No Russia Connections - #Snowman Series 18
After significant findings of this investigation were referred to international agencies and parliaments in mid-May, the FBI has now declared Nigel Farage a 'person of interest' in the Trump Russia probe.
A source in the Bureau told the Guardian “if you triangulate Russia, WikiLeaks, Assange and Trump associates the person who comes up with the most hits is Nigel Farage...he’s right in the middle of these relationships. He turns up over and over again. There’s a lot of attention being paid to him.”
While having suspicious activity of a public figure reviewed by the proper authorities is a clear win for both democracy and independent journalism, Farage immediately took to all media outlets denying any Russia connection, and decrying the FBI interest as "fake news".
In a statement, Farage said "This hysterical attempt to associate me with the Putin regime is a result of the liberal elite being unable to accept Brexit and the election of President Trump. For the record, I have never been to Russia, I’ve had no business dealings with Russia in my previous life and I have appeared approximately three times on RT in the last 18 months. I consider it extremely doubtful that I could be a person of interest to the FBI as I have no connections to Russia."
The reasons Farage is a person of interest - in the manner specified by the FBI - are clearly set out in the statement of evidence sent by this investigation, but some further attention is warranted on the basis of the politician's response, which specifically refers to RT.
Following on from the referral of journalistic findings to the authorities, this now declassified CIA document was reported on. At the time, the extensive annex of material was deliberately excluded from the report as it was suspected it would become relevant at a later point.
"This hysterical attempt to associate me with the Putin regime is a result of the liberal elite being unable to accept Brexit and the election of President Trump. For the record, I have never been to Russia, I’ve had no business dealings with Russia in my previous life and I have appeared approximately three times on RT in the last 18 months."
Annex A of the declassified report, which draws the conclusion that Vladimir Putin himself ordered interference in the 2016 US election, is specifically dedicated to RT - Russia Today, a broadcaster which has been tied to UKIP for a number of years.
The annex was originally drawn up in 2012.
Farage himself was knighted on the channel in early 2017.
The CIA report introduces RT with the following description: "RT America TV, a Kremlin-financed channel operated from within the United States, has substantially expanded its repertoire of programming that highlights criticism of alleged US shortcomings in democracy and civil liberties. The rapid expansion of RT's operations and budget and recent candid statements by RT's leadership point to the channel's importance to the Kremlin as a messaging tool and indicate a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest. The Kremlin has committed significant resources to expanding the channel's reach, particularly its social media footprint."
The network also runs a successful operation in Britain, on which Farage has appeared. The CIA state that "a reliable UK report states that RT recently was the most-watched foreign news channel in the UK" and highlights that the US incarnation "positioned itself as a domestic US channel and has deliberately sought to obscure any legal ties to the Russian Government."
As this investigation has established significant ties between Farage, Brexit, Trump, Russia, and the US election, there is no need to limit the scope of the report or define it as localised to the US.
The CIA assesses that in the run up to the 2012 US presidential election, RT intensified its critical coverage of the United States. "The channel portrayed the US electoral process as undemocratic and featured calls by US protesters for the public to rise up and "take this government back."
"In an effort to highlight the alleged "lack of democracy" in the United States," the CIA report states, "RT broadcast, hosted, and advertised third party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a "sham.""
"We actually want to take back control of our country, our democracy and our lives.’ That’s what happened."
Much of this content is also recognisable in respect of RTs coverage of UKIP and Farage himself.
On the 28th June 2016, for example, Farage appeared on the channel just after the Brexit referendum saying, "Oh, gosh! Who would’ve believed it? Who would’ve believed that despite all the threats and bullying from the international community, President Obama, the OECD, [British Chancellor of the Exchequer] George Osborne, the Bank of England… who would’ve believed the British people would have the courage to say: ‘No, no, no, no. We’re not listening. We actually want to take back control of our country, our democracy and our lives.’ That’s what happened."
The narrative is almost an exact resit of US content aired by RT over a number of years - featured in the CIA report - including a documentary about the Occupy Wall Street movement where the network framed a fight against "the ruling class" and described the current US political system as corrupt and dominated by corporations. RT advertising for the documentary featured calls to "take back" the government.
The core message connections are extensive, with the US personified as an undemocratic union of self interest. Farage has appeared on RT peddling much the same message about the EU with clips dating back to 2011.
Interestingly, the report notes that "RT runs anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health," stating "this is likely reflective of the Russian Government's concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom's profitability."
Farage has consistently been for fracking, reaffirmed in this 2016 clip from the BBC, though he and the party have been broadly dismissive of other renewable energy projects which would reduce the UK's reliance on imported fuels. Campaigning in Grimsby in 2015, he claimed that by 2020 people would be paying a "20% surcharge on their electricity bill just to subsidise the renewable industry." He added: "So I have to say, I think in 10 years' time there won't be a renewable industry, we will have rethought the whole thing," speaking to BBC Humberside.
By early 2017, the Russian position was seeing heavy lobbying efforts to reduce the reduction of subsidies for renewable energy production. The Russian government has lowered its target for wind generation between 2021 to 2025 by 250 MW to 3.351 GW and has halved its goal for small hydropower plants.
The CIA report also states "RT is a leading media voice opposing Western intervention in the Syrian conflict and blaming the West for waging "information wars" against the Syrian Government." Farage has also mirrored this position for some time.
The CIA report also refers to the years before 2011, saying "in an earlier example of RT's messaging in support of the Russian Government, during the Georgia-Russia military conflict the channel accused Georgians of killing civilians and organizing a genocide of the Ossetian people. According to Simonyan, when "the Ministry of Defense was at war with Georgia," RT was "waging an information war against the entire Western world".
In 2008, Farage was supporting the Russian position in a BBC interview.
"not having our own foreign broadcasting is the same as not having a ministry of defense. When there is no war, it looks like we don't need it. However, when there is a war, it is critical."
Even in 2012, the CIA captured the truth of RT's position. "In recent interviews, RT's leadership has candidly acknowledged its mission to expand its US audience and to expose it to Kremlin messaging," the report states. However, it notes the RT leadership "rejected claims that RT interferes in US domestic affairs."
The CIA meticulously document comments by RT Editor in Chief Margarita Simonyan, who claimed in popular arts magazine Afisha "It is important to have a channel that people get used to, and then, when needed, you show them what you need to show. In some sense, not having our own foreign broadcasting is the same as not having a ministry of defense. When there is no war, it looks like we don't need it. However, when there is a war, it is critical."
The report states, "according to Simonyan, "the word 'propaganda' has a very negative connotation, but indeed, there is not a single international foreign TV channel that is doing something other than promotion of the values of the country that it is broadcasting from." She added that "when Russia is at war, we are, of course, on Russia's side," adding that "RT's goal is "to make an alternative channel that shares information unavailable elsewhere in order to "conquer the audience" and expose it to Russian state messaging."
Simonyan, the CIA outline, has close ties to top Russian Government officials, especially Presidential Administration Deputy Chief of Staff Aleksey Gromov, who reportedly manages political TV coverage in Russia and is one of the founders of RT.
"Simonyan has claimed that Gromov shielded her from other officials and their requests to air certain reports. Russian media consider Simonyan to be Gromov's protege and Simonyan replaced Gromov on state-owned Channel One's Board of Directors. Government officials, including Gromov and Putin's Press Secretary Peskov were involved in creating RT and appointing Simonyan. According to Simonyan, Gromov oversees political coverage on TV, and he has periodic meetings with media managers where he shares classified information and discusses their coverage plans. Some opposition journalists, including Andrey Loshak, claim that he also ordered media attacks on opposition figures," the report states.
According to the CIA, the Kremlin staffs RT and closely supervises RT's coverage, recruiting people who can convey Russian strategic messaging because of their ideological beliefs.
"The head of RT's Arabic-language service, Aydar Aganin, was rotated from the diplomatic service to manage RT's Arabic-language expansion, suggesting a close relationship between RT and Russia's foreign policy apparatus," the report states.
"RT's London Bureau is managed by Darya Pushkova, the daughter of Aleksey Pushkov, the current chair of the Duma Russian Foreign Affairs Committee and a former Gorbachev speechwriter," the report also states.
"According to Simonyan, the Russian Government sets rating and viewership requirements for RT and, since RT receives budget from the state, it must complete tasks given by the state," the report adds.
"According to Nikolov, RT news stories are written and edited "to become news" exclusively in RT's Moscow office," the CIA also state.
The Annex concludes that "RT hires or makes contractual agreements with Westerners with views that fit its agenda and airs them on RT."
According to the CIA, "Simonyan said on the pro-Kremlin show "Minaev Live" that RT has enough audience and money to be able to choose its hosts, and it chooses the hosts that "think like us," "are interested in working in the anti-mainstream," and defend RT's beliefs on social media."
Interestingly, the report adds that "some hosts and journalists do not present themselves as associated with RT when interviewing people, and many of them have affiliations to other media and activist organizations."
"some hosts and journalists do not present themselves as associated with RT"
The CIA report along with Mr Farage's response on the FBI probe raises questions as to whether he is aware of the CIA assessment that RT is a direct arm of the Kremlin and, subsequently, how that defines or redefines the nature of his relationship with Russia.
It also raises questions in respect of the former UKIP leader's adoption of a number of Russian policy positions, including Syria, Georgia and Fracking, along with an apparent mirroring of descriptive narrative aimed at the EU with that of Russian state propaganda against both the EU and the US.
As yet, Mr Farage and his representatives have not been available for comment.