Maddow Takes on Russia’s Maskirovka

Rachel Maddow took on Russia’s military-intelligence tactics (maskirovka) on Friday (Sept. 8), providing a helpful timeline of the Russia-Trump investigation. I used her timeline plus the Moyers and Company timeline and tracked down primary sources to help me think through the progression of these investigations into US political corruption and collusion with a foreign power.

As of this week, we finally have confirmation that Facebook was used as the tool (willingly or unwillingly) to run a psy-ops campaign on targeted U.S. voters to influence the election.

Some key questions are: Were there American confederates involved in collusion and who violated the Federal Elections Campaign Act by using foreign money to influence a US political election?

It’s hard to care about this stuff that is confusing and appears to be primarily the one0percenters playing one-percenter games, but government corruption on this scale mostly hurts the “little guy,” those who are most vulnerable and who only have the tools of democracy to use as leverage in the playground of the gods. It’s an imperfect system, but it is one of the best tools for nonviolent transfer of power that we’ve got.

For the longterm health of our nation, it’s important that our judicial and legislative branches be strong enough to resist this kind of inside-outside political takeover.–Rose Berger

So here’s my timeline:

  • September 2015 –

FBI began investigating cyber breaches targeting US political organizations, including the Democratic National Committee.

  • April 2016 –

The Democratic National Committee’s IT department notices suspicious computer activity, contacts the FBI and hires a private security firm, CrowdStrike, to investigate.

  • May 2016 –

“In May 2016, a Russian military intelligence officer bragged to a colleague that his organization, known as the GRU, was getting ready to pay Clinton back for what President Vladimir Putin believed was an influence operation she had run against him five years earlier as Secretary of State. The GRU, he said, was going to cause chaos in the upcoming U.S. election. … The intelligence officials have found that Moscow’s agents bought ads on Facebook to target specific populations with propaganda. … Facebook official stays the company has no evidence of that occurring.“—Massimo Calabrese (Time), see more.

  • June 2017 –

Key Trump campaign officials meet with Russian intelligence liaison on Clinton opposition research.

Trump, Jr., Manafort, and Kushner Met With Lawyer Tied to Kremlin to get opposition research on Hillary Clinton—Associated Press (see more).

Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting director of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division says that individuals connected to the Russian government tried to hack election-related computer systems in 21 states.

And New York Times reports that one person at that meeting was Rinat Akhmetshin, with Russian intelligence background, “a gregarious, fast-talking man with a sharp sense of humor, was a skilled practitioner in the muscular Russian version of what in American politics is known as opposition research. From his base in Washington, Mr. Akhmetshin has been hired by an ever-changing roster of clients, often Russians, to burnish their image and blacken those of their rivals. Some clients were close to the Kremlin. Others were its bitter foes.”

  • July 2016 –

Comey closes Clinton investigation and Democratic Party servers are hacked and emails released (DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 release documents stolen from Democratic Party)

FBI Director James Comey holds a press conference announcing that the bureau has closed its yearlong investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

“We assess with high confidence that the GRU used the Guccifer 2.0 persona, DCLeaks.com, and WikiLeaks to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlet.”… We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks.”—National Intelligence Agency report

“Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation overseen by Jared Kushner helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016. Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries. … Mike Carpenter, who in January left a senior Pentagon post where he worked on Russia matters, also has suspicions about collaboration between the campaign and Russia’s cyber operatives. There appears to have been significant cooperation between Russia’s online propaganda machine and individuals in the United States who were knowledgeable about where to target the disinformation,” he said, without naming any American suspects.” —Peter Stone and Greg Gordon (McClatchy)

“When reached for comment, Facebook said that it has found no evidence of Russian entities buying ads during the election”—Tom LoBianco (CNN)

The FBI opens an investigation into possible collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

  • August-September-October 2016 lead up to Election Day 

In a joint statement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence say, “The US Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations…

“Russia’s state-run propaganda machine—comprised of its domestic media apparatus, outlets targeting global audiences such as RT and Sputnik, and a network of quasi-government trolls—contribute to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging.”—National Intelligence Agency report

Prior to the election, Russian hackers had targeted election systems in at least 21 states. Among the victims was VR Systems, an outside vendor that operates voting systems in North Carolina and seven other states.

  • November 2016 –
  • Hillary Clinton loses White House, though wins popular vote

    January 2017 –
    Donald Trump sworn in as 45th president of U.S.

    The CIA, FBI and NSA release their unclassified report, concluding unanimously, “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The three intelligence agencies agree that “the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible.”

  • May 2017 –
  • Trump fires FBI director Comey

  • June 2017 –
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller assumes control over a federal grand jury criminal investigation of Mike Flynn’s ties to Turkey, as well as the criminal investigation involving Paul Manafort.

  • Sept. 6, 2017
  • Facebook Says Russian Accounts Bought $100,000 in Ads During the 2016 Election by Alana Abrasion (Time)

    Facebook says it sold political ads to Russian company during the 2016 election …”A Facebook official said, ’There is evidence that some of the accounts are linked to a troll farm in St. Petersburg, referred to as the Internet Research Agency.’… (Washington Post)

    “Russia used trolls as well as RT as part of its influence efforts to denigrate Secretary Clinton. This effort amplified stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of WikiLeaks in the election campaign. The likely financier of the so-called Internet Research Agency of professional trolls located in Saint Petersburg is a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence.  A journalist who is a leading expert on the Internet Research Agency claimed that some social media accounts that appear to be tied to Russia’s professional trolls—because they previously were devoted to supporting Russian actions in Ukraine—started to advocate for President-elect Trump as early as December 2015.”——National Intelligence Agency []

    ‘Pussy Riot’ Sentencing: Can’t Jail Female Fury

    Handcuffed members of Russian punk feminist collective. T-shirt says "No Pasaran."

    Three women from the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot were convicted today of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were arrested in February following an uninvited “punk prayer” of protest against the iron fist and faux democracy of Russian president Vladimir Putin and calling to account the theological rubber-stamping of Putin’s repressive regime by the Russian Orthodox Church.

    Their “performance prayer” titled “Hail Mary, Putin Run!” (see video and lyrics) was offered to the Virgin Mary at the altar of Christ the Savior Orthodox Cathedral in Red Square. After spending five months in jail since the event, they were sentenced today to two years–time served credited against the sentence, so they’ve got another 19 months to go.

    While some have directly attacked the band as anti-religious, others have attempted to more subtly undercut them by saying their actions are just publicity stunts to get money. I say, Wrong and wrong. Acts of ecclesial disobedience are called for when institutions that are supposed to represent God fail to do so. And spending two years in a Russian prison – as a woman – is not the kind of thing we do for money.

    According to Reuters,

    “The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules,” Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage. … State prosecutors had requested a three-year jail term. Putin’s opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown by the former KGB spy to crush their protest movement. “They are in jail because it is Putin’s personal revenge,” Alexei Navalny, one of the organizers of big protests against Putin during the winter, told reporters outside the court. “This verdict was written by Vladimir Putin.”

    The Associated Press reported,

    The judge relied extensively on the testimony of church laymen, who said they were offended and shocked by the band’s stunt. “The actions of the defendants reflected their hatred of religion,” Syrova said in the verdict. She also said that the defendants’ feminist views challenged church doctrine. The Orthodox Church said in a statement after the verdict that the band’s stunt was a “sacrilege” and a “reflection of rude animosity toward millions of people and their feelings.” It also asked the authorities to “show clemency toward the convicted in the hope that they will refrain from new sacrilegious actions.” The case comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition, including one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about $9,000).

    Supporter for Pussy Riot in the pink balaclava of the movement.

    I wholly agree that “the defendants’ feminist views challenged church doctrine.” As a Catholic woman, I’m familiar with how sensitive church doctrine can be. Sometimes it feel like just existing is a challenge to church doctrine. Which makes me think that church doctrine had become too removed from the real lives of people. Jesus became incarnate in order to exist in our real lives, not an idealized dream state.

    In Female Fury by Sergey Chernov (St. Petersburg Times, February 1, 2012), the women of Pussy Riot describe their own place in the current Russian resistance movement and their musical lineage with punk rock, riot grrrrls, and third-wave feminism:

    “The grassroots protest force is more radically-minded than official rally organizers imagine. We believe that a large number of people are ready to demonstrate without a sanction. People were happy to share the quotes from our songs: ‘The time for a subversive clash has come,’ ‘Live on Red Square / Show the freedom of civil anger.’” The group — which features from three to eight performers — sees itself as being “on the border between punk rock and contemporary art.”

    “Contemporary culture is characterized by diffusivity, mutual influence and the interaction of different directions, the intersection that leads to transgression,” Pussy Riot says. “It’s possible to find features of 1990s Actionism in our performances, while the motif of the closed face of the performer — which has been used by many music bands such as Slipknot, Daft Punk or Asian Women on the Telephone, for instance, is borrowed from conceptual art where the tradition of not showing one’s face is present.” …

    According to the group, one of the events that led them to form Pussy Riot was Putin and Medvedev’s announcement made to the United Russia party congress on Sept. 25 that they would change posts in the upcoming presidential elections due on March 4. The move has been compared to castling in chess, when a rook and a king swap places. “We don’t like this kind of chess,” Pussy Riot said. Since then, Pussy Riot has held unsanctioned performances in boutiques and at a fashion show as well as on the roof of a garage next to the detention center where the imprisoned participants of anti-fraud rallies were held. They unveiled a banner, lit flares and performed a song called “Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest” and escaped without being arrested.

    The group cites American punk rock band Bikini Kill and its Riot Grrrl movement as an inspiration, but says there are plenty of differences between them and Bikini Kill. “What we have in common is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse, non-standard female image,” Pussy Riot said. “The difference is that Bikini Kill performed at specific music venues, while we hold unsanctioned concerts. On the whole, Riot Grrrl was closely linked to Western cultural institutions, whose equivalents don’t exist in Russia.”

    The performance in on the altar of Christ the Savior Orthodox Church is shocking, evocative. But I’d argue that it is not blasphemy against God. To blaspheme means to injure the reputation of a religious deity or holy person or thing. The punk band actually treated God and Mary with a certain level of respect. However, they do injure the reputation of an institutional hierarchy that too often promotes a theology more akin to a Russian civil religion rather than Christian faith.

    “Christians should always live uneasily with empire,” writes Jim Wallis, “which constantly threatens to become idolatrous and substitute secular purposes for God’s.”

    Let me be clear. Most Russian Orthodox Christians are genuine in their faith, worship, and ministry. They are devout and are a blessing to those around them. But as a member of a church that has also at times abused its power, I can appreciate the performance art needed and the sacrifice made to shake up an unshakable institution. Remember Sinead O’Connor‘s bold 1992 indictment on Saturday Night Live of child abuse within the Roman Catholic church? She tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II and said “Fight the real enemy.” Look where her “blasphemy” led; the slow uncovering of massive crimes against children and the building up of a process, yet imperfect, for restoration and justice.

    So, say a novena for the women of Pussy Riot. Light a candle in church for them. Even more, take a public action for justice, women’s empowerment, and freedom. But whatever you do, don’t dismiss them.

    Rose Marie Berger, author of Who Killed Donte Manning? is a Catholic peace activist and a Sojourners associate editor. She blogs at rosemarieberger.com.