RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week

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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week
May 10 to May 16


Featured Investigation
Hidden Over 2 Years: CrowdStrike's Testimony
of No Proof Russians Hacked DNC

CrowdStrike, the cyber-security firm that first accused Russia of hacking Democratic Party emails and served as a critical source for U.S. intelligence officials in the years-long Trump-Russia probe, privately acknowledged more than two years ago that it had no evidence that Russian hackers stole emails from the Democratic National Committee’s server.

Aaron Maté has the story for RealClearInvestigations:

  • CrowdStrike President Shawn Henry's admission under oath, in a newly declassified December 2017 interview before the House Intelligence Committee, raises new questions about whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Democrats and others misled the public.
  • The allegation that Russia stole Democratic Party emails and passed them to Wikileaks helped trigger the FBI's Russia probe and with it the sweeping investigation into whether the Trump campaign was complicit.
  • Henry testified that CrowdStrike did not know if a theft occurred at all: "We did not have concrete evidence that the data was exfiltrated from the DNC, but we have indicators that it was exfiltrated," Henry said.
  • Henry reiterated this stunning claim on multiple occasions.
  • Among the questions raised: If CrowdStrike had no evidence of a Russian cyber-theft, on what basis did it accuse the Russians of stealing the emails?
  • Further, if CrowdStrike had no evidence, why did U.S. intelligence officials rely or claim to rely on its forensics?
  • Ex-FBI Director James Comey has previously admitted that he relied on CrowdStrike’s analysis rather than insist on the bureau itself examining the evidence firsthand.
  • The newly released testimony also confirms that CrowdStrike was hired to investigate the DNC breach by Michael Sussmann of Perkins Coie – the same law firm that hired Fusion GPS to produce the discredited Steele dossier.
  • Thus the two private firms that generated the core allegations at the heart of Russiagate – Russian email hacking and Trump-Russia collusion – were both hired by the Democratic Party, suggesting that the federal investigation was compromised from the start.
  • The gaps in CrowdStrike's findings could shed new light on previous indications that evidence of Russian email hacking was in short supply. As RCI reported in July, the Mueller report used qualified and ambiguous language in accusing Russian officers of stealing Democratic Party emails.

Featured Investigation
Transcripts: Clinton Aides
Joined Forces With GPS After Election

Top Hillary Clinton campaign aides re-engaged with the producers of the Steele dossier three weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated president -- indicating her campaign continued efforts to cast Trump as a tool of the Kremlin well into his administration.

Paul Sperry of RealClearInvestigations reports on new revelations from unsealed sworn House testimony by Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan:

  • Podesta and Sullivan met in Washington on Feb. 10, 2017, with Daniel Jones, a former aide to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Glenn Simpson and his partner Peter Fritsch of Fusion GPS, which the Clinton campaign had hired to compile the now-discredited dossier.
  • Jones had days before incorporated a nonprofit called The Democracy Integrity Project, or TDIP.
  • With Podesta's help, TDIP raised more than $7 million in 2017 alone. That allowed Jones to pay millions to Fusion GPS and ex-British spy Christopher Steele for new opposition research.
  • Their goal: “prove” the allegations in the dossier, while digging up new dirt on Trump and feeding it to media outlets, congressional investigators and the FBI.
  • The well-funded project’s work has been largely shrouded in mystery. But a months-long examination by RealClearInvestigations, drawn from documents and more than a dozen interviews, found that the organization is running an elaborate media-influence operation.
  • The group feeds information to FBI and congressional investigators, and then tells reporters that authorities are investigating those leads. The tactic adds credibility to TDIP’s media pitches -- and it's reminiscent of deceptive FBI efforts to secure surveillance warrants on Trump adviser Carter Page.
  • The testimony makes clear that Hillary Clinton didn’t just pay for Russian-sourced opposition research against Trump; she and her close allies never really stopped campaigning against him. 

Featured Investigation:
FBI's Man in Europe Undercut
Ohr Claim of Limited Russiagate Role

An FBI agent's newly released testimony casts doubt on top Justice Department official Bruce Ohr's denial of a conflict of interest between his Trump-Russia efforts and his wife’s work for Fusion GPS, producer of the discredited Steele dossier.

Eric Felten has the story for RealClearInvestigations:

  • FBI agent Michael Gaeta told congressional probers that Ohr pressed him to make sure the FBI was “doing something” with the dossier in part because, Ohr later suggested, his wife Nellie worked for the same company that had hired ex-British spy Christopher Steele.
  • Gaeta described an active role by Ohr in pushing the dossier – a contrast with Ohr’s testimony before Congress describing a more disinterested part as uninvolved intermediary between the FBI and his wife’s employer.
  • Gaeta, Ohr and Steele had a long professional acquaintance. And so Steele contacted Gaeta about his "explosive" dossier. Then, Gaeta said, Ohr followed up.
  • Gaeta's testimony suggests that after Steele passed on dossier files to him in London in 2016, the bureau didn't move fast enough for Steele and Fusion GPS. Hence, an August phone call from Ohr telling Gaeta, ‘We just want to make sure – we, or me and my bosses” – that the information was being acted upon.
  • But it’s unlikely that the “we” were actually Ohr and his superiors, since they’d be unlikely to need the Europe-based FBI agent for that purpose.
  • It’s more likely that “we” referred to Ohr and Fusion GPS.
  • In explaining his outreach, Ohr later told Gaeta "something about his wife working for GPS.”
  • Gaeta’s name is redacted in the testimony but has been confirmed by RealClearInvestigations 

Featured Commentary:
Situational Media Attitudes
Toward 'Unmaskings'

In an "Investigative Issues" column for RealClearInvestigations, J. Peder Zane contrasts this week's media yawns over the Obama administration's wholesale Michael Flynn intelligence "unmaskings" with their 2017 alarm over their seriousness when the incoming Trump national security adviser was a suspected turncoat for the Kremlin.

Zane notes:

  • Major media outlets are now telling Americans that it's “routine” to violate an American's privacy in the name of national security the way Flynn's was invaded by Obama officials as he prepared to step into his Trump Cabinet role.
  • But back when Flynn was under suspicion in the debunked Trump-Russia affair, media stressed that unmaskings were rare and "subject to rigorous review" -- the implication being they wouldn't happen unless there were something perilous afoot.
  • In an interview with NBC News in 2017, Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice offered the "rigorous scrutiny" defense.
  • But after news broke of the dozens of Flynn unmaskings, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, now a CNN contributor, stressed that it's “routine” to unmask Americans communicating with foreigners under surveillance.
  • Media treatment of the Flynn case recalls the FISA surveillance court abuse scandal. Many in the media, stout defenders of privacy in other contexts, seemed to view what happened to Trump campaign adviser Carter Page as not much to get upset about.

Puzzling, perhaps, Zane writes. But easier to fathom if you understand the situational principles of today's fourth estate. 

More Trump-Russia Investigations

Clinton Knew in 2016 About Oppo Dirt-Digging on Trump
Just the News
President Obama and Hillary Clinton have been largely spared scrutiny in reporting on the Trump-Russia hoax – until now. After the release of dozens of interviews conducted by Congress, much initial attention has focused on evidence suggesting Obama was in the thick of efforts to tie his successor to a manufactured scandal. The transcripts also provided further confirmation of reporting by RealClearInvestigations that Clinton was aware during the 2016 campaign of the debunked opposition research produced by Fusion GPS. This article reports that Clinton campaign chief John Podesta told Congress:

I think she was – she knew that we had an – we had an opposition research staff in-house. We, the campaign, directly purchased some opposition research. And she knew I think in general terms that we were trying to figure out, which was not easy, what Mr. Trump's financial relationships were, what his relationships might be to Russia and other former Soviet Union actors that, you know. But I don't – I don't think we – I mean, she wasn't – you know, if I wasn't, she certainly wasn't sort of saying, "Who are your vendors?"

The next question is when – or if – mainstream news outlets will ask Obama and Clinton: What did you know and when did you know it? 

U.S. Envoy Knew More Than She Let On About Biden-Tied Burisma
Just the News
Former U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch may have given misleading testimony to Congress during the Trump impeachment hearings when she said that she knew little beyond an initial briefing and “press reports” about Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian natural gas firm that had hired Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter and was dogged by a corruption investigation. This article reports newly unearthed State Department memos showing that discussions about Burisma inside Yovanovitch’s embassy were so extensive that they filled more than 160 pages of emails, memos and correspondence in the fall of 2016 alone. Yovanovitch herself was specifically warned in an email by her top deputy in September 2016 — three years before her testimony — that Burisma had hired an American firm with deep Democratic connections called Blue Star Strategies to “rehabilitate the reputation” of the Ukrainian gas firm and that it had placed “Hunter Biden on its board,” the memos show. She also met directly with a representative for Burisma in her embassy office, less than 45 days before Trump took office, a contact she did not mention during her impeachment deposition.

All the Flynn Unmaskers: Biden, Clapper, Brennan, Power, Etc., Federalist
Judge Appoints Outsider to Take On Justice Dept. in Flynn Case, NY Times
Why Did Obama Tell FBI to Hide Activities From Trump?, Federalist
Declassified Docs Discredit Clapper's Testimony to Congress, Just the News
Under Oath, Obama Aide Farkas Admitted Collusion Fallacy Federalist
McCain Aide: Steele Peddled Rumor of Flynn Affair With Russian, Daily Caller 

Coronavirus Investigations

Bad State Decisions on Nursing Homes Driving Corona Crisis
National Review
Roughly one-third of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. are linked to nursing home residents and workers, and a growing body of evidence indicates that state policies have likely put nursing and assisted-living home residents at higher risk for infection. This article provides a roundup of such evidence, including this from the San Jose Mercury-News: “Even as senior care centers have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus — with patient and staff deaths accounting for nearly 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths across California — the state is calling on assisted living facilities to house infected patients in exchange for money.” From Detroit’s WXYZ: “Sterling Heights senior care center saw a spike in COVID-19 cases among residents after accepting two dozen positive patients recently discharged from area hospitals.” A separate article in the Wall Street Journal focuses on the deadly consequences of New York State’s nursing home mandate, which was overturned only last week.

U.S. to Accuse China of Vaccine Data-Hack Effort
New York Times
Leopards don’t change their spots, even during a global pandemic. The F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security are preparing to issue a warning that China’s most skilled hackers and spies are working to steal American research in the crash effort to develop vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus. The efforts are part of a surge in cybertheft and attacks by nations seeking advantage in the pandemic. The warning comes as Israeli officials accuse Iran of mounting an effort in late April to cripple water supplies as Israelis were confined to their houses, though the government has offered no evidence to back its claim.

Also Coronavirus-Related

Feds Turned Down Offer for Millions of American N95 Masks, Washington Post
Doctors Keep Finding Ways Corona Hits Body, Washington Post
Meat Exports to China Soar as Virus Saps Supply, Reuters
Soaring Prices, Rotting Crops: Global Food Crisis, Wall Street Journal
NYC Health Boss: 'I Don't Give 2 Rats' Asses' for Cops' Mask Plea, NY Post 

Other Noteworthy Articles and Series

Inside the Next Phase of Surveillance Capitalism
Fast Company
You are what you buy, which means your credit card charges are worth a fortune to marketers. This article reports that credit card processing networks, including Visa, American Express, and Mastercard generate substantial revenue from leveraging their warehouse of transaction data for services that include marketing analytics as well as reward programs and fraud detection. Mastercard, for example, took in $4.1 billion in 2019 – a quarter of its annual revenue – from that activity. In one sense, cardholders are safer from identity theft than ever before. At the same time, their privacy has never been more compromised as companies track and analyze their purchases in near real time. It’s never been tougher to know who’s out there watching and selling this data – to say nothing of who’s buying it. Efforts are made to anonymize the data through “tokenization,” a sophisticated system that erases personal details and replaces them with randomly generated pseudonyms. But the pseudonyms can later be matched up with individual customer files. In 2015, MIT researchers found that  a few receipts, tweets, and Instagram photos of you dining out is often enough to reveal your other purchases.

Doomsday Bunker Market Thriving Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
The Verge
As COVID-19 brings the real estate market to a standstill, demand for doomsday bunkers is at an all-time high -- or low, since the structures are underground. The housing units, often tucked into grassy knolls, offer some of the comforts of home; how many depends on whether you want to spend $35,000 for a fixer-upper or over $1 million for something with a little more TLC. This article focuses on Vivos, which maintains survival campuses in South Dakota and Indiana. The company says it has sold 50 of its 500 units since the outbreak. So far the bunkers seem like an insurance policy. Only one family is living permanently at the South Dakota campus. So far.

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