Friday, February 23, 2018
The 13 Russians Indicted by Mueller Are the Tip of the Tip of the Iceberg
THE REAL QUESTION TODAY IS WHO ARE THE RUSSIANS INDICTED BY MUELLER? The most famous of them is "Putin's chef." • • • YEVGENIY PRIGOZHIN. The Washington Post wrote on Thursday that : "A Russian oligarch believed to control the Russian mercenaries who attacked US troops and their allies in Syria this month was in close touch with Kremlin and Syrian officials in the days and weeks before and after the assault, according to US intelligence reports. In intercepted communications in late January, the oligarch, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, told a senior Syrian official that he had “secured permission” from an unspecified Russian minister to move forward with a “fast and strong” initiative that would take place in early February." • The billionaire Prigozhin made front-page headlines last week when he was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller on charges of bankrolling and guiding a long-running Russian scheme to conduct “information warfare” during the 2016 US presidential campaign. Prigozhin ahs close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, forged when he was a restaurateur in St. Petersburg and expanded through what became Prigozhin’s wide-ranging business empire, including extensive contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry. His business empire, operating under the unassuming name Concord Catering, got its start as the future president’s favorite restaurateur in Russia’s wild frontier capitalism of the 1990s. He started with food stalls in his native St.Petersburg and eventually built an elegant floating restaurant there where Putin hosted foreign leaders. Billion-dollar contracts to cater for the Russian military followed. But, says the WP, "he started as a tough guy : Back in 1981, prior to gaining Putin’s favor, Prigozhin was reportedly jailed for nine years for robbery, fraud and child prostitution, according to the Russian news website Meduza." • Prigozhin's value to Putin reaches far beyond gourmet meals. Among his various enterprises, US intelligence believes that Prigozhin also “almost certainly” controls Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. The mercenaries, employed by a company called the Wagner Group, comprise ultranationalist Russians and military veterans, some of whom also fought in the Ukraine conflict, according to Russian news reports. The Wagner Group aided Ukrainian separatists, according to the Moscow Times that reported last November that he has invested in Wagner, and that its leader, a former Russian military officer named Dmitry Utkin, was general director of one of Prigozhin’s Concord companies. The Wagner Group also seems, says the WP, to have had a special role in mercenary operations in Syria. The Associated Press reported in December that he was an investor in Evro Polis, which has a contract to help liberate Syrian oil and gas fields and, in return, receive 25% of the production revenues. Denis Korotkov, a reporter for the Russian website Fontanka, was quoted by the AP : “The link between Evro Polis and Prigozhin is significant and is not in doubt.” • • • A PRIGOZHIN-BACKED ATTACK IN SYRIA.Prigozhin's Wagner Group mercenary operation in Syria took a disastrous turn two weeks ago, when commandos tried to seize oil-and-gas fields east of Deir al-Zour and were demolished by US and Syrian Kurdish forces holding that terrain. According to Fontanka, about 3,000 Wagner mercenaries have worked in Syria since Russia intervened in 2015. US intelligence reports provide additional information about an incident that remains only murkily described by all concerned, according to the WP, with the Pentagon providing few details and the Russians offering changing accounts. US intelligence agencies declined to comment on the reports, excerpts of which were shared with the Washington Post. What is clear, says the WP is :"that the attack marked the biggest direct challenge to the US military presence in eastern Syria since U.S. Special Operations forces began deploying there in 2015 in support of their Syrian allies in the fight against the Islamic State. The episode also raises questions about ongoing US cooperation in Syria with Russia, Assad’s primary backer in a civil war that increasingly has overlapped with the United States’ campaign against the Islamic State. A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive issue, described the episode as 'worrisome.' The official added that 'it’s striking how the Russians themselves have been quick to distance themselves' from what he described as an operation 'under Syrian command and in response to Syrian directive. I think [the Russians] realize just how damaging it could be to any further cooperation.” • US and Russian-backed Assad forces are now separated by only a few miles in parts of eastern Syria, along a “deconfliction” line that restricts the US to the eastern side of the Euphrates River and the Russians to the western side. In recent years, US and Russian military officers have maintained near-daily telephone contact to ensure their aircraft and forces don’t run into each other. US Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs said coalition forces conducted strikes in response to "an unprovoked Syrian pro-regime forces attack" in Syria on February 7 and February 8, when a headquarters base of US troops and their Syrian allies, located near a strategic oil field several miles east of the river and close to the town of Deir al-Zour, was attacked by 300 to 500 “pro-regime” forces. The Americans quickly mobilized a ferocious response, including AC-130 gunships, jet warplanes and Apache attack helicopters. After three hours, the attacking force retreated, leaving behind what the US military said was about 100 dead attackers. No casualties were reported among the Americans and their allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces. • Defense Secretary James Mattis called the incident “perplexing” and said “I cannot give any explanation” as to why a “pro-regime” force would cross the river and fire on a known SDF and US headquarters. US Special Forces at the base and overhead reconnaissance had seen the attack force mobilizing west of the river at least a week before the attack, according to Mattis and Lieutenant General Jeffrey L. Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces Central Command. They said they notified the Russians at that time and warned that the base would defend itself. Asked in a briefing with reporters last week to characterize the conversations, Harrigian said only that they “remained professional.” On the night of the attack, Mattis said, “the Russians profess that they were not aware when we called about that force that had crossed, and it came closer. They were notified when the firing began,” and the Americans were told “there were no Russians there.” When the attackers, using tanks and artillery, began firing in their direction, Harrigian said, the Americans struck back. Asked Sunday as he returned from a trip to Europe whether the Russian government was responsible for its citizens fighting under contract in Syria, Mattis told reporters aboard his aircraft: “I’d prefer not to answer that right now. I need more information to understand and answer that authoritatively.” • And, the Russian government has strenuously denied involvement. A Russian military official was quoted as saying the Russian military command in Syria viewed the incident as “dangerous amateurism.” And, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said last week that five Russian citizens might have been killed, but in a new statement Tuesday, the ministry acknowledged that “several dozen” Russians were killed or wounded in the attack and that the wounded had been “provided assistance to return to Russia...where they are undergoing medical treatment at a number of hospitals.” The Russian Foreign Ministry said “Russian service members did not take part in any capacity and Russian military equipment was not used,” the statement said. It referred instead to “Russian citizens” who arrived in Syria “of their own free will and for different reasons.” The ministry, it said, “does not have the authority to assess the validity and legality of their decisions.” Russia has acknowledged that many of the attackers, who also included regular Syrian army troops and militias, were mercenaries. BUT, the Washingotn Post says that "intercepted communications show not only that Prigozhin was personally involved in planning the attack but that he had discussed it with senior Syrian officials, including Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Fadlallah Azzam. In a January 24 exchange, Prigozhin said he had secured permission from an unspecified Russian minister the day before to move forward with a 'fast and strong' initiative and was awaiting a decision by the Syrian government. On January 30, Prigozhin 'indicated he had a good surprise’ for Assad 'that would come between 6 and 9 February.' According to one intelligence report, he also was assured by Azzam that he would be paid for his work. The reports indicated an increased tempo of communications between Prigozhin and Kremlin officials during the same period, including Putin chief of staff Anton Vayno and deputy chief of staff Vladimir Ostrovenko, but the content of those talks is not known. The communications continued until February 5 and resumed the day after the attack." • The Prigozhin-linked mercenary company Wagner Group apparently provides the ground forces to help achieve the goal producing oil and natural gas fro lterritories recaptured from ISIS, working under contract wihtthe Syrian government through Prigozhin's Evro Polis company. Most of those fields are on the eastern side of the Euphrates, where SDF fighters, accompanied by US forces, have been advancing on the militants. The use of Wagner Group for operations such as the one in early February shows how integral private mercenary groups are to the Russian military effort in Syria and elsewhere, while giving the Kremlin 'a thin patina of deniability,' said Michael Carpenter, a former Pentagon and White House official who worked on Russia policy in the Obama administration. “More importantly,” Carpenter said, “it allows Russian forces to take on the US-backed SDF in a way that regular Russian forces wouldn’t dare do for fear of escalation.” • That is Evgeniy Prigozhin, the most famous of the 13 Russians indicted by Mueller. Who are the other 12? • • • THE INDICTED RUSSIANS AND THE TROLL FACTORY. Prigozhin has made himself indispensable to the Kremlin, said Andrew S. Weiss, a Eurasia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace : “On the one hand, he does things that are at the pointy end of the spear, like operating a significant information operation against America. On the other, he is deeply intertwined in the activities of the Ministry of Defense and provides combat capabilities and other services.” The Washingotn Post says : "Prigozhin’s fingerprints appear to be on three of the most sensitive operations launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin: meddling in the 2016 US election; supporting separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine; and providing military muscle for the Syrian regime. Russia’s hidden combatants are often described as “Little Green Men,” and Prigozhin may be the Jolly Green Giant who helps this machine function." • Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians alleged that Prigozhin was a key funder of the Internet Research Agency, a St.Petersburg “troll farm” that sought to plant pro-Kremlin information on social media. The indictment charged that, through several subsidiaries branded as “Concord,” Prigozhin “spent significant funds” to support the organization’s “information warfare” against the United States. Prigozhin has denied involvement in the troll factory. His defiant reaction to being named in Friday’s indictment was : “I am not at all disappointed that I appear in this list. If they want to see the devil -- let them.” Prigozhin has been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department since 2016 because of his activities in Ukraine. Mueller’s indictment describes a complex effort to manipulate US public opinion through fake accounts, false fronts and stolen identities. The cheeky Russian operatives even arranged to photograph an American in front of the White House several days before Prigozhin’s 2016 birthday, holding a sign that said: “Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss,” according to the indictment. • Meddling in American politics was a brazen act, but it was meremy a step up in the tactics that the Internet Research Agency allegedly embraced in 2014 in Ukraine after mass protests toppled Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president. The Wall Street Journal recently spoke with a Russian journalist who had worked for the agency. The WSJ characterized his job there as “rewriting news from the point of view of pro-Russian separatists.” Prigozhin's mercenary Wagner Group also aided Ukrainian separatists. Concord Catering and Concord Management and Consulting were named in the indictment as controlling the Internet Research Agency -- the troll factory -- that coordinated the US meddling. Sanctions were imposed on them in June related to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Reuters says US officials told it "there is an active review under way on how to respond to last week’s designation of Russia as responsible for the devastating 'NotPetya' cyber attack last year. The White House last week said the 'NotPetya' attack, launched in June 2017 by the Russian military, 'spread worldwide, causing billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia and the Americas." Another official, who spoke to Reuters separately from the briefing, said it is a “certainty” that the United States will act in response to the NotPetya attack. • • • THE OTHER 12 RUSSIANS INDICTED. On February 16, USA TODAY published a list of the 13 Russian indicted by Mueller. Besides Prigozhin, USA TODAY named -- §§ Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov; who allegedly was named the general director of the Internet Research Agency, and served as the head of various other entities it used to mask its activities, including Glavset LLC, where he was also listed as general director. He is accused of holding regular meetings with Prigozhin around 2015 and 2016. Bystrov is a retired police colonel, according to Voice of America. §§ Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, who, according to the indictment, was named executive director of the "ORGANIZATION" as of March 2014, holding the second-highest ranking position. During operations to interfere in the US political system, including the 2016 presidential election, Burchik was a manager involved in operational planning, infrastructure and personnel. Burchik is described in a 2015 New York Times report as a young tech entrepreneur connected to the “Masss Post” tool used to create bulk social media postings. §§ Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova; who worked for the Internet Research Agency from around 2013 to at least November 2014, according to the indictment, and was its third-highest ranking employee. She allegedly entered the US on false pretenses in June 2014 and traveled through Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas and New York to “gather intelligence.” §§ Sergey Pavlovich Polozov, who “served as the manager of the IT department and oversaw the procurement of US. servers and other computer infrastructure that masked the Russian location when conducting operations within the United States,” according to the indictment. An unnamed co-conspirator who worked for the company traveled to Atlanta in November 2016, and shared information gathered with Polozov, according to the indictment. He traveled to the US to create virtual private networks to hide his organization's ties to Russia, while communicating with US citizens, the indictment said. §§ Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva, who, according to the indictment, oversaw the IRA’s data analysis group, and allegedly traveled through the US in 2014 to gather intelligence along with Krylova. Together with Krylova, Bogacheva planned travel itineraries, purchased equipment such as cameras, SIM cards and disposable phones and discussed security measures, including “evacuation scenarios” for defendants who traveled to the US, the indictment said. §§ Maria Anatolyevna Bovda, who worked at the company from November 2013 to October 2014 as head of the translator project. The project “focused on the US population and conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,” according to the indictment. §§ Robert Sergeyevich Bovda, who served as deputy head of the translator project and tried to travel to the US under false pretenses to collect intelligence but could not obtain a visa, according to the indictment. §§ Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, who is accused of admitting her involvement in the operation and a subsequent coverup in an email to a relative in September last year, after Mueller’s probe had started. “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity,” Kaverzina allegedly wrote, “so I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.” She also wrote : "I created all these pictures and posts and the Americans believed that it was written by their people." §§ Dzheykhun "Jay" Aslanov, who was described by a manager at the ORGANIZATION's "troll farm" in St. Petersburg," according to an October interview on Moscow's Dozhd TV with former employee Alan Baskayev. Baskayev was the third former troll to identify Aslanov as a supervisor at the facility, according to the Moscow Times, which described the interview. "Jay was a really bad manager: not the most competent in this field, well, frankly speaking, generally incompetent, but he had assistants,” Baskayev told Dozhd TV. §§ Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev; who was allegedly was responsible for conducting US-focused research and drafting social media content for the IRA, according to the indictment. §§ Gleb Igorevich Vasilchenko, who was allegedly “responsible for posting, monitoring, and updating the social media content” for many IRA-controlled accounts “while posing as U.S. persons or U.S. grassroots organizations.” §§ Vladimir Venkov; who allegedly “operated multiple U.S. personas, which he used to post, monitor, and update social media content,” the indictment stated. • Separately, Mueller’s office announced that Richard Pinedo, of Santa Paula, California, had pleaded guilty to identity fraud. Pinedo, 28, admitted to running a website that offered stolen identities to help customers get around the security measures of major online payment sites. It was not made clear whether his service had been used by the Russian operatives. • • • RUSSIAN FOREIGN SPY CHIEF IN WASHINGTON. Reuters reported on January 30 -- before the Mueller Russian indictments -- that : "Russia’s foreign spy chief, who is under US sanctions, met last week outside Washington with US intelligence officials, two US sources said, confirming a disclosure that intensified political infighting over probes into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US election. Sergey Naryshkin, head of the Russian service known by its acronym SVR, held talks with US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other US intelligence officials, the sources said. The sources did not reveal the topics discussed." The Russian Embassy also noted the meeting, citing a state-run ITAR-Tass news report that quoted Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, as telling Rossiya-1 television that Naryshkin and his US counterparts discussed the “joint struggle against terrorism.” The CIA declined to comment. Coats’ office said that while it does not discuss US intelligence officials’ schedules, “any interaction with foreign intelligence agencies would have been conducted in accordance with US law and in consultation with appropriate departments and agencies.” • News of Naryshkin’s secret visit poured fresh fuel on the battles between the Trump administration and its Republican defenders and Democrats over investigations into Moscow’s alleged 2016 election interference. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded that the administration “immediately come clean and answer questions - which US officials did he meet with? Did any White House or National Security Council official meet with Naryshkin? What did they discuss?” The key question, Schumer told reporters, is whether Naryshkin’s visit accounted for the administration’s decision on Monday not to slap new sanctions on Russia under a law passed last year to punish Moscow’s purported election meddling. Schumer said : “Russia hacked our elections. We sanctioned the head of their foreign intelligence and then the Trump administration invites him to waltz through our front door.” • Earlier in January, the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported that Netherlands intelligence concluded that some of the Russians running a hacking operation, known as “Cozy Bear,” against Democratic organizations were SVR agents. • CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the BBC in an interview in Janusry that he had not “seen a significant decrease” in Russian attempts at subversion in Europe and the United States, and he expects Moscow to meddle in November’s US mid-term elections. Naryshkin, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to head the SVR in September 2016, was sanctioned by the Obama administration in March 2014 as part of the US response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. At the time, he was speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament. He was banned from entering the United States, but sanctions experts said there are processes for providing people under sanction permission to enter for official business. Meetings between foreign intelligence chiefs, even from rival nations, mostly are kept secret but are not unusual, according to Reuters. • • • TRUMP INTEL CHIEFS TESTIFY. NPR reported last Friday that FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo testified before the Senate intelligence committee las week. They warned the Senate Committee that Russian influence operations in the United States will continue through this year's midterm elections and beyond. • Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Moscow viewed its attack on the 2016 election as decidedly worthwhile given the chaos it has sown compared with its relatively low cost : "There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian midterm operations." • The intelligence officials were on Capitol Hill Tuesday because the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence convened its annual hearing on "worldwide threats." It also followed reports about the losses of US agents overseas, the theft of the NSA's secret spying software and other major setbacks in the intelligence business. The intel chiefs told the Senat that the world itself is also getting more dangerous. Coats said in his opening statement : "The risk of inter-state conflict is higher than any time since the Cold War." NPR said that the intelligence bosses were asked to restate their support for the 2017 report that concluded Russia had waged a campaign of what spies call "active measures" against the 2016 election. All of them agreed. And, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as the intelligence officials, spoke to the importance of at least speaking clearly about the Russian threat, even as the issue of whether the President's campaign colluded with the Russians remains an open question under investigation by DOJ special counsel Robert Mueller. Coats told Senator Susan Collins : " "We need to inform the American public that this is real, that this is going to be happening, and the resilience needed for us to stand up and say we're not going to allow some Russian to tell us how to vote, how we ought to run our country. I think there needs to be a national cry for that." • According ot NPR, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee differed on how well they thought the United States is preparing for continued influence operations against the democratic process. Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said he was frustrated by what he called a lack of action and a lack of coordination inside the intelligence agencies : "We've had more than a year to get our act together and address the threat posed by Russia and implement a strategy to deter further attacks. But I believe we still don't have a comprehensive plan." [Did Senator Warner secretly communicate with Christopher Steele in hopes of building a "comprehensive plan"?] Idaho GOP Senator Jim Risch, on the other hand, said extensive discussions in Congress and in the press since 2016 meant that Americans now know better what to expect : "I think the American people are ready for this. I think they're going to look askance a lot more at the information attempting to be passed out through social media." • Facebook, Twitter, and other online social media outlets have become key conduits for disinformation that originates in Russia and attempts to amplify political division between Americans. For example, CIA Director Mijke Pompeo used part of the hearing to try to correct the record. He faulted stories in the New York Times and The Intercept last week that said American intelligence officials paid $100,000 to a "shadowy Russian" in an effort to get back stolen National Security Agency cyberweapons. Not only did American spies want to recover stolen secrets but they also were offered material described as compromising about Trump, according to the stories. That didn't happen, Pompeo said : "Reporting on this matter has been atrocious, it's been ridiculous, it's been totally inaccurate," adding that the CIA did not "provide any resources, no money" for what he called "phony information." • • • DEAR READERS, there is no doubt that America is now sensitized to Russian meddling in US politics. Will social media be able to cull out the Russians without seriously damaging freedom of speech on the Internet? We don't have an answer to that important question yet. And, will the Russians remain content to rattle American political parties and campaigns, or will they slide into the mechanics of voting. We know that the Russians ans chinese are engaged in cyberattacks against the US -- as in the NotPetya cyberattack. • And, overriding all of this is the question whether the FBI will heed any information suggesting Russian interference in US politics unless it points to some darkly sinister Trump ploy at work? This is a question worth asking because the Washington Post -- yes WaPo -- as early as last December 25 -- okay maybe Christmas Day isn't the best time to warn America about Russian spies -- but the WP on December 25 ran a long piece on Russian spies. Granted, some of it was pointing at the "darkly sinister" figure of Trump, but nevertheless the WP was telling Washington -- its eager daily readers -- "The Russians Are Coming!" It's a long and interesting, but anti-Trump, article about Russian spies operating in America. You can access it at < https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/kremlin-trolls- burned-across-the-internet-as-washington-debated-options/2017/12/23/e7b9dc92-e403-11e7-ab50-621fe0588340_story.html >. • What Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Jaffe track the online meddling of a Russian "spy' whose fake name was Alice Donovan and the following of her efforts by the FBI in an invzstigation the FBI called Northern Lights. The WP journalists say is that : "The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building : US intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top US policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions....The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election trace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a 'third-rate regional power' that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery. Senior US officials didn’t think Russia would dare shift its focus to the United States....The United States and the Soviet Union engaged in an all-out information battle during the Cold War. But the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and the Bill Clinton administration and Congress in 1999 shuttered America’s preeminent global information agency. 'They thought it was all over and that we’d won the propaganda war,' said Joseph D. Duffey, the last director of the U.S. Information Agency, which was charged with influencing foreign populations. When President Vladimir Putin came to power, Russia began searching for ways to make up for its diminished military. Officials seized on influence campaigns and cyberwarfare as equalizers. Both were cheap, easy to deploy and hard for an open and networked society such as the United States to defend against. Early warning signs of the growing Russian disinformation threat included the 2005 launch of RT, the Kremlin-funded TV network, and the 2007 cyberattacks that overwhelmed Estonia’s banks, government ministries and newspapers. A year later, the Kremlin launched a digital blitz that temporarily shut down Georgia’s broadcasters and defaced the website of its president....But for US officials, the real wake-up call came in early 2014 when the Russians annexed Crimea and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. An intercepted Russian military intelligence report dated February 2014 documented how Moscow created fake personas to spread disinformation on social media to buttress its broader military campaign. The classified Russian intelligence report, obtained by The Washington Post, offered examples of the messages the fake personas spread. 'Brigades of westerners are now on their way to rob and kill us,' wrote one operative posing as a Russian-speaking Ukrainian. 'Morals have been replaced by thirst for blood and hatred toward anything Russian.' Officials in the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence branch, drafted the document as part of an effort to convince Kremlin higher-ups of the campaign’s effectiveness. Officials boasted of creating a fake Facebook account they used to send death threats to 14 politicians in southeastern Ukraine. Five days into the campaign, the GRU said, its fake accounts were garnering 200,000 views a day....In March 2014, Obama paid a visit to NATO headquarters, where he listened as unnerved allies warned him of the growing Russia threat. Aides wanted to give the President options to push back....The President brushed aside the idea as politically impractical....The task of countering what the Russians were doing fell to a few underfunded bureaucrats at the State Department....The State Department created a small team to tweet messages about Ukraine, but they were vastly outnumbered by the Russian trolls.....While [the State Department] was struggling to make do with limited resources, the CIA, at the direction of Obama’s top national security advisors, was secretly drafting proposals for covert action....The covert proposals, which were circulated in 2015 by David S. Cohen, then the CIA’s deputy director, divided the administration and intelligence agencies and never reached the national security cabinet or the President for consideration....The Obama administration had gone through an agonizing learning curve. The Russians, beginning in 2014, had hacked the State Department and the White House before targeting the Democratic National Committee and other political institutions. By the time US officials came to grips with the threat, it was too late to act....After Trump took office, Russia’s army of trolls began to shift their focus within the United States, according to US intelligence reports....Trump’s presidency and policies became a Russian disinformation target....White House officials who take the Russia threat seriously fret that aggressive covert action will just provoke Putin to increase his assault on a vulnerable United States. 'One of the things I’ve learned over many, many years of looking at Russia and Putin is that he’s Mr. Preemption. If he thinks that somebody else is capable of doing something to him, he gets out ahead of it,' said a senior administration official. 'We have to be extraordinarily careful.'....More than a year after the FBI first identified Alice Donovan as a probable Russian troll, she’s still pitching stories to US publications....The FBI, in keeping with its standard practice in counterintelligence investigations, has kept a close hold on information about Donovan and other suspected Russian personas peddling messages inside the United States....The FBI said in a statement that it has employed cyber, criminal and counterintelligence tools to deal with the disinformation threat....In late November 2017 The Post informed Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch’s editor, that the FBI suspects that Donovan is a Russian government persona. St. Clair said in an interview that Donovan’s submissions didn’t stand out among the 75 or so pitches he receives each day. On November 30, he sent her an email saying he wanted to discuss her work. When he got no response, St. Clair followed up with a direct message on Twitter, asking her to call him immediately. On December 5, Donovan finally replied by email : 'I do not want to talk to anyone for security reasons.' St. Clair tapped out a new message, begging her to provide proof -- a photograph of her driver’s license or passport -- that would show that she was the beginning freelance journalist she claimed to be in her introductory email from 2016. 'It shouldn’t be that difficult to substantiate,' he wrote. He has yet to receive a response." • The 13 Russians indicted by Mueller are the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Will their indictment make any difference? Not likely.