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Alexander Mercouris

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The Russiagate Scandal Descends into Total Absurdity

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Even as the Trump administration disintegrates – with the President publicly quarrelling with his Secretary of State, and his Chief of Staff forced to deny he is about to resign – the scandal which more than anything else has defined this Presidency has disintegrated into total lunacy.


Consider these facts:

1) The Mueller investigation

Just a few weeks ago the media was full of reports of how Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation was “closing in” on the President and his campaign team.  The focus of media interest was on an early morning search in July of the house of Paul Manafort, the campaign professional who at one time acted as the Trump campaign’s chairman, with lurid headlines that he was about to be indicted, though it was never made clear for what.

Since then there has been nothing, a clear sign that the search of Manafort’s house has come up with nothing, and that the pressure to get Manafort to talk by dangling threats of indictment in front of him have resulted in nothing.

In all other respects a curtain of silence has fallen on Mueller’s investigation, a strong sign that after its failure to “break” Manafort it no longer has a clear strategy of what to do.
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Russia’s Expulsion of Staff From the US Embassy in Moscow is Unprecedented and Huge

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Last autumn, as the Obama administration considered mass expulsions of Russian diplomats from the US in response to the burgeoning Russiagate scandal, John Tefft – the US ambassador to Russia – is reported to have warned against taking this step.  Tefft’s reasons for opposing it were that the likely strong response from the Russians, which would lead to expulsions of US diplomats from Russia, would threaten the effective work of the US embassy in Moscow and of the US consulates in Russia.

The Obama administration in the end failed to heed Tefft’s warning.  Though in the event the Russians in December stayed their hand as they waited to see what the new Trump administration would bring, now that the US Congress has voted to increase the sanctions on Russia and with the return of seized Russian diplomatic properties in the US ruled out, the Russians have finally responded.  Their response must however go beyond Tefft’s worst fears

The Russians order to the US to reduce the staff at their embassy and consulates in Russia by 755 persons is in fact unprecedented.  As the BBC rightly says, though a large part of the reduction will no doubt be accounted for by non-diplomatic staff, the Russian announcement still constitutes what is by far the single biggest expulsion of diplomats in modern history
The decision to expel staff was made on Friday, but Mr Putin has now confirmed the number who must go by 1 September. 

It brings staff levels to 455, the same as Russia’s complement in Washington.

This is thought to be the largest expulsion of diplomats from any country in modern history, says the BBC’s Laura Bicker in Washington.

The number includes Russian employees of the US diplomatic missions across Russia, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Moscow adds.

Staff in the embassy in Moscow as well as the consulates in Ekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St Petersburg are affected, she says.
Moreover the Russian decision now establishes the principle that the number of personnel at US embassies and consulates in Russia will in future be held to the same level – currently 455 – as the number of personnel at Russian embassies and consulates in the US.
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The CIA Leak Casts Doubt on Russian Involvement in the DNC/Podesta Leaks

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The huge leak of information from the CIA just published by Wikileaks gives a fascinating picture of how the CIA goes about its business, though I doubt there is much there which will come as a surprise to most people.

In light of all the swirl of activity around the DNC and Podesta leaks and the various allegations of Russian hacking, two questions however immediately stand out for me.

1. The technology used in the DNC/Podesta leaks is decades old and crude.  Are the Russians really so far behind the CIA?

The first point is the obvious one that the CIA seems to engage in hacking on an immeasurably vaster and more sophisticated scale than whoever is behind Fancy Bear and Cosy Bear, the two groups of hackers who hacked Podesta and the DNC, assuming of course that they are the same people.

It seems that the CIA is able to read emails and hack into some of the world’s most heavily encrypted social media and communications platforms such as WhatsApp, Weibo, Confide, Signal and Telegram before any encryption can even be applied and without leaving any trace.  Obviously there is no need for any ‘phishing’.  Moreover it is clear that the CIA has been able to do this for a long time, in some cases for more than a decade.
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