Background links: Trump, Putin, hackers and the Russian mob
compiled by Eric Jackson
The editor can be a hardcore doofus, one of the least computer-literate website guys there is. He learns about things the hard way. Like by having an email box shut down by a concentrated denial of service attack, with bundles of up to 2,000 emails, many of them in the Cyrillic alphabet, overwhelming it. Like by a bot coming to The Panama News from China, without registering a visit with the web host, and running up so much bandwidth that the site was shut down. Like a series of hacker attacks which inconspicuously crippled and then closed The Panama News website in 2014 and 2015.
(Who did it? There are short lists of suspects but no proofs. The China incident, however, came not long after a little story on the local Falun Gong group in Panama City went — unbeknownst to the editor until years later — viral via connections through London and Prague. What surely happened was that the story made its way through the Chinese Internet firewall by a circuitous route and then some Chinese citizen who thought it patriotic or the Chinese government itself retaliated.)
In the controversy that now besets the United States there is a set of mysteries to investigate. Other things are known. There are also widely held false notions swirling around the scandals involving Donald Trump and his family, party and entourage, Vladimir Putin and his power base, “The Russians” and the world of hacking and cybercrime. Let us, before we get to the reading list below and listen to what comes out of the Comey testimony and other hearings, be clear about a few points:
- Vladimir Putin’s claim that the Russian government does not hack is probably a lie and any claim that that the US government doesn’t is certainly a lie.
- Putin’s allowance that private Russian citizens may be into political hacking is very probably true, but also likely a misdirection. Moreover, it’s another indication to US investigators that any line between considering public and private sector behavior in an investigation of “Trump and the Russians” is probably an impediment to getting at the truth.
- The Russian oligarchs are for the most part very rich because they looted the assets of the former Soviet Union. Putin came to power on the shoulders of such people and by and large dispossessed or exiled those oligarchs who opposed him.
- There is no singular Russian Mob. There are various Russian mafia groups, of which all members are not necessarily ethnic Russians nor citizens of the Russian Federation. These criminal organizations, which have spread around the world, are into many rackets and almost always thrive with the knowledge that law enforcement has been bribed to look the other way. Many of these organizations are deadly bitter rivals. Both Vladimir Putin (going back to his KGB days) and Donald Trump (in has adventures as a real estate mogul) have Russian mob links that go back many years.
- It is one of the classic fallacies of paranoiac ideation — bread and butter for the likes of Alex Jones — to presume that association equals causation. Just because a person has associated with a gangster does not mean that the two are partners in crime. However, such links do give rise to some reasonable questions, which may or may not lead somewhere.
- The security of US voting systems, particularly in states where vote counting is computerized with no paper trail, is reasonably in doubt. However, there has been no credible evidence that Russians or anybody else hacked into the 2016 general election vote counting process. That many Democrats believe that this was done is a mass delusion comparable to that of Republicans who believe in the birther conspiracy.
- The Trump campaign’s use of strange email lists for fundraising and of bits of computer code for social media manipulation suggest dealings with criminals, of the sort among whom Russian organizations are prominent. If the possibility of a mobbed-up campaign is short of newsworthy for want of secrets being sold to a foreign power, that in itself is a noteworthy indication of how US democracy and public discourse have deteriorated.
- This is not a treason case under US law. The US Constitution narrowly defines that crime as an American making war against the United States or in a time of declared war adhering to declared US enemies and giving them material assistance. But not all disloyalty is treason — coordinating a US presidential campaign with the actions of a foreign government may not even be a crime, but most Americans would think it totally unacceptable.
Just Security, Political microtargeting and the Russia investigation
Spamhaus, The world’s worst spammers
Daily Dot, The 2007 cyber-attack on Estonia
USA Today, Trump’s past ties to Russian mobsters
The Daily Beast, Russian mob connections in the Panama Papers
WhoWhatWhy, Why the FBI can’t tell all on Trump and Russia
Russia Behind the Headlines, Arrests shock Russia’s cyber community
The Panama News, Trump’s questionable Latin American crowd
Miami New Times, From running Porky’s in Miami to a Panamanian jail
UPDATE: Report of Russian GRU attempt to hack US election officials
Just a few hours after this story was uploaded, Intercept published this story, about a Russian intelligence effort to infiltrate US electronic vote counting systems. It’s based on what is described as a leaked NSA secret report. The story expands, so it may seem at first glance.
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