Discover more from Rant! with Alex Finley
On Russian redheads and drug traffickers
Even once they've been caught, Russian spies can be useful to Moscow
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ALEX’S WEEKLY RANT
Sometimes Russia like to slap you in the face over and over. That’s how the news felt to me this week, so for today’s Rant!, I’m going to do a rundown of the many Russia-related stories that caught my eye.
Maybe listen to the German guy when it comes to warnings about extremism
First up, the head of Germany’s domestic spy agency explained how authoritarian states (namely Russia and China) are stoking anti-government sentiment in Germany in an effort to destabilize it. I highly suggest reading the whole article. What’s remarkable is how easily you could replace mentions of “Germany” with “United States” and his message still holds, which demonstrates how these countries are using the same techniques and even the same issues across different countries in an effort to destabilize them. Right-wing extremism, attacks on government officials, and plans to take over the parliament with violence were all “fueled by authoritarian states, including Russia.”
Remember Republicans screaming about how liberals were coming to take your stoves? Yeah, the exact same argument was used in Germany and stoked by Russian proxies. As the article notes, the spy chief “said there were ‘astonishing parallels’ between the present and the 1920s and 1930s that should prompt concern.”
Maybe the guy from Germany knows a thing or two about the rise of extremism and we should listen to him? Just a thought.
Germany (like plenty of other countries, including the US) has had a spate of Russian spy cases lately. I covered some of them in a previous Rant!
Possible prisoner swap?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Sergey Cherkasov, the Russian deep-cover illegal who attended and graduated from Johns Hopkins SAIS as his fake persona Victor Muller Ferreira. He’s been sitting in a Brazilian prison since last summer, and, as I wrote, both the United States and Russia want to extradite him. The US alleges he did all kinds of illegal spy stuff in the US. Russia claims he is wanted for drug trafficking in Russia, but really they just want their spy back.
The Brazilian government is stuck in between and now finds itself in the unenviable position of possibly negotiating a prisoner swap. As I noted in my previous Rant!, Russia has been collecting hostages to exchange for all their spies who have recently been arrested outside Russia. One of those hostages is Wall Street Journal report Evan Gershkovich.
This week, the WSJ reported that the competing extradition requests to Brazil might help shape a prisoner swap involving Cherkasov and Gershkovich. It’s all political, of course. Cherkasov operated for years using a fraudulent identity and communicating clandestinely with his handlers about his operations in America. Gershkovich is an accredited journalist that Moscow picked up in order to have leverage in specifically this type of negotiation.
Russia managed to get arms dealer Viktor Bout for WNBA player Britney Griner. Maybe now they’ll get a Russian spy for an American journalist. Sounds much more like negotiating with a terrorist group than a country, no?
Speaking of Russian illegals and prisoner swaps
Remember Anna Chapman? She was one of ten Russian illegals operating in the US who were picked up by the FBI in 2010. She’s the only one of that group any of us remember because she has red hair and was a model.
Now do you remember her? Yeah, I thought so.
She and her cohort of Russian unofficial cover spies were swapped for a number of prisoners being held by Russia, including Sergei Skripal (who Russia later sent two Russian intelligence officers to murder in Salisbury, England, with novichok; they did not succeed).
Anna is pretty active on social media, and recently, some open source snoopers came across this photo from 2009, when she was in New York.
That’s Anna Chapman on the left. And on the right is Mila Antonova, with whom, it was recently revealed, Microsoft founder Bill Gates had an affair. Gates’ affair with Antonova came to light when another report uncovered that Jeffrey Epstein once tried to blackmail Gates, using his knowledge of Gates’ affair.
So, what does this mean? We don’t know. Bill Gates would be a logical target for any foreign intelligence service, given his prominence globally and social and business networks. Did Chapman help direct Antonova to have a relationship with him? That might have been the type of tasking she was involved in, but we have no evidence (and no one has accused Antonova of wrongdoing). But I’m not ruling that possibility out yet. Or maybe they were just young women living as Americans bonding over their shared Russian heritage and the world is a small place and this is just a coincidence.
It takes a lot of work to make a coincidence. We’ll see where this story goes…
Speaking of redheaded Russian spies
Remember Maria Butina? She’s another redhead who was arrested for being a Russian spy in the United States, after she infiltrated a number of conservative groups and even attended Donald Trump’s inauguration. I’ve written about her here and here, and go into depth about her operations in Class 9 of my Foreign Influence Operations course. (You really should sign up!)
She is now a member of Russia’s Duma. But even if her days as a foreign agent are over, she has continued to make herself useful to Moscow. For example, she recently visited imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny and explained to him that Russian prisons are nicer than many Russian hotels (note to self: never stay in Russian hotels, they must be total fucking pits).
This week, Butina took time out of her busy Duma schedule to help Tara Reade. Remember her?
Shortly before the 2020 US presidential election, Reade claimed Joe Biden once sexually assaulted her. Since then, she’s been been professing her love for Russia. She has blogged about how much she likes Russia. She has contributed to RT, a Russian-state propaganda outlet. Russian diplomats asked her to speak to the United Nations about the dangers of shipping US weapons to Ukraine. Then, US Representatives Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene wanted to interview her for their “oversight” committee just when it was announced Donald Trump faced felony charges in the Stormy Daniels case.
This week, Reade appeared at an event in Russia hosted by another Russian state propaganda outlet, Sputnik, at which she announced she feels unsafe in the United States and is applying for Russian citizenship.
And Butina is going to help her. Isn’t that nice?
Reade also said she hopes to keep her US citizenship.
Maybe she can be neighbors with Edward Snowden?
Weird, all these people who feel safer in a police state where you can be locked up for no reason than in a democracy with rule of law, but who am I to judge?
As for Butina, I wonder if she spends any time helping her constituents, or if she is too busy helping American tools?
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THE WEEK’S LINKS
A roundup of stories you should be reading
YOUR FEEL-GOOD STORIES OF THE WEEK
Talk about white purity*: Someone Tried to Ship 50 Bricks of Swastika-Branded Cocaine to Europe (Vice)
*I stole this joke from @AlogoAgogo on twitter (but I asked him if I could use it, so it’s not really stealing)
Alex Finley is a former officer of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, where she served in West Africa and Europe. She writes and teaches about terrorism, disinformation / covert influence, and oligarch yachts. Her writing has appeared in Slate, Reductress, Funny or Die, POLITICO, The Center for Public Integrity, and other publications. She has spoken to the BBC, MSNBC, CNN, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, France24, and numerous other media outlets. She was also invited once to speak at Harvard, which she now tells everyone within the first ten seconds of meeting them. She is the author of the Victor Caro series, satirical novels about the CIA. Before joining the CIA, Alex was a journalist, covering Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and the Department of Energy. She reported on issues related to national security, intelligence, and homeland security. Did she mention she was invited to speak at Harvard?