Entries in Obstruction (1)


The Mueller Report; Reading Between the Redactions 

My understanding sister bought me a paperback copy of the redacted Mueller Report, and I have been poking through it. I’m interested in the substance of it, but I am fascinated by what is missing – the redacted material. I have been playing a game of inference and educated guessing.

There are four types of redactions in the text. One is Personal Privacy. Some people mentioned incidentally in the report are not implicated in any wrongdoing and aren’t really what would be called public persons. Their names are redacted to keep them out of the press. A second is Grand Jury. Proceedings of a grand jury are confidential. The third, and most interesting to me, is Harm to an Ongoing Matter (HOM). This means that an ongoing investigation would be compromised by the release of the information. There are 14 ongoing investigations around the subjects of Russian interference in the 2016 election and obstruction of justice by Trump and his associates. We know about two of them. The fourth, also interesting, is Investigative Technique. The redacted material would reveal some aspect of tradecraft or a source that U.S. law enforcement or intelligence services would rather keep to themselves.

I suppose I should say something about the substance of the report.  Volume 1: The Russians totally hosed us in 2016. They snookered political activists all over the spectrum. They hacked political parties, individuals, and election systems. Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg Russia (IRA) used U.S. based servers to mimick both US conservative groups and groups adversarial to conservatives (Black Lives Matter clones, social justice, LGBTQ, Muslim) Thousands of fake Twitter and Facebook accounts had hundreds of thousands of followers and reached upwards of 129 million U.S. citizens. They were brazen.

The IRA operatives would promote a pro-Trump rally in a U.S. city, get people interested, and then say they had some problem that prevented them from personally dealing with the event. A sucker in the U.S. would volunteer and the rally would happen, with IRA operatives promoting the event, soliciting event photos, obtaining materials from the Trump campaign, and flooding social media with the photos and positive stories afterward.

One event that tells the story is a birthday greeting. On Page19: “In May 2016, IRA employees, claiming to be U.S. social activists and administrators of Facebook groups, recruited U.S. persons to hold signs (including one in front of the White House) that read “Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss,” as an homage to Prigozhin (whose 55th birthday was on June 1, 2016).” That’s Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the financier of the IRA. Consider it an end zone display, a victory lap.

Volume 2: Trump obstructed justice like Heinz products – 57 Varieties.

In order to establish the crime of obstruction of justice, three standards must be met. First, an obstructive act, such as destroying a document or influencing a witness. Second, a nexus to an official proceeding. The act must be connected in a material way to an investigation or prosecution. Third, the person in question must have intent to obstruct. Accidental obstruction doesn’t count. This is the tough part because, aside from a recording of the accused saying “I’m trying to obstruct this investigation,” it’s a matter of indications, circumstances, and reasonable inference.

The Mueller Report lays out the obstructive act, the nexus, and the evidence of intent, over and over and over and over. It starts with Trump’s reaction to reports of Russian interference, goes through his pressure on and firing of James Comey, his attempts at interference with the Mueller investigation, his dealings with Attorney General Sessions, his conduct towards Flynn, Manafort and (I infer) Roger Stone, and his attempts to cover up all the aforementioned behavior.

Forgive my language, but Trump obstructed the living fuck out of everything. At the end of Volume Two the report does some amazing linguistic tap dancing around the fact that Trump is guilty as hell. Essentially, “If he wasn’t president and immune to indictment by our internal rules we would have already cuffed and stuffed him, but we didn’t actually just say that out loud, we inferred it, so Congress should get on this, but we didn’t say that either.”

On to the redactions.

In the Executive Summary, P4, “Prigozhin is widely reported to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. [HOM]”

“In Mid 2014, the IRA sent employees to the US on an intelligence gathering mission with instructions [HOM]”

P5, “Beginning in June 2016, [HOM] forecast to senior Campaign officials that Wikileaks would release information damaging to candidate Clinton.” I believe this person to be Roger Stone, which is kind of an open secret, and I partly infer this from a clumsy redaction in Volume 2.

There is much redaction around IRA activities.

There are many HOM redactions around Wikileaks and GRU (Russian military intelligence) cyber units 26165 and 74455. Those units were responsible for hacking, spearphishing, and delivering malware to compromise U.S. computer networks.

I’d say there is still at least a counterintelligence investigation going on about the IRA, and perhaps indictments in the works. Wikileaks and Julian Assange are in the crosshairs as well.

There is a fascinating possible reveal on P31: “IRA employees frequently used [Investigative Technique] Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to contact and recruit U.S. persons who followed the group.”

If we play in inverse version of the old Sesame Street game “One of these things is not like the other” we get insight into a security failure.  Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are the most popular online public communications platforms. But of course, they are public. It would not reveal an investigative technique to say that the FBI or another intelligence agency used them to gather information. However, consider the phrase “contact and recruit”. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, being public, are better for recruiting than contacting. If such a thing is redacted, it must be a private messaging app or program. What is the most popular online/mobile application for contacting people that 1) is supposed to be private, and 2) fits in the popularity set with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram?

My first guess would be the secure messaging application Whatsapp. It is the most popular encrypted messaging app, and an obvious choice for a Russian operative wanting a commonly used, private, and yet non-suspicious way to contact U.S. citizens. There is also the possibility that the spooks are breaking into Facebook Messenger, the other messaging app that breaks the one billion user mark. Messenger also has the advantage of being integrated with IRA’s favorite propaganda platform. Twitter direct messaging is the next most widespread among U.S. users, at about 330 million. iMessage is ubiquitous on iPhones, of course.

Could it be that U.S. intelligence services have found a back door into Whatsapp or a similar (supposedly) secure messaging application? This is not an investigative technique that they would want to reveal.

In Volume 2 (Obstruction) Section II, J, there is a redaction about “The President’s Conduct Towards Flynn, Manafort, [HOM]. On P 128 of Volume 2 a clumsy redaction reveals that Roger Stone is the third stooge in Section J after Flynn and Manafort. Footnote 888 refers to a CNN story by Murray and Watkins on 11/26/2018 titled “[HOM] says he won’t agree to a plea deal.” A quick search online found the article with the words “Roger Stone associate” in place of the redaction. Not a huge surprise. The next couple of pages are almost completely redacted. Stone is in the crosshairs. But we knew that.

There are a number of HOM redactions around mentions of the June 9 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya. Seems as if young Don is still not in the clear.

There’s an interesting fore and aft bracketing in Appendix B, the glossary of terms. The first part is a listing of all the individuals mentioned in the report. Several are redacted with [HOM]. One name comes right after “Mnuchin, Steven” and right before “Muller-Maguhn, Andrew.” So, a name beginning with M and having the second letter N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, or U. Considering that the third letter in Mnuchin is U, if the second is N that limits the third letter in [HOM] to U, V, W, X, Y, or Z. Another Mnuchin? Mny__? More likely Mo__ or Mu__. If Mu__, then the third letter is from the first half of the alphabet.

Roger Stone’s listing has a [HOM] redaction in it.

There’s another [HOM] between Katsyv, Peter and Kaveladze, Irakli. That leaves us Kat__, Kau__, and Kav__. Hmmm.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll keep looking for interesting redactions until it all leaks out anyway.