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The Man who Guided Orban & Netanyahu to Power, and Made George Soros the Bogeyman of the Far-Right

Alex Constantine - March 15, 2024

By Nick Thorpe - BBC News Eastern Europe correspondent

George Birnbaum

A political consultant for 30 years, he helped Benjamin Netanyahu come to power in a surprise victory in Israel in 1996, and Hungary's Viktor Orban in 2010.

He has clients in many countries, and flits nowadays between New York, Dubai and Harare.

George Birnbaum built his reputation as one of "Arthur's kids" - under mentor and late business partner Arthur Finkelstein, a brilliant mathematician who re-invented the art of political campaigning in the US, helping Richard Nixon to power in 1972, as well as many other Republican leaders.

""One should … try to polarize the election around that issue that cuts best in your direction, i.e. drugs, crime, race in New York State," Finkelstein wrote in a 1970 memo. "When the opponent seizes the polarization initiative, then you're in trouble."

The duo scored a dramatic upset with Benjamin Netanyahu's first election victory in Israel, which came just months after the assassination of incumbent PM Shimon Peres's predecessor Yitzhak Rabin.

Voters were electrified by slogans such as "Peres will divide Jerusalem" - in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Was it true, I ask.

"'Whether or not it would have been a line down the middle of Jerusalem, I don't think that's true," he admits today. "But there were certain areas of the municipality that were discussed as being given to the Palestinian Authority as part of a peace deal."

In 2008, they began work for Hungary's Viktor Orban, whose right-wing Fidesz party won a landslide victory in 2010.

Three years later, with more elections on the horizon, the decision was taken: Viktor Orban needed a new enemy - a man Hungarians could be told to fear.

After copious opinion surveys, the duo struck on George Soros, the then 85-year-old Hungarian-born US billionaire and philanthropist, as a perfect target. Viktor Orban has vilified him ever since.

"George Soros was a good target," George Birnbaum tells me,

"Because enough people in Hungary didn't like the idea of this billionaire behind the curtain, almost like …the Wizard of Oz, controlling politics and policy."

In 2015, the year George Birnbaum stopped working for Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister discovered a new enemy: Muslim migrants.

And when in September that year George Soros suggested the EU should absorb large numbers of asylum seekers, the Hungarian leader was quick to signal "a Soros plan".

However implausible, the Jewish philanthropist was accused of a plot to destroy Christian Europe with Muslim immigrants - an idea already gaining ground on the far-right fringes of European politics as "the Great Replacement theory".

Migrants became the feared "other" in the world-view of many Hungarians, replacing Jews or Gypsies. And the demonisation of George Soros radiated from Hungary, around the globe.

"Don't be afraid to call your enemies by their name. They will never show mercy. Consider for a moment George Soros," Viktor Orban told Republicans at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the US state of Texas in 2022.

"I know George Soros very well. He is my opponent. He believes in none of the things that we do," the Hungarian leader told his American hosts.

George Birnbaum's wife is Ukrainian, and the couple visit Ukraine often - as close friends of Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko.

I point out that Russia's Vladimir Putin - who sent troops into Ukraine last year - has said that liberalism has become obsolete. The Russian leader loses no opportunity to rail against the decadence of the liberal West, multiculturalism, immigration, and human rights. ...

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George Birnbaum and the Israeli Right’s Connection to the 2016 Trump Campaign

By Peter Grant - Medium, Oct 17, 2023 (Excerpt)

On March 29th, 2016, the conservative political consultant George Birnbaum met with Trump campaign Deputy Chairman and longtime Paul Manafort employee Rick Gates at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Washington, DC.

Gates and Birnbaum were introduced by their mutual friend Eckart Sager.

Sager, a former CNN producer turned press relations expert, had assisted Manafort and Gates in disseminating negative press about the client Viktor Yanukovych’s chief domestic political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, in the U.S. media.

Yanukovych had served as the kleptocratic and pro-Kremlin President of Ukraine prior to being deposed in the Maidan Revolution.

Read my article on Manafort’s efforts before joining the Trump campaign to launder Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s reputation here.

Sager also listed the government of Azerbaijan among his clients, and according to the OCCRP received over $2.6 million dollars from a shell company that sat at the heart of a $2.5 billion money laundering operation known as the Azerbaijani Laundromat.

Nor was Sager the only link connecting Birnbaum to Manafort and Gates’ work in Ukraine.

Birnbaum works for Mercury Public Affairs, the same political strategy and consulting firm enlisted by Manafort to assist his efforts in Ukraine.

Birnbaum lists the former Chancellor of Austria Alfred Gusenbauer as one of his clients. Gusenbauer was a key figure in the Hapsburg Group, a collection for former EU leaders organized by Manafort to lobby on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych.

Years after the Yanukovych government fell in Ukraine, Birbaum pitched his political consulting services to Yulia Tymoshenko, proposing to burnish her image in the US media, exactly the opposite of Manafort and Sager’s efforts years earlier.

Gates and Birnbaum’s meeting took place during a time in which the Trump campaign was worried the Never Trump Republicans might try to steal the nomination from him through a delegate revolt at the convention. Gates brought up “the challenge of the delegates,” with Birnbaum, and asked if there was “any Israel[i] technology that could help us with some of these goals?”

Gates wanted help with identifying which delegates were pro-Trump, which were anti-Trump and which hadn’t made up their minds yet.

Regarding the latter category, Gates wanted to know whether they could potentially use social media to influence their decision and get them to support Trump.

Gates was also interested in using publicly available information to gather opposition research on Clinton and “up to ten of her closest circle.”

Birnbaum had deep connections to Israel.

In 1996, he worked beneath the Republican strategist Arthur Finkelstein in support of the right-wing Likud Party challenger Benjamin Netanyahu’s successful run to become the Israeli Prime Minister.

Birnbaum later served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff.

Netanyahu’s use of American political consultants provided an important lesson to future campaigns around the world.

“It’s not so easy to replicate America to any country, let alone Israel, a multiparty parliamentary system with so many dividing lines,” Birnbaum later told The Jerusalem Post. “But the 1996 race changed the dynamics of elections. No one thought Netanyahu would win, and everyone attributed it to Arthur.”

Birnbaum’s close association with Netanyahu makes it unsurprising that he supported Trump. For years, Netanyahu’s relationship with Barack Obama had been deteriorating.

According to Adam Entous of The New Yorker, the Israeli Prime Minister believed that Obama had “no special feeling” for the Jewish state.

Obama, having won a majority of American Jewish voters, resented the charge.

Unable to reconcile their opposing views regarding the two-state solution, Obama and Netanyahu’s relationship further soured when the latter all but officially endorsed his old friend Mitt Romney, Obama’s 2012 Republican challenger.

Despite Netanyahu’s denials, the Obama team was convinced the Israeli leader had attempted to interfere in the election.

Relations reached a nadir after Obama signed a nuclear treaty with Iran, which Netanyahu vehemently opposed.

Republicans in the U.S. Congress invited Netanyahu to address the chamber, and he used the opportunity to attack the deal.

Netanyahu also had ties to the Trump clan.

He was close friends with Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner. The Kushner’s had for years donated Israeli causes, including to the yeshiva at the Beit El settlement, located in the West Bank.

Netanyahu was close enough to the Kushner’s that he often visited their home in New Jersey, sometimes staying over for the night and sleeping in Jared’s bedroom, while the younger Kushner found lodging in the basement.

Netanyahu and his party Likud were closely connected to the Republican Party. His campaign manager in 1996, and George Birnbaum’s mentor, was Arthur Finkelstein.

The late Finkelstein, who died of lung cancer in 2017, was legendary among political strategists despite the fact that he was notoriously private and camera shy.

While at Columbia, he studied with the libertarian author Ayn Rand.

In the 1970s, Finkelstein was one of the first to understand the implications of a Supreme Court decision that allowed independent political committees to spend money on candidates and causes.

He helped develop advanced demographic analyses of primary voters, the use of exit polling, and applying the marketing strategy known as microtargeting to political campaigns.

Finkelstein worked for numerous Republicans ranging from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan.

n an echo of Roy Cohn, Finkelstein was gay and later married his long term partner, all the while supporting opponents to gay rights.

Finkelstein was famous for turning the term “liberal” into a dirty word in American politics.

In the 1970s, he developed the “Six-Party Theory,” which divided the electorate into ideological and racial groupings and predicted that Republicans could win elections if they peeled off support from Conservative Democrats.

As early as 1996, Finkelstein encouraged Republican candidates to go negative and “polarize the electorate.”

At its core, Finkelstein’s strategy relied on demoralizing his opponents’ supporters to keep them from voting.

This strategy was embraced by the Trump campaign, as well as the Russian election interference and social media disinformation campaigns contemporaneously targeting the United States.

In a rare recording of Finkelstein dating back to a 2011 presentation made in Prague, he presages not only the rise of right wing populism, but also the candidacy of Donald Trump, who at that time was propagating the lie that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States.

The economic crisis that shook the world after 2008, according to Finkelstein, “appears, at least from my travels around, to be much worse than it feels to most of us. There is real anger.”

He continued, “the anger is at the Mexicans. Not even all Hispanics — the Mexicans.”

In such an environment, Finkelstein predicted that “from nowhere politicians” could rise to the fore. He suggested that “we’re looking at business people to become leaders.”

Finkelstein then brought up Trump. “I don’t know if anybody here is watching Donald Trump in the US, but it’s mind-boggling. It’s just pure personality.”

Finkelstein didn’t just predict the rise of right wing populists, he helped make it happen. He and George Birnbaum had been working on political campaigns across Eastern Europe since 2003.

In 2008, after an introduction provided by Netanyahu, Finkelstein and Birnbaum worked to help re-elect Viktor Orbán to power in Hungary.

According to Steve Bannon, Orbán’s populist political rhetoric made him “Trump before Trump.”

Orbán had once been a pro-democracy critic of Russia and Putinism. However, after 2009, the Hungarian leader notably changed his tune and became a right-wing populist and arguably the number one Putin cheerleader within the EU.

According to the Russian publication The Insider, this may have had something to do with the fact that the powerful and Russian intelligence connected Eurasian crime lord Semyon Mogilevich, who for years used the Hungarian capital Budapest as the base of his operations, reportedly possessed kompromat in the form of a video of Orbán accepting a suitcase full of cash as a bribe that he may have turned over to Putin.

After Orbán’s initial victory, Finkelstein landed on a key insight that he would use to devastating effect in Orbán’s future campaigns: he needed to invent an enemy for Orbán to run against that personified the collective fears of the electorate.

According to George Birnbaum, who discussed the matter with Swiss reporter Hannes Grassegger, the man Finkelstein settled on to fill this role was the Hungarian-born Jewish financier, Holocaust-survivor and liberal philantropist George Soros, founder of the Open Societies Foundation.

Soros’ financial support of liberal causes had already made him a despised figure on the American right, just as his support of civil society and liberal democracy initiatives in Eastern Europe also made him an enemy of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

By the time the Trump campaign got into gear, Finkelstein had not only laid the intellectual foundations for the electoral strategy it pursued, but sat at the nexus of many key figures backing Trump’s improbable run.

Finkelstein had reportedly done work for the Trump Organization, though what exactly and when is not clear.

Finkelstein got the job working for Netanyahu after being recommended by Ronald Lauder, a close personal friend who goes back decades with Trump.

Roger Stone, Trump’s oldest political advisor, and Tony Fabrizio, the Trump campaign pollster brought on by Paul Manafort whose data was shared with alleged Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik, were both part of a group of Republic consultants known as “Arthur’s kids,” meaning they had learned the tricks of the trade under Finkelstein’s tutelage.

Peter Geoghegan of openDemocracy wrote that Finkelstein, who had done campaign work himself in Ukraine, had introduced Manafort to a number of “pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs.”

Court documents later accused Paul Manafort of coordinating with a “senior Israeli official” in 2012 to spread a story accusing Yulia Tymoshenko of semitism during the course of his work supporting Viktor Yanukovych.

The day after this news broke, both Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post speculated that the official in question was the Soviet-born, Israeli official Avigdor Lieberman.

According to The Times of Israel, Finkelstein, while being assisted by George Birnbaum, “masterminded” the October 2012 alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party.

Psy Group, iVote Israel, and Ronald Lauder

A day after Birnbaum met with Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates, he reached out to Eitan Charnoff, a project manager at an Israeli private intelligence firm called Psy Group.

Birnbaum was connected to Charnoff by Kory Bardash, the head of the group Republicans in Israel.

In addition to his role at Psy Group, Charnoff was also the director of iVote Israel, an ostensibly nonpartisan get-out-the-vote campaign encouraging Israeli-Americans to vote.

Founded in 2012 during the lead up to the Obama-Romney race, iVote Israel was initially run by Elie Pieprz, a former member of the Republican Jewish Coalition who later immigrated to Israel and joined the group Republicans Abroad Israel.

iVote Israel’s first campaign strategist, Aron Shaviv, was a former campaign staffer for Avigdor Lieberman.

In 2016, Shaviv worked as a consultant for the Democratic Front, a pro-Russian political opposition party in Montenegro that was later involved in an attempted Kremlin-backed coup.

Montenegrin prosecutors at one point believed that Shaviv was one of the conspirators in the planned violent overthrow of the government.

The failed coup involved Russian military intelligence, the GRU, and was funded by Oleg Deripaska, who owned major aluminum assets in the country.

We shall return to the events in Montenegro, but first a bit more about iVote israel and its reputed patrons.

Despite being a 501(c)4 so-called “dark money” nonprofit, which is not required to list its donors, iVote Israel has been linked to the American billionaire heir Ronald Lauder.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, the nonprofit behind iVote Israel shares the same address as the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

Lauder, a staunch supporter of Netanyahu, has been personally connected to Donald Trump for decades, the two were childhood friends.

Lauder’s mother, the cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder, socialized and was friends with Trump’s personal lawyer and mentor Roy Cohn.

In The Art of the Deal, Trump claimed that he first met the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Yuri Dubinin, at a luncheon held by Ronald’s brother, Leonard Lauder.

As Trump tells it, the surreptitious meeting led to a series of events that culminated in Trump’s first visit to Moscow.

Ronald Lauder later became a major donor to the 2016 Trump campaign and Trump supporting Super PAC’s.

Lauder became politically involved during the Reagan years and in 1986 was made the US Ambassador to Austria.

Three years later, he unsuccessfully ran to be the Mayor of New York City against Rudy Giuliani. Lauder’s campaign was managed by Arthur Finkelstein and the later chairman and CEO of Fox News Roger Ailes.

In addition to funding Netanyahu’s first run for Israeli Prime Minister in 1996, Ronald Lauder introduced him to Finkelstein, who subsequently joined his campaign and played a decisive role in its victory.

In the late 1990s, Lauder also negotiated with Syria on behalf of Israel and during this time of shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Damascus was accompanied by George Nader, the convicted pedophile representing the interests of the UAE and Saudi Arabia who would later accompany Erik and Prince and Joel Zamel in their meeting with Donald Trump Jr.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lauder used connections he gained as an Ambassador in Vienna to pursue business opportunities in Eastern Europe, some of which brought him into contact with individuals with ties to Eurasian organized crime.

In 1995, he established Central European Media Enterprises (CME), which purchased dozens of commercial television stations across Eastern Europe.

That same year, in the course of attempting to purchase a television station in Ukraine, Lauder met with an advisor to Ukraine’s famously corrupt President Leonid Kuchma named Oleksandr Volkov, who was later investigated for money laundering and corruption.

Read my description of Kuchma, Volkov, and the seizure of post-independent Ukraine by Kremlin-backed Eurasian organized crime here.

Oleksandr Volkov, a close aide of Kuchma’s, was a representative of an international company called Seabeco, owned by the Russian Boris Birshtein.

Birshtein has been linked to organized crime by the FBI and according to a former KGB officer who spoke with The Financial Times, and the book Putin’s Kleptocracy by Karen Dawisha, among other sources, Birshtein was one of the businessmen cultivated by the KGB to launder Communist Party funds out of Russia and to develop international business interests.

Read my article about the KBG’s efforts to launder Communist Party money out of the Soviet Union, and Birshtein’s involvement in the process, here.

Birshtein’s (now former) son-in-law, Alexander Shnaider, invested in the Trump organization development Trump Tower Toronto.

Read my article about Shnaider’s involvement in Trump Tower Toronto and corruption in other Trump Org real estate developments here.

On Volkov’s suggestion, Lauder’s CME purchased a stake in Studio 1 + 1, then co-owned by the Ukrainians Vadim Rabinovitch and Boris Fuchsmann.

According to the FBI, Boris Fuchsmann, was a gold smuggler and embezzler with links to organized crime.

Vadim Rabinovich is a Ukrainian ex-convict and alleged organized crime boss who worked as the Ukrainian representative of Nordex, a commodities firm established by Grigori Luchansky (AKA Loutchansky) that is allegedly associated with both Russian intelligence and Eurasian organized crime.

In 1994 Rabinovich attended a meeting in Tel Aviv with Semyon Mogilevich, Solntsevskaya criminal syndicate head Sergei Mikhailov and other major Eurasian organized crime figures including Viktor Averin, Boris Birshtein and Arnold Tamm, where the sharing of criminal assets in Ukraine was discussed.

Read my article where I describe this meeting, and place it in the wider context of Eurasian organized crime in Israel and around the world, here.

CME was later investigated for offering up to $1 million in bribes to Ukrainian officials, though no charges ever appear to have been filed.

Though Rabinovich sold his stake in the television station, he remained closely connected to its investors.

In 2007, the Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi purchased 3% of the company. Kolomoyskyi, who has been accused by the Department of Justice of involvement in a massive international money laundering scheme, co-founded the European Jewish Union with Rabinovich in 2011.

When later attempting to explain how they could have gone into business with Rabinovich, CME executives claimed to have been impressed by a picture he had on his wall showing him with then-President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore at a 1995 Democratic fundraiser in Miami.

The man who brought Rabinovich to the event, Bennet S. LeBow traveled to Moscow with Donald Trump in 1996 to investigate potentially investing in a Trump Tower Moscow.

Donald Trump and Bennett LeBow in Moscow in 1996

Nor was the Rabinovich-LeBow axis the only link Lauder has had with corrupt figures from the former Soviet Union who have had interactions with Trump.

In his capacity as the President of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Lauder has had multiple interactions with Alexander Mashkevich, the Israeli-Kazakh billionaire who served as the President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress until 2011, a regional subsidiary of the WJC.

Mashkevich once worked for the suspected KGB money laundering outfit Seabeco, underneath the alleged KGB-linked organized criminal Boris Birshstein, whose former son-in-law invested in Trump Tower Toronto.

Mashkevich himself was listed as an investor in Trump Tower Soho.

Read my in-depth article on the Trump Tower Soho project, including the involvement of Felix Sater and reportedly Alexander Mashkevich, here.

Returning to iVote Israel, when it’s former campaign strategist Aron Shaviv worked on behalf of the pro-Kremlin Democratic Front (DF) opposition party in Montenegro, a number of disparate threads relating to the Russian interference in the 2016 US election and figures within the Trump campaign appear to have come together.

While certain details of the October 2016 alleged coup attempt remain controversial, international investigators from Bellingcat have confirmed that the GRU officers Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov (aka Vladimir Nikolaevich Moiseev) were involved in the plot.

The plot was directly supported by Oleg Deripaska, who had major business interests in the country.

Another Russian oligarch involved was Konstantin Malofeev, who also played a key role in the Kremlin’s efforts to influence events in Ukraine, particularly in Crimea and the separatist provinces in the East.

Paul Manafort, who had worked on behalf of Oleg Deripaska’s interests in Montenegro as far back as 2005, was also in contact with figures in the DF in the Fall of 2016, immediately after he had resigned from his position as chairman of the Trump campaign.

Read my article about Manafort and Deripaska’s involvement in Montenegro in 2005 here.

According to the US Treasury Department, Victor Boyarkin, the former GRU officer who later worked on behalf of Deripaska and chased down Manafort over his debts to the oligarch during the 2016 election, was also involved in providing funding for the DF.

In addition to accusing Aron Shaviv of assisting the ultimately failed coup, on October 16th Montenegrin authorities arrested the alleged conspirators prior to the plot being enacted, prosecutors also allege that an ex-CIA officer named Joseph Assad was tasked with evacuating the coup plotters out of the country.

Psy Group and the Trump Campaign

As mentioned, after speaking with Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates, George Birnbaum was connected to Eitan Charnoff, who was a project manager at the Israeli private intelligence firm Psy Group, as well as the director of iVote Israel, by Kory Bardash, the head of the group Republicans in Israel.

Eitan Charnoff

“I have spoken to both of you about the other,” Kory Bardash wrote to Birnbaum and Charnoff. “Hopefully you can have a mutually beneficial chat.”

In connecting with Psy Group via Charnoff, Birnbaum was reaching out to the world of Israeli private intelligence firms. In his later testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Birnbaum indicated that he well knew who he was getting involved with.

“These guys came out of the military intelligence army unit, and it’s like coming out with a triple Ph.D. from MIT,” Birnbaum testified.

“The amount of knowledge these guys have in terms of cybersecurity, cyber-intelligence… they come out of a unit in which their minds in terms of understanding cybersecurity-the algorithms that they can create — it’s just so beyond what you could get [with] a normal education that it’s just unique … there are hundreds and hundreds of Israeli start-up companies that the founders are guys who came out of this unit.”

The Israeli private intelligence industry emerged in the 2000s. Organizations such as Mossad and the Israeli Defense Force’s Unit 8200, an elite signals intelligence unit, had been tracking and conducting influence operations on terrorists and perceived enemies of Israel for years.

From this firmament emerged multiple successful technology startups, as well as a number of private intelligence firms.

The first of these, Terrogence, was established in 2004 by Gadi Aviran, the former head of an Israeli military intelligence team.

Four years later in 2008, Israeli’s Shalev Hulio and Omrie Lavie established NSO Group, which gained infamy for providing the Saudi government with software that allowed it to track dissidents including Jamal Khashoggi, who was later murdered by the regime.

2011 saw the founding of Black Cube by ex-Israeli intelligence officers Dan Zorella and Avi Yanus, known for its aggressive clandestine operations conducted on behalf of its clients.

Black Cube, which features two former heads of Mossad on its board, provided services to the disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

The interweaving nature of these organizations, with Israeli state backed intelligence organizations sitting at the nexus of them all, raises the question of just how independent these groups are from the Israeli government and intelligence establishment.

Operating under the motto “Shape Reality,” Psy Group was founded in Israel on December 22nd, 2014. The private intelligence firm specialized in the collection and analysis of information, particularly online and on social media, and offered services related to online reputation management as well as sophisticated, targeted influence campaigns.

Psy Group was founded by Joel Zamel, an Israeli born in Australia in 1986. Zamel’s co-founders included Daniel Green and Elad Schaffer. Psy Group’s CEO, Royi Burstein, was a lieutenant colonel in Israeli military intelligence.

According to the Psy Group’s promotional literature, the company specialized capabilities include Financial intelligence, Cyber intelligence, Targeting & Monitoring, Online reputation management, Offline/Online campaigns and “Honey Traps.”

After detailed descriptions of these capabilities, the company described itself as being “managed by an elite group of high-ranking officers from one of the world’s most renowned intelligence agencies.”

Psy Group was not Zamel’s first foray into the world of private intelligence.

In 2010, he co-founded a “crowdsourced” geostrategic consulting firm called Wikistrat. Despite being based in Washington, DC, Wikistrat is essentially Israeli. Elad Schaffer, who later founded Psy Group alongside Zamel, served as Wikistrat’s COO.

Screen shot of an old Wikistrat bio of Joel Zamel

The majority of Wikistrat’s clients were foreign governments, yet it was extraordinarily well-connected to senior officials within the U.S. intelligence community.

Members of its board included former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, former national security advisor James L. Jones, former deputy director of the National Security Council Elliott Abrams and the former acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) David Shedd.

Shedd worked beneath Michael Flynn.

In 2015, Wikistrat ran simulations exploring what would happen if a foreign government attempted to interfere in the American political process and compiled a report on the subject.

The report discussed the possibility, which later became a reality, that Russian trolls might target the United States.

“At the time we were discussing the subject of cyber-interference in democratic processes, it seemed and felt like just another idle intellectual exercise and scenario planning project for political scientists,” a Wikistrat analyst who worked on the report told The Daily Beast.

“But retrospectively, it feels a bit too on-the-nose not to be disturbing.”

Wikistrat’s 2015 report contained prescient analysis at a time when the Internet Research Agency (IRA) was already targeting the US.

The report refers to the “Internet Research Group,” almost certainly a reference to the IRA.

“[T]hese ‘cyber-trolls’ are trained controversialists: they openly engage in public controversy…People are drawn to the excitement of controversy and these cyber-trolls are experts in sensationalizing a political issue. The objective of cyber-trolls is not to convince explicitly, but rather subconsciously, by inserting a seed of doubt that leads to confusion and encourages fact-skepticism.

“They are not afraid to use provocative and confrontational language, as it is to their advantage if it leads to an emotional rise in the reader because the reader is then more likely to engage in debate, which in-turn, creates more buzz and attracts a greater audience, increasing the potential number of people exposed to this misinformation campaign.”

Psy Group’s Opaque Corporate Structure, and its Links to Russia and Walter Soriano

According to Zamel, Psy Group was composed of a Cyprus-registered parent company, IOCO Ltd., and a subsidiary company based in Israel called Invop Ltd.

Zamel described himself as the majority shareholder for IOCO Ltd, which was responsible for business development, contracting and marketing. Invop was responsible for operations in Israel.

Zamel gave no explanation as to why the company was structured this way, nor did he explain several other oddities, most of which seemed to point to a remarkable number of connections to Russia.

IOCO ltd was managed by a Cyprus-based holding company administered by two Cypriot directors named Ria Chistofides and Giannakis Ermogenous, who also served as the official affiliates of the Russian state-owned Vozrozhdenie Bank and Promsvyazbank and the privately held Avtovazbank.

Through an analysis of incorporation documents, author and investigative reporter Scott Stedman found that Christofides and Ermogenous “have the power to decide over the activities and conduct of the company. They are involved in all of the decisions concerning the company and have to fulfill certain duties towards the enterprise and its other members.”

From its inception in 2014 until July of 2016, IOCO Ltd was owned by a rotating cast of shell companies. Two of these companies were registered in the British Virgin Islands, Prime Nominees Ltd and Sea Holdings Ltd.

Both of these companies were under the control of a Swiss lawyer named Judith Hamburger. Hamburger worked for two UK-based companies which from 2010–2016 listed their ultimate beneficiary as the Russian national Alina Zolotova, wife of the Russian banker Georgy Bedzhamov, who fled to Monaco in December of 2015 after being accused of embezzling $3.4 billion from Vneshprombank.

In July of 2016, ownership over IOCO Ltd was transferred to a British Virgin Islands-based shell company called Protexer Ltd.

Protexer’s subsidiaries contain multiple links to Russia.

Protexer-owned MGMT Financial Services Limited is controlled by a multi-billion dollar Russian consortium called the Metropole Group.

Based out of Moscow, Metropole Group is controlled by a Russian billionaire and former member of the state Duma for Vladimir Putin’s party United Russia named Mikhail Slipenchuk.

Protexer Ltd itself is a subsidiary of the Cyprus-based Trident Trust, which provides corporate, trust and fund services. Protexer is just one of sixteen subsidiaries owned by Trident.

Of those, five were owned by Slipenchuk, three feature Directors that are affiliated with numerous Russian banks and one used the same Cyprus-based secretarial services as Paul Manafort.

According to documents seen by The Times of Israel, the anonymously owned Protexer is associated with Gazprombank and Gazprom Media, the largest media holding company in Russia and a subsidiary of Gazprom.

The connection is through yet another sister company to Psy Group, the Protexer-owned Benton Solutions Ltm.

Registered in Cyprus, Benton’s shareholder was listed as Ecofran Marketing, Consulting and Communication Services Company Limited, itself a subsidiary of Gazprom Media, which is owned by Gazprombank.

Russian corporate documents show that Ecofran provided millions of dollars in loans to a variety of companies owned by Gazprom Media.

Psy Group’s clients also reveal multiple links to Russia.

In or around 2015, Psy Group was hired by Oleg Deripaska to conduct an intelligence operation codenamed “Project Starbuck” that involved a business dispute Deripaska was having with a large Austrian company possibly involving real estate.

Deripaska enlisted Psy Group to dig up derogatory information on the Austrian company, though Psy Group CEO Royi Burstein, who may have met with Deripsaska in Switzerland to discuss the project.

Burstein told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Psy Group was unable to dig up any negative information on the company. The publicly available details of Psy Group’s work for Deripaska remain scant.

Another Russian oligarch that hired Psy Group was Dmitry Rybolovlev. As previously covered, Rybolovlev purchased a Florida mansion from Donald Trump in 2008 for $95 million, approximately $50 million more than Trump had bought it for in the height of a recession.

Rybolovlev engaged Psy Group to perform an intelligence project involving a dispute the billionaire Russian oligarch was having with the Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier. Psy Group was paid $150,000 to collect derogatory information on Bouvier.

Oleg Deripaska was put in touch with Psy Group by a mysterious British-Israeli citizen named Walter Tvzi Soriano, who had worked in the past for Deripaska and was also present at Psy Group’s meetings with Rybolovlev.

Soriano is an Argentinian-born, former Israeli intelligence officer who operates a London-based consultancy USG Security.

While very little information appears about him online, due to his scrupulous attempts to avoid being photographed or attract attention to himself, Soriano enjoys elite connections to both the Israeli government and powerful Russian oligarchs.

Soriano is a close friend and associate of Benjamin Netanyahu’s. He produced a documentary about the Prime Minister’s brother, who died while leading an Israeli raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976.

After losing to Ehud Barak in 1999, Netanyahu briefly left politics and entered the private sector with Soriano, where they invested in a number of US based technology ventures.

In 2002, Soriano arranged for Netanyahu to deliver lectures at a Mexico City-based charity, the Lev Malka Organization, for which he was paid $180,000. Soriano had described his and Netanyahu’s relationship as being based on “years of deep friendship, devoid of any external interests.”

In an explosive allegation that both Soriano and Netanyahu deny, Israeli press has reported that the Israeli police believed that Netanyahu hired Soriano to surveil police officers who were investigating the Prime Minister on corruption charges.

Prior to establishing USG Group, in 2002 Soriano founded the similarly named Universe Security Group, an international security based out of London he owned with Israeli’s Guy Nagar and Yitzhak Molcho.

Molcho served in a longtime capacity as Benjamin Netanyahu’s private attorney, and is a close associate and legal partner of David Shimron, Netanyahu’s cousin and attorney who later became caught up in one of several corruption cases swirling around the Prime Minister which included accusations of bribery and money laundering.

The company’s board of directors included Nahum Admoni, the director-general of Mossad from 1982–1989, Uri Sager, the former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate and Albert Raes, Director of the Belgian State Security Service from 1977–1990.

United Security Group appears to have done contracting work with the CIA through its connection with Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, at one point the third highest ranking member of the CIA.

The company was liquidated in 2009 after one of its clients, Graff Diamonds in London, was robbed and the board resigned en masse.

Soriano subsequently established USG Security.

Soriano’s relationships with Russian oligarchs are extensive.

According to the journalist Raviv Drucker, who Soriano unsuccessfully sued for defamation, Oleg Deripaska hired Soriano while he was involved in a legal dispute with Mikhail Chernoy in British court.

Read my description of Mikhail Chernoy, his connections to the Izmaylovskaya criminal syndicate, and his business relationship with Oleg Deripaska, here.

It has been publicly alleged (and disputed) that in 2014, USG Security was hired by a Deripaska-linked company to provide security at Sochi Airport during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

[NOTE: The original source for the above claim was an article written by the reporter Scott Stedman. Stedman was sued for defamation by Soriano in the United Kingdom. Fifteen press freedom organizations decried the suit as a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law suit. As part of a settlement with Soriano, the article was taken down. It is the opinion of the author, who cannot independently establish the validity of the Sochi/Deripaska claim, that Soriano utilizes expensive and time consuming litigation for the purposes of intimidation.]

According to Intelligence Online, Soriano was also involved in Oleg Deripaska’s attempts to silence Nastya Rybka while she was imprisoned in Thailand.

Read my description of Deripaska’s involvement the Nastya Rybka affair here.

In addition to working for Oleg Deripaska and Dmitry Rybolovlev, Psy Group has also done work for an as yet unknown client attempting to discredit Ukrainian anti-corruption activists, which would have been in the interests of the Kremlin and/or it’s supporting oligarchs in Ukraine.

In the Summer of 2017, Psy Group was allegedly behind a disinformation campaign targeting the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC) run by a Ukrainian activist named Daria Kaleniuk.

AntAC was a key proponent of establishing the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), a law enforcement body dedicated to rooting out corruption.

Kaleniuk is also an associate of Serhii Leshchenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker and investigative journalist who helped publicize the “Black Ledger” of illicit payments made by the Yanukovych regime that led to Paul Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign.

Project Rome: Psy Group Devises a Plan for the Trump Campaign

Following his meeting with Rick Gates, George Birnbaum contacted Psy Group project manager Eitan Charnoff.

On March 30th, Charnoff emailed his Psy Group colleagues Royi Burstein and Arnon Epstein, among others, to alert them to the new opportunity to work for an American presidential campaign.

Charnoff said that he and Epstein had been in touch with “a major American campaign consultant who [had] been tasked by the [T]rump campaign.”

He further explained that “[t]hey want us to [use] social platform analytical tools as well as our Rublik department capabilities to identify who is truly with [T]rump and who isn’t and then run an influence campaign to impact their decision using avatars and creating third party assets and outreach.”

Charnoff ended by saying “[b]y the end of today they want a rough estimate of what it will cost,” as well a timeline and more exact cost estimate within three days.

Charnoff divided the potential work for the Trump campaign into two distinct projects. The first involved gathering opposition research on “the female opposing candidate,” meaning Hillary Clinton, by means of “dig[ing] up dirt as well as active [information] gathering on associates.”

The second project would consist of looking into state delegates who would be voting at the Republican National Convention to determine which delegates were “pro [T]rump, against and unknown.”

The delegates who fit into the latter two categories would then be targeted by a social media influence campaign specially designed to get them “to support [T]rump and not change the convention rules.”

On April 1st, Arnon Epstein sent an email with the subject line “Project D-Day” in which he suggested that Psy Group had been authorized to “move to the planning phase of the activity,” following “several conversations last night with George [Birnbaum]”

Epstein included a screenshot of Birnbaum’s communications suggesting that the Trump Campaign was not “intimidated” by the budget numbers being discussed and was anxious to receive proposals from Psy Group within days. Epstein also elaborated on the oppo research against Clinton.

“As for the intel on the lady and her team, he’s talking about up to 10 people in her inner-inner circle,” Epstein wrote.

“We told him an estimate of 10 people and her would be around $250Kf or passive work + very light active. We explained we suggest not to go heavy active at the moment because of the issues we discussed. We spun it a bit and said we are not concerned for us, but wish to prevent any blow back or flags raising pointing to him at this point.”

In another email sent April 1st, Birnbaum offered guidance to Charnoff and Epstein on how to draft the proposal for the Trump team, suggested that they “run intensive influence campaigns on the unknown delegates themselves and on the influencers of the delegates,” and “[f]or the Clinton Proposal… run an intensive, deep open source opposition research campaign on Hillary and her 10 closest associates (names to be supplied by [the] campaign). Depending on information found, apply a second layer of info gathering to make sure no stone was left unturned. Anything else you might want to add as well.”

“Project D-Day” initially envisioned up to 53 Psy Group employees being involved in the effort, divided into four teams: Team Black, Team Rubik, Team Blue and Team Red. Four days later, on April 5th, Epstein reached out to Birnbaum with an updated plan, now being referred to as “Project Rome.”

According to the renamed proposal, Psy Group would conduct “influence services” on behalf of the Trump campaign targeting Republican convention delegates.

The proposal also called for conducting “opposition intelligence research” on the Clinton camp.

The cost estimate for the “influence services” targeting the Republican delegates was $3.1 million, plus $100k for media expenses, while the opposition research was priced at $400k.

In addition to these proposals, Epstein’s email to Birnbaum included a “sample report” on an actual California Republican delegate named Felicia Michelle Tweedy.

Psy Group’s “sample report” included biographical data related to Tweedy including her place of residence, employment status, marital status, political and religious beliefs and personal interests.

According to the report, while Tweedy was “a strong supporter of Donald Trump, and therefore no active influence is required at this point,” it recommended “infrequent monitoring (monthly) to check whether any changes in opinions or sentiments towards Trump.”

It was explained that the information contained in the sample report had been gathered through “available OSINT (Open Source Intelligence),” and promised that “[i]n the event that additional information is required, Psy Group can carry out various active intelligence activities to extract additional information based on the needs and directions.”

According to documents seen by The New York Times, Psy Group promised that “veteran intelligence officers” would look through social media accounts and other publicly available information to produce similar dossiers on the psychology of every persuadable Republican delegate.

It further promised upwards of 40 Psy Group employees would then target up to 2,500 individuals with tailored messages to sway them towards Trump.

The messages would also target Trump’s chief rival for the Republican nomination, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

Targeted messages appearing to come from former Cruz supporters or influential people within the Republican Party would highlight Cruz’s “ulterior motives or hidden plans.”

The influence campaign would consist of both “online and offline approaches,” and even potentially involve telephone calls. Psy Group further promised that it could gather “unique intel” through both “covert sources” and “tailored avatars.”

George Birnbaum informed Rick Gates that he had received proposals from Psy Group. Gates then told Birnbaum to send the proposals to an individual named Scott Wilkerson. Though Birnbaum wasn’t familiar with Wilkerson, he sent the information to him anyway.

Conversations regarding the project continued with Psy Group.

In a May 8th email chain under the subject “campaign work,” Psy Group employees discussed developing “psyop campaigns” against Trump’s “opposition,” which would consist of “[h]undreds of avatars driving negative messaging,” and “physical world ops like counter protests, hecklers, etc.”

Despite these discussions, the initial communications between Psy Group and the Trump campaign do not appear to have led to the two moving forward with “Project Rome.”

Birnbaum later claimed to have never heard back from Gates or the Trump campaign and subsequently canceled his meetings with Psy Group.

Joel Zamel and Psy Group, however, continued their efforts to offer their services to the Trump campaign.

In May of 2016, Zamel emailed the former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who had only just endorsed Trump for President that month, suggesting that he could offer the Trump campaign powerful tools that could utilize social media to help it in the election. Zamel suggested that they meet to discuss the issue.

Gingrich forwarded Zamel’s email to Jared Kushner, who ran the idea by Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital director. Parscale reportedly rebuffed the offer.

Despite this seeming failure, Zamel would ultimately secure a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. in Trump Tower. The story of how he achieved such a coup will be the subject the next article in this series. ...

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From the Daily Mail, 21 January 2019

'The perfect enemy': How two Jewish American political consultants 'started a deliberate plot to smear George Soros to help Hungarian PM and helped to create the world's largest anti-Semitic conspiracy theory'

  • George Birnbaum and the late Arthur Finkelstein  allegedly devised a plan to discredit billionaire as part of work for right wing politician Victor Orbán'
  • Pair reportedly dubbed Soros 'the perfect enemy' and started their plan in 2008
  • By July 2017 ads which showed Soros's face and the slogan 'Don't let George Soros have the last laugh!' were published around Hungary 
  • Soon he was demonized around the world - in Italy, the US, Poland, and Russia
  • 'Campaign did not make anyone anti-Semitic who wasn't before,' Birnbaum says
  • Soros has said he 'is blamed for everything and painted as the devil'

The Times of Israel:

Ben Carson claims new adviser is ex-Netanyahu chief of staff. Well, kinda

Associates say George Birnbaum ran Netanyahu’s two-man office when he quit the Knesset after 1999 election loss

-

Political operative George Birnbaum ran a two-person office managing Netanyahu’s media appearances and speaking arrangements after he quit the Knesset in 1999, following his election defeat to then-Labor leader Ehud Barak. Netanyahu was neither prime minister or a Knesset member during the time Birnbaum worked for him, former associates of the two, who asked not to be named, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

A statement released Tuesday by Ben Carson’s campaign said Birnbaum “will work with Dr. Carson to present bold strategies to bolster America’s presence in the world and confront the challenges facing the country in 2016 and beyond.” ...

 

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