Previous posts in this discussion:
PostVeselnitskaya and Kilimnik: Where There is Smoke, There is Fire (Istvan Simon, USA, 01/12/19 6:14 am)
Boris Volodarsky (11 January) knows a lot about Russia and Russian intelligence and I respect his knowledge. On the other hand, he seems to know not much about me and even less about how I come to my conclusions.
The information about Manafort and Kilimnik come from court documents, not from Wikipedia. I did not consult Wikipedia at all about this, but if I had, I would trust it at least as much as I trust Boris' opinions. That is because in my experience Wikipedia is reliable and accurate, which does not mean 100% accurate, or without mistakes, but then again I have read everything Boris wrote in this Forum which does not seem to be 100% accurate either.
The allegation that Kilimnik is connected with the GRU comes from US intelligence sources. I don't believe one word of the article that Boris enclosed about Kilimnik. I use logic for this disbelief, not prejudice. It would be unusual for someone connected to intelligence to just admit that they are. So, Kilimnik's denials are obviously unconvincing. About as trustworthy as Putin's denials about interfering in US elections. Both are hogwash and disinformation.
The article below was published in April 2018, has interesting information about Mr. Kilimnik.
That the discussions with Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower were about Russian sanctions and promised dirt on Hillary Clinton come from a variety of sources, which seem quite reliable to me, including the false cover story concocted by President Trump that it was about adoption of Russian babies by Americans. If Boris knows more about what the discussions were about, he is welcome to disclose his knowledge, and to provide whatever he thinks is appropriate in support of it, in particular about how he knows more about it than other apparently well informed sources.
Some things are virtually certain: 1. Veselnitskaya had no legitimate business discussing anything with the Trump campaign, at a meeting attended by Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Manafort. 2. She is now indicted for a felony in US courts. This latter point has become depressingly common with dozens of of high-level officials connected with Trump's campaign and presidency, including more than half dozen actual convictions, not just indictments.
It is just common sense that where there is smoke, there is fire.
JE comments: The plot thickens by the day. Boris Volodarsky (next) sends a followup on the Kilimnik-Manafort-Trump connection.
Kilimnik as GRU Agent: Any Proof?
(Boris Volodarsky, Austria
01/14/19 3:51 AM)
I am grateful to Istvan Simon (12 January) for sending this New York Times article of April 2018, which I knew of course but was happy to read again. Even though I do not trust anything written in the NYT, I wonder what in this article made Istvan think that Kilimnik was a GRU agent.
Anybody who reads this journalistic masterpiece would only find the following statement (verbatim): "Last week, Mr. Mueller turned over a card in the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia by asserting in a court document that this person 'has ties to a Russian intelligence service' and was in contact with a senior member of the campaign, Rick Gates, during the 2016 election. The Federal Bureau of Investigation special agents assisting the Special Counsel's Office assess that Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016, the filing said." End of the quotation.
Kilimnik graduated from the Moscow Institute of Military Interpreters/Translators (Institut Voennykh Perevodchikov, or MIVP), which I know very well indeed from my own studies in a similar establishment. As students, we often met the boys from the MIVP and attended many parties together. It is true that some of them were later invited to join the GRU, but actually a rather select few than many. I was also not invited at first, but like Skripal was sent to serve with the Special Forces.
As I see from the Klimnik bio, he was certainly not invited, according to his diploma as a military translator. As with many of us after the collapse of the Soviet Union (I left the country shortly after the completion of my GRU training but still managed to serve for a while as Director General of a British-Polish-Russian joint venture), Kilimnik first worked as interpreter for a Russian company that exported arms, and later in the Moscow office of the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington-based "non-profit organisation" without any doubt with close ties to the CIA. In the meantime, Kilimnik was moonlighting for Manafort and after he left the IRI joined Manafort's team.
Here's another quotation from the NYT article: "In August of 2016 [sic], Mr. Kilimnik was formally investigated in Ukraine on suspicion of ties to Russian spy agencies, according to documents from Parliament and the Prosecutor General's Office, but no charges were filed. A Ukrainian lawmaker, Volodymyr I. Ariev, who requested the investigation, said Mr. Kilimnik's background in military intelligence [?!] deserved scrutiny."
Vladimir Ariev, who I also know rather well, used to be a young Ukrainian journalist. When Dr Nikolai Korpan, at the time President Yushchenko's personal doctor, and myself were working on the book about Yushchenko's poisoning (that was later published as a chapter "The Ukrainian Patient" in my book The KGB's Poison Factory, USA: 2010, UK: 2009, 2017, for Aldona--Poland: 2015), Ariev did his best to join us as a co-author in order to get hold of the sensitive material that we had. I refused because of Ariev's obvious ties to Moscow.
Irrespective of all this, can Istvan explain, on which document he bases his claim that Kilimnik is a GRU agent?
JE comments: So if I understand correctly, it's more accurate to link Kilimnik to the CIA, by way of the International Republican Institute/IRI?
On another topic, Boris, why do you distrust the New York Times? In the US, claims of fake news notwithstanding, we view it as the newspaper of record.
"New York Times": Formidable, Indispensable, and Often Wrong (from Gary Moore)
(John Eipper, USA
01/15/19 3:45 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
I'd like to second Boris Volodarsky (Jan 13th and 14th), speaking generally of the Mueller
investigation. I lack Boris's admirable knowledge of the specifics in such cases,
but in a more general way, including the subtext of articles like the one cited
from the New York Times, Mueller's Russiagate is looking more and more like
Ken Starr's Whitewater two decades ago.
The faithful know the devil
is hiding in there somewhere. Know it, know it, know it--and so every detail
is a shocking confirmation of what they already know. Each paragraph seems to
promise that the horrific bombshell is coming in the next. Or the next. Or the
next. And then: There! See how we've proved it! Analytical reading is left to
slink off guiltily, feeling it must have missed something. How could all that
eloquence and highly detailed cataloging be mistaken?
On the matter of the Times and Boris's distrust of it, I think we've all marveled at
Boris's rare and valuable inside knowledge of his subject matter. But such firsthand
knowledge--often unlike the kiting of favored authorities in media narrative--can put
the possessor behind the eight-ball on the matter of the Emperor's New Clothes, which
everybody else seems able to see. I know specifically from my own area--including
on-the-ground legwork in Latin America--that the wonderful articles I loved in the Times
sometimes seemed to fall apart and leave me disillusioned when I saw what they were
leaving out, distorting, or demonizing--though always in highly skilled, pensive language
crafted to show the opposite. The gremlin in Simplified Media Narrative was most
famous in the Times in the 1930s--and on Russia issues--when correspondent Walter
Duranty went down in later history as the man who had successfully minimized and
in large part hidden the Ukrainian famine. What is less known about Duranty, but was
remarked in print by other correspondents, was his remarkable care and skill in crafting his
obfuscations so that they sounded elaborately broad-minded, cautious, considerate--that is, believable, in ways the reader might not even have thought to imagine.
A half century
later, in the 1980s in conflictive Nicaragua (Tim Brown and others may recall an echo) there was
a Times correspondent who struck me as eerily reincarnating Duranty, right down to the fact that,
in person, the elaborately erudite language (in print) turned out to come from a fast-talking,
cynical-sounding Jimmy Cagney type, whom the public never saw--similar to what was said of
Duranty as well.
I commiserate with JE's challenge as to how the Times, filled with formidable and sometimes indispensable
articles, might in some way be questionable. Part of the trompe l'oeil in Simplified Media Narrative may lie
in the fact that easy reasons for the illusions--reasons like ideology or bias on the left or right (usually
accused on the left regarding the Times) may not fully cover the imponderables. In the early 2000s (as is often
now forgotten) the celebrity disaster was Times reporter Judith Miller, who, far from beating a leftwing anti-war
drum, was a chief voice in ratifying the era's most disastrous Emperor's New Clothes, the non-existent weapons
of mass destruction said to be hoarded by Saddam Hussein in pre-invasion Iraq. When the illusions crumbled,
Miller was fired and chief editor Bill Keller had to step down. Here, too, was the seductive cry of witch hunt,
though in language, style, and tone far, far, too loftily crafted to seem able to hunt a witch.
It's a dilemma for democracy that most people are ill-positioned to do the kinds of digging,
not just on a given story but into the lifetime of patterns behind stories, to be able to assess
media narratives from a behind-the-curtain perspective. And there's the problem that for many,
previous prejudices might win the day anyway. But for those who, on whatever motivation
of background or temperament, do happen to go to the mountain and dig into the mines
of the gnomes, the dilemma can become more piquant, as in that other fable, H. G. Wells'
Country of the Blind. It becomes a matter of how to avoid ridiculously and ineffectually
hopping up and down and shouting, "See! See! See!"--when of course the other side is saying
it already does see, and in much more persuasive language.
JE comments: The rub of "fake news" accusations is that they (the accusations) often contain some grain of truth: "See! See!" Ever notice how the closer you're personally connected to a news event, the less accurate the report seems?
Speaking of the King of Rome, as they say in Spain, we'll hear next on this topic from Tim Brown.
Bias, Narrative Expectation, and the "NYT Problem"
(David A. Westbrook, USA
01/17/19 3:55 AM)
Within 24 hours I happened to read Gary Moore's thoughtful post (January 15th) and an old essay by my friend Jim Faubion, a philosopher and anthropologist at Rice.
Faubion remarked that one of the typical if not universal experiences of ethnographic fieldwork--which typically takes a considerable amount of time--is a reorientation and sometimes substantial revision of the beliefs and understandings that motivated and structured the research project in the first place. What George Marcus called the "slowness" of the ethnographic inquiry results in very different understandings than usually found in even very fine journalism. (I elaborate on these various temporalities at some length in my book Navigators of the Contemporary.)
Ethnography thus serves as a counterpoint to the "NYT Problem" with which this thread is concerned. From that perspective, the question becomes, why is journalism so often wrong, or if not wrong, somehow "off," which one only discovers after acquiring some substantial familiarity? The obvious answer is "bias," usually of a politically partisan sort. But, as Gary points out, while political allegiances certainly color accounts, partisan bias doesn't seem like an adequate answer.
We get more traction if we understand "bias" not just in terms of simple advocacy, e.g., for or against a current administration, but more completely in terms of narrative expectation. Journalism is about stories, narratives. And to read such stories, we need to have some kind of expectation of the kind of story we are reading, or else we are going to have to do a lot of work. That is, we in some sense generally read stories we have read already, just with different names and dates.
In a fine essay, Jeff Jarvis (a professor of journalism) analyzes the Claas Relotius scandal as an example of the dangers of narrative for news. Relotius is a prize-winning journalist, notably for the left-leaning weekly Der Spiegel (roughly equivalent to Time back in the day), who for years has published things that simply are not true, often about America. How did this happen, many Germans reasonably ask. The deeper problem, argues Jarvis, is not simply "bias" or "fake news" (although some of this was in fact fake), but the dependency of journalism, almost regardless of media, on "a good story," which has its own seductions, even for fact checkers and editors.
The point of many of Relotius' stories is that America is brutal. I have much to say on this score, but for present purposes the focus should be on German readers, expectations, rather than American conditions, descriptions. "The US is a brutal society" is a banality among large numbers of Germans. So a Spiegel article instantiating what such readers (including the Spiegel editors) already knew is hardly surprising or difficult, and therefore encounters little skepticism or critical resistance. In fact, the reader is free to admire the polish of Relotius's prose, for which he won all those prizes. "Facts" are for ornamental or illustrative purposes in what is essentially a rhetorical performance, informative like a forensics competition. Admittedly, this is an extreme case, but not unique, and the general problem is widespread.
Jarvis suggests journalists should listen more and speak less. Right. Unfortunately, news must be delivered quickly, or it is not news. And the business model of the press requires huge amounts of content. And so narrative, telling lots and lots of stories, now, is imperative, especially given a 24-hour news cycle. Even erstwhile periodicals like the New Yorker and the Atlantic report daily now. (Flip over to CNN's webpage and ask yourself how much of this is actually news.) In the process of story manufacture and distribution, what Gary calls "simplified media narratives" are required because neither writers nor especially readers have time to process new narratives. "Facts" are therefore inserted into ready-made narratives that, at least in the abstract and often in some detail preexist the news events in question. (Anybody who has been asked by a journalist for a quote or worse, background, comes to realize that the story is already almost finished.)
So what we generally read is only in a primitive, if still necessary, sense "the news." Its framing is old, and may or may not be apposite. We readers, who have no other sources, are not in a position to know. We are thus not simply biased by the will of another, but predisposed, quite literally, prejudiced. At this juncture, it might be worth remembering that "bien pensant" is not a compliment.
JE comments: "We generally read stories we have read already"--how true. I have the silly habit of checking Yahoo! News first thing every morning (to see if the world's still there?), and they are notorious for recycling content. Often they don't even bother to change the dates and names. At present, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a safe bet to appear in the top 3 or 4 stories.
Even WAIS is guilty of pandering to "narrative expectation" more than I'd like to admit. EU dysfunction anyone? How about the sundry "declines" of economic justice, civility, and civilization itself?
The bias/expectation distinction is important. It's easier to understand news inaccuracies if we detect an underlying agenda from an outside actor. Bert Westbrook asks us to probe deeper--to look at ourselves.
Narrative Expectation: We Need Somebody to Demonize (from Gary Moore)
(John Eipper, USA
01/18/19 3:11 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
Thanks to Bert Westbrook (January 17th) for his insightful confirmation
of my "Simple Media Narratives" post.
As a journalist, when
digging reveals hypocrisy or blindness in mainstream media
narratives, I get the queasy feeling of my own life and aims
being balanced atop nothingness. And though antidote appears
occasionally in the intrepid counter-exposé, time has shown that
this is often one more pipe dream: A lone voice not only goes into
the crackpot bin, but there is the deeper problem of even phrasing
a counter-narrative when so much resistance must be replied to at
every turn. Bert's phrase, "narrative expectation," goes a ways toward
explaining why large parts of journalism can be undermined (however
privately) if the primary evidence is sifted. As Bert said, a reader
looks for a "story," a manageable packet of meaning, and manageability
often means it must repeat what the reader already expects--that is,
prejudice is built in. It may be of the left or right, but unfortunately the punch
often demands an ancient standard in human interpretation: demonization,
somebody to lynch.
I wrote the post after a long period of digging into a recent news theme,
the immigrant "caravan" phenomenon at the southern US border. I didn't
know at the outset that this was one of those periodic topics bringing out
some of the worst in journalism, as the temptations of story-packaging
emotion--thrilling crusade and desperate need--leap to precedence over
inconvenient background facts, the hiding of which can seem insignificant,
or even a badge of honor in inflated, bafflingly shallow concealers. After
other long experiences, I think this topic was doubly doomed, simply because
it involves that "other America," the part of North America that speaks Spanish,
that is, Mexico and now prominently Central America, whose image is summed up
in strategy-speak as "the underbelly"--or, more poetically by James Agee, in a bygone
paean to supposed wanton passion, calling Latin America "that woman."
North-of-the-border ignorance about Latin America, awe-inspiring as it is, takes strength
from the region's own patterns of tumult, which leave examination up for grabs. That feeling
of balancing atop nothingness multiplied as I finally wrote what would be my post on the immigrant
caravans. Even a sympathetic reader should perhaps not be asked to wade through the resulting
twists. Ambivalence keeps popping up everywhere: that pesky lack of a unified call to crusade.
The post is soon to follow.
JE comments: The lone voice ends up in the crackpot bin--Gary Moore couldn't have said it more concisely. Yet the "vox" in the desert is also what we demand from our heroes. Is it the Quixote factor--both heroic...and insane?
Gary has already sent his post on the immigrant caravans. Before the light of today wanes, it will see the light of day.
- "Received Wisdom" and the Nicaraguan Contra War (Timothy Brown, USA 01/18/19 4:23 AM)
Gary Moore's reference to the Nicaraguan Contras reminds me of a question I'd like to ask my fellow WAISers:
I served more than a decade in Central America (Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras) as a Marine Embassy Guard or diplomat. I spent seven years after I retired researching, writing and successfully defending my doctoral dissertation. It took me several more years to find a publisher willing to publish it, because what I documented did not support the "received wisdom" of any "Latin America experts."
It was finally reviewed and recommended by three former career Ambassadors with decades worth of hands-on experience on the ground and published as The Real Contra War: Highlander Peasant Resistance in Nicaragua by the University of Oklahoma Press. Once published, it's since been made "unavailable" in a number of university libraries.
Has anyone else in WAIS read it? If so, I'd like to know what they thought of it.
JE comments: You've put me on the spot! The only Tim Brown opus in the WAIS library is your excellent autobiography, Diplomarine. My apologies, but I'll go on record that I'll put The Real Contra War on my summer reading list.
Good God--with temperatures below zero predicted for the weekend, can I already be talking about summer reading? This semester at the College I'm directing nine senior projects. (My previous record was five.) This involves countless hours of doing what I do most: editing. Except for WAIS, I fear there'll be little time for anything else.
If I may pry, Tim--how has your book been made unavailable?
- With All Sources, Trust, but Verify (Timothy Brown, USA 01/15/19 4:11 AM)
A minor correction to Boris Volodarsky (January 14th):
Some (but hopefully not all WAISers) seem always to believe the NYT, or most other media, without question. Based on my personal experiences during my four decades doing political/military/academic analysis based on both public, private and classified sources, I learned the hard way long ago to never--and I do mean never--accept 100% as the absolute "truth" what any single, or even collection of sources say. I've learned the hard way that what Reagan said at the Berlin Wall was dead right, always "Trust, but Verify."
Just one example. During my four years as the Senior Liaison Officer to the Nicaraguan Resistance in Central America, almost every operational or analytical report from Washington that crossed my desk had been vetted or written by the Department of Defense's top Cuba-Nicaragua intelligence analyst, Ana Belén Montes and believed and widely distributed up and including the White House. She is currently serving a 25-year sentence in a Federal Penitentiary for High Treason, because she was a Cuba spy. If you don't believe me, Google her name.
PS. Her sister was also a Cuban spy, but successfully fled for sanctuary to Scandinavia.
JE comments: I just learned that Sweden has no extradition treaty with the US for treason cases. Tim, it's been years since I've thought of Ana Belén Montes. She is due for release in 2023. Was it ever determined what motivated her to spy for Cuba? Money alone?
"Trust but verify" is a direct calque from the Russian doveryai no proveryai, Reagan's pronunciation of which was incomprehensible to Gorbachev. It would be fun to assemble a list of loan-translation expressions that have entered into common English usage. Besides trusting and verifying, Saddam Hussein's "mother of all..." comes to mind. Now we have MOAB--the Mother of All Bombs. Can WAISers think of other examples?
- Kilimnik and Veselnitskaya Revisited: Questions for Boris Volodarsky (Istvan Simon, USA 01/15/19 1:33 PM)
Boris Volodarsky (January 14th) asked me on which document I base my claim that Konstantin Kilimnik is a GRU agent. I in turn would like to ask him on which document he bases his claim that he is not.
Out of personal interest and as an American citizen, I follow the investigation into the Russian interference in the US election of president Trump closely. I think that special counsel Robert Mueller has been doing a remarkably skillful, thorough, systematic investigation of these matters. I believe in Mr. Mueller's integrity and give him high marks for the job he has done so far. The investigation is ongoing, and we know only a small part of what Mueller knows.
Mr. Mueller has kept his cards close to his chest. There have been no leaks that I know of that have come out of his office. As a result, what we do know about his investigation has come from tidbits revealed in public documents that he has filed in United States courts. We do know that he has done a good job because he obtained convictions of Manafort in court, who decided to fight some of his charges and lost, and convictions of many others, like Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen, Sam Patten, Alex van de Zwaan, Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty to charges Mueller has brought against them. Mr. Mueller has charged Kilimnik with obstruction of justice, and based on expert assessment by the FBI, alleged in a United States court filing that "person A " in the indictment against Manafort, has ties to Russian intelligence agencies. Person A has been identified as Kilimnik in the press connecting the dots with what is known about the case. I believe Mr Mueller and other US experts connected to intelligence who have concurred with the FBI assessment.
When various bits of information in the case come to light, US news organizations interview experts to help the public interpret the significance of these revelations, and put them in a meaningful context. These experts include lawyers and former prosecutors, former US intelligence officers, FBI officers, military officers, former ambassadors to Ukraine and Russia, and so on.
I form my opinions on this case based on all of the above, and much other information, including what Boris Volodarsky writes in these pages. Most importantly, I filter it all through my own critical thinking skills and judgement about what makes sense and what does not.
Now that I have provided Boris with a fairly detailed answer to his question, I hope he will do likewise, and answer mine.
There is much intrigue and interesting information in Boris's posts of January 14 and January13. Nonetheless, from my perspective, much of it seems to concentrate on peripheral issues, which seem unimportant to the central facts of this discussion. For example, he spends a good deal of his post denigrating Bill Browder. Perhaps he brings this up as context for the Magnitsky Act. On the one hand, he supports it as good United States law, but on the other, he calls it a personal vendetta of Browder against the Russian regime for interfering in his Russian business affairs.
Though the information about Browder may be interesting, it is also secondary, because no one mentioned Browder in this context. Whether Browder is an angel or a devil seems completely irrelevant to the current topic. Second, even if Browder's motives are less than pure, the Magnitsky act was enacted not by Browder, but by the US government, (and Canada, the UK, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia as well). It strains credibility that all of these governments would agree to pass such a law, if it was nothing more than a personal vendetta of Browder against Putin involving Browder's profits in Russia.
Boris admitted in his post that the Magnitsky Act was a topic discussed by Natalia Veselnitskaya at the Trump Tower meeting. He had previously contested my contention that it was. Boris added that in the case where Veselnitskaya was charged with obstruction of justice, she was the lawyer for a company fighting a tax fraud / money laundering charge. He termed this case entirely fabricated, which is possible, though I think highly unlikely. But once again, whether the charges against Veselnitskaya's client are true or fabricated, seem secondary to our topic.
The really important questions that Boris failed to address, central to our topic are: 1. Why would Veselnitskaya have a meeting with the Trump campaign in the first place about the Magnitsky Act? 2. Why would the Trump campaign even talk to her, much less send the highest officials connected to the Trump campaign, Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and the campaign manager Paul Manafort to meet with her? If she had no connections to the Kremlin, why would anyone talk to her about the Magnistsky Act? 3. What was her interest in Magnitsky, and on whose behalf did she contact the Trump campaign about it? Trump was a mere presidential candidate at the time. He had no business discussing the Magnitsky act with anyone, a duly enacted United States law, much less discuss it with a Russian national. 4. What was the quid pro quo for discussing the Magnitsky Act with Veselnitskaya? In other words, what was in it for the Trump campaign?
JE comments: Very pointed questions. In particular, why would the Trump campaign talk about the Magnitsky act with anyone?
(I notice that this WAIS discussion has generated a unusually large number of "hits." Great news...but I wonder, who is watching us? Hello there, by the way.)
- "Received Wisdom" and the Nicaraguan Contra War (Timothy Brown, USA 01/18/19 4:23 AM)
- Narrative Expectation: We Need Somebody to Demonize (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 01/18/19 3:11 AM)
- Bias, Narrative Expectation, and the "NYT Problem" (David A. Westbrook, USA 01/17/19 3:55 AM)
- "New York Times": Formidable, Indispensable, and Often Wrong (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 01/15/19 3:45 AM)