#Snowman Series 8 – Alfa Males: Russia Ties Deepen
This investigation has already established undeniable connections between Trump, Brexit, Russia, and the far-right - including France’s Marine Le Pen.
Alongside the alt-right and a complex disinformation network, this shady collaboration incorporates the deployment of Wikileaks, other hacking operations, and psychometrics company Cambridge Analytica in ongoing interference with western democracy.
The extent of the clandestine operation is becoming increasingly easy to trace.
On the 12th of January 2017, British businessman Arron Banks, principal backer of Brexit campaign group Leave.EU, posted a picture of Andrew Wigmore, also of Leave.EU and connected to Banks’ African operations, in Mississippi.
The caption read “Andy over in the US this week with Gov. Bryant. & our good friends from Mississippi!”
“The extent of the clandestine operation is becoming increasingly easy to trace.”
In April 2008 Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour welcomed a delegation headed by Russian Federation Senator Mikhail Margelov and U.S.-Russia Business Council (USRBC) President Eugene Lawson to Jackson.
At the time, a Russian investment by SeverCorr was in its first phase and had brought 450 high-paying new jobs to Mississippi. The salaries were $88,000 on average, compared to the state's median income of $38,215, according to reports.
Mississippi had $5.2 billion of exports in 2007, and the state's exports to Russia alone grew 52 percent from 2004 to 2007. Over that period, many of the sectors the state government was targeting for growth participated in the increase - for example, non-traditional Mississippi exports of computers and electronic products skyrocketed more than 5,000 percent.
Governor Barbour made a public statement that Mississippi looked “forward to a long and thriving relationship with Russia."
At a luncheon sponsored by SeverCorr, stated to have been arranged to “enable state business leaders to take a closer look at Russia economically and politically,” USRBC President Eugene Lawson underscored SeverCorr's investment in Mississippi should send a signal to other Russian companies, and the Russian government, that the U.S. was open to and welcomed foreign investment.
Lawson pointed out not one Russian investment in the U.S. has been turned down by the U.S. foreign investment review process conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
According to Wikipedia, Senator Margelov emphasized the importance of mutual cooperation in his own remarks, suggesting the two countries put aside the “negative rhetoric” which had emerged in Duma elections and that year's U.S. presidential campaign.
Margelov suggested the U.S. needed to take advantage of “a new generation coming of age in Russia that is not bound by Cold War stereotypes.” He asserted that “today's global realities demand pragmatism and an "equal partnership" between the U.S. and Russia.”
The delegation also enjoyed private discussions with both Governor Barbour and his deputy, Phil Bryant - parties from the US Russia Business Council attended a dinner at Barbour's private residence and Phil Bryant, then the Lieutenant Governor, hosted a private dinner at his home too.
Margelov had worked as an interpreter in the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He also taught Arabic at the Higher School of the K.G.B and was Senior Editor of the Arab section in the TASS News Agency. He was a spy.
Between 1990-1995, he was employed by a number of US consulting companies dealing with investment projects and in 1995 became project director for the publicity campaign of Grigory Yavlinsky and the Yabloko party. In 1996, he was chief co-ordinator for advertising in President Boris Yeltsin's 1996 re-election campaign. He went on to head the President's public relations department and was later a director of the Russian Information Centre (Rosinformcentr), a government agency covering events in the Northern Caucasus.
From May 1998 to September 1999, he held a managerial position at RIA Novosti news agency then spent January to March 2000 as a consultant to Vladimir Putin's Electoral Headquarters, in charge of contacts with foreign media.
In 2009 Canada refused an entry visa for Mikhail Margelov, then the Kremlin’s special representative to Africa. The reason, according to Canadian sources, was Margelov’s connection to the Soviet intelligence services.
“Margelov suggested that the U.S. needs to take advantage of a new generation coming of age in Russia that is not bound by Cold War stereotypes. He asserted that “today's global realities demand pragmatism and an "equal partnership" between the U.S. and Russia.””
Hayley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi at the time of the dinners, founded lobbying company BGR Group in 1991.
In 2013 the firm was paid $13.7 million and its three largest clients were the Republic of India, Ukraine Chevron Corporation, and the State of Kazakhstan. The firm employs various former political figures.
In April 2015, the Government of South Korea retained BGR for public relations and image building.
Barbour was the governor of Mississippi between 2004 and 2012, having previously served under Ronald Reagan before becoming head of the Republican National Committee for a number of years. During his stint as governor BGR monies were held in a blind trust arrangement but this has always attracted media coverage.
His filings with the Mississippi Ethics Commission show continued payments from BGR and withdrawals from the trust which had a market value of $3.3 million according to its trustee, the president of the Bank of Yazoo City, Griffin Norquist.
Correspondence between Barbour and the trustee from 2008 and 2009 - filed with the Ethics Commission and provided by a source talking Politico - show Barbour pulling $196,850 out of the trust in 2008, $75,000 of it for an income tax payment and $262,000 out in 2009, an unspecified portion of it for taxes. His state salary was listed at $122,160, so the tax designations of these withdrawals indicate a significant second income.
According to Norquist, as of December the 31st 2008, the "aggregate market value of assets” in the trust was $3,317,801.
According to Wikipedia, BGR Group represented Alfa Bank from at least 2004 until 2015, while Barbour was governor.
Lobbying Disclosure Act papers show they received approximately $5.89 million from the Moscow bank over the period, for lobbying activity related to “Bilateral US-Russian Relations.” The people behind the financial organisation are closely linked to Vladimir Putin.
Alfa Bank came to the notice of the media and the FBI when computer experts found its servers communicating with the Trump organisation.
A detailed analysis showed a series of DNS look ups between the Alfa Bank server in Moscow and a server owned by the Trump organisation which has been described as being set up in a peculiar fashion – it was designed only to accept communications from a small number of other unique IP addresses. A private channel.
From May the 4th until September the 23rd 2016 the Russian bank looked up the address to the Trump corporate server 2,820 times. This was more traffic than from any other source. In fact, Alfa Bank alone represented 80% of the lookups.
Indiana University computer scientist, L. Jean Camp, told reporters “the conversation between the Trump and Alfa servers appeared to follow the contours of political happenings in the United States. “At election-related moments, the traffic peaked,” according to Camp. “There were considerably more DNS lookups, for instance, during the two conventions.”
According to CNN, “publicly available internet records show that address, which was registered to the Trump Organization, points to an IP address that lives on an otherwise dull machine operated by a company in the tiny rural town of Lititz, Pennsylvania.” The Trump organisation claim it was a marketing server.
Christopher Davis, who runs the cybersecurity firm HYAS InfoSec, told reporters “I’ve never seen a server set up like that. It looked weird, and it didn’t pass the sniff test.” Davis won the prestigious FBI Director Award for Excellence for tracking down the authors of one of the world’s nastiest botnet attacks.
Internet cyber-security pioneer Paul Vixie told Slate “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.”
Four days after New York Times journalists started following the story, on September the 27th 2016, the original server, mail1.trump-email.com, was switched off and the Trump Organization created a new host name, trump1.contact-client.com.
This enabled communication to the very same Alfa server via a different route.
The new server’s first communication was with Alfa Bank and experts have made clear “when a new host name is created, the first communication with it is never random. To reach the server after the resetting of the host name, the sender of the first inbound mail has to first learn of the name somehow. It’s simply impossible to randomly reach a renamed server.”
Richard Clayton, a cybersecurity researcher at Cambridge University, commented on a series of objections to evidence of communication between the servers, saying “I think mail is more likely, because it’s going to a machine running a mail server and [the host] is called mail.”
Others have also dismissed claims of the communication logs being faked due to an impossibility in recreating random traffic volume.
Jeffrey Birnbaum of BGR rejected the allegations, saying “neither Alfa Bank nor its principals, including Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, have or have had any contact with Mr. Trump or his organizations. The assertion of a special or private link is patently false.”
“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.”
The bank is owned by a secretive oligarch Mikhail Fridman – one of the richest men in the world – and the Sunday Times has called the parent company, Alfa Group, “one of the most controversial business empires on the planet.”
Alfa Bank financed one of the companies involved in building Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, according to corporate documents and lobbying disclosure records.
In the mid-2000s, according to its own public reports, Alfa Bank provided financing to Atomstroyexport, a state-controlled Russian company which was a major player in Iran’s developing nuclear energy program. The relationship included “loans and other client services.”
Birnbaum of BGR dismissed reports of Alfa having deeper links to Iran’s nuclear ambitions as misguided, saying “just because Alfa bank had a line of credit with an entity that did business with Iran does not make Alfa a financier of Iran’s nuclear program.” Communicating through BGR, the bank’s CEO added contact had ended “after 2008 U.N. sanctions.”
At the time, there was no problem with the plant from a US foreign policy perspective.
According to various sources including the Huffington Post, in 2007 - around the time Alfa was financing Atomstroyexport - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice endorsed the plant as a proper component of Iran’s civilian nuclear program and in 2010 Hillary Clinton told the U.N. ”Our problem is not with their reactor at Bushehr. Our problem is with their facilities at places like Natanz and their secret facility at Qom and other places where we believe they are conducting their weapons program.”
Fridman freely enjoyed the privilege of visiting the White House twice, in May 2010 and again in May 2011. Each time, according to White House logs, Richard Burt, a former top diplomat who negotiated the 1991 START I nuclear treaty with the Soviet Union, accompanied him.
According to Burt, Fridman’s goal was “to strengthen ties between the United States and Russia and to discuss Russian ascension to the World Trade Organization.”
According to various sources, including Politico, Burt has longstanding connections with both BGR Group and Alfa.
He was previously executive chairman of Diligence LLC, a corporate intelligence operation which employs former spies, and now holds an advisory role at Fridman’s investment operation, Letter One.
In 2005, BGR and Diligence became ensnared in scandal. Working as a BGR contractor it was alleged they attempted to obtain corporate records of an Alfa rival from auditor KPMG. KPMG sued Diligence and the latter settled the case by paying KPMG $1.7 million.
Another rival, IPOC Growth Fund, also sued Diligence and BGR Group and the case was settled in 2008.
Ed Rogers, BGR chairman, was an early owner of Diligence and according to reports the company was set up inside BGR’s Pennsylvania Avenue office.
In the first two quarters of 2016 Burt’s lobbying firm received $365,000 for work he and a colleague did to garner support for a proposed natural-gas pipeline opposed by the Polish government and the Obama administration
The Nord Steam gas connection would have allowed more Russian gas to reach central and western European markets - bypassing Ukraine and Belarus and extending Putin’s leverage over Europe. Burt’s lobbying work for New European Pipeline AG began in February 2016 when Russian state-owned oil giant Gazprom owned a 50 percent stake in the company.
In August, five European partners pulled out and Gazprom now owns 100 percent.
During the same period Burt says he helped shape Trump’s first major foreign policy address, recommending the man who is now president take a “more realist, less interventionist approach to world affairs.
“I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia — from a position of strength — is possible,” Trump said in the subsequent speech, adding “common sense says this cycle of hostility must end. Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out.”
“During the same period Burt says he helped shape Trump’s first major foreign policy address, recommending the man who is now president take a “more realist, less interventionist approach to world affairs.”
Phil Bryant, now the Governor of Mississippi years after his private dinners with the Russians and Barbour, is shown in Arron Banks’ picture of January 2017 with Leave.EU’s Andy Wigmore.
Bryant has been close to Vice President Mike Pence for years through the Republican Governor's Association, but his direct ties to Donald Trump are even clearer.
By the end of the presidential election campaign Bryant had swapped allegiance from Ted Cruz to become a reliable Trump surrogate, also raising $2 million for Trump’s campaign in short order.
Bryant enjoyed a close relationship with Trump including visits to Trump Tower in New York and commentators noted that the President often made a “B-line to Bryant even in a crowded room of VIPs.” According to one source, “Trump even ditched his Secret Service detail to get on an elevator with Bryant in Trump Tower, then gave Bryant a personal tour of his war room.”
This also put Bryant in direct connection with Jess Sessions.
While being interviewed by reporters in late 2016, Bryant had to cut an interview short, saying Sessions’ Chief of Staff, Rick Dearborn, had been meeting with Ivanka Trump to “work out calendars” and needed to update his itinerary.
Rick Dearborn is now the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative, Intergovernmental Affairs and Implementation, having been the executive director of the Presidential Transition Team for Trump. He had spent more than twenty-five years working on Capitol Hill and worked on President George W. Bush's Energy Agenda before this.
Dearborn worked as Chief of Staff for Senator Jeff Sessions from 2004 until 2016 when he joined the Trump team - the second Sessions staffer to land a senior role in the Trump White House.
One of the unresolved issues in the investigation into Donald Trump and Russia relates to Carter Page – a man whose CV had largely consisted of doing financial business with Russia - who was mysteriously hired by the Trump campaign as a foreign policy advisor, despite holding no qualifications for such a role.
During the election it became public knowledge the FBI was investigating Page’s ties to Russia and after Trump’s success Page travelled to Moscow for unknown reasons. In February 2017 it was discovered he had “been colluding with Russian intel officials during the election.”
Page’s connection to Jeff Sessions is not in doubt and sources have also been clear “the Page connection was Rick Dearborn, Sessions’ chief of staff, who hired Page because Dearborn knew nothing about foreign policy but needed to put together a foreign policy staff for Trump’s Alexandria, Virginia, policy shop and he happened to know Page.”
Russian agents have not held back from commenting on Page either, highlighting his ambitions in the energy sector. “He got hooked on Gazprom,” Victor Podobnyy, an officer of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said. “It’s obvious that he wants to earn lots of money.”
Page shares a mutual interest with Burt.
Christopher Steele’s controversial intelligence dossier alleges Page met with the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin – a man described as one of President Vladimir Putin’s key deputies.
According to Steele’s intelligence report, Page and Sechin discussed “lifting sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and support of pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine.”
This is where a secondary round of Russian connections manifest, in the form of Nigel Farage.
“Russian agents have not held back from commenting on Page either, highlighting his ambitions in the energy sector. “He got hooked on Gazprom,” Victor Podobnyy, an officer of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said. “It’s obvious that he wants to earn lots of money.””
Shadowy advisor to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and equally controversial Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, both knew Farage for several years - in 2012, Bannon invited the UK politician to New York and Washington, where he was introduced to Sessions.
Sessions himself is now embroiled in a fresh ethics row after President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey in the middle of the Russia inquiry: extraordinarily, the Attorney General had to remove himself from the investigation after undisclosed meetings between him and Russian officials were made public.
Those same officials were photographed inside the White House recently and Sessions’ name has become synonymous with others subject to the unprecedented alllegations - Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and Roger Stone.
Visiting the Republican National Committee in mid-2016, Farage met Bryant aide John Barley Boykin who suggested Farage visit Mississippi - the following day a formal invite from Bryant was sent to Farage.
On the 23rd of August 2016, Farage arrived in Mississipi with Leave.EU financial backer Arron Banks.
According to reports it was Bryant who asked Farage to speak at the Trump rally and it was Steve Bannon who telephoned Farage to discuss what he would say. When Farage and Trump subsequently met the next day, Donald Trump was so impressed with the speech he wanted to personally introduce Farage to the stage.
Jeff Sessions was present at the rally along with another Russia Inquiry figure, former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani.
Russian oil company Rosneft is a client of Rudy Giuliani’s law and consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, and Alfa Bank has previously hired Rudy Giuliani as a paid speaker. Investigative journalist Grant Stern has written “circumstantial evidence strongly indicates that President Donald J. Trump and his campaign associates brokered a massive oil privatization deal, where his Organization facilitated a global financial transaction to sell Russian Oil stock to its Syrian War adversary, the Emirate of Qatar.”
The Emirate of Qatar was another Giuliani client.
Aside from the deep web of US business links to Russia and speeches by British politicians, this investigation has already established more substantial collaborative efforts between the so-called “Bad Boys of Brexit”, the Trump campaign, and Russia. Yet the Leave.EU connection is relevant for a further reason: Roger Stone.
During the 2016 campaign, Stone was accused by John Podesta of having prior knowledge of the Wikileaks publishing of private emails obtained by a hacker. Before the leak Stone tweeted, "it will soon the Podesta's time in the barrel,” and five days before tweeted again, writing “Wednesday Hillary Clinton is done. #Wikileaks.”
Breitbart News, a disinformation channel, published a denial by Stone of any advance knowledge of the Podesta e-mail hack or any connection to Russian intelligence.
This investigation has already established a link between Russia, disinformation, Wikileaks, Trump, and Brexit, and has shown Wikileaks is known as a Russian operation by security services.
During a speech on August the 8th 2016, Stone said, “I actually have communicated with Assange” and referred to an “October surprise” coming via the site. He also stated while he had never met or spoken to the Wikileaks founder, the pair had a “mutual friend” who served as an “intermediary.”
The same day the speech was given, Stone was tweeting about a dinner he had with Nigel Farage.
Farage was seen visiting Assange in March 2017 and has always refused to give reasons for the meeting.
In May 2017 Farage told Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper he visited the Ecuadorian Embassy for “journalistic reasons, not political reasons” before cutting the questions short, saying “it has nothing to do with you. It was a private meeting.”
This interview came after Wikileaks dumped material aimed at influencing voters in France to go against Emanuel Macron and vote for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen – who this investigation has already established to have deep financial and political ties to Russia. Farage was openly supporting Le Pen during her campaign, backed by Leave.EU and Banks’ alternative media site Westmonster.
This investigation has already established substantive links between Farage, Russia, and Julian Assange.
“During a speech on August the 8th 2016, Stone said, “I actually have communicated with Assange” and referred to an “October surprise” coming via the site. He also stated that while he had never met or spoken to the Wikileaks founder, the men had a “mutual friend” who served as an “intermediary.””
There is nothing so simple as a simple financial trail which will expose this global operation. Those days of investigative journalism are dead, along with stories compacted to fit headlines and column inches. We are faced with such a complex web the whole truth may never be known, especially if the assertions of Christopher Steele, that the cover-up operation began as soon as Trump won, are to be given credit.
This is also more complex than a question of diplomatic gain, those days are gone.
This power play has gone directly for geopolitical and financial dominance which condemns the politics of independent nations to the past. Renders countries alone impotent. This is the true reason the EU has been targeted – structurally it can defeat this axis, which is why divide and conquer is crucial.
The Ecuadorian Embassy was called by this investigation, to ask how many times Nigel Farage had visited Julian Assange. They hung up as soon as the question was asked.
Both Assange and Farage have been asked how many times they have met but neither has replied to requests for comment.
In January 2017 BGR was hired by the Ukrainian government to “support and help open lines of communication between key Ukrainian officials and U.S. government officials, journalists, non-profit groups and others.”