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October 2, 2022 5:47 pm

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The Global Security Review from Michael_Novakhov (13 sites): The Russia News: Ukraine Asks Israel To Share Intelligence On Iran’s Support To Russia – Report – I24NEWS – i24NEWS

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Ukraine Asks Israel To Share Intelligence On Iran’s Support To Russia – Report – I24NEWS  i24NEWS The post Ukraine Asks Israel To Share Intelligence On Iran’s Support To Russia – Report – I24NEWS – i24NEWS first appeared on The Russia News. The Russia News The Global Security Review from Michael_Novakhov (13 sites)

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Imposing manipulated narratives – MM News

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Imposing manipulated narratives  MM News

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Belarus Corruption Watch: How sanctioned Belarusian oligarch Mikalai Varabei’s family has managed to keep its real estate holdings in the EU – bne IntelliNews

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Belarus Corruption Watch: How sanctioned Belarusian oligarch Mikalai Varabei’s family has managed to keep its real estate holdings in the EU  bne IntelliNews

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Exclusive: FBI probes use of Israeli firm’s spyware in personal and government hacks – sources

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(Reuters) – The FBI is investigating the role of Israeli spyware vendor NSO Group Technologies in possible hacks on American residents and companies as well as suspected intelligence gathering on governments, according to four people familiar with the inquiry.

FILE PHOTO: Activists and journalists protest outside the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) after a criminal complaint following a report that their smartphones had been infected with spying software sold to the government to fight criminals and terrorists in Mexico City, Mexico June 23, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/File Photo

The probe was underway by 2017, when Federal Bureau of Investigation officials were trying to learn whether NSO obtained from American hackers any of the code it needed to infect smartphones, said one person interviewed by the FBI then and again last year.

NSO said it sells its spy software and technical support exclusively to governments and that those tools are to be used in pursuing suspected terrorists and other criminals. NSO has long maintained that its products cannot target U.S. phone numbers, though some cybersecurity experts have disputed that.

The FBI conducted more interviews with technology industry experts after Facebook filed a lawsuit in October accusing NSO itself of exploiting a flaw in Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service to hack 1,400 users, according to two people who spoke with agents or Justice Department officials.

NSO said it was not aware of any inquiry.

“We have not been contacted by any U.S. law enforcement at all about any such matters,” NSO said in a statement provided by Mercury Public Affairs strategy firm. NSO did not answer additional questions about its employees conduct but previously said government customers are the ones who do the hacking.

A spokeswoman for the FBI said the agency “adheres to DOJ’s policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of any investigation, so we wouldn’t be able to provide any further comment.”

Reuters could not determine which suspected hacking targets are the top concerns for investigators or what phase the probe is in. But the company is a focus, and a key issue is how involved it has been in specific hacks, the sources said.

Part of the FBI probe has been aimed at understanding NSO’s business operations and the technical assistance it offers customers, according to two sources familiar with the inquiry.

Suppliers of hacking tools could be prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) or the Wiretap Act, if they had enough knowledge of or involvement in improper use, said James Baker, general counsel at the FBI until January 2018.

The CFAA criminalizes unauthorized access to a computer or computer network, and the Wiretap Act prohibits use of a tool to intercept calls, texts or emails.

NSO is known in the cybersecurity world for its “Pegasus” software other tools that can be delivered in several ways. The software can capture everything on a phone, including the plain text of encrypted messages, and commandeer it to record audio.

A business strategy firm retained on behalf of Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, FTI Consulting, said this month that NSO could have supplied the software it said Saudi Arabia used to hack Bezos’ iPhone.

The phone began sending out more data hours after it received a video from a WhatsApp account associated with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, FTI said. Saudi Arabia called the FTI allegation “absurd,” and NSO said it was not involved. Other security experts said the data was inconclusive.

The FBI is investigating and has met with Bezos, a member of his team told Reuters. A Bezos spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

FBI leaders have indicated that they are taking a hard line on spyware vendors.

At a briefing at FBI Washington headquarters in November, a senior cybersecurity official said that if Americans were being hacked, investigators would not distinguish between criminals and security companies working on behalf of government clients.

“Whether you do that as a company or you do that as an individual, it’s an illegal activity,” the official said.

In the counterintelligence aspect of the probe, the FBI is trying to learn if any U.S. or allied government officials have been hacked with NSO tools and which nations were behind those attacks, according to a Western official briefed on the investigation.

Outside of government, journalists, human rights activists and dissidents in several countries have been victims of attacks using NSO spyware, according to the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab researchers.

In the past, NSO has denied involvement in some of those instances and declined to discuss others, citing client confidentiality requirements.

Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco and Jack Stubbs in London; additional reporting by Raphael Satter and Chris Bing in Washington; editing by Greg Mitchell and Grant McCool


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Israeli Spy Companies Show Critical Link Between Flynn, Deripaska, and Senate Intelligence Committee Target Walter Soriano

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Walter Soriano, a target of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into foreign election interference in 2016, appears to be a key middle-man connecting a network of Israeli hacking and surveillance firms to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and former Trump National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Under the umbrella of technology conglomerate NSO Group, two business entities appear critical to understanding the relationship between Soriano, Russian oligarchs, and Flynn. OSY Technologies and Circles.

Soriano’s connections to those firms deepen a mystery around the former Israeli intelligence officer and raise questions about American government officials who may have been involved with his activities.

Documents reviewed by Forensic News show that OSY Technologies is currently engaged in a contract with a law firm known for its work for the sanctioned oligarch, Deripaska. Sources familiar with the matter say the law firm is standing in for Deripaska in the contract, and report that the work related to the engagement involves Circles, the OSY subsidiary hacking firm. These details generate concern about American individuals who have contracted with OSY Technologies, NSO Group, and the related firms.

One of the American officials involved in this web is Lt. Gen. Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump who was convicted of lying to the FBI at the onset of the Trump Administration. Public financial disclosures show that Flynn advised OSY Technologies from mid-2016 to January 2017. OSY Technologies (sometimes a stand-in name for the NSO Group conglomerate) is primarily a consortium of cyber-spy companies run by former Israeli intelligence officers. It is funded in significant part by enormous loans, at least one of which was issued by the bank Credit Suisse.

Several of Flynn’s aides and associates also work with other firms connected to Soriano. The Trump Department of Justice is controversially moving to drop Flynn’s guilty plea, an effort that has been met with skepticism by career prosecutors and the federal judge overseeing the case. Some uncharged conduct relating to Flynn’s work for Turkey appeared in his guilty plea as a representation of the Government’s leniency toward Flynn, but none of that information related to his work for Israeli-based intelligence companies.

The other company, a Bulgarian and Cyprus-based hacking and surveillance firm called Circles, is also an offshoot in the NSO Group corporate family. Its ties to Soriano run through his personal lawyer and his longtime business partner, demonstrated by filings related to the firm.

Circles has quietly been selling its services to governments around the world. It offers robust hacking and surveillance capabilities. Their software can be used to penetrate phones, read text messages, listen in on live phone calls, and track any user, all at a client’s request. As an NSO Group affiliate, Circles has tethered itself to malign actors, like the Saudi government, who have used its services to spy on private citizens, including journalists and political opponents. NSO Group is currently under criminal investigation by the FBI.

Now, Forensic News can reveal that Circles’ direct parent company, OSY Technologies–the firm for which Flynn worked–is actively contracted to work for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska is notably an associate of Paul Manafort who was personally sanctioned by the US in 2018 for his proximity to the Kremlin after its invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Sanctions on his major companies, however, were removed by the Trump Administration in 2019.

Circles, OSY Technologies, and NSO Group aren’t the only Israeli intelligence companies with unexplained ties to Trump campaign officials and Russian oligarchs. Other Israeli firms, including data analytics and social media manipulation firms such as Psy Group, reportedly offered the Trump Presidential campaign election assistance in 2016. That company is under criminal investigation in California regarding an election influence operation that was conducted on behalf of a local businessman.

Sources tell Forensic News that Psy Group was also contracted to work for Deripaska and another Russian oligarch, Dmitry Rybolovlev. Soriano has also reportedly worked for both men. These connections emerge as U.S. investigators have focused on whether these Israeli intelligence companies operated as intermediaries for alleged coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has for over a year attempted to interview Soriano regarding potential foreign election assistance offered to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. His connections to the Israeli intelligence firms, discovered through a maze of public and private documents compiled by Forensic News, suggest Soriano is more deeply involved in entities connected to Deripaska than previously understood.

The Committee sought information from Soriano to explain those connections and other activities related to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. In recent weeks, Forensic News has spoken to multiple sources who indicate Soriano and Deripaska have a closer relationship than what has been publicly reported, and that the Committee’s interest in Soriano was not a mere coincidence.

The sources–who provided details to supplement public documents and existing reporting–paint a picture positioning Walter Soriano at the center of a large, international web connecting hackers and private spies to Russian oligarchs, high-profile Israelis, and Trump administration officials.

Walter Soriano

Walter Soriano picture

Exclusive image of Walter Soriano

Soriano is a businessman and former Israeli military intelligence officer. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which recently submitted its report on foreign interference in the 2016 election for a declassification review by the intelligence community, sent a letter to Soriano’s London address in 2019 asking for any and all communications he had with Deripaska and other figures.

The letter requested information about correspondences between Soriano and Deripaska’s associates, Israeli private intelligence companies like Psy Group and Black Cube, Michael Flynn, and other Trump-world figures.

Forensic News acquired the letter sent to Soriano, seen below:

 

In February, Soriano told the Telegraph that he never received the letter. But, according to sources, Soriano did receive it, and thought it was a fake. Forensic News understands that Soriano instructed his Washington-based attorney to contact the Senate Intelligence Committee in order to find out whether the document was authentic. The Committee affirmed that it was and that they were serious about pursuing their investigation and his testimony.

The Telegraph article reports Soriano’s lawyers called the Senate to discuss the letter’s contents just days after it was sent. “The bi-partisan committee of US senators remains keen to interview Mr. Soriano,” the publication noted.

Soriano operates behind the scenes and actively avoids appearing in photographs, sources say, but his client list is eye-popping. Through another company he personally owns and manages called USG Security, he has worked for a number of Russian government-connected entities and oligarchs including Deripaska, Dmitry Rybolovlev, and Roman Abramovich.

Soriano’s circle in Israel is perhaps even more elite than in Russia. He is reportedly close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and allegedly surveilled members of the police force who were investigating the Prime Minister for corruption, a charge that ended in an indictment for the embattled Israeli leader. Soriano unequivocally denies those allegations.

Other Israeli associates of Soriano include Netanyahu’s close confidants, Isaac Molho and Ari Harow. Harow served as Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff before he was convicted of fraud and breach of trust.

Soriano never responded to the Senate letter.

The 2020 Firms: FloLive & Circles

Forensic News reported in April on deep ties between FloLive, a London-based IT “connectivity and security” company, and Circles, a spyware affiliate of NSO Group. NSO Group is an Israeli spyware firm that has sold surveillance software to Arab and Western countries which have then spied on dissidents allegedly including Jamal Khashoggi. FloLive and Circles shared principal shareholders and employees. At one point, both companies were owned by the same offshore corporate entity.

The two founders of Circles, Boaz Goldman and Nadia Ropleva, are now leaders at FloLive. That move is striking, as the missions for the two companies couldn’t be more divergent. Circles develops tools to hack and surveil; FloLive is involved in cybersecurity and connectivity. FloLive explicitly claims it offers protection against the exact type of hacking that Circles exploits, an intrusion referred to as “SS7” hacking.

Numerous employees from Circles have made the jump to FloLive, and vice-versa. FloLive even posted a picture on their Facebook page showing employees playing a game of soccer with staff from Circles.

But publicly, the two firms have not acknowledged any official ties.

What worries security experts is the nature of the divergent work. As FloLive works with clients in the U.K. and elsewhere to set up “connectivity protections,” it could be acting as a front group for hackers at Circles to have better access to those same networks. The more clients FloLive is responsible for protecting against cyberattacks, the more information could be passed to Circles in furtherance of its hacking efforts in Europe and around the world.

Now, Forensic News can reveal that two associates of Walter Soriano have ownership stakes in the London company, FloLive. Soriano, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family and a security operative who has worked for multiple Russian oligarchs, has reportedly kept distance between himself and operations to which he oversees.

Documents from the United Kingdom show that Walter Soriano’s personal lawyer, Shlomo Rechtschaffen, as well as Soriano’s business partner, Doron Cohen, are both shareholders of FloLive. Rechtschaffen and Cohen also work for Soriano’s real estate business in London. Cohen separately partnered with Soriano in another real estate venture in Florida.

In a statement to Forensic News, Rechtschaffen denied that Soriano himself was affiliated in any way with FloLive, saying, “clients of my firm are not related to one another. As a matter of fact, Mr. Soriano had never heard the name Flo or any of the other names mentioned below, prior to your email. As to Mr. Doron Cohen, as a matter of fact, he did acquire the shares mentioned below, long before any engagement with Mr. Soriano, which was prior to his meeting Soriano.

But Mr. Rechtschaffen’s statement regarding Soriano and Cohen appears demonstrably false. According to incorporation documents filed with the state of Florida, Soriano partnered with Cohen in their Florida business venture in July 2016. That was months before Cohen obtained his shares in FloLive in December 2016, making the assertion that Cohen acquired his stake in FloLive before meeting Soriano impossible.

  • Note: Walter Soriano via Rechtschaffen has previously threatened to sue Forensic News, stating, “We see no alternative left but to issue proceedings. We put you on notice that we will rely on any further publications or articles as seriously aggravating the damage caused by the original Article and will invite the Court to increase the award for libel to reflect the malicious and calculated nature of your campaign against our client.” To date, no lawsuit has been initiated.
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The UK documents below indicate that Soriano’s connections to the hacking and surveillance firm Circles run deeper than publicly known.

Walter Soriano and Flo Live

FloLive shareholders include Flo Holdings

Walter Soriano's business partner Doron Cohen and Shlomo Rechtschaffen

Flo Holdings shareholders include Doron Cohen and Shlomo Rechtschaffen, two Soriano confidants.

Perhaps unintentionally, Rechtschaffen confirmed that FloLive has “involvement” with Circles. “I am Mr. Soriano’s lawyer and not his business partner, as wrongly stated by you… I have also provided legal advice for another client of mine, a company of the Flo Group (not the one mentioned in your email), long before their involvement with Circles,” he said.

He denied that Soriano had anything do with FloLive or Circles and didn’t explain why legal advice to a company would result in the lawyer receiving a large shareholder status in the firm.

Flochart showing Walter Soriano and his connections to FloLive

Michael Flynn and Walter Soriano

Soriano’s connections to Circles via his lawyer and business partner are of critical importance. Gen. Michael Flynn worked for the parent company of Circles, OSY Technologies, in 2016 and 2017.  As previously mentioned, the Senate Intelligence Committee sought communications between Soriano and Flynn. Flynn was forced to resign as National Security Adviser and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador.

OSY Technologies is managed by the directors of NSO Group, some of who are former members of the elite Israeli military signals intelligence, identified as Unit 8200. Circles is directly owned by OSY Technologies, according to documents acquired from Cyprus.

Another intriguing connection between Flynn and Soriano is Richard Frankel, a former U.S. intelligence official who left his position in the federal government to join Soriano’s private security firm USG Security in early 2016.

Frankel was a senior aide to Michael Flynn. One news report by ABC News–where Frankel is now a contributor–described Frankel as a “friend” of Flynn’s. It’s unclear if Frankel still works for USG Security, though a January 2017 book on cybersecurity listed Frankel as a “Managing Director” for that Soriano company (p. 15).

Frankel did not respond to a list of detailed questions. It is unclear whether Frankel’s departure from the U.S. intel community to join Soriano’s operation–around the same time Flynn began advising the Trump 2016 campaign and OSY Technologies and the same time Soriano’s USG began work for Rybolovlev–is related to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s request for communications between Soriano and Flynn.

Other connections between former Flynn aides and work they may have completed for Circles are also being explored. A spokesperson for the Senate Intelligence Committee did not respond when asked about the status of their investigation into Walter Soriano. Sidney Powell, an attorney for Michael Flynn, did not respond to questions about Flynn’s work for OSY Technologies.

Rechtschaffen denied that Soriano has ever had a relationship with Flynn stating, “Walter Soriano has never met, had not and does not have, any relationship whatsoever (directly or indirectly) with Mr. Flynn, hence no messages directly or indirectly have been required or ever passed.

Walter Soriano & Oleg Deripaska

Walter Soriano has associated with Deripaska for a number of years. Forensic News reported in 2019 that Soriano was hired by Deripaska’s company, Basic Element, to provide security for the 2014 Olympics at the airport in Sochi, Russia. The contract stipulated that Soriano’s USG Security had “direct control” of operations at the Sochi airport, which is majority-owned by Basic Element.

Parts of a subcontract for the Sochi deal reveal strict stipulations regarding Soriano and Deripaska, as seen below.

Walter Soriano subcontract

The subcontractors were to represent themselves as USG Security workers and mention Walter Soriano’s name to any Russian authorities

Walter Soriano confidentiality clause

The subcontract demands that the subcontractor not divert business from Deripaska and another major USG Security (Walter Soriano’s firm) client

Deripaska continues to contract with Israeli security firms for secretive work.

Forensic News has exclusively reviewed an invoice paid to OSY Technologies from a Moscow-based law firm known for its work for Deripaska and the Russian government. The invoice cited work the intelligence company, OSY Technologies, completed as recently as 2019, but began in early 2018. Sources involved with the matter told Forensic News that the law firm is a stand-in for Deripaska and there are indications in the invoice that the work began earlier than 2018.

The invoice shows that a project was paid for by the law firm, Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners (EPAP or EPAM in Russian). The document—on OSY Technologies letterhead—stated that funds were to be paid to a bank account at UniCredit Bulbank in Bulgaria controlled by OSY Technologies – the NSO Group offshoot. Included in the documents were bank account numbers for OSY Technologies.

Forensic News understands that the payment was for services completed by OSY Technologies’ subsidiary hacking company, the Bulgaria-based Circles, though the name Circles does not appear on the documents.

The invoices were sent to the head of the law firm’s Moscow branch, Elena Kuznetsova. A LinkedIn profile for Kuznetsova shows that she previously worked for Deripaska’s aluminum company, Rusal. The founder of the law firm, Dmitry Afanasiev, has worked for Deripaska’s companies for at least 14 years and even held a coveted position on the board of Rusal before stepping down when U.S. officials demanded Deripaska’s allies cede control of the company in exchange for lifting sanctions.

Forensic News is currently unable to publish the document, as the sources who provided the invoice feared that they could be in danger if it were released to the public. In a series of emails, Tom Clare, an American attorney representing Deripaska, flatly denied that his client has ever hired OSY Technologies or Circles, and rejected the claim that Deripaska has any relationship with the principals of Circles or that the Russian oligarch worked with Walter Soriano in any capacity after the 2014 Sochi Airport deal.

EPAP, the Moscow-based law firm, is also a close partner of the Russian state and has even worked for Russian President Vladimir Putin in an individual capacity. Nikolai Egorov, one of the name-sake founders of the firm, was classmates with Putin at Leningrad State University in the 1970s. He later went on to teach and was a professor to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Mendvedev.

The other name-sake founder, Stanislav Puginsky, was handpicked by convicted Russian agent Maria Butina and her handler Alexander Torshin to attend the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, chaired by newly-minted President Trump. Butina was recently deported to Russia after serving prison time on espionage-lite charges.

EPAP has been a successful endeavor for Egorov, and a deep-dive into the law firm by Law.com in 2007 stated that it acts as “a regular adviser to Putin’s government.”

But the firm’s U.S. ties raise more questions about connections between Trump associates and Deripaska. Records show EPAP’s U.S. branch represented Deripaska in a joint effort with Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz in a U.S. lawsuit filed by one of Deripaska’s companies. Kasowitz represented Trump in his personal capacity during the Mueller Investigation and has reportedly represented Trump and his businesses for decades. The shared representation of Deripaska and Trump made headlines in mid-2017.

Most remarkable about the contract between EPAP and OSY Technologies is that it puts Gen. Michael Flynn squarely in the middle of multiple figures that are still of interest to investigators. As mentioned, Flynn worked for OSY Technologies through January 2017. The agreement seen by Forensic News between EPAP and OSY Technologies began in 2018, though the full nature of the relationship is unknown.

Flochart showing connections to Deripaska, Flynn, and OSY Technologies

Neither the Mueller Report nor any other public investigative report has detailed Flynn’s payment from foreign firms that also receive money from Deripaska. While Flynn’s plea agreement involved admissions that he conducted foreign work for Turkey in violation of laws about lobbying disclosure, the document made no reference to Flynn’s work with Israeli technology firms—a curious omission, especially in light of further revelations that Mueller examined whether George Papadopoulos (a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor) was an unregistered agent of Israel.

Flynn is not the only name with tenuous connections to Deripaska and Trump advisers. Georgiy Oganov, one of the aides who sources told us briefs Deripaska on information obtained by Circles and OSY Technologies, was mentioned in the Mueller Report. The Special Counsel documented a January 2017 meeting in Spain between Oganov and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Another thread tying the three together: Manafort, Deripaska, and Oganov were all caught up in a controversy about recordings made by a Russian escort, Nastya Rybka, in 2016. Forensic News has learned that Walter Soriano may have been involved in that controversy as well.

Soriano, Oganov & Deripaska’s Mistress

Deripaska and his mistress Nastya Rybka.

Nastya Rybka and Oleg Deripaska
Courtesy: New Europe

Rybka, a Belarusian escort and self-described “sex coach” who had a relationship with Deripaska, claimed in 2018 to have audiotapes showing coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia after her monthslong affair with Deripaska in mid-2016 and early 2017.

She was arrested in Thailand in 2018 after she famously published a video taken in August 2016 of Deripaska discussing U.S. relations on a yacht with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Prikhodko. The woman claimed to have other video and audio recordings connecting Deripaska to Paul Manafort, and allegedly recorded Deripaska discussing election interference activities.

During the Mueller probe, the FBI unsuccessfully sought to speak with Rybka. She was later extradited back to Russia, where she was forced to publicly apologize to Deripaska at the Moscow airport.

An Intelligence Online report in late 2019 stated that Walter Soriano was involved in the Rybka affair at the behest of Deripaska, aiding in Deripaska’s effort to obtain the sensitive materials possessed by Rybka. Two sources familiar with this episode confirmed that Soriano was indeed involved, directly or indirectly, in attempting to silence Rybka. Rechtschaffen denied these claims.

Russian agents told Rybka to keep quiet about Deripaska, and the other audiotapes she claimed to have in her possession have never been published. Social media posts indicate that Rybka now resides in Moscow and runs an “online school for seduction.” Reached by Forensic News via the messaging app WhatsApp, Rybka declined to comment on anything political, stating that she would only speak about her commercial activities.

Russian opposition leader Alex Navalny revealed more of Rybka’s audio in 2019. Recordings make clear that Deripaska’s associates–including Georgiy Oganov–plotted the arrest of Rybka. “What we are interested in is that these people be kept in jail,” Oganov can be heard saying to an unknown lawyer named William.

Given Oganov’s reported service as Deripaska’s intermediary to Soriano and the inclusion of his name in both the Mueller Report and the Senate’s letter to Soriano, his discussion of silencing Rybka adds credence to allegations Soriano was involved in Rybka’s plight.

The US government has since determined that Oganov is a critical intermediary for Deripaska. As noted above, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election detailed a meeting between Paul Manafort and Oganov. The meeting took place in January 2017, after Russian efforts to interfere on Trump’s behalf had been revealed. The European connection was initially denied by Manafort, but U.S. investigators were not convinced.

Mueller reported that the men were slated to discuss “recreating the old friendship” between Deripaska and Manafort at the January meeting, which allegedly took place in Madrid. That Manafort was willing to meet with Oganov after his own expulsion from the Trump campaign as well as recently-published allegations of improper ties between Trump and Russia suggests Oganov was a person of critical importance to Manafort. The meeting was also arranged by Konstantin Kilimnik, an alleged Russian agent who acted as a go-between for Manafort and Deripaska during the campaign season:

Mueller report passage regarding Georgiy Oganov

Allegations that Oganov is both a critical intermediary between Deripaska and Manafort and Deripaska and Israeli intelligence firms have significant consequences. Manafort’s transmission of voter and polling data to alleged GRU-agent Kilimnik in 2016 looks more compelling in light of this new information. Mueller’s team was unable to determine (V. 1, p. 131) what happened to the polling data after Manafort gave it to Kilimnik.

It is notable that the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Republican Chairman Richard Burr and Democratic Ranking Member Mark Warner, requested information from Soriano on his communications with many of these individuals. The Committee finalized the last section of its investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 Presidential Election just weeks ago, as Burr was forced to step down amidst allegations of insider trading.

The final section was submitted for declassification review on Burr’s last day in his role as Committee Chair. The Republican-led Committee has been known for its quiet, bipartisan work throughout the Trump Administration: its Republican majority notably issued a subpoena to Donald Trump, Jr. in June 2018, despite fierce opposition from President Trump.

The final section of the report, reportedly approximately 1000 pages, is said to detail a counterintelligence investigation conducted into the Trump Campaign’s connections with foreign actors. Such an investigation may be more extensive than the criminal investigation conducted by Robert Mueller, as counterintelligence investigations typically have a wider scope than criminal ones.

The Senate Intelligence Committee Report is slated to be released publicly–with redactions–in the coming weeks.

When asked whether Walter Soriano features in the upcoming report, both Senators Burr and Warner declined to comment.

Forensic News is funded entirely by our readers. We don’t hide content behind paywalls or take money from corporate entities. Consider pledging your support so we can continue producing impactful investigative journalism.

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Aretha Franklin Was Tracked By the FBI for 40 Years. Here’s What’s In Her File

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The agency tried — and failed — for decades to tie the Queen of Soul to “extremists”


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CIA betrayed informants with shoddy covert comms websites

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For almost a decade, the US Central Intelligence Agency communicated with informants abroad using a network of websites with hidden communications capabilities.

The idea being: informants could use secret features within innocent-looking sites to quietly pass back information to American agents. So poorly were these 885 front websites designed, though, according to security research group Citizen Lab and Reuters, that they betrayed those using them to spy for the CIA.

Citing a year-long investigation into the CIA’s handling of its informants, Reuters on Thursday reported that Iranian engineer Gholamreza Hosseini had been identified as a spy by Iranian intelligence, thanks to CIA negligence.

“A faulty CIA covert communications system made it easy for Iranian intelligence to identify and capture him,” the Reuters report stated.

Word of a catastrophic failure in CIA operational security initially surfaced in 2018, when Yahoo! News reporters Zach Dorfman and Jenna McLaughlin revealed “a compromise of the agency’s internet-based covert communications system used to interact with its informants.”

The duo’s report indicated that the system involved a website and claimed “more than two dozen sources died in China in 2011 and 2012” as a result of the compromise. Also, 30 operatives in Iran were said to have been identified by Iranian intelligence, fewer of whom were killed as a consequence of discovery than in China.

Blocks of sequential IP addresses registered to apparently fictitious US companies were used to host some of the websites

Reuters found one of the CIA websites, iraniangoals[.]com, in the Internet Archive and told Citizen Lab about the site earlier this year. Bill Marczak, from Citizen Lab, and Zach Edwards, from analytics consultancy Victory Medium, subsequently examined the website and deduced that it had been part of a CIA-run network of nearly 900 websites, localized in at least 29 languages, and intended for viewing in at least 36 countries.

These websites, said to have operated between 2004 and 2013, presented themselves as harmless sources of news, weather, sports, healthcare, or other information. But they are alleged to have facilitated covert communications, and to have done serious harm to the US intelligence community and to those risking their lives to help the United States.

“The websites included similar Java, JavaScript, Adobe Flash, and CGI artifacts that implemented or apparently loaded covert communications apps,” Citizen Lab explains in its report. “In addition, blocks of sequential IP addresses registered to apparently fictitious US companies were used to host some of the websites. All of these flaws would have facilitated discovery by hostile parties.”

The websites were designed to look like common commercial publications but included secret triggering mechanisms to open a covert communication channel. For example, the supposed search box on iraniangoals[.]com is actually a password input field to access such its hidden comms functionality – which you’d never guess unless you inspected the website code to see the input field identified as type="password" or unless the conversion of text input into hidden • characters gave it away.

Entering the appropriate password opened a messaging interface that spies could use to communicate.

The encrypted messaging widgets from CIA can be found on websites in numerous languages, & technical fingerprints made it possible to find more websites within the network, even nearly a decade after they had been taken down, thanks to the @waybackmachine. Did the CCP know too? https://t.co/5CFa11mFbT

— Zach Edwards (@thezedwards) September 29, 2022

Citizen Lab says it has limited the details contained in its report because some of the websites point to former and possibly still active intelligence agents. It says it intends to disclose some details to US government oversight bodies. The security group blames the CIA’s “reckless infrastructure” for the alleged agent deaths. Zach Edwards put it more bluntly on Twitter.

“Sloppy ass website widget architecture plus ridiculous hosting/DNS decisions by CIA/CIA contractors likely resulted in dozens of CIA spies being killed,” he said.

What makes the infrastructure ridiculous or reckless is that many of the websites had similarities with others in the network and that their hosting infrastructure appears to have been purchased in bulk from the same internet providers and to have often shared the same server space.

“The result was that numerical identifiers, or IP addresses, for many of these websites were sequential, much like houses on the same street,” Reuters explained.

Such basic errors continue to trip up spy agencies. Investigative research group Bellingcat, for example, has used the sequential numbering of passports to help identify the fake personas of Russian GRU agents. It described this blunder as “terrible spycraft.”

And while numerically proximate or sequential identifiers may go unnoticed some of the time – security through obscurity – it only takes one double agent aware of the scheme to allow adversaries to connect the dots.

In the case of Iran, that’s what happened, according to Yahoo! News: “Though the Iranians didn’t say precisely how they infiltrated the network, two former US intelligence officials said that the Iranians cultivated a double agent who led them to the secret CIA communications system.”

The CIA did not respond to a request for comment. ®

A former NSA man has been charged with three counts of espionage. Jareh Sebastian Dalke, 30, of Colorado Springs, is accused of emailing three classified files to someone he thought was a foreign government agent but was in fact an undercover FBI agent.

Dalke left the NSA in July this year, and soon after attempted to leak documents he had stolen from the agency, prosecutors claim. According to the Justice Dept, Dalke claimed he “had taken highly sensitive information relating to foreign targeting of US systems, and information on US cyber operations, among other topics,” and wanted cryptocurrency in exchange for the files.

He was arrested on September 28 and was due to appear in court today. If convicted, he potentially faces the death penalty or any length of time behind bars.


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Do the FBI monitor people’s social media activity and online posts? Is it legal?

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Since Edward Snowden’s NSA leak that detailed the ways in which the government was collecting data on US citizens, many are curious as to how much one’s social media account is tracked by federal agencies.

In the wake of increasing attacks from right-wing domestic terrorists, new reports are highlighting just how much information federal law enforcement agencies are able to collect on citizens without opening an investigation.

USA TODAY reported on an FBI arrest of an Ohio man, Adam Bies, who had been posting threats against the agency under a pseudonym on Gab. Bies is a forty-six-year-old has pled not guilty to fourteen federal charges, including several counts related to making threats against a federal officer.

“I sincerely believe that if you work for the FBI, then you deserve to DIE,” posted Bies, adding later that he knew he would “die at the hands of these … law enforcement scumbags.”

My only goal is to kill more of them before I drop.”

The FBI was able to track these threats through a little-known program called SOMEX.

SOMEX was created to assist in identifying “unknown subject, victim, or location information” when there’s a threat to life by using publicly available information. The team then forwards information to the appropriate agency for further investigation and appropriate action.

— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) September 1, 2022

What is SOMEX?

USA Today has reported that SOMEX “was created to assist in identifying “unknown subject victim, or location information” when there’s a threat to life by using publicly available information.” This information includes social media.

When the posts were identified by FBI agents, federal prosecutors asked a judge for a warrant to arrest Bies. Using the evidence collected from Gab, the warrant was approved, and more than a dozen agents showed up at Bies’ home. After calling on Bies to exit the house, he did so carrying an assault weapon.

As of 18 August, Bies is still behind bars and has been labeled a flight risk with a judge approving his pre-trial imprisonment, which could last until October.

A pattern of downplaying the surveillance of social media

Prosecuters used the social media posts that were collected through SOMEX, shedding light on the far-reaching powers the federal government has when it comes to social media and personal information. SOMEX stands for social media exploitation, and the program is much more covert than many citizens understand. The FBI told USA TODAY that the FBI “can conduct almost unlimited monitoring of public-facing social media, as long as it’s doing so for law enforcement purposes.” This means that threats one makes online can be used as evidence in a civil or criminal suit by the Department of Justice.

These comments were further corroborated by former FBI agent Michael German, who told USA TODAY that “The FBI has tremendous powers to investigate long before there’s a reasonable criminal predicate.” A current fellow at the New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, German, added that in recent years, the FBI has misled the public as to “the scope of their” authority when it comes to reviewing material online.

In short, since the information collected by federal agents is public, the acts are totally legal. The discomfort many feel highlights the need for legislatures to think of better ways to protect data in the 21st century.


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Convictions in FBI Sting of Politician Should Be Thrown Out, Legal Scholar Says

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An Ohio politician who was ensnared in an FBI “sting” wants his two corruption-related convictions thrown out—a challenge that ought to prevail, says a legal scholar who has followed the case closely.

Lawyers for Alexander “P.G.” Sittenfeld, a former Cincinnati city councilman who was convicted of bribery and attempted extortion this summer, filed motions for acquittal and a new trial on Sept. 30 in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

Epoch Times Photo Ken Katkin, professor of law at Northern Kentucky University. (Courtesy of Northern Kentucky University Chase School of Law)

While such post-trial motions are common, they rarely succeed. But Ken Katkin, a professor of law at Northern Kentucky University near Cincinnati, opined that Sittenfeld’s main argument is valid.

“I don’t think there was any crime here at all,” Katkin told The Epoch Times, predicting that Sittenfeld will eventually win a reversal. He thinks the prosecution of Sittenfeld was an “overreach,” resulting from the FBI’s making corruption cases a top priority.

Federal prosecutors didn’t immediately respond to a reporter’s emails requesting comment.

Controversies Followed Verdict

The latest actions in the case came days after a federal appeals court refused to allow Sittenfeld’s lawyers to dig into the cellphone of “Juror X,” who had repeatedly posted on Facebook about her jury experience during Sittenfeld’s trial.

After questioning Juror X and three other jurors, judges ruled they found no evidence that her actions tainted the verdict, so no further invasion of her privacy was warranted.

Although jurors convicted Sittenfeld on two federal charges in July, they acquitted him of four similar counts—a sign of the jury’s “obvious confusion” because the allegations related to the same patterns of conduct, his attorneys wrote.

Bogus Developers

Events leading to Sittenfeld’s prosecution began in 2018. Undercover FBI agents, posing as would-be real-estate developers, approached Sittenfeld and began discussing a project to redevelop a blighted area. They secretly recorded their conversations and also worked with an actual developer, who served as an informant.

The agents tried to “bait” Sittenfeld into violating campaign-finance laws, his lawyers wrote. But Sittenfeld “repeatedly declined non-compliant campaign contributions,” including cash, money orders, and trips to Miami, Las Vegas, and Nashville.

However, Sittenfeld did pledge to support the project that the fake developers, known as “Rob,” “Vinny,” and “Brian,” described. And the men eventually gave Sittenfeld a total of $40,000, authorities said. The funds went to Sittenfeld’s political action committee.

If that pattern of conduct constitutes bribery, “it means that substantially all campaign fundraising in this country” would fit that definition, Katkin said.

But that cannot be so, according to three U.S. Supreme Court cases, Katkin said. To violate federal corruption laws, an official must make an “explicit” promise to take a specific action, contingent upon payment or contributions, the court has ruled, Katkin said.

Katkin, who attended Sittenfeld’s trial every day, said those conditions weren’t met in Sittenfeld’s case. And because the project proposal was phony, there was never any vote or official action taken.

Supreme Court The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 14, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

Incorrect Jury Instructions?

Katkin thinks U.S. District Judge Douglas Cole erred when he, in essence, instructed jurors that Sittenfeld violated the law if he accepted funds from “developers” who could benefit from that “some way, somehow.”

However, Katkin thinks it’s unlikely that Cole will rule that he was mistaken. Therefore, Katkin said, Sittenfeld will probably need to appeal to a higher court to rule on whether the jury instructions conflicted with the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in corruption cases.

At age 27, Sittenfeld had become the city’s youngest-ever councilman; he took office in 2011 and served until 2020, when he was suspended in the wake of his indictment.

Sittenfeld’s supporters, decrying “false and unjust allegations” against him, established a webpage called “Friends of PG Legal Support Effort.” They wrote: “We have absolute faith in PG’s character, his honesty, his ethics, his commitment to public service, and his love of Cincinnati, which he has served with excellence for a decade.”

Sittenfeld was one of three Cincinnati council members to face corruption charges in separate scandals in 2020.

Former councilwoman Tamaya Dennard, who pleaded guilty to taking $15,000 in bribes, was recently released from prison and has been working for a nonprofit that helps find employment for ex-convicts, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.

No trial date has been set for another former Cincinnati councilman, Jeff Pastor.


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The FBI: A history of the capitalist rulers’ political police

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Democrat President Franklin Roosevelt, with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, to right of flag, signs 1934 bill increasing federal police powers for use against the labor movement. AP PhotoDemocrat President Franklin Roosevelt, with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, to right of flag, signs 1934 bill increasing federal police powers for use against the labor movement.

The Spanish-language edition of 50 Years of Covert Operations in the US: Washington’s Political Police and the American Working Class by Larry Seigle, Farrell Dobbs and Steve Clark, is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for October. It traces the capitalist rulers’ use of Washington’s political police to target the unions and other working-class organizations, as well as mass movements for Black equality and against the Vietnam War. Today the Democrats wield the FBI to go after former President Donald Trump and others, attacking constitutional freedoms vital for the working class. The excerpt is from the chapter “Origins of FBI Assault on Socialist Workers Party.” Copyright © 2014 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. 

For several years after the First World War, the FBI had functioned as a political police force, carrying out the arrest or deportation of some 3,000 unionists and political activists in 1919 and 1920 (the infamous “Palmer Raids”). But following widespread protests over these and other FBI actions, and with the decline of the postwar labor radicalization, the capitalist rulers decided against a federal secret police agency. …

By the mid-1930s, however, a vast social movement was on the rise, with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) at the forefront. The relationship of forces was shifting in favor of working-class organizations. The bosses’ old methods could no longer always be counted on. Communist perspectives did not come close to commanding majority support among working people, and in fact remained the views of a small minority, but the bosses were nonetheless concerned that progressive anticapitalist and anti-imperialist political positions advanced by class-struggle-minded union leaders were winning a hearing among a substantial section of the ranks of labor. Especially in times of crisis, such as war, minority points of view defended by established and respected working-class fighters could rapidly gain support.

With this in mind, the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt expanded and centralized federal police power. …

[T]hese FBI operations began on the eve of the Second World War. They were central to preparations by the US capitalist rulers to lead the nation into another carnage to promote their interests against their imperialist rivals and against the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America struggling for liberation from colonial domination. These operations were directed against the leadership — and potential leadership — of the two major social forces in the United States that threatened to interfere with the ability of the US ruling families to accomplish their objectives: the labor unions and the Black movement. …

The drive toward war necessitated an assault on working people at home and against democratic rights in general. Roosevelt gave FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover free rein to use the FBI against the labor movement and Black organizations. The White House and Justice Department secretly authorized many of the illegal methods used by the FBI and turned a blind eye toward others.

This authorization for the FBI to assume the functions of a political police force was done without legislation, which would have had to be proposed and debated in Congress. It was accomplished instead by “executive order,” a device that was rapidly assuming a major place in the operations of the government and would increasingly become a major mode of governing in the decades to come.

On September 6, 1939, Roosevelt issued an executive order directing the FBI “to take charge of investigative work” in matters relating to “espionage, counterespionage, sabotage, subversive activities and violations of the neutrality laws.” The key phrase was “subversive activities,” and the most important decision was to include this slippery concept in the list of responsibilities given the FBI. While there were federal laws against espionage, sabotage, and violation of US “neutrality,” no law explained what “subversive activity” might consist of.

Two days later Roosevelt — again by executive decree — made a “finding” of the existence of a “national emergency.” This allowed an increase in military spending without having to ask Congress… . Simultaneously, the president ordered an expansion of the FBI’s forces. His objective, Roosevelt told a news conference, was to avoid a repetition of “some of the things that happened” during World War I:

There was sabotage; there was a great deal of propaganda by both belligerents, and a good many definite plans laid in this country by foreign governments to try to sway American public opinion. … It is to guard against that, and against the spread by any foreign nation of propaganda in this country which would tend to be subversive — I believe that is the word — of our form of government.

Forty years later, in a Foley Square courtroom in New York City, top Justice Department officials would cite Roosevelt’s words as providing legal authority — derived from the president’s “inherent powers” under the US Constitution — for the FBI’s campaign of spying, disruption, and provocation against the Black movement, unions, and antiwar and women’s liberation fighters and against communist organizations such as the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance.

As the trial of the SWP lawsuit unfolded during the spring of 1981 in Judge Griesa’s courtroom, it became increasingly clear that the case revolved around issues far deeper than particular FBI abuses. The historical evolution of the FBI is part of a broader phenomenon in the United States. Underlying the threat today to the rights of privacy and freedom of association is the arbitrary rule by an expanding federal executive power. This power carries out policies at home and abroad that it is less and less able to openly proclaim or mobilize majority support for. It relies increasingly on covert methods to accomplish hidden or half-hidden objectives. …

[A]dvocating ideas and taking actions that are not illegal — even as defined by reactionary legislation — but are nonetheless considered inimical to the interests of those in power can make you the target of the political police.


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