocks from the White House.

According to this report, SVR “electronic specialists” performing counter intelligence “missions/operations” noted on 7 July an “enormous/gigantic” increase of computer and telephonic traffic between the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in Washington D.C. and the Clinton Foundation (CF) offices in New York City.

That report, says Isikoff, was planted by the SVR and was the first to make the connection between the murder of Seth Rich and his work at the Democrat National Councils (DNC).

Isikoff also quotes Deborah Sines, "the former assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Rich case until her retirement last year":

In her efforts to better understand where the conspiracy theories were coming from, Sines used her security clearance to access copies of two SVR intelligence reports about Seth Rich that had been intercepted by U.S. intelligence officials. She later wrote a memo documenting the Russian role in fomenting the conspiracy theories that she sent to the Justice Department’s national security division, and personally briefed special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors on her findings.

It is doubtful that Mrs. Sines security clearance allows her to publicize what SVR intelligence reports, or phony SVR bulletins, U.S. intelligence services intercept and read.

The claim that 'Russia' started the Seth Rich conspiracy story via that whacky website can be easily debunked. That websites version, that Seth Rich was supposed to meat FBI agents, never gained credence. It was also not the first, as Isikoff claims.

Washington Post reporter Philip Bump finds that at least six U.S. persons publicly made claims that connected the Seth Rich murder to Hillary Clinton before the whacky website published its version. That is not astonishing at all. The idea of a 'Clinton body count' has been around for decades.

Isikoff also claims that 'Russian trolls' pushed the story:

At the same time, online trolls working in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the Internet Research Agency (IRA) — the same shadowy outfit that conducted the Russian social media operation during the 2016 election — aggressively boosted the conspiracy theories. IRA-created fake accounts, masquerading as those of American citizens or political groups, tweeted and retweeted more than 2,000 times about Rich, helping to keep the bogus claims about his death in the social media bloodstream, according to an analysis of a database of Russia troll accounts by Yahoo News.

But Philip Bump finds a different number:

A search of the Russian tweets conducted by The Post finds only 640 tweets mentioning “Seth Rich.” Most of those tweets came well after the election.

More than half of the IRA tweets on Seth Rich were sent in August 2017. They came after Fox News and Steve Bannon had publicly peddled the conspiracy theory.

The IRA is a commercial advertisement company. Its fictitious online personalities create web traffic to sell ads. That activity has nothing to do with the Russian government. In the criminal case against the IRA owner Concord a federal judge recently confirmed that there is no evidence that connects the IRA activity to the Russian government. The judge criticizes that the Mueller investigation made the claim:

In short, the Court concludes that the government violated Rule 57.7 by making or authorizing the release of public statements that linked the defendants’ alleged activities to the Russian government and provided an opinion about the defendants’ guilt and the evidence against them. The Court will therefore proceed to consider the appropriate response to that violation, beginning with the possibility of contempt.

That Seth Rich was wacked because he stole the DNC emails and transferred them to Wikileaks is a conspiracy theory. It is possible and even plausible, but there is no evidence to confirm it. Many people seem to believe it because it makes more sense than the competing conspiracy theory, that Russia hacked the DNC and handed the emails to Wikileaks. Isikoff's claim, that Russia planted the Rich conspiracy theory, has no sound base. That theory existed before anything 'Russian' mentioned it.

Philip Bump concludes:

It’s eternally tempting to suggest that out-there ideas like the Rich conspiracies were a function of nefarious external actors like Russian intelligence officials. That text from Bannon, though, underlines the more anodyne truth: It was politically useful for a number of people to hype the allegations at the expense of Rich’s reputation.

Posted by b on July 9, 2019 at 18:12 UTC | Permalink

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@196 c1ue

You and I have the same understanding of Le Carre. My reference was from The Russia House, and it was a mythos that Le Carre referred to, in ironic contrast to the actuality of the British service as Le Carre was portraying it.

Even so, I think the mythos of that setting is actually an ethos, in other nations and times. The quote you present comes, I think, from that time in the fiction when Smiley tried to interrogate and recruit Karla in the prison in India. He was just saying words to gull his target. There are plenty of other quotes that show that while Smiley was aware of the many faults in his system, he still believed completely in what we now see as the western propaganda, namely that the "other side" was even worse.

Divide and rule, as ever.

I have often wondered in recent years what David Cornwell/Le Carre thinks nowadays about the Cold War framework of values he set his books in throughout the decades. I bought the storyline completely, all my life, that the USSR was all the bad things we thought. But now I see a lot of good that existed there, and I see it within larger historical and geographical contexts as well.

The propaganda has been so thick for all of us, it seems certain that even the spooks in the west believed it all in large part also.

There is much revision of our history in front of us yet, I think, as our understanding becomes more clear about the lies we've been told.

Posted by: Grieved | Jul 12 2019 1:10 utc | 201
Posted by: JB | Jul 10 2019 16:58 utc

Botched link above to JB's reference to a paper about 2000s political issues, a scholarly paper about online activism as a nonentity in the political sense.

It's quite good imho.

Noirette, karlof1, Grieved, James and certain others may benefit from studying this critical analysis that discusses the approach to our common goals.

Posted by: jonku | Jul 12 2019 7:54 utc | 202

> Wikileaks had access to Seth Rich's Dropbox account


A little different i believe.

Dropbox has features of
1. Making a folder shared between two accounts
2. Making a folder public on WWW for those who know or guess a token link

I do not think Seth would pass his whole account to Wikipedia, Dropbox has better means :)

Posted by: Arioch | Jul 12 2019 17:16 utc | 203

Grieved @201--

Have you read his Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener? Those are the only post-Cold War works of his I've read. He even has a new website touting his latest. I recall the immense cynicism presented at the ending of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, its duplication attempted at the end of the film Chinatown. The Russia House premise and its outstanding point--The quest for one honest human being--I thought very revealing when I read it in 1990.

Posted by: karlof1 | Jul 12 2019 19:06 utc | 204

@Grieved #201
Far be it for me to diktat what anyone else thinks.
I would note, however, that the "British spy" signing the Russian anthem in a Lenin mask in the mainstream "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" movie was actually David Cornwall himself. That, and a number of other indicators, is why I believe he has a very jaundiced view of intelligence agencies in general.
Note I am not (and have not been) saying anything about his beliefs in political systems. That's a completely different question.

Posted by: c1ue | Jul 12 2019 20:48 utc | 205

There's been plenty of other debunking of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. On the bullshit by "Forensicator," part of VIPS refused to go along with the majority because they couldn't talk to this alleged Forensicator, who is probably Adam Carter. (Duncan Campbell, Ars Technica and many others have gone down the tech side, over a year ago. Plus, Nathan Freitas at The Nation had to clean up after Patrick Lawrence's presumably deliberate omissions. AND Thomas Drake said that McGovern and Binney were willingly looking for their own "Curveball," and found him.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly | Jul 15 2019 22:40 utc | 206

Ty Clevenger, Ed Butowsky's attorney, has filed an amended lawsuit yesterday, which, among other things, alleges the following:

45. Mr. Butowsky stumbled into the RCH [Russiagate Conspiracy Theory] crosshairs after Ellen Ratner, a news analyst for Fox News and the White House correspondent for Talk Media News, contacted him in the Fall of 2016 about a meeting she had with Mr. Assange. Ms. Ratner's brother, the late Michael Ratner, was an attorney who had represented Mr. Assange. According to Ms. Ratner, she made a stop in London during a return flight from Berlin, and she met with Mr. Assange for approximately six hours in the Ecuadorean embassy. Ms. Ratner said Mr. Assange told her that Seth Rich and his brother, Aaron, were responsible for releasing the DNC emails to Wikileaks. Ms. Ratner said Mr. Assange wanted the information relayed to Seth's parents, as it might explain the motive for Seth's murder.

46. Upon her return to the United States, Ms. Ratner asked Mr. Butowsky to contact the Rich family and relay the information from Mr. Assange, apparently because Ms. Ratner did not want her involvement to be made public. In the two months that followed, Mr. Butowsky did not attempt to contact the Rich family, but he grew increasingly frustrated as the DNC and #Resistance “journalists” blamed the Russian government for the email leak. <…> Ms. Ratner subsequently told Mr. Butowsky that she had informed Bill Shine, who was then the co-president of Fox News, about her meeting with Mr. Assange in London. Ms. Ratner also informed Fox News producer Malia Zimmerman about her meeting with Mr. Assange.

47. On December 17, 2016, at the instigation of Ms. Ratner, Mr. Butowsky finally contacted Joel and Mary Rich, the parents of Seth, and he relayed the information about Ms. Ratner's meeting with Mr. Assange. During that conversation, Mr. Rich told Mr. Butowsky that he already knew that his sons were involved in the DNC email leak, but he and his wife just wanted to know who murdered Seth. Mr. Rich said he was reluctant to go public with Seth's and Aaron's role in leaking the emails because “we don't want anyone to think our sons were responsible for getting Trump elected.” Mr. Rich said he did not have enough money to hire a private investigator, so Mr. Butowsky offered to pay for one. Mr. Rich accepted the offer and thanked Mr. Butowsky in an email.

57. <…> In a separate phone call with Mr. Butowsky, Mr. [Seymour] Hersh said he obtained his information about Seth Rich from Mr. McCabe, the deputy FBI director. <…>

Posted by: S | Jul 16 2019 9:55 utc | 207

@SocraticGadfly #206
Your posts aren't very clear.
The speed of transfer cited by VIPS: 22 megabytes per second - is very much faster than anything that is possible via any type of normal connection.
I have a 100 mbps connection which is well above average - that enables me to get 10-11 megabytes per second actual transfer rates (theoretical max would be 100/8 = 12.5 megabytes per second). A 22 megabyte per second rate translates to at least a 176 mbps connection - more like 200. This would require both source and destination to have that capacity along with interconnections in between. The key is that upload speeds, at the consumer and typical commercial level, are usually much slower than download speeds. A super-broadband connection might have 300 mbps or 500 mbps, but upload would be a lot slower (5x to 10x slower or more).
Normal internet level transfers, long distance (between continents, for example), are far slower than the super-broadband. There are also methods to speed up transfers using parallelism - but this would be apparent in the forensic dates so presumably was not done.

Drake and others point to a different issue: that there is no guarantee that the July 5 dates on the Wikileaks data are when the transfer actually occurred. That is a valid concern, but one which should easily have been validated had anyone performed a minimal amount of professional due diligence.
That this was not done is a black mark on the DNC, Crowdstrike and the FBI.
The "Russian" data manipulation in the Wikileaks data has dates before July 5, but this is far less credible because there isn't a lot of it (a handful of files, from what I've seen) and because metadata modification at that level is trivially easy - especially at such low scale. There are all manner of even open source programs which enable this.

So, we have this concrete data:
1) DNC announces hack: June 14, 2016
2) Wikileaks publishes archive: July 22, 2016
3) Wikileaks data contains July 5, 2016 dates
4) Seth Rich killed July 10, 2016

Drake et al clearly have a point about the gap in time between hack announcement and Wikileaks publication/Wikileaks data dates. On the other hand, the speed is such that the transfer was USB in its last instance - there's no debate on that, and it is both too fast for internet and too slow for (unmodified) internal copying (i.e. data from one spot on a hard drive to another). The data could have been copied from source to: internet to computer to USB, USB to computer to another USB, USB (linux format) to USB (Windows format), etc etc - I agree with the Drake et al implication there. If we knew even the type of OS on the server where the data resided, that would cast a lot of light as well. Was it windows? Linux?

The date timelines are important here. July 5 is significantly after the hack was announced - the presumption is that the data was exfiltrated (in whatever form) before June 14.
This isn't guaranteed since we don't actually know if the hack was fixed on June 14 or a later date, nor do we know anything about potential exfiltration times (which security logs would show, if they exist). There could even have been 2 different incidents: the original hack and then a leaker choosing to take the opportunity to release data "that's already out there".
In any case, I have to agree with Drake that the timeline is difficult to reconcile with the likelihood that the dates reflect the actual time of data compromise, and therefore any analysis on the forensic dates is shaky.

Posted by: c1ue | Jul 16 2019 20:19 utc | 208

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