B12 Solipsism

Spreading confusion over the internet since 1994

Archive for the ‘Russia’ tag

Russia’s Fancy Bear Hackers Have a Clever New Trick – A UEFI rootkit Called LoJax

without comments

Computer Consultants

WIRED:

THE FANCY BEAR hacking group has plenty of tools at its disposal, as evidenced by its attacks against the Democratic National Committee, the Pyeongchang Olympics, and plenty more. But cybersecurity firm ESET appears to have caught the elite Russian team using a technique so advanced, it hadn’t ever been seen in the wild until now.

ESET found what’s known as a UEFI rootkit, which is a way to gain persistent access to a computer that’s hard to detect and even harder to clean up, on an unidentified victim’s machine.

If “LoJax” sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because you might recall LoJack—formerly known as Computrace—security software that lets you track your laptop in the event of theft. LoJack turns out to be potent stuff. It sits in a computer’s firmware, making regular calls back to a server to announce its location. Crucially, that also means you can’t get rid of it by reinstalling your operating system or swapping in a new hard drive.

Fancy Bear figured out how to manipulate code from a decade-old version of LoJack to get it to call back not to the intended server, but one manned instead by Russian spies. That’s LoJax. And it’s a devil to get rid of.

“Whenever a computer infected with a UEFI malware boots, it will place the LoJax agent on the Windows file system, so that when Windows boots, it’s already infected with the LoJax agent. Even if you clean LoJax from Windows, as soon as you reboot, the UEFI implant will reinfect Windows,” says Alexis Dorais-Joncas, ESET’s security intelligence team lead.

It is possible to remove LoJax from your system entirely, but doing so requires serious technical skills. “You can’t just restart. You can’t just reinstall your hard drive. You can’t replace your hard drive. You actually have to flash your firmware,” says Richard Hummel, manager of threat intelligence for NetScou

(click here to continue reading Russia’s Elite Fancy Bear Hackers Have a Clever New Trick | WIRED.)

Great. Too bad the US Government doesn’t have a Cyber Czar anymore.

Written by Seth Anderson

September 28th, 2018 at 6:31 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

Russia Hawk Axed From National Security Council Right Before Trump-Putin Summit

without comments

Everything Must Be Done Occasionally
Everything Must Be Done Occasionally

Kate Brannen & Spencer Ackerman report:

Russia Hawk Axed From National Security Council Right Before Trump-Putin Summit

Retired Col. Richard Hooker is pro-NATO, skeptical of Russia, and out at the White House.

 Shortly before Donald Trump detonated a NATO summit, shanked the beleaguered British prime minister and prepped for a face-to-face love session with Vladimir Putin, his White House quietly divested itself of a senior official hawkish on Russia and bullish on the transatlantic military alliance.

The circumstances of retired Army Colonel Richard Hooker’s departure from the National Security Council on June 29 are in dispute. It’s not clear whether Hooker was forced out or if his detail on the NSC came to its natural end. But what’s not in doubt is that for the past 15 months, Hooker was senior director for Russia, Europe and NATO.

And just as his new boss, National Security Adviser John Bolton, was preparing to travel to Moscow to meet with Putin on June 27 to lay the groundwork for Trump’s visit, Hooker was packing up his desk. Now, he’s headed back to the National Defense University, the crown jewel of the Pentagon’s cross-service military-education system, which had loaned him to the NSC. Hooker is the latest NSC staffer to leave as Bolton reconfigures the influential policymaking body in his image. Like Hooker, Bolton has long viewed Russia a strategic threat to the United States, and accused Putin of lying to Trump about interfering in the 2016 election.

Hooker, who is highly respected in military circles, would not comment for this story, and an NSC spokesperson declined to comment on the record as well. But many sources familiar with him portrayed him as the sort of consensus defense official common in both Republican and Democratic administrations in the pre-Trump era.

(click here to continue reading Russia Hawk Axed From National Security Council Right Before Trump-Putin Summit.)

If this was just one incident, nobody would blink an eye. But instead, this is another incident where Trump’s sycophancy to Putin is policy. Or what passes for Trumpianism policy. 

You’d think Putin is Trump’s boss or something…

Written by Seth Anderson

July 15th, 2018 at 7:45 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , ,

NRA gathers docs amid scrutiny over ties to Kremlin-linked banker

without comments

Buy A Dog Not A Gun
Buy A Dog Not A Gun

CNN reported recently:

The National Rifle Association is setting aside years of documents related to its interactions with a Kremlin-linked banker, as the gun-rights group appears to be bracing for a possible investigation, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The NRA has faced fresh scrutiny from congressional investigators about its finances and ties to Alexander Torshin, one of the 17 prominent Russian government officials the US Treasury Department recently slapped with sanctions. The gun-rights group has said it is reexamining its relationship with Torshin, who is a lifetime NRA member, in the wake of the sanctions. The renewed attention has highlighted the close-knit if sometimes uneasy alliance between top NRA officials and Torshin — a relationship that ensnared members of Trump’s team during the presidential campaign, inviting further congressional scrutiny.

Those inquiries could shed light on the tightly held fundraising practices and political activities of the NRA. The political powerhouse shelled out more than $30 million in 2016 to back Donald Trump’s candidacy — more than it spent on 2008 and 2012 political races combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

(click here to continue reading NRA gathers docs amid scrutiny over ties to Kremlin-linked banker – CNNPolitics.)

A deep, longstanding relationship between Russia and the NRA would not surprise me in the slightest. Where does the NRA get all of its funds anyway? Not from individual contributions, the math doesn’t work. At best, the NRA has 5 million members, and allegedly, many of these are inactive.

I find it extremely plausible that the Russians were funneling funds through the willing NRA leadership to help Trump, and other Republicans. 

FCK NRA
FCK NRA

McClatchy reported earlier this year:

The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.

Last February when Torshin visited Washington, Rockefeller heir and conservative patron George O’Neill Jr. hosted a fancy four-hour dinner for the banker on Capitol Hill, an event that drew Rohrabacher, Erickson and other big names on the right. Rohrabacher has labeled Torshin as “conservatives’ favorite Russian,” Torshin was in Washington at the time to lead his country’s delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast, where Trump spoke. The banker also was slated to see the presidentat a meet-and-greet event prior to a White House breakfast, but Torshin’s invitation was canceled after the White House learned of his alleged mob connections, Yahoo News reported.

Torshin’s involvement with the NRA may have begun in 2013 when he attended the group’s convention in Houston. Keene, the ex-NRA leader and an avid hunter, was instrumental in building a relationship with the Russian, according to multiple conservative sources.

Keene also helped lead a high-level NRA delegation to Moscow in December 2015 for a week of lavish meals and meetings with Russian business and political leaders. The week’s festivities included a visit to a Russian gun company and a meeting with a senior Kremlin official and wealthy Russians, according to a member of the delegation, Arnold Goldschlager, a California doctor who has been active in NRA programs to raise large donations.

Others on the trip included Joe Gregory, who runs the NRA’s Ring of Freedom program for elite donors who chip in checks of $1 million and upwards, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke and Pete Brownell, a chief executive of a gun company and longtime NRA board member.

In a phone interview, Goldschlager described the trip as a “people-to-people mission,” and said he was impressed with Torshin — who, he noted, hosted both a “welcoming” dinner for the NRA contingent and another one.

“They were killing us with vodka and the best Russian food,” Goldschlager said. “The trip exceeded my expectations by logarithmic levels.”

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article195231139.html#storylink=cpy

 

(click here to continue reading FBI investigating whether Russia funneled cash to NRA to aid Trump’s campaign | McClatchy Washington Bureau.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 18th, 2018 at 12:57 pm

Posted in crime,politics

Tagged with , ,

Russia-linked company Columbus Nova that hired Trump lawyer Michael Cohen registered alt-right websites

without comments

Part of Your Secret Life
Part of Your Secret Life

An odd thing for an investment firm to spend money on, wouldn’t you say?

The Washington Post reports:

A company at the center of widening questions involving President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen is listed as the organization behind a string of websites targeted toward white nationalists and other members of the alt-right.

Columbus Nova, a company whose U.S. chief executive, Andrew Intrater, and Russian investment partner Viktor Vekselberg have both reportedly been interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, is listed as the registrant behind a handful of domains for websites named after the alt-right that were created during the 2016 election.

It is unclear if any of these websites were launched or ever hosted content.

These sites include Alt-right.co, Alternate-right.com, Alternate-rt.com, Alt-rite.com, and other similar combinations, which were all registered in the two days following a speech given by then candidate Hillary Clinton in August 2016 in which she excoriated the far-right movement known for its extremist, racist, anti-Semitic and sexist viewpoints.

(click here to continue reading Russia-linked company that hired Trump lawyer Michael Cohen registered alt-right websites during election – The Washington Post.)

Columbus Novus has been around for while, acting as an Angel Investor firm.

Crunchbase reports on typical investments that Columbus Novus has made in the past, like Atlis:

 

– Local search platforms using average star ratings are antiquated, creating a poor user experience, and causing significant harm to local business reputations. These products still live in the desktop era.

 

– The system has removed negativity from the consumer feedback loop to prevent toxicity and abuse of local businesses, instead empowering satisfied customers to have a larger voice than ever before.

 

– Atlis has taken the preferred channel of “friendly advice” and applied it to a city-wide audience, letting users ask each other for various local businesses, products, and services to receive suggestions directly in real-time.

 

– Atlis tracks user preferences and collects a repository of the word-of-mouth advice across an entire city, making that dataset consumable via a passive search experience, as well. Machine learning will eventually transform this the data collection into smart, personalized search results that knows what people would have suggested to you.

 

– Company launched in NYC in October 2016 with its R&D team based in Tel Aviv. It has already built an engaged user base of over 10,000 and has signed up over 200 local businesses (without any B2B efforts). It has also secured valuable partnerships with Google, OpenTable, and others.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Atlis | Crunchbase.)

How does one make a business case that purchasing alt-right domain names is part of investment strategy? Unless your real strategy is assisting Putin put Trump in office by any means available.

The secrets of the world are whispered
The secrets of the world are whispered

I guess the Russians didn’t want to spend all of their funds with the NRA, and decided to spread it around a bit?

Natasha Bertrand, when she was with Business Insider, reported:

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as a hero of several prominent alt-right figures, raising new questions about the Kremlin’s influence on the far-right, white nationalist movement that has asserted itself as a new force in American politics. Whether Russia has played a direct role in awakening the American alt-right, whose resurgence as a crusade against establishment politics coincided with the rise of President-elect Donald Trump, is debatable.

 

But the extent to which the alt-right has found a natural ally in Russia’s current zeitgeist — which perceives the US as a globalist, imperialist power working on behalf of liberal elites — is hard to overstate.

 

Self-described white nationalist Matthew Heimbach, who said he identifies as a member of the alt-right, has praised Putin’s Russia as “the axis for nationalists.”

 

“I really believe that Russia is the leader of the free world right now,” Heimbach told Business Insider in a recent interview. “Putin is supporting nationalists around the world and building an anti-globalist alliance, while promoting traditional values and self-determination.”

 

 

(click here to continue reading Alt-right connections to Putin and Russia – Business Insider.)

or as Michelle Wolf put it:

 

 

Trump is racist, though. He loves white nationalists, which is a weird term for a Nazi. Calling a Nazi a ‘white nationalist’ is like calling a pedophile a ‘kid friend,’ or Harvey Weinstein a ‘ladies man,’ which isn’t really fair — he also likes plants.”

 

 

(click here to continue reading Michelle Wolf’s Best White House Correspondents Dinner Jokes.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 10th, 2018 at 9:41 am

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with , ,

Rex Tillerson Out as Trump’s Secretary of State, Criticized Russia Yesterday

without comments

Snacks

Another chapter in the continuing saga.

Yesterday, Rex Tillerson said this about the UK poisoning:

SANTA MARIA, Cape Verde — Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Monday called the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain “an egregious act” and added, “It appears that it clearly came from Russia.”

The statement, made in an interview with reporters at the end of a five-nation tour of Africa, was the clearest statement yet from the Trump administration, after several days of equivocation in which American officials declined to explicitly blame Russia for the March 4 attack.

“I’ve become extremely concerned about Russia,” Mr. Tillerson said in the interview. “We spent most of last year investing a lot into attempts to work together, to solve problems, to address differences. And quite frankly, after a year, we didn’t get very far. Instead what we’ve seen is a pivot on their part to be more aggressive.”

He added: “And this is very, very concerning to me and others, that there seems to be a certain unleashing of activity that we don’t fully understand what the objective behind that is. And if in fact this attack in the U.K. is the work of the Russian government, this is a pretty serious action.”

(click here to continue reading Poisoning of Russian Ex-Spy Is ‘Almost Beyond Comprehension,’ Tillerson Says – The New York Times.)

and today, Rex is gone. Can’t besmirch the mother country1 and work for Trump, Exxon Mobil oil rights in the Arctic notwithstanding…

 

President Trump announced on Tuesday that he had ousted Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and will replace him with Mike Pompeo, now the C.I.A. director, ending the 14-month tenure of the nation’s chief diplomat who repeatedly had found himself at odds with the White House on a variety of key foreign policy issues.

 

“We were not really thinking the same,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House, explaining his decision to replace Mr. Tillerson.

 

He added: “Really, it was a different mind-set, a different thinking.”

 

Mr. Tillerson found out he had been fired before dawn, shortly after his flight returned from a weeklong trip to Africa, said Steve Goldstein, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy. There was no indication during the five-nation visit that Mr. Tillerson’s departure was imminent; Mr. Goldstein said on Tuesday morning that the secretary had been expected to remain in office for the foreseeable future.

 

The president did not personally call Mr. Tillerson, and Mr. Goldstein said he did not know how the chief diplomat learned he had been fired.

 

Mr. Trump announced his decision on Twitter.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Rex Tillerson Out as Trump’s Secretary of State, Replaced by Mike Pompeo – The New York Times.)

If this were a telenovela, it would be a little too obvious of a plot twist, but since it is the Trumponovella, the swirl continues unabated.

And as Steven K Johnson noted on Twitter, this also implies that the Kremlin is A-OK with Mike Pompeo being the new Secretary of State. Hmmm.

Discarded Cautions
Discarded Cautions

Footnotes:
  1. Russia []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 13th, 2018 at 9:04 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

May issues ultimatum to Moscow over Salisbury poisoning

without comments

 Albion
Albion. 

Will this become a NATO thing? Prime Minister May is using specific language, will NATO have to respond as well?

Theresa May has given Vladimir Putin’s administration until midnight on Tuesday to explain how a former spy was poisoned in Salisbury, otherwise she will conclude it was an “unlawful use of force” by the Russian state against the UK.

After chairing a meeting of the national security council, the prime minister told MPs that it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible for the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. She warned that Britain would not tolerate such a “brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil”.

In a statement to the House of Commons that triggered an angry response from Moscow, the prime minister said the evidence had shown that Skripal had been targeted by a “military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia”. Describing the incident as an “indiscriminate and reckless act”, she said that the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, had summoned the Russian ambassador to Whitehall and demanded an explanation by the end of Tuesday.

Ministers on the national security council were told that the nerve agent used was from a family of substances known as Novichok. “Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal,” she said.

 

The prime minister said that left just two plausible explanations “Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said: “The United Kingdom has concluded that Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. And prime minister Theresa May stated today that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act. The use of any nerve agent is horrendous and completely unacceptable. The UK is a highly valued ally, and this incident is of great concern to Nato. Nato is in touch with the UK authorities on this issue.”

(click here to continue reading May issues ultimatum to Moscow over Salisbury poisoning | UK news | The Guardian.)

Also, I cannot believe that the US president has not commented upon this crime against one of America’s closest allies. If the terrorist who used this chemical weapon was from Syria, or anywhere with a predominantly Muslim population, Trump would be issuing a Twitter storm. But since it is most likely a Russian attack, Trump is silent. Is he scared? Is he happy that he isn’t the one poisoned? Or what exactly?

sub Hoc Floresco

Parliament Buildings London
Parliament Buildings London

First Site of Scotland Yard
First Site of Scotland Yard

Written by Seth Anderson

March 12th, 2018 at 8:54 pm

Posted in crime,News-esque

Tagged with , , ,

The Case of Russian Gun Lovers, the NRA, and Donald Trump

without comments

It Might Rain Money It Might Rain Fire
It Might Rain Money It Might Rain Fire

The NRA has been receiving sketchy money from unknowable sources, like Russia, ever since the Citizens United decision opened up the dark money spigots. Did some of that Russian money work its way into the Trump 2016 campaign? Probably, and no doubt Mueller is investigating, but we don’t know for certain. Did some Russian money also end up in other Republican coffers? Probably. Traitors. Send them to Gitmo…

Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy first reported a few months ago:

The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.

However, the NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump – triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. Most of that was money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors.

Two people with close connections to the powerful gun lobby said its total election spending actually approached or exceeded $70 million. The reporting gap could be explained by the fact that independent groups are not required to reveal how much they spend on Internet ads or field operations, including get-out-the-vote efforts.

 

(click here to continue reading FBI investigating whether Russia funneled cash to NRA to aid Trump’s campaign | McClatchy Washington Bureau.)

Strange. In our lifetimes, Republicans have gone from being pro-law enforcement, and anti-Russia to the exact opposite. Power corrupts, as the cliché goes.

First Stop Guns
First Stop Guns

Continuing to explore the subject, Denise Clifton and Mark Follman write in Mother Jones:

For more than a year now, reports have trickled out about deepening ties among prominent members of the National Rifle Association, conservative Republicans, a budding gun-rights movement in Russia—and their convergence in the Trump campaign.

Now attention is focused around a middle-aged Russian central bank official and a photogenic young gun activist from Siberia who share several passions: posing with assault rifles, making connections with Republican presidential candidates, and publicizing their travels between Moscow and America on social media. Alexander Torshin and his protégé Maria Butina also share an extraordinary status with America’s largest gun lobbying group, according to Torshin: “Today in NRA (USA) I know only 2 people from the Russian Federation with the status of ‘Life Member’: Maria Butina and I,” he tweeted the day after Donald Trump was elected president.

Of particular interest are their overtures to Trump. Butina asked him straight-up at a campaign event about the future of “damaging” sanctions against Russia. Torshin twice tried to meet with Trump, according to the New York Times, and did meet with Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA event. Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee has heard sworn testimony about possible Kremlin “infiltration” of the NRA and other conservative groups. And the FBI reportedly is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the Trump campaign through the NRA—which backed Trump with a record $30 million.

(click here to continue reading The Very Strange Case of Two Russian Gun Lovers, the NRA, and Donald Trump – Mother Jones.)

A bit more background:

 

A conservative operative trumpeting his close ties to the National Rifle Association and Russia told a Trump campaign adviser last year that he could arrange a back-channel meeting between Donald J. Trump and Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, according to an email sent to the Trump campaign.

 

A May 2016 email to the campaign adviser, Rick Dearborn, bore the subject line “Kremlin Connection.” In it, the N.R.A. member said he wanted the advice of Mr. Dearborn and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, then a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump and Mr. Dearborn’s longtime boss, about how to proceed in connecting the two leaders.

 

Russia, he wrote, was “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.” and would attempt to use the N.R.A.’s annual convention in Louisville, Ky., to make “ ‘first contact.’ ” The email, which was among a trove of campaign-related documents turned over to investigators on Capitol Hill, was described in detail to The New York Times.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Operative Offered Trump Campaign ‘Kremlin Connection’ Using N.R.A. Ties – The New York Times.)

Killing People Is Rude
Killing People Is Rude

and NPR earlier this month:

 

A prominent Kremlin-linked Russian politician has methodically cultivated ties with leaders of the National Rifle Association and documented efforts in real time over six years to leverage those connections and gain deeper access into American politics, NPR has learned.

 Russian politician Alexander Torshin said his ties to the NRA provided him access to Donald Trump — and the opportunity to serve as a foreign election observer in the United States during the 2012 election.

 Torshin is a prolific Twitter user, logging nearly 150,000 tweets, mostly in Russian, since his account was created in 2011. Previously obscured by language and sheer volume of tweets, Torshin has written numerous times about his connections with the NRA, of which he is a known paid lifetime member. NPR has translated a selection of those posts that document Torshin’s relationship to the group.

 These revelations come amid news that the FBI is investigating whether Torshin, the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, illegally funneled money to the NRA to assist the Trump campaign in 2016.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, told NPR this week that the committee’s members have asked relevant witnesses about the NRA through the course of their investigation.

“I can’t go into what we’ve been able to learn thus far on that issue. I can tell you it’s one of deep concern to me and to other members of the committee, that we get to the bottom of these allegations that the Russians may have sought to funnel money through the NRA,” Schiff said. “It would be negligent of us not to investigate.”

Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of research firm Fusion GPS, alluded to Torshin and the NRA during his closed-door testimony before the House intelligence committee in November.

“It appears the Russians, you know, infiltrated the NRA. And there is more than one explanation for why,” Simpson told lawmakers. “But I would say broadly speaking, it appears that the Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organizations. And they targeted various conservative organizations, religious and otherwise, and they seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA.”

 

 

(click here to continue reading Depth Of Russian Politician’s Cultivation Of NRA Ties Revealed : NPR.)

Citizens United is the worst thing to happen to America democracy, even worse than gerrymandering. If foreign hostile nations can pour untraceable funds into our system of elections, democracy is not preserved.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 10th, 2018 at 9:39 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , ,

2017 Seychelles meeting was effort to establish back channel to Kremlin

without comments

Imperia Russian vodka
Imperia Russian vodka…

Speculated in the press for a while, but good to know that Mueller is catching up.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has gathered evidence that a secret meeting in Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin — apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, according to people familiar with the matter.

In January 2017, Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to Russian President Vladi mir Putin and later described the meeting to congressional investigators as a chance encounter that was not a planned discussion of U.S.-Russia relations.

A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

(click here to continue reading Mueller gathers evidence that 2017 Seychelles meeting was effort to establish back channel to Kremlin – The Washington Post.)

One wonders why any incoming administration would need to have a back channel to the Kremlin? Enough that multiple efforts to set it up have been discovered1

Remember Erik Prince:

 

Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a security firm that became a symbol of U.S. abuses in Iraq after a series of incidents, including one in 2007 in which the company’s guards were accused — and later criminally convicted — of killing civilians in a crowded Iraqi square. Prince sold the firm, which was subsequently re-branded, but has continued building a private paramilitary empire with contracts across the Middle East and Asia. He now heads a Hong Kong-based company known as the Frontier Services Group.

Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel – The Washington Post.)

225 W Randolph St Cyanotype
225 W Randolph St Cyanotype

Jared “dimpled slumlord” Kushner also tried to setup a back channel to the Kremlin, using the Russian embassy’s secure facilities. Strange, no?

 

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

 

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

 

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The State Department, the White House National Security Council and U.S. intelligence agencies all have the ability to set up secure communications channels with foreign leaders, though doing so for a transition team would be unusual.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin – The Washington Post.)

Why not have normal diplomatic communications with a supposedly hostile nation? What do the Trumpsters have to conceal about their relationships with Putin and the Kremlin? Why all the secrecy? 

Exc Corpse Notify
Exc Corpse Notify

And there was that weird computer server that connected Trump Tower to Alfa Bank for a still unexplained reason:

 

In late July, one of these scientists—who asked to be referred to as Tea Leaves, a pseudonym that would protect his relationship with the networks and banks that employ him to sift their data—found what looked like malware emanating from Russia. The destination domain had Trump in its name, which of course attracted Tea Leaves’ attention. But his discovery of the data was pure happenstance—a surprising needle in a large haystack of DNS lookups on his screen. “I have an outlier here that connects to Russia in a strange way,” he wrote in his notes. He couldn’t quite figure it out at first. But what he saw was a bank in Moscow that kept irregularly pinging a server registered to the Trump Organization on Fifth Avenue.

 

More data was needed, so he began carefully keeping logs of the Trump server’s DNS activity. As he collected the logs, he would circulate them in periodic batches to colleagues in the cybersecurity world. Six of them began scrutinizing them for clues.

The researchers quickly dismissed their initial fear that the logs represented a malware attack. The communication wasn’t the work of bots. The irregular pattern of server lookups actually resembled the pattern of human conversation—conversations that began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow. It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank.

The researchers had initially stumbled in their diagnosis because of the odd configuration of Trump’s server. “I’ve never seen a server set up like that,” says Christopher Davis, who runs the cybersecurity firm HYAS InfoSec Inc. and won a FBI Director Award for Excellence for his work tracking down the authors of one of the world’s nastiest botnet attacks. “It looked weird, and it didn’t pass the sniff test.” The server was first registered to Trump’s business in 2009 and was set up to run consumer marketing campaigns. It had a history of sending mass emails on behalf of Trump-branded properties and products. Researchers were ultimately convinced that the server indeed belonged to Trump. (Click here to see the server’s registration record.) But now this capacious server handled a strangely small load of traffic, such a small load that it would be hard for a company to justify the expense and trouble it would take to maintain it. “I get more mail in a day than the server handled,” Davis says.

Earlier this month, the group of computer scientists passed the logs to Paul Vixie. In the world of DNS experts, there’s no higher authority. Vixie wrote central strands of the DNS code that makes the internet work. After studying the logs, he concluded, “The parties were communicating in a secretive fashion. The operative word is secretive. This is more akin to what criminal syndicates do if they are putting together a project.” Put differently, the logs suggested that Trump and Alfa had configured something like a digital hotline connecting the two entities, shutting out the rest of the world, and designed to obscure its own existence. Over the summer, the scientists observed the communications trail from a distance.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Was a server registered to the Trump Organization communicating with Russia’s Alfa Bank?.)

Footnotes:
  1. or alleged, or whatever []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 8th, 2018 at 10:19 am

Kremlin Blocked Romney As Trump’s Secretary Of State, Requested Tillerson Instead

without comments

Mitt Zombie  900 W Randolph
Mitt Zombie – 900 W Randolph

Wow! Hope Mueller’s team has good evidence of this explosive claim because that’s cray-cray!

One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.

As fantastical as the memo sounds, subsequent events could be said to support it. In a humiliating public spectacle, Trump dangled the post before Romney until early December, then rejected him. There are plenty of domestic political reasons that Trump may have turned against Romney. Trump loyalists, for instance, noted Romney’s public opposition to Trump during the campaign. Roger Stone, the longtime Trump aide, has suggested that Trump was vengefully tormenting Romney, and had never seriously considered him. (Romney declined to comment. The White House said that he was never a first choice for the role and declined to comment about any communications that the Trump team may have had with Russia on the subject.) In any case, on December 13, 2016, Trump gave Rex Tillerson, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, the job. The choice was a surprise to most, and a happy one in Moscow, because Tillerson’s business ties with the Kremlin were long-standing and warm. (In 2011, he brokered a historic partnership between ExxonMobil and Rosneft.) After the election, Congress imposed additional sanctions on Russia, in retaliation for its interference, but Trump and Tillerson have resisted enacting them.

(click here to continue reading Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier | The New Yorker.)

This entire Jane Mayer piece is worth reading, twice, so go ahead and read it now.

No Puppet No Puppet
No Puppet! No Puppet!

Written by Seth Anderson

March 5th, 2018 at 10:22 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , , ,

Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier

with 2 comments

Forgive Yourself Trump Tower

Jane Mayer has written a deep dive into Christopher Steele and infamous dossier. We should all study it. I trust someone on Mueller’s team has a subscription to The New Yorker…

The dossier painted a damning picture of collusion between Trump and Russia, suggesting that his campaign had “accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It also alleged that Russian officials had been “cultivating” Trump as an asset for five years, and had obtained leverage over him, in part by recording videos of him while he engaged in compromising sexual acts, including consorting with Moscow prostitutes who, at his request, urinated on a bed.

In the spring of 2016, Orbis Business Intelligence—a small investigative-research firm that Steele and a partner had founded, in 2009, after leaving M.I.6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service—had agreed to do opposition research on Trump’s murky relationship with Russia. Under the arrangement, Orbis was a subcontractor working for Fusion GPS, a private research firm in Washington. Fusion, in turn, had been contracted by a law firm, Perkins Coie, which represented both Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Several months after Steele signed the deal, he learned that, through this chain, his research was being jointly subsidized by the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. In all, Steele was paid a hundred and sixty-eight thousand dollars for his work.

Steele had spent more than twenty years in M.I.6, most of it focussing on Russia. For three years, in the nineties, he spied in Moscow under diplomatic cover. Between 2006 and 2009, he ran the service’s Russia desk, at its headquarters, in London. He was fluent in Russian, and widely considered to be an expert on the country. He’d also advised on nation-building in Iraq. As a British citizen, however, he was not especially knowledgeable about American politics. Peter Fritsch, a co-founder at Fusion who has worked closely with Steele, said of him, “He’s a career public-service officer, and in England civil servants haven’t been drawn into politics in quite the same way they have here. He’s a little naïve about the public square.”

And so Steele, on that January night, was stunned to learn that U.S. politicians were calling him a criminal. He told Christopher Burrows, with whom he co-founded Orbis, that the sensation was “a feeling like vertigo.” Burrows, in his first public interview on the dossier controversy, recalled Steele telling him, “You have this thudding headache—you can’t think straight, you have no appetite, you feel ill.” Steele compared it to the disorientation that he had felt in 2009, when his first wife, Laura, had died, after a long illness, leaving him to care for their three young children.

(click here to continue reading Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier | The New Yorker.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 5th, 2018 at 9:30 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

NSA chief: Trump has not ordered disruption of Russia election meddling

without comments

Eustace Vladimirovich Tilley by Barry Blitt  newyorker  trump
Eustace Vladimirovich Tilley by Barry Blitt The New Yorker

This is not good. Speaking of traitors to America, Trump is happy to twiddle his liddle Twitter thumbs, watch Fox and Friends in his bathrobe, and let Putin do what he will.

A top national security official told lawmakers on Tuesday he had not been directed by Donald Trump to disrupt Russian efforts to meddle in US elections, and that Vladimir Putin had come to the conclusion there was “little price to pay” for such actions.

Adm Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and chief of US Cyber Command, told the Senate armed services committee: “Clearly, what we’ve done hasn’t been enough.”

Asked if he had been granted the authority by Trump to counter Russian cyber-attacks at source, Rogers said: “No, I have not.”

He added: “I need a policy decision that indicates there is specific direction to do that. The president ultimately would make this decision in accordance with a recommendation from the secretary of defense.”

Trump has dismissed investigations into Russian interference in the US election – and potential collusion between Trump aides and Moscow – as a partisan exercise.

Rogers cited Trump’s decision in January to delay the implementation of new sanctions against Russia that Congress passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis last year.

“I believe that President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion there’s little price to pay here, and that therefore I can continue this activity,” Rogers said.

“Everything, both as the director of NSA and what I see on the cyber command side, leads me to believe that if we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue and 2016 won’t be viewed as something isolated.

“This is something that will be sustained over time.”

(click here to continue reading NSA chief: Trump ‘has not ordered disruption of Russia election meddling’ | US news | The Guardian.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 28th, 2018 at 10:43 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

The Big Loophole That Helped Russia Exploit Facebook: Doctored Photos

without comments

No Alien is Illegal
No Alien is Illegal

Not this photo, but a similar photo…

A decade ago, at a pro-immigration march on the steps of the Capitol building in Little Rock, Ark., community organizer Randi Romo saw a woman carrying a sign that read “no human being is illegal.” She took a photograph and sent it to an activist group, which uploaded it to photo-sharing site Flickr.

Last August, the same image—digitally altered so the sign read “give me more free shit”—appeared on a Facebook page, Secured Borders, which called for the deportation of undocumented immigrants. The image was liked or shared hundreds of times, according to cached versions of the page.

This use of doctored images was a crucial and deceptively simple technique used by Russian propagandists to spread fabricated information during the 2016 election, one that exposes a loophole in tech company defenses. Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have traps to detect misinformation, but struggle—then and now—to identify falsehoods posted directly on their platforms, in particular through pictures.

Facebook disclosed last fall that Secured Borders was one of 290 Facebook and Instagram pages created and run by Russia-backed accounts that sought to amplify divisive social issues, including immigration. Last week’s indictment secured by special counsel Robert Mueller cited the Secured Borders page as an example of how Russians invented fake personas in an effort to “sow discord in the U.S. political system.”

The campaigns conducted by some of those accounts, according to a Wall Street Journal review, often relied on images that were doctored or taken out of context.

(click here to continue reading The Big Loophole That Helped Russia Exploit Facebook: Doctored Photos – WSJ.)

There is an advantage to having actual humans involved – not every decision tree can be outsourced to computer algorithms. I know tech companies like to reduce their costs by eliminating staff, but there are consequences.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 22nd, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Advertising,politics

Tagged with ,

Mueller, Manafort and Federal Savings Bank

without comments

Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank
Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank

Follow up on the local FSB bank in Fulton Market we wrote about a few months ago…

Federal investigators are probing whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort promised a Chicago banker a job in the Trump White House in return for $16 million in home loans, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

Manafort received three separate loans in December 2016 and January 2017 from Federal Savings Bank for homes in New York City, Virginia and the Hamptons.

The banker, Stephen Calk, president of the Federal Savings Bank, was announced as a member of candidate Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers in August 2016.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is now investigating whether there was a quid pro quo agreement between Manafort and Calk. Manafort left the Trump campaign in August 2016 after the millions he had earned working for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine drew media scrutiny. Calk did not receive a job in President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

The sources say the three loans were questioned by other officials at the bank, and one source said that at least one of the bank employees who felt pressured into approving the deals is cooperating with investigators.

(click here to continue reading Mueller asking if Manafort promised banker White House job in return for loans – NBC News.)

The Federal Savings Bank
The Federal Savings Bank

Bloomberg adds:

 

The Federal Savings Bank, where Calk is founder, chairman and chief executive officer, also got a “seven-figure” investment from a firm run by one of Trump’s closest friends, Howard Lorber, according to court testimony not previously reported.

Lorber is CEO of the Vector Group, parent company of the New York real estate powerhouse, Douglas Elliman Real Estate LLC. Last year, Trump described Lorber, who is also chairman of Douglas Elliman, as one of his two best friends. In 1996, Trump and Lorber were together in Moscow exploring business opportunities, accompanied by Bennett LeBow, the Vector Group’s founder and chairman.

 

Bennett LeBow in 1998Photographer: Chuck Robinson/AP Images LeBow is a longtime player in both the cigarette and real estate industries in Russia and Ukraine. Among his former business partners is Vadim Z. Rabinovich, a Ukrainian politician who was elected to parliament in 2014 as part of the pro-Russia party that employed Manafort before he signed onto Trump’s campaign.

 

The Vector Group made a “seven-figure” investment in Calk’s bank, according to a 2015 deposition by Calk; Lorber in a 2015 deposition put the figure at $2 million, though he wasn’t sure if the investment was made by Vector or Douglas Elliman. Neither of the men said when the investment was made.

Calk was little known in political circles, even in Chicago. He built a mortgage business in Kansas with his brother John by focusing on military veterans. He moved the bank’s headquarters to Chicago in 2014 after being promised millions in grants and tax credits from the city.

According to a 2016 article in the trade publication, National Mortgage News, about 90 percent of the bank’s lending at the time was directed toward single-family home purchases, most through the Veterans Administration.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Behind Manafort’s Loans, a Chopper Pilot Who Flew Into Trump’s Orbit – Bloomberg.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 22nd, 2018 at 10:47 am

Federal Savings Bank and Paul Manafort

with 2 comments

The Federal Savings Bank
The Federal Savings Bank – FSB

There is a small brick building on the corner of Fulton and Elizabeth; on the third floor is the Federal Savings Bank. Unless you follow the news closely, you’ve probably never heard of this bank – it doesn’t advertise that I know of, nor does it maintain a high profile.

Federal Savings was born out of Generations Bank, a Kansas thrift bought by Calk and his brother John Calk in 2011. That bank, which had about $40 million in assets, was undercapitalized, facing regulatory restrictions and posting losses for five straight years, according to a 2012 story in ABA Banking Journal, an American Bankers Association publication.

Now headquartered on Chicago’s Near West Side, successor institution Federal Savings in 2012 said it was getting $18 million in tax breaks over 10 years from the state through the Economic Development for a Growing Economy, or EDGE, program as well as up to $4 million in training money from the city of Chicago.

The bank had 842 full-time workers as of the end of March. Steve Calk has said about 10 percent of the bank’s employees are veterans like him.

Federal Savings has three branches or loan production offices in Illinois: at its headquarters and in Lake Forest and Naperville, according to its website.

(click here to continue reading Report: Prosecutors demand records on Chicago bank’s loans to Paul Manafort – Chicago Tribune.)

Does that seem like a lot of employees for such a small bank? I wonder what they all do, and where they all fit? Who knows, I’m not a banking expert. Maybe many employees work remotely, or in Lubyanka Square?

Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank

Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank

Federal Savings Bank (FSB, not to be confused with the Russian FSB which is the successor organization to the KGB) is1 tight with the Donald Trump 2016 campaign, and with Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Tight enough that this small bank loaned 1/4 of its assets to Manafort to cover the payments on two of Manafort’s properties, despite his seemingly shaky credit (one property was in foreclosure after a loan default, the other property was not yet in foreclosure, but was also in default).

The Wall Street Journal reports:

New York prosecutors have demanded records relating to up to $16 million in loans that a bank run by a former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump made to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena by the Manhattan district attorney’s office to the Federal Savings Bank, a small Chicago bank run by Steve Calk, sought information on loans the bank issued in November and January to Mr. Manafort and his wife, the person said. The loans were secured by two properties in New York and a condominium in Virginia, real-estate records show.

The Wall Street Journal reported in May that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had begun examining real-estate transactions by Mr. Manafort, who has spent and borrowed tens of millions of dollars in connection with property across the U.S. over the past decade. Investigators at both offices are examining the transactions for indications of money-laundering and fraud, people familiar with the matters have said.

The Journal reported that at the time of the loans from Federal Savings Bank, Mr. Manafort was at risk of losing a Brooklyn, N.Y., townhouse and his family’s investments in California properties being developed by his son-in-law, real-estate and court records show.

Mr. Calk was a member of Mr. Trump’s economic advisory panel who overlapped with Mr. Manafort on the Trump campaign. Messrs. Manafort and Calk knew each other before the campaign, a person familiar with the relationship has said.

The bank’s loans to Mr. Manafort equaled almost 24% of the bank’s reported $67 million of equity capital, according to a federal report. Around the time they were issued, Mr. Calk had expressed interest in becoming Mr. Trump’s Army Secretary.

(click here to continue reading New York Seeks Bank Records of Former Trump Associate Paul Manafort – WSJ.)

I walked over to this bank a few weeks ago, and it is sort of strange, at least to me. FSB is an odd kind of bank, only on the third floor of 300 N. Elizabeth, with a building security employee that won’t let you go up unless you are a member of the bank, plus they won’t allow photography in the lobby. Reading through FSB’s Yelp reviews, they seem a little sketchy, sending out loan application letters to veterans almost to the degree of spam and many other complaints of incompetence and worse. Of course, Yelp reviews aren’t the most reliable, but still, this bank has a lot of unhappy (civilian) clients.

For instance:

Horrible experience. They send letters every week to advertise being part of the VA IRRRL program. If you look, you’ll notice the phone number is different in every letter. So, you can’t trace if there’s been any complaints about the number. The representative got very defensive when he couldn’t answer why the number is different and after I asked to speak with a manager, he said he’d take me off the mailing list and hung up on me. After I tried calling back with no answer, I received a call from someone who apologized, and though he was very nice and informative, I still believe this company is very deceptive. The first guy told me they are VA owned and operated when I asked if they are from the VA. He then said its because 95% of their loans are to veterans. THAT DOES NOT MAKE THEM VA OWNED! I just learned they used to operate under the name Chicago Bancorp and they have a lawsuit against them from 2014, and the owners’ names are the same as now.

(click here to continue reading The Federal Savings Bank – 27 Reviews – Banks & Credit Unions – 300 N Elizabeth St, West Loop, Chicago, IL – Phone Number – Services – Yelp.)

Makes one wonder how FSB is making a profit, suddenly, after years of not making profits. Maybe there are other sources of income besides veterans and tax dollars from the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago?

The property in Brooklyn seems to be in distress:

Reference to home values in the area suggests that the outstanding principal on the loan secured by the townhouse at 377 Union Street may exceed the market value of the property. Reports suggest that the property has been empty for the last 4 years and is currently in disrepair (link). The mortgage secured by the Bridgehampton property indicates that the borrower was required to deposit $630,000 as additional collateral.  The mortgage secured by 377 Union Street indicates that the borrower was required to deposit $2.5 million as additional collateral.

(click here to continue reading 377 Union | Paul Manafort | Who is Steve Calk, and What Does He Have to Gain From Helping Paul Manafort?.)

Caviar Russian
Caviar Russian

One final weird thought: the modus operandi for Russian money laundering schemes frequently use real estate as the anchor. What better way to wash one’s dirty money than paying more than a property is worth? The seller is happy, and now the money is in the banking system. Especially if the purchaser is an LLC company, with limited public information available as to the source of the money.

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.

(click here to continue reading Mueller Seeks to Talk to Intelligence Officials, Hinting at Inquiry of Trump – The New York Times.)

From USA Today we read:

Since President Trump won the Republican nomination, the majority of his companies’ real estate sales are to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before.

USA TODAY journalists have spent six months cataloging every condo, penthouse or other property that Trump and his companies own – and tracking the buyers behind every transaction. The investigation found Trump’s companies owned more than 430 individual properties worth well over $250 million.

Since Election Day, Trump’s businesses have sold 28 of those U.S. properties for $33 million. The sales include luxury condos and penthouses in Las Vegas and New York and oceanfront lots near Los Angeles. The value of his companies’ inventory of available real estate remains above a quarter-billion dollars.

Profits from sales of those properties flow through a trust run by Trump’s sons. The president is the sole beneficiary of the trust and can withdraw cash any time.

(click here to continue reading Trump property buyers make clear shift to secretive shell companies.)

and from Bloomberg:

But the Justice Department inquiry led by Mueller now has added flavors. The Post noted that the investigation also includes “suspicious financial activity” involving “Russian operatives.” The New York Times was more specific in its account, saying that Mueller is looking at whether Trump associates laundered financial payoffs from Russian officials by channeling them through offshore accounts.

In that context, a troubling history of Trump’s dealings with Russians exists outside of Russia: in a dormant real-estate development firm, the Bayrock Group, which once operated just two floors beneath the president’s own office in Trump Tower.

One of Bayrock’s principals was a career criminal named Felix Sater who had ties to Russian and American organized crime groups. Before linking up with the company and with Trump, he had worked as a mob informant for the U.S. government, fled to Moscow to avoid criminal charges while boasting of his KGB and Kremlin contacts there, and had gone to prison for slashing apart another man’s face with a broken cocktail glass.

In a series of interviews and a lawsuit, a former Bayrock insider, Jody Kriss, claims that he eventually departed from the firm because he became convinced that Bayrock was actually a front for money laundering.

Kriss has sued Bayrock, alleging that in addition to laundering money, the Bayrock team also skimmed cash from the operation, dodged taxes and cheated him out of millions of dollars.

(click here to continue reading Trump, Russia, and Those Shadowy Sater Deals at Bayrock – Bloomberg.)

which makes this real estate transaction, a few blocks away2 from FSB’s West Loop HQ so eye-catching:

The record purchase price for a West Loop condo is set to more than quadruple, with a buyer agreeing to pay more than $5 million for a not-yet-built penthouse on Washington Street.

The asking price is about $5.6 million for the home, which is under contract. The listing agents declined to provide any details on the buyer, whom they referred to only as “he.”

Construction is scheduled to start next month, with the building ready for occupancy by summer 2018.

The penthouse prices astonished Baird & Warner agent Nicholas Colagiovanni, who sold the previous record-setter, a 2,400-square-foot loft at 1000 W. Washington, which closed this week at $1.2 million. It’s one of four condos sold in the neighborhood that have sold for $1 million or more so far this year.

(click here to continue reading West Loop contract under contract at over $5 million – Residential News – Crain’s Chicago Business.)

So a condo, in a building not even under construction yet, is worth 4 times more than the previously record holder for most expensive, one on the same block? One wonders what sort of business the purchaser is in. Do they speak Russian? Hmm.

If I was an investigator working for Robert Mueller, I’d take a closer look at this, and similar property transactions.

Footnotes:
  1. or was []
  2. a ten minute walk, 15 via Google Maps []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 21st, 2017 at 1:53 pm

The Federal Savings Bank was uploaded to Flickr

without comments

A strange little bank in Fulton Market, tied in closely to Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, and maybe Russian money laundering.

New York prosecutors have demanded records relating to up to $16 million in loans that a bank run by a former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump made to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena by the Manhattan district attorney’s office to the Federal Savings Bank, a small Chicago bank run by Steve Calk, sought information on loans the bank issued in November and January to Mr. Manafort and his wife, the person said. The loans were secured by two properties in New York and a condominium in Virginia, real-estate records show.
More
http://ift.tt/2uCX2cK…

embiggen by clicking
http://flic.kr/p/WQMYN4

I took The Federal Savings Bank on May 18, 2017 at 10:03AM

and processed it in my digital darkroom on July 17, 2017 at 10:39PM

Written by eggplant

July 17th, 2017 at 10:43 pm