Shooting the Messenger Referenced in New Book By Richard Stengel, Former Time Magazine Editor/U.S. Under Secretary of State

— “Information Wars” details modern disinformation tactics, from ISIS to the Kremlin

source

Richard Stengel, former managing editor of Time Magazine, has a new book out.

Recounting his experiences as U.S. Under Secretary of State during the Obama administration, “Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It” details the rise of modern disinformation tactics as practiced by the Kremlin and Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organisation ISIS.

The book cites my February 2018 deep dive into the tactics used by the infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA) — better known as the Russian troll factory — in the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. election (my post transcribed and analysed internal IRA documents obtained in 2015 by Russian news site MR7.ru. To my knowledge, my blog was the first publication to translate that information into English).

Here is an excerpt from the book:

The Internet Research Agency was creating hundreds of pieces of fake and misleading internet content an hour. Like a digital marketing agency, it operated across the entire social media ecosystem. The whole enterprise is financed by a tycoon who is an ally of Putin’s…

MR7.ru had actually published documents smuggled out by IRA employees. They ranged from overarching guidelines about posting (amount, frequency, use of keywords) to talking points about the news of the day (protests on the Maidan, American policy toward Syria) to a glossary of internet slang. The guidelines offered a blueprint for what the workers did and how they did it.

One document describes their job this way:

TROLL. The purpose of the troll is to produce a quarrel which offends his interlocutor. It is worth remembering that trolling is not writing articles to order. It is a deliberate provocation with the goal of ridiculing your opponent.[52]

The first thing workers needed to do, according to one of the memos, was to create online personas, sometimes called “sock puppets.” These personas are meant to look and sound like real people. They have names and photographs. They “like” other people’s photos and comments and statuses. Workers are meant to have multiple social media accounts – one memo said they should have at least three different Facebook accounts. There are also specific guidelines, for example, for posting pro-Russin material in the comments sections of Fox News, Huffington Post, Politico, and the Blaze. The guidelines suggest that these identities should mix political opinions with more mundane posts about things like music or movies or “the owner’s social life.”

And here is the reference to my blog in Stengel’s footnotes:

52. Translated from a lexicon of internet slang terms produced by the Internet Research Agency and leaked in 2015. See Andrei Soshnikov, “Столица политического троллинга” (“The Capital of Political Trolling)”, MR&.ru, March 11, 2015, https://mr-7.ru/articles/112478/; and Dean Sterling Jones, “Inside the Russian Troll Factory,” Shooting the Messenger, February 7, 2018, https://shootingthemessenger.blog/2018/02/27/inside-the-russian-troll-factory/.
53. Jones, “Inside the Russian Troll Factory.”

The book contains a few more references to information first published on my blog, including an IRA directive requiring its staff to publish socially and politically divisive content online in an attempt to “stir up dissatisfaction and grievance” around issues of racial inequality, police brutality, and gun control in America.

Following the Indian government’s recent attempts to censor my blog (click here and here to read), this is a welcome change.

Thanks Stengel!

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WordPress Rejects Second Legal Request to Remove Photoshopped Image Mocking Indian PM

— Mumbai’s cyber police department seeks to remove content hosted on this blog, BuzzFeed, Google Blogger, Amazon CloudFront, Tumblr, and Flickr

In August, my hosting provider, WordPress, rejected a legal request by Mumbai cyber police to censor a clearly photoshopped image I republished from BuzzFeed last year.

The image, which depicted Indian prime minister Narendra Modi homoerotically embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on an idyllic beach, was deleted by BuzzFeed following a legal threat from Mumbai police alleging defamation.

In case you missed it the first time:

Last week, WordPress rejected a second request by Mumbai police to remove the offending image from my blog. Here is an excerpt from that request as provided to me by Automattic, the company behind WordPress:

Subject: – Remove Photo, Preserve and Provide Details of Objectionable/morphed photo …SHO (SML 28/09/2019)

WHEREAS, Cyber Police Station, Crime Branch, C.I.D., Mumbai, has received a complaint regarding uploading of Objectionable Material by below mentioned link showing morphed/Vulgar Photos/Comments on Muslim Community gods and goddess, BJP Leaders & National Congress leader party in abusive and vulgar manner.

It is found that the suspects are posting such exclamatory and defamatory morphed/vulgar photos with the purpose to create UNREST, BREACH of PEACE which might result in LAW & ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India…

REQUIRED INFORMATION
1. Creation details -IP address with date and time.
2. Login and logout details I.P. Address with date and time from
date…
3. Address book and scraps details of the user
4. Registered Email ID used to access these URLs.
5. Registered Mobile Number of these URLs.
6. Any Other relevant Information of

Please furnish information on TOP PRIORITY BASIS so as to avoid Law and
Order problems in Maharashtra and INDIA.

Thanking in anticipation of an early response to facilitate the enquiries.

(S.S.Sahasrabudhe)
Senior Inspector of Police,
Cyber Police Station,
Crime Branch, CID, Mumbai.

Here is what a spokesperson for Automattic sent me in an e-mail:

As the request does not comply with our requirements, we will not be taking any action against your site at this time … While we may preserve information about your account, we have not turned over any information. We will not turn over any information unless we receive a valid request for the information, or a court order. If we do receive such a request, unless we are legally prohibited from doing so, we will inform you and provide you time when you may attempt to quash or legally challenge the request.

In addition to targeting content on my blog, the request also asked to remove content hosted on BuzzFeed, Google Blogger, Amazon CloudFront, Tumblr, and Flickr, including:

• This parody movie poster depicting Modi as an action hero (via Amazon CloudFront):

• This image depicting Modi as a Lion (via BuzzFeed):

• This image of Modi in a dress (via BuzzFeed):

• This image of Modi dressed as Aladdin (via BuzzFeed):

It does not appear that BuzzFeed, Amazon, Google, or Flickr have complied with the Mumbai police department’s demands. However, all the offending content hosted on Tumblr, including several anti-Islamic and pornographic images, has been deleted.

The Mumbai cyber police did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

You can read the full request via the Scribd embed below.

Sanctioned Kremlin Propagandist Alexander Malkevich Denies Allegations He Tried to Meddle in African Elections

“What does it mean – ‘the files lead to the trolls factory’? It’s a bunch of words,” said Malkevich, who is accused of orchestrating election interference campaigns in Africa

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Recently, reports have emerged of a new Kremlin-backed strategy to influence African elections.

In April, BBC News reported that dozens of Russian nationals masquerading as “tourists” and election “observers” had been spotted in Madagascar. Later that same month, CNN reported on an “insidious” Russian strategy to quell anti-government protests in Sudan. Then in July, Bloomberg reported that authorities in Libya had arrested two men for allegedly carrying out a Russian plot to influence African elections.

All three stories identified Russian catering oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin aka “Putin’s cook” as the man pulling the strings. But there’s another notable Kremlin-linked figure whose seeming involvement has largely gone unreported.

Readers of this blog will remember Alexander Malkevich as the former editor of Russian propaganda website USA Really, but “whose fumbling misadventures in American media have,” according to the New York Times, “made him seem more like a Sacha Baron Cohen character than a sinister propagandist.”

Malkevich exited USA Really in February shortly after the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned him for “attempted election interference.” Since then, he’s been heading up the Foundation for the Protection of National Values (FPNV), a self-described “small non-government organisation” that conducts sociological research in various countries to sell to “businessmen and for other people who are in need of them.”

FPNV recently made headlines after Malkevich announced the company was raising money to pay convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s legal bills.

Maria Butina (source)

On FPNV’s site, Malkevich boasts that the two men detained in Libya — Russian political strategist Maxim Shugaley and his interpreter, Samer Hassan Seifan — currently work for FPNV. According to Bloomberg, information gleaned from laptops and memory sticks have further identified the two men as working for the infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA), better known as the Russian troll factory.

Reached by e-mail, Malkevich confirmed that Shugaley and Seifan currently work for FPNV, but dismissed all other charges as a meaningless “bunch of words,” insisting that the men were merely conducting “routine field research.”

“What does it mean – ‘the files lead to the trolls factory’? it’s a bunch of words,” Malkevich told Shooting the Messenger. “They had nothing criminal. Abstracts, transcripts of conversations, photos, videos and other multimedia files, on the basis of which our research was made. And the part of it is already absolutely openly published on our site!”

It’s not the first time Malkevich has admitted to employing prominent members of Prigozhin’s infamous troll factory.

Yevgeny Prigozhin (source)

In April, CNN reported on an “insidious strategy” to quell protests against Sudan’s dictatorial former president Omar al-Bashir late last year. The strategy — allegedly orchestrated by a mysterious St. Petersburg mining company named M-Invest with support from a military construction firm co-owned by Prigozhin — involved “spreading misinformation on social media, blaming Israel for fomenting the unrest, and even carrying out public executions to make an example of ‘looters,’” according to CNN’s sources.

Documents obtained by the London-based Dossier Center show that M-Invest’s presence in Sudan was facilitated by Mikhail Potepkin, a St. Petersburg press agent and, allegedly, a prominent member of Prigozhin’s troll factory.

Shortly after CNN’s report — which made no mention of Malkevich or FPNV — Malkevich published a statement on FPNV’s site in which he freely admitted that Potepkin and his colleague, Russian political strategist Petr Bychkov, traveled to Sudan on behalf of the company last year to carry out sociological research, advise al-Bashir’s government on ways to “[avoid] mass casualties among the civilian population,” and ensure “the bloodless transfer of power” in the country.

In an e-mail, Malkevich retracted his previous claim that Potepkin and Bychkov secretly worked for FPNV in 2018, but confirmed that the two men do currently work as consultants to its research in Africa.

“Several people in Africa worked as researchers for many months before the appearance of our foundation,” Malkevich explained in an audio recording. “In spring, it was easy and it was useful for me and for us to establish some working relationship, working negotiations with them because they do have special and deep experience in this field.”

Malkevich added that he “[knows] nothing about side projects of Petr and Mikhail” and denied having any connection to Prigozhin.

Mikhail Potepkin (source)

Online information about Potepkin is scarce, although his Facebook page states that he works as a press officer at the Russian state-owned “Fuel and Energy Complex of Saint-Petersburg.” He’s also identified in several news articles as a member of the Nashi movement, a Russian anti-fascist group.

Potepkin’s name also pops up in connection with another company co-owned by data analyst Anna Bogacheva, who along with Prigozhin was one of 13 Russian nationals indicted last year in connection with IRA interference efforts.

Malkevich denied having any knowledge of Bogacheva.

Petr Bychkov (source)

Bychkov is perhaps best known in the west for his attempts to meddle in South Africa’s general election earlier this year. According to South African newspaper the Daily Maverick, Bychkov, in coordination with yet another Prigozhin-linked NGO based in Russia, secretly campaigned to re-elect the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) by spreading disinformation about ANC’s political opponents.

The Daily Maverick’s exclusive does not mention Malkevich or FPNV, and Malkevich has not yet publicly addressed the article. Meanwhile, FPNV continues to publish research on its site while appearing to implicate itself in news stories about Russian interference in Africa.

You can listen to Malkevich’s full statement via the Soundcloud link below.

Reason: Indian Government Attempts to Remove Material From Western Sites

— Reason magazine’s The Volokh Conspiracy hoists Indian cyber police for making frivolous legal demand to censor this blog

Via “Indian Government Attempts to Remove Material from Western Sites,” by Eugene Volokh, Reason, August 27, 2019:

Northern Irish blogger Dean Sterling Jones reports on a successful demand that Buzzfeed remove the photo, and on an unsuccessful demand that WordPress remove it from Jones’ own blog post, which had reported on the Buzzfeed incident. I confirmed that the takedown demand came from the Mumbai Cyber Police…

Click here to read the full story.

WordPress Rejects Mumbai Cyber Squad’s Frivolous Legal Request to Censor This Blog

— Mumbai cyber police are determined to scrub the Internet of homoerotic photos of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi

Last year, I blogged about bullying attempts by Mumbai’s cyber police squad to censor BuzzFeed re: this clearly doctored image of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on an idyllic beach.

source

Since then, I’ve noticed an almost daily volley of oddly specific incoming search terms on my blog, including: “modi fuck pics,” “modi sex,” and “india fuck modi.” Either someone really likes Narendra Modi, or Mumbai’s cyber police are spending all of their time scouring the Internet for reasons to be offended.

Today, it appears that mystery has been solved. Automattic, the company behind blogging platform WordPress, has rejected a frivolous legal request by the apparently easily offended cyber division to censor my earlier blog post. Written in a Trumpian ALL CAPS style, the three-page document states that the department was acting on a complaint it received from an unknown person, who objected to the allegedly “perverse” rendering of Modi and Singh.

“It is found that the suspects are posting such exclamatory and defamatory morphed/vulgar photos with the purpose to create UNREST, BREACHofPEACE which might result in LAW&ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India,” reads the nonsensical request, which was personally signed by Senior Inspector of Police, S.S.Sahasrabudhe.

From there, somehow it gets worse, with the department demanding that Automattic immediately furnish the mobile phone numbers, login details, e-mail and IP addresses of publishers of the offending content. The demand is listed as a “TOP PRIORITY BASIS so as to avoid Law and Order problems in Maharashtra and INDIA.”

An addendum to the document cites Section 91 of India’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which broadly permits “any officer in charge of a police station” to request “any document or other thing” from “the person in whose possession…such document or thing is believed to be.”

In an e-mail, a representative for Automattic dismissed the request.

“As the request does not comply with our requirements, we will not be taking any action against your site at this time,” the spokesperson said. “While we may preserve information about your account, we have not turned over any information. We will not turn over any information unless we receive a valid request for the information, or a court order. If we do receive such a request, unless we are legally prohibited from doing so, we will inform you and provide you time when you may attempt to quash or legally challenge the request.”

In addition to my blog, the cyber squad’s demand also targeted at least one other blog allegedly responsible for hosting objectionable content, which I will now share in the interests of full disclosure.

Maria Butina’s Russian Advocate Responds to News Coverage of His Latest Fundraising Efforts

— Alexander Ionov, who currently oversees convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s legal fund, claims U.S. journalists are putting “psychological pressure” on Butina’s lawyers

From left: Alexander Ionov, Valery Butin, and Alexander Malkevich (source)

Last week, I blogged a quick story re: Maria Butina’s dubious fundraising efforts. Investigative reporter Casey Michel also wrote about this story via his perch at ThinkProgress (click here to read).

In my post, Russian journalist/propagandist Alexander Malkevich told me he recently paid Butina’s lawyers 5 million rubles (approximately $76,000) via a Moscow-based NGO named the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR) in order to circumvent sanctions imposed on him by the U.S. Treasury Department in December.

On Tuesday, Malkevich held a joint press conference with AGMR’s founder Alexander Ionov, in which Ionov appeared to comment on the two stories by me and Michel.

Via Malkevich’s advocacy website, The Foundation for the Protection of National Values:

Alexander Ionov said that the task now is to do everything possible so that the legal interests and rights of Maria Butina are respected, and this requires the work of lawyers. He hopes that the support provided will help shorten the term of the Russians in prison.

The human rights activist also said that the lawyers had already prepared documents for filing an appeal. At the same time, he noted that now in the USA psychological pressure is being put on them, including from a number of American media [emphasis added].

“When they saw that there were citizens concerned about the situation, funds transferring money, they began a campaign to counteract the receipt of money by lawyers, so that they would refuse protection,” said Alexander Ionov.

Sanctioned Russian Propagandist Alexander Malkevich Joins Maria Butina Fundraising Efforts

— Alexander Malkevich, who was sanctioned for “attempted election interference” last year, joins crowdfunding efforts to help pay convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s legal bills

— Malkevich “did not contribute personal funds!” says Butina’s designated fundraiser Alexander Ionov, who runs a Kremlin-backed NGO that helped promote U.S. separatist groups

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Alexander Malkevich, former editor-in-chief of sanctioned Russian propaganda website USA Really, has announced he is crowdfunding to help pay convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s legal bills.

The announcement was made last week via Malkevich’s non-profit advocacy organisation, The Foundation for the Protection of National Values (FPNV), which claims it has paid 5 million rubles (approximately $76,000) into a fund set up by Butina’s lawyers last year.

FPNV “​​intends to protect the rights of a compatriot who has become hostage to the US government,” reads a statement on the site. “Since [Butina was] detained in July 2018 [for acting as an unregistered agent of the Kremlin], the US authorities used inhumane measures against her and violated her rights to obtain the necessary information and use them in the political sphere.”

Maria Butina (source)

In an e-mail, Malkevich said he is donating the money through the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR)—a Moscow-based NGO charged with overseeing Butina’s legal fund—in order to circumvent sanctions imposed on him by the U.S. Treasury Department in December.

“Of course I am not paying [Butina’s lawyers] directly because I am under sanctions,” he told Shooting the Messenger. “But I am the producer of this crowdfunding.”

AGMR was founded in 2012 by Russian lawyer and businessman Alexander Ionov, whose Kremlin-backed efforts to promote U.S. separatist groups received praise from Russian president Vladimir Putin. Ionov got involved in Butina’s case in October with the launch of MariaButinaFund.ru, a Russian-language mirror of Butina’s American fundraising site, MariaButinaFund.com.

Alexander Ionov (source)

When asked about Malkevich’s crowdfunding efforts, Ionov said he “does not know about the amounts collected [by] Malkevich,” but that “to date, [the] Fund has received 5 million rubles from individuals and public organizations.”

He added that Malkevich “did not contribute personal funds!”

Butina’s personal lawyer Robert Driscoll did not return a request for comment.

Malkevich found fame last year as the founder of USA Really, a Russian propaganda site explicitly aimed at U.S. audiences. After crashing a November 6 election night party at Washington, D.C.’s National Press Club, the Treasury Department accused him of “attempted election interference” and forbade U.S. individuals and businesses from transacting with him and his site. He exited the site in March to lead Russia’s Civic Chamber of Mass Media, from which he currently advises the Kremlin on media policy.

Malkevich and Ionov are scheduled to hold a joint press conference at the offices of Moscow’s Izvestia newspaper on June 4.

Fair Use and Copyright Abuse: WordPress Dismisses Abusive DMCA Complaint About My Story on DMCA Abuse

— Automattic, the Californian tech company behind blogging platform WordPress, has dismissed a copyright complaint about this blog by conservative writer Michael Moates, citing fair use protections

In February, I published a story about frivolous attempts to suppress sexual harassment claims against conservative writer Michael Moates.

As I wrote in that story, since October someone has been filing copyright complaints in Moates’ name requesting that Google delist a bunch of news articles, including pieces by Right Wing Watch and Raw Story, that reported on lewd and inappropriate messages he allegedly sent to three young women, including two underage girls (click here to read more about the allegations).

Late last month, Automattic received a brand new copyright complaint, sent from Moates’ personal e-mail address, targeting my story and requesting the removal of a number of photos and images (two of which were embedded from other sites), including a screenshot of a Facebook exchange in which he appeared to proposition sexual/domestic assault victims’ advocate Kylie Thomas to go on a date with him.

source

In an e-mail yesterday, Automattic, whose free speech bonafides include fighting copyright abuse by suing on behalf of its users and even tolerating a few less-than-flattering posts by this blog (see: Arif Trumps WordPress), said it has decided not to comply with the complaint, citing fair use protections.

Here’s Automattic’s e-mail, including Moates’ complaint, in full:

Sal P. (Automattic)
May 2, 23:10 UTC

Hello,

We have received a DMCA notice for material published on your WordPress.com site.

Normally this would mean that we’d have to disable access to the material. However, because we believe that this instance falls under fair use protections, we will not be removing it at this time.

Section 107 of the US Copyright Act identifies various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. You can learn more about that here:

Copyright and Fair Use
Copyright Law of the United States

While we believe that your use of the material is protected (we have fought for our users in similar cases in the past – see “WordPress wins against ‘straight pride’ group in copyright censorship case”), please keep in mind that the complainant may choose to continue to pursue this matter, perhaps directly with you. If you would prefer, you are still able to delete the content from your site yourself.

The notice we received from the complainant follows.

— BEGIN NOTICE —

First name: Michael
Last name: Moates
Company name:
Address: [Redacted]
City: [Redacted]
State/Region/Province: [Redacted]
ZIP: [Redacted]
Country: United States (US)
Phone number: [Redacted]
Email address: michael.moates@thenarrativetimes.org

Copyright holder: Michael Moates

Location of unauthorized material:
shootingthemessenger.blog/tag/michael-moates/
shootingthemessenger.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/moates.kylie_..jpg

Location of original materials:
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=815500755265835&set=piaarp.100004177545170&type=3&theater
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=965443223604920&set=a.360042224145026&type=3&theater

Description of original materials:
See embeded copyright images on page:

Moates in front of White House
Moates and Sean Hannity

See photos in story

Photo of Moates attached to Facebook message

I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
I acknowledge that a copy of this infringement notice and any correspondence related to it, including any contact information I provided above (address, telephone number, and email address), will be forwarded to the user who uploaded the content at issue. I also acknowledge that a note may be placed on the site in question detailing the name of the copyright owner who submitted the takedown notice.

Digital signature: Michael Moates
Signed on: 2019-04-27 09:21:23

— END NOTICE —

Sal P. | Community Guardian | WordPress.com

Round-Up: Maria Butina’s Russian Fundraiser

— Round-up of news coverage re: Shooting the Messenger story about the Kremlin-backed company paying for Maria Butina’s legal expenses

Via “The Enigmatic Russian Paying Maria Butina’s Legal Bills” by Natasha Bertrand, The Atlantic, March 20, 2019:

Maria Butina, the first Russian to plead guilty to seeking to infiltrate and influence American policy makers in the run-up to the 2016 election, remains somewhat of a mystery. But her prosecution in Washington, D.C., last year shed light on yet another avenue through which Russia tried to influence American politics in 2016: namely, via an old-fashioned, on-the-ground operation, conducted not by experienced spies but by disarming political operatives. New revelations about Butina’s legal-defense fund in Russia shows that one of her backers has been trying to promote fringe separatist movements in the U.S. since well before 2016.

In 2018, Alexander Ionov, the founder of the NGO, called the Anti-Globalization Movement, began raising money for Butina through a fundraising website that says all proceeds will be “used to finance legal protection and to improve the conditions of Maria’s detention in prison.” The website was first discovered by freelance journalist Dean Sterling Jones. To date, Ionov has raised about 2 million rubles (approximately $30,000) to help pay her legal fees, he told me in a recent interview. The Russian embassy, which has been advocating for Butina’s release, did not return a request for comment.

Click here to read the full story.

Via “New Details Revealed About a Mysterious Russian Who Funds Maria Butina’s Defense” by Tana Ganeva, Raw Story, March 20, 2019:

Maria Butina, the Russian woman who’s alleged to have infiltrated gun rights and conservative circles to sway the outcome of the 2016 election, is still in custody awaiting her sentencing. She’s been in jail since July. According the Washington Post, Butina is cooperating with authorities

Ionov is raising money for Butina’s defense through a group called the Anti-Globalization Movement. The website, peppered with glossy photos of Butina, purports to tell “Maria’s story.”

“Help me change my situation,” it reads in Russian.  Freelance journalist Dean Sterling Jones first unearthed the site and detailed Ionov’s history and potential Kremlin ties.

Writing on his blog Shooting the Messenger, Jones observes that the group that’s hosting the site for Butina’s legal bills got a Russian presidential grant of 3.5 million rubles (approximately $53,000) to bring members of Texas and California secessionist groups to a Russian conference in September of 2016.

Click here to read the full story.

Investigate Russia and Law & Crime also picked up the story.

Update, via “Here are all the Russian interference efforts that didn’t make it into Barr’s letter” by Casey Michel, ThinkProgress, March 27, 2019:

Special counsel Robert Mueller may not have found the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but plenty of Americans — wittingly or otherwise — have helped Moscow’s election meddling efforts in recent years. Secessionists, Jill Stein and her campaign, and members of groups organized around gun rights and far-right Christian movements have spent the past few years cultivating ties with those close to the Kremlin and using their platforms to promote Russia-friendly ideas.

None of these groups were mentioned by Attorney General William Barr, who issued a letter on Sunday confirming that Russia conducted coordinated campaigns to interfere in America’s elections…

Russian cultivation of American secessionists — for example, groups who look back fondly on the days of the Confederacy or advocate for states separating from the U.S. to form their own country — date back to at least 2014, in the midst of the Kremlin’s attempts to disintegrate Ukraine. Multiple conferences held in Moscow in 2015 and 2016 brought separatists from places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico to Russia, gathering supporters with other secessionists from Italy and Spain. They were hosted and feted by Alexander Ionov, the head of an organization called the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR)…

Ionov, meanwhile, has been busy. Not only has be apparently gained more cachet in Moscow — he recently had a meeting with the Venezuelan ambassador — but as journalist Dean Sterling Jones recently uncovered, he’s been helping raise money for Russian agent Maria Butina.

SCOOP: Maria Butina’s Russian Fundraiser Hosted and Boasted U.S. Separatists Prior to 2016 Election

— The Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia was paid by the Kremlin to fly Texas and California separatists to Moscow in September 2016

Maria Butina (source)

Maria Butina’s legal defense fund is being handled by a Kremlin-backed Russian company that hosted and boasted U.S. separatist groups shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

The Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR), which is accepting donations on Butina’s behalf through a fundraising website set up last year by her lawyers, received a Russian presidential grant of 3.5 million rubles (approximately $53,000) to fly the leaders of Texas and California secessionist movements to Moscow for a sovereign nation-building conference in September 2016.

The second annual Dialogue of Nations conference, financed by a charity overseen by Russian President Vladimir Putin, brought together representatives from around a dozen self-styled national liberation movements including Nate Smith, executive director of the neo-confederate Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM), and Louis J. Marinelli, co-founder of the Yes California Independence Campaign.

“[AGMR] supports the full sovereignty of nation-states including the sovereignty of Russia as an independent player on the political, economic and cultural world stage,” reads AGMR’s mission statement. “The movement aims to promote all aspects of the national security and traditional moral values. It opposes the attempts to impose a ‘new world order’ and the disastrous unification, which might result in the emergence of a single mega-totalitarian world state.”

The exact history of AGMR’s involvement with Butina—who in December pleaded guilty to engaging in a Kremlin-backed conspiracy to infiltrate prominent conservative groups in America—is unclear. But according to domain registration records, AGMR began its fundraising efforts in October with the launch of MariaButinaFund.ru, a Russian language mirror of Butina’s U.S. fundraising site, MariaButinaFund.com, launched two months earlier.

“The Maria Butina Foundation was created by her lawyers to collect donations in order to ensure her best possible protection in court,” reads a message on the Russian version of the site, which includes payment details for AGMR’s Alfa Bank account in Moscow.

Gregory M. Wade, an Alexandria, VA-based bankruptcy attorney listed as the administrator of both sites, did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll, listed as the fund’s co-founder, also declined to comment.

AGMR was founded in 2012 by Alexander Ionov, a prolific Russian lawyer and businessman whose “work to strengthen friendship between peoples” has been commended by Putin himself. Ionov denies working at the behest of the Kremlin. However, a close look at his various pursuits, including a prominent position on the public council of Moscow’s interior ministry, suggests they enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.

Alexander Ionov (source)

Ionov’s involvement with TNM and Yes California, for instance, came shortly after both groups were reportedly approached by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA), better known as the Russian troll factory, to participate in a series of anti-Hillary Clinton rallies. Yes California later relocated its headquarters to AGMR’s offices in Moscow.

In 2017, Ionov represented Russian hackers Pyotr Levashov and Stanislav Lisov against claims by Spanish security services that they’d used fake social media accounts to promote Catalonia’s independence from Spain, a cause both AGMR and the IRA have also actively helped to promote. The pair were later extradited to the U.S. where they pleaded guilty to various cyber crimes.

In December, Ionov even attempted to visit Paul Whelan, the U.S. citizen currently being detained in Moscow on spying charges. Experts in Russian politics, including former CIA officer John Sipher, believe Whelan was arrested in retaliation for Butina’s prosecution in the U.S., claims denied by Putin’s spokesperson.

Ionov’s other connections to Butina include Vladimir Ovsyannikov and Roman Khudyakov, high-ranking State Duma officials who helped support Butina’s gun rights group, the Right to Bear Arms (RTBA). The two men currently work under Ionov at his private contracting firm Ionov Transcontinental (IT), which provides a range of legal, financial and security services, as well as helping to facilitate business relationships between foreign clients and Russian government agencies.

Ovsyannikov, IT’s Vice President for Government Relations, became involved with RTBA in 2013 after giving a speech at one of its rallies. Khudyakov, IT’s Vice President and a former Russian presidential candidate, joined the group that same year in an initiation ceremony along with: Alexander Torshin, the former Central Bank governor who allegedly directed Butina’s activities in the U.S.; and David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, one of many prominent conservative groups Torshin allegedly used to gain access to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign.

When prosecutors indicted Butina last July, alleging, among other things, that she had traded sex for political access, Khudyakhov quickly rushed to her defense.

“She was friends with many men, with me, with other men, with men from all over the world,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Prosecutors later retracted the allegation.

Recently, Ionov himself has come out in support of Butina, describing her in an interview with Voice of America (which did not disclose their affiliation) as a “human rights activist…who did not (collaborate) with Russian state bodies.”

Ionov did not reply to multiple requests to comment for this story.

Butina is currently awaiting sentencing. To date, she has raised approximately $16,700 towards the cost of her legal fees, but still owes her lawyers $610,000, according to a recent interview with her father, Valery Butin.