So far, the reporting on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s July 13 indictments of 12 Russians mostly can be divided into two categories. First, we have the corporate press, which parrots Mueller’s every word as if his honesty were as certain as death and taxes. Second, we find thoughtful outrage directed at Mueller by some of the more independent-minded right-leaning commentators, who recognize that their elite brethren are ignoring the real story. First of a two-part series.
First of a two-part series.
Since Mueller can’t force the 12 Russians he’s indicted to come to the United States for trial, his indictments represent, at best, a shameful corruption of the independent counsel’s powers for political ends.
Andrew McCarthy at National Review thinks Mueller’s real purpose is to justify his 18-month investigation, which has already cost taxpayers $17 million. Meantime, Jed Babbin at The American Spectator believes Mueller timed the indictments to disrupt Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin. If so, it certainly succeeded; contributing, as it surely did, to the incredible outpouring of hostility directed at the president’s attempt to reset relations with Russia.
As a political ploy, Mueller’s indictments may be a work of Machiavellian genius. But as far as any legal ramifications are concerned, he might as well have indicted Boris and Natasha from the old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” show.
Mueller, however, may be up to more than McCarthy or Babbin suggest. Indicting people you won’t ever have to prosecute would be a sneaky way to get bogus allegations into the public record without ever having to substantiate them. Indeed, given that his narrative won’t be scrutinized and attacked by a hostile defense attorney, an unscrupulous special counsel could use such indictments to disseminate falsehoods he wouldn’t dare risk bringing into a court of law.
All of which makes it very odd that so much of the conservative press agrees with their elite media colleagues in refusing to investigate or even question whether Mueller might be careless with his facts. Intelligent pundits are somehow treating a man they believe has cynically abused public office in the worst possible way as if his word were beyond reproach.
Which is a pity because, if they took their dismal assessment of Mueller’s professional ethics to its logical conclusion and began investigating his honesty, they would quickly find that Mueller has omitted, misleadingly stated, and even outright lied about matters of public record; particularly regarding two central figures in the nefarious plot dramatized in his indictment, the anonymous alleged hacker, “Guccifer 2.0” and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Mueller’s First Lie: Guccifer 2.0
Mueller does get one thing right about Guccifer 2.0: he emerged out of nowhere on June 15, 2016, starting a blog and taking credit for the now-infamous hack of the Democratic National Committee’s servers. That hack was first reported publicly just one day earlier in the Washington Post, which attributed the deed to Russian spies.
But Mueller’s contention, that G2 “claimed to be a lone Romanian hacker to undermine the allegations of Russian responsibility” for the hack will remind hard-boiled detective aficionados of a passage from Dashiell Hammett:
I was reading a sign high on the wall behind the bar: ONLY GENUINE PRE-WAR AMERICAN AND BRITISH WHISKEYS SERVED HERE.
I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words, and had reached four, with promise of more.
In G2’s entire corpus of almost 60 blog posts, tweets, interviews, and publicly released direct messages, he only once claimed to be Romanian. And it happened a full six days after his June 15, 2016 debut, when he was forced to address the subject in an interview with Vice:
Vice: So, first of all, what can you tell me about yourself? Who are you?
G2: i’m a hacker, manager, philosopher, women lover. I also like Gucci! I bring the light to people. I’m a freedom fighter! So u can choose what u like!
Vice: And where are you from?
G2: From Romania.
That’s it. Those two words are the only time G2 ever claimed to be Romanian. If his purpose was, as Mueller claims, to establish a Romanian identity, he had the opportunity to do so when Vice first asked “what can you tell me about yourself? Who are you?” But, instead, the interviewer had to explicitly ask a follow-up.
Moreover, Vice’s question about G2’s nationality wasn’t an idle one. Besides the fact that he debuted taking credit for a hack the Washington Post attributed to Russian intelligence services, accusations that G2 was a Russian spy began emerging the very day he first appeared and were immediately and continually a hot topic in the tech community.
Within hours of his June 15 debut, both Gawker and Wired published evidence that G2 was working with Russian intelligence. The next day, Vice wrote that it’s “likely that Guccifer 2.0 is nothing but a disinformation or deception campaign by Russian state-sponsored hackers.” That same day, the popular tech sites Vocativ and Arstechnica agreed and, the next day, cyber-security firm ThreatConnect drew the same conclusion.
Yet G2 allowed these accusations to proliferate online for six days before claiming to be a Romanian and then only did so after explicitly being asked about his nationality. He then answered in as few words as possible, dropping the subject immediately. He also never linked to the Vice interview in his blog, or on Twitter, or made any other effort to further publicize his remark. Moreover, in the ensuing months, as the buzz about his Russian ties grew louder, he never again claimed to be Romanian. Contra Mueller, G2’s effort to establish a Romanian identity never even rose to the level of half-hearted.
Mueller’s allegation that G2 “claimed to be a lone Romanian hacker to undermine the allegations of Russian responsibility for the intrusion” is completely at odds with the public record.
Mueller’s Second Lie
It gets worse. G2 not only made no significant attempt to establish a Romanian identity, he never even made any serious effort to deny that he was Russian.
Here’s the opening of G2’s first blog post, just one day after the Washington Post, using information volunteered by the Democratic National Committee’s tech firm CrowdStrike, first announced to the world that Russian spies had hacked the DNC server:
Worldwide known cyber security company CrowdStrike announced that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers had been hacked by “sophisticated” hacker groups.
I’m very pleased the company appreciated my skills so highly))) But in fact, it was easy, very easy.
[The original] Guccifer may have been the first one who penetrated Hillary Clinton’s and other Democrats’ mail servers. But he certainly wasn’t the last. No wonder any other hacker could easily get access to the DNC’s servers.
Not only does G2 give zero indication that he’s Romanian, he doesn’t even deny the Washington Post’s claim that he’s working for Russian intelligence. He writes as if he’s pleased with the details of the Post’s biography. The rest of his post concerns documents G2 claims to have hacked and bears no relation to his nationality. Thus, his first public statement provides no reason for someone familiar with the previous day’s Washington Post story to doubt its contention that he was a Russian spy.
Moreover, G2’s June 21 Vice interview, other than being the only time he claimed to be Romanian, is also only one of only two times he denied being Russian or having connections to Russian intelligence.
Nine days after the Vice interview, on June 30, G2 addressed the issue of his nationality in a post devoted to answering personal questions allegedly sent by readers. But everything about his answers downplays any slight suggestion therein that he’s not Russian.
The blog post is entirely made up of dull autobiography; none of it any more interesting than G2’s pedestrian remarks about loving women and Gucci shoes from his Vice interview. He released no files, meaning that the post is less likely to receive the attention his other posts garnered. The question about his Russian identity comes up amid a bunch of other questions, so the reader has to scroll down to see it. But, most importantly, G2 not only doesn’t say he’s Romanian, he never says anything that contradicts the widely circulating belief that he was a Russian spy:
Many people ask me where I’m from, where I live and other personal information.
You see, I can’t show you my IDs, it would be stupid of me.
I can only tell you that I was born in Eastern Europe. I won’t answer where I am now. In fact, it’s better for me to change my location as often as possible. I have to hide.
But generally, it’s not that important for where I live. I can work wherever there’s an Internet connection. So I feel free in any free country.
A lot of people are concerned if I have any links to special services and Russia?
I’ll tell you that everything I do I do at my own risk. This is my personal project and I’m proud of it. Yes, I risk my life. But I know it’s worth it. No one knew about me several weeks ago. Nowadays the whole world’s talking about me. It’s really cool!
How can I prove this is true? I really don’t know. It seems the guys from CrowdStrike and the DNC would say I’m a Russian bear even if I were a catholic nun in fact. At first I was annoyed and disappointed. But now I realize they have nothing else to say. There’s no other way to justify their incompetence and failure. It’s much easier for them to accuse powerful foreign special services.
They just fucked up! They can prove nothing! All I hear is blah-blah-blah, unfounded theories and somebody’s estimates.
Specialists from Eastern Europe, Russia, China, India work for the leading IT-companies such as Google, IBM, Microsoft, Apple. There’s no surprise that many hackers are descendants from these regions.
Even though G2 complains about CrowdStrike attributing the hack to Russians, he never explicitly denies it. He begins by saying he’s from Eastern Europe without specifying a country. But immediately after complaining about CrowdStrike, he lists several geographical regions, including Eastern Europe, and says it’s no accident those places produce a lot of hackers, which suggests he’s from somewhere on the list. And, though Russia is a part of Eastern Europe, he nonetheless redundantly includes it in the list of places that might give birth to a hacker like him.
Is it at all plausible, as Mueller claims, that this is the behavior of a Russian spy whose sole mission is to make people think he’s something else?
After his June 30 non-denial, G2 didn’t address his relationship to Russia again for almost four months. On October 18, a BBC interviewer suggested that he might be Russian and asked his opinion of Putin. Here was an opportunity to make up for letting the accusations that he was a Russian spy, which had been circulating and spreading since his debut, go unchecked. By now, you’ve probably seen enough to guess that he did not avail himself of it:
BBC: are you a Trump supporter?…
G2: i don’t vote for trump
BBC: Well, if you’re Russian (or Romanian or whatever) you can’t vote for anybody right?
G2: i vote for freedom
follow me and make a good story
BBC: what do you think about Putin?
G2: i don’t live in russia. i’m not interest in russia and it’s government
BBC: Not even a little bit?
But you don’t live in the USA either – and you are very interested in American politics
I mean, I’m interested in Russia (and the UK and the US too)
G2: i’m little bit angy with that, all of u attribute me to russia, but i’m tried of it I don’t care about that country.
The interviewer explicitly suggests that G2 is Russian while parenthetically allowing he might be Romanian “or whatever.” G2 neither denies the suggestion nor endorses the parenthetical remark. And, just like the previous time he addressed his nationality four months earlier, though he complains about being described as Russian, at no point does he actually deny the description’s aptness; he doesn’t say he’s not Russian; he just says he’s “not interested in” and “doesn’t care” about “that country.”
G2 addressed the question of his nationality only once more, in his final public statement on January 12, 2017, almost two months after the BBC interview and seven months after his June 15 debut. By that time, apart from a few skeptical researchers, anyone who knew anything about G2 took it for granted he was a Russian spy. For the first and only time, G2 voluntarily addressed the allegations and straightforwardly denied them:
I really hope you’ve missed me a lot. Though I see they didn’t let you forget my name. the U.S. intelligence agencies have published several reports of late claiming I have ties with Russia.
I’d like to make it clear enough that these accusations are unfounded. I have totally no relation to the Russian government.
Remember: G2 debuted on June 15, 2016 taking credit for a hack that had been attributed to Russian intelligence the day before. He waited seven months to straightforwardly address the mounting evidence and resulting accusations that he was a Russian spy. Apart from that, he discussed his nationality just three times, two of them only because he was forced to by interviewers. And, aside from the two words “From Romania,” nothing he said contradicted the accusations circulating that he was Russian until that final public statement six months after his debut.
Mueller’s assertion that G2’s raison d’être was to create the impression that he wasn’t Russian, whether by claiming to be Romanian or otherwise, is, again, completely at odds with the public record.
Mueller’s First Omission and the Extent of His Second Lie
Mueller says that G2 pretended to be Romanian “in order to undermine the allegations of Russian responsibility” for the alleged DNC hack. But what Mueller doesn’t tell us is that these allegations of Russian responsibility were entirely a result of G2’s own behavior.
Though it took six days for G2 to make even a token effort at denying the reports circulating that he was a Russian spy, he began intentionally dropping clues that he was Russian in the second sentence of his very first blog post:
I’m very pleased the company appreciated my skills so highly)))
“)))” is the symbol that Russians use in place of our “lol.” Is there any chance that a Russian spy on a mission to convince the world that he’s not would use a Russian emoticon in the second sentence of his first public statement?
More evidence of Russian involvement was found within hours of G2’s June 15 debut. Someone at Gawker peeked at the metadata in a file he sent them and discovered the name of the founder of the Soviet secret police listed as the username. If that weren’t enough, it was written in the Russian alphabet. Later expert examination of the metadata revealed that the Russian name was inserted in the file minutes before G2 released it. On June 15, 2016, just before G2’s first blog post, someone opened up a copy of Word, changed the language of a document template to Russian, set the username as “Феликс Эдмундович,” and then cut and pasted the original document in.
As researcher Stephen McIntyre, who discovered these machinations, remarked:
If I encountered a document which had been most recently modified by a user using the pseudonym “J. Edgar Hoover”, I would not jump to the conclusion that the document originated with U.S. counter-intelligence or police. If anything, I would presume the opposite.
But even putting the technical details McIntyre discovered aside, the fact that a reporter from Gawker found evidence connecting G2 to Russian intelligence within hours of his debut would have by itself raised red flags if people weren’t so hungry for sensational news. How ever the Soviet secret police founder’s Russian name got in the metadata, no real Russian spy working to disrupt the United States presidential election would be so careless.
G2 also chose to use a company based in Russia to cloak his real IP address. Even then, there are plenty of email providers that would conceal the company’s Russian IP. Yet G2, who Mueller would have us believe was a high-level Russian operative engaged in espionage designed to control the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, somehow chose one that didn’t.
If G2 had simply kept quiet, there would have been nothing substantiating the Washington Post’s claim he was a Russian spy. Instead, G2 left a series of clues that, within 24 hours of his debut, fueled rampant speculation that he was working for Russian intelligence. Mueller isn’t simply lying when he claims that G2 tried to pass himself off as non-Russian to shift blame for the DNC hack away from Russia; he’s concealing that the truth is the exact opposite. G2 went out of his way to plant obvious clues that he was Russian, which, as he must have intended, were discovered immediately.
Mueller’s Puzzling Second Omission
Even apart from the lies and omissions so far adduced, the scenario Mueller describes makes no sense.
The Washington Post reports that a Russian spy has hacked the DNC. So to shift blame away from Russia, the alleged hacker starts an anonymous blog and takes responsibility for the hack, falsely claiming that he’s Romanian. Putting aside that G2, instead, intentionally created the impression that he was Russian, anyone can start a blog and claim to be the hacker mentioned in some sensational headline. So why on earth did anyone give credence to G2’s attempt to take credit for the hack?
What Mueller isn’t saying, oddly enough, is that G2 provided evidence to substantiate his connections to the Post story.
The DNC’s tech firm, CrowdStrike, released the information to the Post. The story extensively quotes CrowdStrike’s founder and chief technology officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, and president, Shawn Henry. Interestingly, before joining CrowdStrike, Henry was the FBI’s head of cybersecurity. And in one of those coincidences that seem so common among those working against President Trump, Robert Mueller just happens to be the one who promoted Henry to that position. Alperovitch, though Russian by birth, is a member of the vehemently anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian Atlantic Council.
CrowdStrike’s well-connected duo told the Post something that Mueller’s indictment omits. They didn’t just release the information that the DNC was hacked; they also wanted the public to know that a file of Trump opposition research was stolen. Indeed, though Mueller is silent about the Trump opposition research file, its alleged theft by Russian spies is clearly the big takeaway of the Washington Post piece since its mentioned in both the lead sentence and the headline: “Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump.”
This description of one allegedly hacked file gave G2 the means to verify his claim to be the hacker: he released 230 pages of Trump opposition research and sent copies to Gawker and The Smoking Gun. Though G2 had no way of proving that this was the very Trump opposition file mentioned in the Post story, releasing the file provided at least some evidence that he was in possession of a file that CrowdStrike claimed was hacked from the DNC; and, hence, provided at least some of the confirmation necessary for his story to be taken seriously.
Moreover, apart from the Russian fingerprints in the metadata, the very same file of Trump opposition research turned up among Wikileaks October 7, 2016 release of emails pilfered from John Podesta’s Gmail account. Indeed, the DNC itself admits that the file G2 released came from Podesta’s emails. So, besides initially playing the crucial role of confirming G2’s link to the Washington Post story, the Trump opposition research file also seems to provide the strongest possible evidence that G2 passed documents to Wikileaks. Yet, though Mueller’s is trying to establish a connection between G2 and Wikileaks—there is even a section in the indictment titled “Stolen Documents Released through Guccifer 2.0”—the Trump opposition research file goes unmentioned.
Why would Mueller leave out the one piece of evidence that directly establishes G2’s connection with Wikileaks? Because the details surrounding the stolen Trump opposition research file, together with other information about Wikileaks missing from Mueller’s indictment, shows that G2, rather than being a creation of Russian intelligence, is a ruse designed by the DNC’s tech firm CrowdStrike to discredit Wikileaks.
In part two: How Mueller’s indictment represents the final move in solidifying a false narrative designed to frame and discredit Julian Assange.
Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images