First, a preface to some earlier reporting that provides some background and context to the post by Martin Longman highlighted below.
Philip Bump of The Post breaks down the George Papadapolous plea agreement and the Carter Page testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Russian officials and allies repeatedly signaled support for Trump to his campaign team.
Philip Bump of The Post also reported on the Drudge Report linking directly to individual stories at Infowars, as well as RT and Sputnik News, both content-sharing arms of the Russian government. One of the busiest websites in the U.S. in 2016 regularly linked to Russia propaganda.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a Shorenstein fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, explains how “the wide distribution of strategically aligned messages increases the likelihood that Russian efforts — including posts, ads, tweets and the release of stolen emails — changed the outcome of the 2016 election.” Could Russian trolls have helped elect Donald Trump?
Which brings me to this fascinating post by Martin Longman at the Political Animal blog. A #TrumpRussia Confession in Plain Sight:
At about 11:14pm on November 6th, 2012, enough states were called for President Obama that he was declared the winner of the election by NBC News. That was quickly followed up by a similar call on Fox News and finally by CNN. At 11:29pm, Donald Trump blasted out the following defiant tweet:
Somewhere in Russia, Konstantin Rykov saw Trump’s tweet pop up in his Twitter feed.
[Trump] lifted his plane to the sky and flew between New York and DC, calling the whole world through his twitter — to start a march on Washington!
Without a moment’s thought, I wrote him a reply, which sounded like this in Russian: “I’m ready. What should I do?”
Suddenly! There was a thin squeak of warning in the DM.
It was a message from Donald Trump. More precisely a picture. In the picture he was sitting in the armchair of his jet, smiling cheerfully and showing me the thumb of his right hand.
In the second post, Rykov explained how things went from there:
What was our idea with Donald Trump?
For four years and two days .. it was necessary to get to everyone in the brain and grab all possible means of mass perception of reality. Ensure the victory of Donald in the election of the US President. Then create a political alliance between the United States, France, Russia (and a number of other states) and establish a new world order.
Our idea was insane, but realizable.
In order to understand everything for the beginning, it was necessary to “digitize” all possible types of modern man.
Donald decided to invite for this task — the special scientific department of the “Cambridge University.”
British scientists from Cambridge Analytica suggested making 5,000 existing human psychotypes — the “ideal image” of a possible Trump supporter. Then .. put this image back on all psychotypes and thus pick up a universal key to anyone and everyone.
Then it was only necessary to upload this data to information flows and social networks. And we began to look for those who would have coped with this task better than others.
At the very beginning of the brave and romantic [story] was not very much. A pair of hacker groups, civil journalists from WikiLeaks and political strategist Mikhail Kovalev.
The next step was to develop a system for transferring tasks and information, so that no intelligence and NSA could burn it.
Note: Cambridge Analytica is owned by far-right hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah. Trump campaign adviser Stephen Bannon served on the board of Cambridge Analytica, which was employed by the Trump campaign in its targeted media campaign. The Mueller probe is looking at whether Cambridge Analytica “weaponized” information stolen by Russian hackers and released by Wikileaks, and provided the sophisticated targeting analytics necessary for the Russian “dezinformatsiya” propaganda campaign.
Keep in mind that this was all written just four days after Trump was elected. It was before people started asking questions about Cambridge Analytica or targeted social media ads. Mr. Rykov might have been boasting as he spiked the football in the end zone, perhaps even elevating or exaggerating his role. What he didn’t think at that point, however, is that he had any reason to hide what he’d done.
You probably want to know who this guy is, and that’s understandable. If he’s just some dude on the internet, then his claims are of some interest but maybe hard to gauge as to their importance.
Let’s flash-forward to October 2015, just after the very first debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. In a piece David Drucker wrote for the conservative Washington Examiner called Putin Loves Donald Trump, Mr. Rykov plays a lead role:
Kremlin mouthpiece Konstantin Rykov said Wednesday in a Twitter post that Trump won the first Democratic presidential debate, held Tuesday in Las Vegas. In that tweet, Rykov linked to a Russian language, pro-Trump website with a Russian domain, www.Trump2016.ru, that he is likely behind. Until a few weeks ago, Rykov’s Twitter home page featured Trump and his 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Western sources who monitor Russian politics told the Washington Examiner that Rykov is a propagandist arm of the Putin government machine. “Rykov is considered to be one of the leading pro-Kremlin bloggers in Russia,” said Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Obama who is now a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution think tank. “As you can see from his Twitter feed, he is very active. And he loves Trump.”
One source told Drucker that Rykov was a “chief voice and troll for the Kremlin on Twitter.” His Wikipedia page describes him as “one of the first professional Russian Internet producers” who began working in 2002 as the “head of the Internet department of the First Channel of the state television.” In addition to that, he actually served in the Duma, Russia’s parliament, as a member of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia political party. But this is what most concerns me:
Rykov has created a series of websites, similar to Trump2016.ru, or used his Twitter page to post opinions on international politics. He often promotes rightwing political figures; for instance, he has previous promoted the National Front, a French nationalist political party, and its leaders, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his daughter, Marine Le Pen. Rykov also uses events to draw favorable comparisons to Kremlin policy, such as likening Scotland’s independence movement to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
The international political figures that Rykov plays up, said the source, “tend to express views that are more friendly to the Kremlin,” at least as far as Moscow is concerned. These figures also tend to be “supportive of engagement” with Russia, if not outright apologists for what others describe as Putin’s aggressive foreign policy and repressive measures at home.
I recommend approaching the work of Nafeez Ahmed with some skepticism, but I do have to give him credit for the comprehensiveness with which his crowdsourced INSURGE Intelligence group investigated Vladimir Putin’s ties to Europe’s far-right and neo-nazi political parties. There’s an absolute correspondence between those who Putin favors (and Mr. Rykov promotes) and the parties and figures that got chummy with the Trump campaign. In addition to Marine Le Pen who showed up at Trump Tower in January to raise money with fascist fixer George “Guido” Lombardi, there’s Nigel Farage of Britain’s UKIP party, who dined with Steve Bannon in the White House in late February before meeting in early March with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. There’s Viktor Orbán in Hungary who was paid special attention during the campaign by Trump associates Carter Page and J.D. Gordon. There’s the Austrian Freedom Party that boasted of meeting with Michael Flynn. This excerpt was published on December 20th, 2016:
On Monday, the leaders of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party traveled to Moscow and signed a “working agreement” with Russia’s ruling United Russia party. In announcing the pact, Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache mentioned that he also met with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s designated national security adviser, in Trump Tower a few weeks ago. “Internationally, the Freedom Party continues to gain in influence,” he wrote. Norbert Hofer, the Freedom Party candidate who recently lost his bid for Austria’s presidency, traveled to Moscow with Strache.
The Freedom Party, founded by ex-Nazis in the 1950s, is one of several far-right, anti-immigrant parties gaining popularity throughout Europe. After signing the cooperative agreement, Strache offered to act as “a neutral and reliable intermediary and partner” between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin.
I recently had a commenter at my blog scoff at the idea that Vladimir Putin would want to promote Naziism in Europe after all that Russian suffered from the fascists in the 20th Century. It may seem counterintuitive, but the facts are indisputable. Putin has been buddying up to Europe’s far right, loaning them money, hacking their political opponents, providing clandestine assistance of all kinds, and promoting them quite openly in Russia media. Russia encouraged the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom, and they obviously sided with Trump.
The far right in Europe is uncontroversially working hand in glove with Russian intelligence, so it’s highly relevant that the far right in Europe has increasingly close ties to the far right in the United States. A prime example of this is Frank Gaffney who served as the chief foreign policy adviser to Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign and then went on to enthusiastically stump for Trump.
Konstantin Rykov has been a key player in all of this, so when he says that he partnered with Trump beginning back on election night in 2012 and that together they came up with a plan to pay Cambridge Analytica to create “5,000 existing human psychotypes — the ‘ideal image’ of a possible Trump supporter and then “put this image back on all psychotypes and thus pick up a universal key to anyone and everyone,” I think we ought to take it seriously.
When Rykov made these statements, we didn’t know how Cambridge Analytica had been utilized or how they targeted users on Facebook in key districts in swing states in order to maximize Trump’s support. In retrospect, what Rykov was saying now makes a lot of sense and fits in with what we know.
Even Fox News recently reported that Cambridge Analytica sought to work with WikiLeaks in obtaining and releasing illegally hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s server. In Rykov’s telling, the initial conspiracy also involved “a pair of hacker groups” (presumably Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear) and a political strategist named Mikhail Kovalev. I can’t find much online about this Mr. Kovalev except a little fragment from a paywalled January Economist article about Moscow power players toasting President Trump’s inauguration: “We hope that Marine Le Pen will win next,” said Mikhail Kovalev, one of the party’s organisers, sporting a Trump-Pence baseball cap.
What it looks like to me is that on November 12th, 2016, Konstantin Rykov posted pretty close to a full confession in Facebook. We’ve spent over a year since then trying to piece together what happened, but there’s a strong sense in which he already told us.
Could he possibly have made such boasts without having any knowledge of what would soon be divulged or discovered about Russian hacking and collusion between Wikileaks and Cambridge Analytica or the work that was done by Cambridge Analytica and how it was utilized on social media?
Of course not. His boasts were rooted in facts and inside knowledge.
Well, we’ll have to wait and see whether Robert Mueller’s team of investigators puts the pieces of the puzzle together in this same way. But it is a theory that seems to fit the facts that have been publicly reported.