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Russian opposition leader Navalny dupes spy into revealing how he was poisoned (cnn.com)
783 points by antfarm 27 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 248 comments

I think one of the more interesting tidbits of the investigation is how they managed to find the agents that were following him using black-market mobile phone records from corrupt policemen. These were only available due to a law allowing police to have access to private data, and apparently pretty commonly used by jealous spouses to spy on their SO.

A glimpse of the future for those supporting these kinds of laws because they have nothing to hide.

EDIT: After watching / reading the article and also the comments about parallel construction, there is indeed an inordinate amount of information being just there for the taking.

The BBC did a documentary on this intelligence black market some time ago[0], which shows the magnitude of it. I can't really imagine how it's like living over there, think 4-chan-on-steroids levels of doxxing that can be unleashed by anyone with some petty cash.

[0] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48348307

The people who promote anti-privacy will be stuck there I think. You know, until something awful happens to them. I think this has turned into a cultural issue unfortunately, and once it's culture all reason, sensibility, and middleground is lost.

I've seen a bunch of TV shows (police procedurals, etc.) in which the heroes matter-of-factly use surveillance infrastructure to fight bad guys. There are occasionally some in which the surveillance technology is used against the heroes, but even in some of those, the heroes tend to somehow get access to the infrastructure, and use it to turn the tables.

Before surveillance was a thing, a variation that was ordinary in TV shows was for the heroes to break very important rules/principles they were sworn to uphold. For example, roughing up suspect, or even expressly denying them some procedural right gratuitously, almost as if the show was trying to condition people that those rights aren't actually rights for some other kind of people.

The rules were in the way, and the heroes cared and were tough, and did what needed to be done, to fight the bad thing.

It seems a dangerous idea, in a society based on people buying into admirable rights and responsibilities, but from what I've seen even casually and anecdotally (as a techie, not a humanities researcher or social scientist), the idea seems to have been drip-fed for most/all of our lives. So long, I couldn't guess whether it was an idea that already resonated strongly with people, and media just pandered to that, or it was planted/nurtured by media.

This famous speech starts later in the progression towards a much worse situation, but seems like it might be relevant: "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came_..."

There is a 1998 Will Smith movie, "Enemy of the State", which I love - it's somewhere between good and "so bad it's good".

It always seemed incredibly fanciful and far-fetched - and then Snowden and Trump happened. It turns out the movie was just slightly ahead of its time.

The technology was not very fanciful if at all. If you think that movie was ahead of its time in terms of exhibiting what was possible, then might I suggest Three Days of the Condor (1975), and of course the ever popular Sneakers (1992). The former is far more fascinating given its age, although I suspect less so for someone who was in the middle of their computer science/computer engineering/signals intelligence/cryptanalysis career during that era.

The things that governments are capable of doing are rarely secret. They leak out over time, and you'll see them portrayed in niche culture long before they become undeniable public knowledge. For example, off the top of my head, the satellite photos published amidst the 1998 missile strike of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Shifa_pharmaceutical_factor...) are the types of evidence that inform the private sector, including authors and screenwriters. I'm sure similar photos and descriptions were publicly available much earlier than that, so the generic ability to track people on rooftops via satellite (notwithstanding all the little gotchas that aren't fit for storytelling) was more than plausible at that point, especially considering that then as now the military doesn't typically release material that discloses their best capabilities.

I used to have a link to a pre-9/11, accidental admission in a magazine interview by a general about the Navy's ability to tap undersea fiber optic cables. Though at that point I think it was already assumed the U.S. performed such missions--certainly by Russia and China, but even among intelligence geeks--which is probably why he didn't think much of the comment. (IIRC, the topic was a submarine designed for tapping undersea cable, though at that time it was only "public knowledge" that it could tap traditional copper cables, not fiber optic. He impliedly--only barely shy of explicitly--admitted that it also tapped fiber optic cables.)

What's fanciful is the degree and extent of corruption assumed in these narratives. People seem to think it's more plausible simply because of the true-to-life character of the technological portrayals. But NEVER forget that the principal aim of movies is to elicit strong emotions by leveraging common fears[1] and desires, suspending disbelief by deftly mixing fiction with non-fiction. And I don't mean to preach; it's definitely a life-long struggle for everyone to differentiate culturally constructed narratives from reality.

[1] E.g. Big Brother, the particularized fear of powerlessness that comes when mixing it with political cynicism.

Oh for sure. A modern story like this is The Boys where Butcher pursues his vision of justice to no end. To a man who seeks to right a deep wrong this seems prudent within the context of a fantasmal story about the plight of super heroes into super villains. I've debated with a number of people whether Butcher is an anti-hero and I've found most people don't think so. The jurisprudence of his actions largely boiled down to, "He was trying to do the right thing, right? Sometimes you must disregard the system to attain real justice. That doesn't bother me as much as it bothers you." My takeaway was that we no longer fear the King Henry archetype, whereby an individual dawns the mask of judge, jury, and executioner. As long as justice is perceivably served then the means may not be laudable but they are passable. I don't know if this translates into how people view the real world and interpret real life events, but if it does then it's quite curious.

"The Boys" is entertaining, but problematic in a number of respects. Somehow CIA are portrayed as opposed to capricious unaccountable extralegal domination of society by powerful cronyist authoritarians? Come again? In scores of nations, including USA, they have taken the opposite side. "The Boys" is more explicit than e.g. "Black Panther" in its CIA whitewashing, although that movie was probably more insulting to the memories of numerous dead Africans.

One salient difference between the characters of Butcher and "King Henry" (this is not specific) is that Henry is a king and Butcher is a somewhat violent homeless dude. One deeply suspects suggestions to see them as somehow the same.

I was talking less about the institution and more about the intersections of convictions and methods. Now take that and examine how that intersection influences whether we view Butcher as a hero or anti-hero.

That's a pretty fine line. Butcher isn't the protagonist anyway, which is good because he's the weakest aspect of the story. He hurtles from one situation to another, bringing no resources of his own other than a generalized ill humor. Some CIA bureaucrat bails him out today, a long-lost aunt cheerfully abides the total destruction of her neighborhood tomorrow, a rando schlub turns into the James Bond/MacGuyver hybrid he needs next week. Plot armor is not meant for deuteragonists; Butcher should definitely have been killed off sometime in second season.

Sorry, what? I do not know how you can consider Butcher not a protagonist.

Hughie is the protagonist. The viewer and nearly every other character relate to him and his actions. Butcher OTOH is a violent inconsiderate weirdo who is hated by everyone, including his parents. (He is barely tolerated by those he has dragooned onto his "team".) Butcher was convenient for getting the action started but after he transitioned from "mysterious stranger" to "surrogate father" to "everyone hates this asshole", his role would have been better filled by others on the team.

It would be a considerably more "experimental" program if a character like Butcher were the actual protagonist.

> So long, I couldn't guess whether it was an idea that already resonated strongly with people, and media just pandered to that, or it was planted/nurtured by media.

As evidence in favor of the latter possibility, note that we have long provided government/military funding and other resources for the production of media that gives the military and "intelligence services" editorial control:


Corollary: When a suspect or defendant is freed because there is no actual proof (technical evidence), or above all when evidence is disallowed because their rights have been violated, that's called “a (mere) technicality”.

Intentional or not, very very likely to condition the audience into regarding civil rights and rules of evidence as “mere” anything. Goes back to at least _Hill Street Blues_ and _Baretta,_ probably _Kojak_ too. Likely much farther than that. (Though _Columbo_ didn't display this attitude, at least not as flagrantly, IIRC?)

I can totally see the argument that since the technology is set up to collect the data anyhow (at least for billing and troubleshooting) then better make use of them.

> A glimpse of the future for those supporting these kinds of laws because they have nothing to hide.

This has been the reality in China for a while now and the result has been... largely fine. eg: This Reuter's piece from 2018 where you could get a picture of anyone's face for $1USD and a copy of their phone records for 50c: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-dataprivacy/data-du...

Like, if you ask a representative sample of people living in China what they feel the top 10 pros and cons of living in China were, that all of their personal information is for sale for a few bucks would not make it onto many people's lists on either side, it doesn't really affect your day to day life.

There are a lot of theoretical privacy attacks that sound scarily creepy but privacy advocates tend to play up the hypothetical and not look at how empirically impactful such things end up being.

"There are a lot of theoretical privacy attacks that sound scarily creepy but privacy advocates tend to play up the hypothetical and not look at how empirically impactful such things end up being."

Tragically, given the mass atrocities perpetrated throughout human history, it's inevitable that records of who people are, their race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, and/or other data about them (which is now collected and distributed at a larger scale than at any time in human history) will be used to commit more mass atrocities.

We are living on borrowed time.

I think if you look at historical atrocities, most of them cracked ahead without needing records (eg Hutus vs Tutsis, Myanmar people vs Rohingya, US Settlers vs native Americans, whatever). Also in the last century governments have had records on almost everyone and for the majority they have not had atrocities. I think it's a mistake to blame one for the other. Even with the holocaust although IBM record keeping may have made things more efficient, anti Jewish pogroms had gone on for centuries before.

Technological advances and the normalization of surveillance state is just going to make such exterminations and atrocities more efficient.

Whereas before some people could escape detection or escape being rounded up, the next time the slaughter will be much more effective.

Also, in the past it was much harder to detect people who didn't stand out in some obvious way (through skin color, mode of dress, or obvious behavior), now there are records of people's interests and communications which make them much easier to target.

That did not exist before except through a relatively primitive network of informants, or unless the people outed themselves through publishing their writing.

Not to mention how much more advanced tracking technology is these days, and how much harder it is to hide.

All of this put together makes the current surveillance aparatus infinitely more sophisticated and powerful than it was throughout almost all of the 20th Century.

It really is just a matter of time until it gets used by people with an agenda and/or a grudge against some victim group(s). Saying it hasn't happened yet so it won't is just wishful thinking.

Well, tech advances have both upsides and downsides there. It's harder to get away with killing people when it gets videoed and uploaded to the world in minutes. I'm optimistic overall but we'll see.

Video evidence is of little use when the people in charge turn a blind eye to it, are culpable themselves, or denounce it as "fake news".

When the have the cooperation and participation of the military, the secret police, and the general population (as has often been the case in many atrocities, genocides, and pogroms in the past) it's even worse, and by the time the video evidence gets out (if it ever does) it's too late to save the victims, assuming there's even anyone in the position to do so.

Not necessarily.

"Mass atrocities" are difficult to carry out, and conceal, for very long.

You've made a great case for it.

How? These agents have nothing to fear. It might now be publicly kown that they are responsible but the people in charge are the ones who ordered it.

It doesn't help one bit that privacy is gone.

>> they are responsible but the people in charge are the ones who ordered it.

So you are not responsbile for your actions because you're not at the top? So many great tragedies throughout history where this was the justification and we're still stuck with this mentality...

I don't know how you can read this into my comment. Everybody should be punished but the people ordering the punishment are complicit.

Your comment would have made sense if you were talking about some country that wasn't actually corrupt to the core of almost every government service and run as a disguised dictatorship. Who cares about human rights and moralistic laws in a country where every government service is for sale, except for those which are needed by one of Putin's friends, that being the only thing that trumps money?

What is 'morally right' is just not the issue there. Russia will need to go through some major development steps before moral issues can even be meaningfully talked about.

This argument is moot* since the Nuremberg trials

"Moot", not "mute". Moot means (in this context) irrelevant or not admissible in court. Mute means unable to speak. So, the argument is still presented, so it's not mute, but it is moot, because it's not going to fly in court.

unless it is mute, as in "this argument makes no sound amongst all the other arguments. It has no voice of its own".

:D sorry, could not resist.

Thank you, that's what I meant.

Not mute, "moo". It's like a cow's opinion, you know, it just doesn't matter.

The Nürnberg trials went after a few high ranking Nazis and the "Entnazifizierung" (removal of nazis from official offices) only went after the very hard cases.

There were still thousands of nazis everywhere in government institutions like courts and police. The German term "Altnazi" (old nazi) describes nazis that were able to fly under the radar and still do their jobs until retirement.

Until Russia starts catching the leakers using something like a canary trap [1].

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canary_trap

That doesn't work when everyone working for the government are corrupt. Do you think some boss of the guy who leak something don't know about it? Nah, he does and he get his share of profits; then pays share to his boss; etc.

The only way you can get to high position in police or special agency hierarchy is by corruption: either by family connections or just paying a lot of money.

> I think one of the more interesting tidbits of the investigation is how they managed to find the agents that were following him using black-market mobile phone records from corrupt policemen. These were only available due to a law allowing police to have access to private data, and apparently pretty commonly used by jealous spouses to spy on their SO.

> A glimpse of the future for those supporting these kinds of laws because they have nothing to hide.

I don't think that's necessarily true, because pervasive and tolerated corruption is required to get an end state like that. If a country has "[those] kinds of laws," but unlawful access is investigated and prosecuted, then the data will remain (more or less) restricted to police and government investigators.

So, even though you still have to worry about the police and government abusing the data, as well as certain powerful or connected people, you won't have to worry so much about stuff like your SO buying your phone records for $10.

The solution would then be to make all phone records public to avoid the black market issue, and I know that my parents wouldn't find anything wrong with that.

Because they can't imagine a world where people skip phones when they do crime, or

In such a world, not having a phone on you will be viewed with suspicion. When this fact is brought up in the court, it will be often enough to sway the jury to convict the accused.

you assume law enforcement won't become too reliant on phone records to find you in the first place.

You mean like a phone book? (which still is a thing where I live)


...because of your HN comments.


Occam’s razor to you means that rather than the freely available and reproducible records they’ve found online and detailed how to recreate, there’s some NATO plot where intelligence agencies are laundering their intel through a blog with a small following?

Why so hard to believe? Bellingcat's investigations are near universally targeted at US rivals - most often Russia.

Furthermore the conclusions are always the ones they'd want (e.g. "Russia shot down an airliner").

If Bellingcat did the exact same thing in reverse and exclusively and regularly blew the lid on secretive NATO operations using morsels of information pieced together online the idea that it would be FSB backed would barely even be considered controversial. It would be assumed because... well, because Occam's razor.

Julian Assange leaked from everyone including Russia and he was designated a Russian spy because he didn't leak "enough" on Russia ffs.

Bellingcat has targeted enemies of the western world and is run by a British guy. It's a classic dictatorial distraction tactic to point to the US and say they do bad things too. But this is hardly just against the US. They tried to murder two people in the UK and shot down a commercial airliner in Ukraine.

Russia seems to shamelessly go around assassinating people so they make easy pickings for him.

One of his latest investigations and podcasts was some random African country (Cameroon) based on video evidence online.

A better question to ask is why hasn’t Russia or China freaked out at NSA hacks? Like the west just did with SolarWinds (I’m sure the western media would eat it up and so would we here). We had to wait for a western (Snowden) to find our rights are being violated domestically. The answer is Russia and China are on their own spree and keep any of the failed NSA ops quiet (assuming they exist). So there’s not much to go on for some random open intelligence blog. Russia et al don’t care about defending rights or exposing evil.

But Russia and the other mafia states provide plenty of open source evil to sort through.

I also don’t see the US shooting down a plane with a hundred people and denying it or openly assassinating their enemies in ‘enemy’ territory.

There’s so many answers here.

>Russia seems to shamelessly go around assassinating people so they make easy pickings for him.

That's pretty much exactly what Christo Grozev said in one of the recent interviews. They investigate government wrongdoing, and russia has been doing a lot of shady things in the last few years. Plus he lived in Russia and speaks russian, so that coupled with the corruption and tons of available data makes Russia a good target for his investigations.

Unrelated: if there were there a chart that shows the number of people killed by each country per year in this millennia -- what countries do you think will "in the lead" by an order of magnitude at least from the rest?

That would be interesting, as long as you focus on civilian deaths and normalize for population. My guess would be iran due to their heavy involvement in both the iraqi and syrian civil war. The saudis are also contenders with their yemen war. Then I would guess the US, turkey and russia.

We are moving into a multipolar world and interesting times.

This millennium? Probably Syria.

>> Unrelated: if there were there a chart that shows the number of people killed by each country per year in this millennia -- what countries do you think will "in the lead" by an order of magnitude at least from the rest?

> This millennium? Probably Syria.

How did you come to that conclusion? Though the question is far to ambiguous (what does "killed by" mean, exactly?), I'd assume Germany would be ahead of Syria, given that any reasonable count would include those killed in the Holocaust plus allied casualties from WWI and WWII (where all cases where there's clearly established intent to kill by the regime). The Syrian civil was was bad, but not that bad. I'm not aware of anything of similar magnitude there after 1900, and the numbers of anything before would be lessened by lower populations and less effective military technology.

I presumed that "this millennium" meant "since 2000". That removes Germany.

Ah, now I see. I'm just stuck in the 20th century. I suppose I should be glad I still don't accidentally write "19" for the century on my checks.

Not sure about millenia but in the last century the communists have done well, about 65 million for China and 20 for the Soviet Union.

Cameroon is the one example I was thinking of that actually isn't a US rival, yes. Nonetheless the US still used the conclusions to justify winding up support & funding to Cameroonian military.

> Furthermore the conclusions are always the ones they'd want (e.g. "Russia shot down an airliner").

I mean, it's pretty hard to dispute such a conclusion when you have social media posts tracking the movement from Russia of a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile launcher with identification markings to an area near where MH17 crashed, posts of rocket contrails at the time of the crash, then more posts tracing the same launcher leaving the area and traveling back to Russian territory, sans a missile.

isn’t that the opposite of Occam’s Razor? a theory that makes a journalist part of an geopolitical intelligence conspiracy seems much more complex than the reality that data is fairly easily accessible.

Well, the russians leaked data with 2016 Clintom e-mails. And journalists being fed data will probably still publish. Honestly, I think neither Occam, nor Hanlon's razor really apply here.

What about Operation Mockingbird[1] and the Church Committee report?

In a 1977 Rolling Stone magazine article, "The CIA and the Media," reporter Carl Bernstein expanded upon the Church Committee's report and said that around 400 press members were considered assets by the CIA.

Undoubtedly this continues to this day.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_Committee

USA journalists learned their lessons with Gary Webb and, some would say, Michael Hastings. From now on we can't rely on the "free" press.

A western based organization going after enemies of NATO, and Russia specifically could just as easily be explained as "Those are who they perceive to be the issue, so that is why they target them".

If you haven't seen the full investigation released last week I'd strongly recommend you check it out, top notch investigative journalism. The video has English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smhi6jts97I

Also here's the full phone call with the FSB agent, with english transcript: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwvA49ZXnf8

And here's the specific video where he speaks with the FSB agent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibqiet6Bg38

Wow. I am so scared to talk to a bank or credit card company over the phone ever again.

That's was amazing.

So Navalny was poisoned with deadly Novichok and a few months later is producing a polished video with Hollywood detective backdrop where he calls the suspect who conveniently admits to the whole scheme... I'd suggest you watch "The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes" before trusting western/US media regarding Russia.

Why won't you simply tell us your hypothesis?

Incredible. The man manages to remain composed while his assassin describes how his murder was planned.

He almost lost his eyesight a few years back when he got brilliant green thrown into his face, and still did his weekly youtube news stream looking like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rynww9LT8so

He's an inspiration to us all. I pray he's never captured, attempted murdered, or tortured or anything like that ever again.

He is sort of superhuman in that sense. He can take a lot and seem unfazed.

This is amazing journalism. Bravo to them and Navalny. Heroic stuff.

It always amazes that some people have the balls to live like this and stand for something, whereas many of us here lead comparatively chickenshit lives centered around MRR, pageviews or "lessons learned" posts for some superfluous software service.

Navalny isn't alone in this; I get the same reaction when I hear about teenagers lying about their age to go to war, or activists spending decades in prison and continuing to fight as soon as they leave, or even Hannibal crossing the Alps. Independently of whether the overarching cause is rational or beneficial or not, these acts of living are almost completely alien to the sensibilities of a modern day worker in an industrialized attention economy.

Most folks are afraid to tell their boss he is being an ass.

BTW I also strongly recommend to check the investigation since it's amazing example of how state surveillance and weak privacy can end up playing against the state.

We all live in the world where telecoms spy on everyone's location and where travel information is accessible to unlimited number of people (it's super easy to get air travel info in western countries too). It's just funny how adding a bit of corruption can completely compromise state's own spy agency.

"unfortunately" it's just a matter of time til they get this under control using governmental encryption and detailed access logs.

This guy is a complete badass. They've tried to kill him multiple times and then he turns around and bamboozles them into giving up all the details? Brilliant.

Confused about “Hi it’s CNN here, would you like to tell us about the attempted murder you were part of?” Then only realizing for the last contact that that approach may not work.

As I understand it that apartment visit happened after the call in question. This call happened last week before the release of the first investigation and they sat on it for a week before releasing

Ah I see.... for an article about a covert investigation it sure assumes intimate knowledge of the covert investigation

They describe how they got the info in the original article, and then deduced the rest. They called to confirm the suspcicions, which were already enough by themselves. They got lucky that the details were sufficient to make the killer think he really talks to someone from his office.

I think CNN is just assuming their readers aren't going to ask questions like yours.

It happened in the same hour, both were made at 7AM local time.

Just listened to the phone call.

I said it multiple times how ridiculous I find that so many people readily buy into these stories. But... I don't know now, this was pretty convincing, to be honest. Not really a "proof" of anything, of course — this guy could be anyone, and of course it is really weird how he didn't recognize Navalny's voice and talked about all this stuff over the insecure line... But I can believe that. I mean, if it was fake, it was some really impressive fake, with much better script and acting than anything I can now remember. My biggest issue was believing that people doing important stuff in FSS can really be useless idiots, and this was such a convincing portrayal of such an idiot that I'm starting to accept it.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to hear more of that story.

The belligncat guy just did an interview and mentioned that some of the other guys immediately recognized Navalny's voice and hung up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCGHepzBzUc

The one they got to talk was in the cleanup crew, so probably not as familiar with him.

Everyone in Russia is familiar with Navalny, though. I mean, it's not like everyone in USA personally met Joe Rogan or Elon Musk (not sure if these are the best example, since I am not from the USA, but I'm guessing they must be good enough), but you probably are kind of familiar with them and vividly remember their voices. You don't have to be a CIA agent spying on them to recognize them over the phone.

That being said, as I already told, I think it is plausible. People often don't recognize other people by voice, despite being very much familiar with each other.

on the contrary I even believe they used this psychological effect, that they know the voice and unconsciously choose to trust it.

There's a reason authoritarian regimes mostly represent failed states, with maybe a few exceptions. If your regime has a negative effect on education, healthcare, administrative roles, why would the security services remain cold-blooded professionals? There's negative selection at every part of this system.

If Joe Biden called you up now and demanded to know about some work you did 3 years ago, yet claimed to be someone high up your chain of command and gave a fake name, would you fall for it?

I don't think you would... The voice alone would give it away. There's no way the leader of the opposition isn't famous enough to be recognisable on the phone...

I think you're overestimating the recognizability of voices (barring voices with very unusual qualities), especially without context, especially over the phone.

Agreed voices sound very different over the phone.

He absolutely is famous enough to be recognisable on the phone. That's why I'm mentioning it. It is weird indeed. But kinda plausible, I can believe that. Did it never occur to you to meet someone you work with outside of your job and not recognize them before they greet you, just because they are wearing different clothes and you didn't expect to meet them here? It sure ocurred to me. Also, I remember calling my grandma as a kid to tell we'll visit her today (she was delighted to hear that!) and only after putting the phone down realizing that I actually called the wrong number (you had to enter the number manually back then).

I mean, people do make mistakes. And this was very convincing portrayal of a clumsy dude who is prone to making such mistakes. Very realistic fool.


That spy is likely to experience "health problems," sooner or later...

Highly unlikely honestly. Right now the general infantilism in Russia make investigations and headlines quite meaningless (not _meaningless_ but they really don't do much in short term).

Youtube video will get huge amount of likes and views. But that's it.

Isn't this the same in the US and other western countries? What would been classed as a huge scandal in the 2000s now goes in and out of the public eye in a matter of days or weeks. What happened to Congressional insider trading earlier this year? Seemingly big deal is now over. BLM has mostly slipped out of the headlines. So much news flows past us we've mostly become apathetic to any of it.

I mean, shit, four years of Trump and the media for the most part just made fun of him. I struggle to think what kind of news would result in the public demanding accountability.

>I struggle to think what kind of news would result in the public demanding accountability.

Something where the public understood the connection between the policy and their well-being. Insider trading doesn't take money out of anyone's bank. BLM was stood for "black lives matter," not "implement these specific police forms." "Stop the war in Vietnam" was the most recent run of protests that I can remember that had a clear message, although maybe someone who knows more history can correct me.

> Insider trading doesn't take money out of anyone's bank.

Still hurts non-insiders though, which is not just an elite minority of investors, but includes anyone with a pension for example. It’s illegal for a reason.

Insider trading is an artificial crime. Top executives are never indicted, even though they trade on inside information all the time. They allow prosecutors to use this regulation only so long as prosecutors are careful to punish relatively-clueless minor defectors from the ongoing conspiracy of corporate executives against the investing public.

Think about the results of "inside" trading. Information that was previously the sole property of insiders is released, through its effect on the prices of securities, to the public at large. This is a good thing for the public. It is a bad thing only for executives who haven't completed the trading schemes they've based on that information.

It doesn't hurt them by taking money out of their bank. That's what I'm saying, anything that harms the public in an indirect way, is unlikely to provoke a reaction.

> What happened to Congressional insider trading earlier this year?

Burr is under investigation by FBI: https://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/article247137814.html

Loeffler was cleared by Senate ethics committee and isn't being investigated by FBI: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-se...

But is currently running in the GA run off so it's getting discussed, political impact unclear.

Outrage has reached its saturation point, at least in the current economic state.

But if the economy turns south....

Not sure about that. A Russian guy who poisoned Litvinenko with radioactive polonium in London was then promoted to a member of state parliament: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrey_Lugovoy

> Not sure about that. A Russian guy who poisoned Litvinenko with radioactive polonium in London was then promoted to a member of state parliament: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrey_Lugovoy

Did that guy get tricked into spilling the beans to Litvinenko?

Doesn’t matter too much. Should the need arise, both guys can now be prosecuted for [attempted] homicide, globally i.e. regardless on the jurisdiction. That’s why I would expect promotion as opposed to punishment.

So just like the mob, you become a "made man" by doing a great service to the organization?

May develop a bad case of defenestration. Kinda stunning how bad that guy's opsec was, but on the other hand Putin wants people to know he was behind the assassination, otherwise he wouldn't have used Novichok. So maybe those involved don't feel the need to be super cagey about it.

>> otherwise he wouldn't have used Novichok.

The whole point of using biological weapons like these is that it's almost impossible to prove that poisoning actually took a place. No one would ever find out for sure if he would die and only reason he still alive is few lucky conditions.

In his earlier investigation video Navalny himself told about two previous cases where he and his wife was likely almost killed, but they never suppose it was poisoning since it's impossible to understand it unless you actually dying. Only now they found out that the same FSB agents followed them on the trips earlier where they became sick with no reason.

If Putin wanted to do something that is untraceable he wouldn't use a nerve agent that is exclusively used by his regime. He could easily stage a 'robbery gone wrong' plot or an unfortunate car accident if he wanted to truly hide the assassination.

The reason his regime uses methods like Novichok and polonium poisoning is because he wants to send a message along with killing. He's always going to deny doing it even when it's obvious that he did.

You still seems to believe that they're competent enough to create believable "unfortunate accident". The point of using nerve agent is that Kremlin believed it to be untraceable. It's very much opposite of polonium.

Obviously it's just my view, but to give you an example. Nemtsov was one of old Russian political leader who been neither popular nor real danger to regime end up just shoot right in front of Kremlin. And it's caused a lot of backslash and place of his death is still PITA for Putin regime.

Navalny is more popular by two orders of magnitude at least. On top of that everyone know that he's being watched literally 24/7. If he die in suspicios car accident or something like that it's might actually trigger a lot of bad things or might finally put some real beneficiaries of regime (like oligarchs, kids and other family members) under sanctions.

It's not that hard to get someone killed in Russia, but really this is not Stalin's totalitarian country and no one want risk losing all their capital and property in western countries. On other side anyone can die of heart attack during flight and it's impossibly hard to prove it was poisoning afterwards.

You're right that Putin has had people murdered in far more conspicuous fashion before, and there's now the big risk of Magnitsky sanctions. It's hard to say whether the blowback and sanctions from an assassination would be worse from an 'unfortunate accident' or someone dying suddenly and inexplicably in a manner very similar to a nerve agent that Russia exclusively uses.

It seems like for them to get away with the Novichok poisoning they should've chosen to assassinate Navalny locally so they're be little chance of getting the victim to a neutral location for treatment or autopsy.

That's just my speculation, ultimately this whole situation could be explained by malice and incompetence.

This is the scary bit - the truth is irrelevant because nobody has any means of holding the perpetrators to account.

"nobody has any means of holding the perpetrators to account"

Of course they do. As individuals, the people at the top are always virtually powerless without support.

This is why dictators always take control of their country's media and spin a narrative that makes them seem innocent, heroes, or victims of foreign intervention.

If no one had any means to hold them to account they wouldn't bother doing any of this, nor would they bother to spy on, much less assassinate any opposition figures, and their acts would be a lot more brazen, without any attempts to disguise them or feign innocence.

Russia has had multiple revolutions in the last century, not to mention constant power struggles within the government itself.

Anyone in power in Russia is going to be keenly aware of this, and know how important it is to keep public opinion on their side and crush any opposition.

>> The whole point of using biological weapons like these is that it's almost impossible to prove that poisoning actually took a place. No one would ever find out for sure if he would die and only reason he still alive is few lucky conditions.

I've read your post and realized that, though not affiliated with the country in any way, even I know a few Putin's opponents who died somewhat unexpectedly. A blogger Anton Nosik comes to mind. Can it be that killings are more common than we think?

Killings are definitely more common. It's difficult to attribute all the untimely deaths to FSB activities, but given they want exactly this, we probably should do the opposite.

Schekochikhin, Kara-Murza poisoning. Zhvaniya in Georgia. Yuschenko, Babchenko, Sheremet in Ukraine. Berezovsky, Perepelichny, Patarkatsishvili, Skripals, Litvinenko in UK. Tsepov, Manevitch in Putin's native Saint Petersbourg. Nemtsov, Politkovskaya, Navalny in Russia.

Also some bad guys, like Khattab, who was killed via poisoned letter.

By no means it's an exhaustive list.

Not Nosik, though. He was a well-known addict and kind of had it coming, so there's no commonly shared suspicion around this.

Anton Nosik is the least suspicious case. He was never very vocal politically and he was a heavy drinker all the way through his life, Ashmanov described his lifestyle in great detail some 10 years before Nosik died.

> but on the other hand Putin wants people to know he was behind the assassination, otherwise he wouldn't have used Novichok

Imagine how many things should have gone right for him if his plan all along was to let people know he was behind the assassination:

- Navalny had to survive the poisoning or die under very suspicious circumstances — something that couldn't be attributed to, say, anaphylaxis.

- His relatives had to request that he be transported to a country that had the capability for testing for those substances, and the permission given. Alternatively, had he died, someone should have requested for an independent forensic examination in such a country.

- The discovery of novichok poisoning shouldn't have triggered any sanctions from the Western countries, specifically there shouldn't have been any consequences for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. I don't think anyone would argue that sanctions against Russia are somehow in Putin's interest.

This is the level of sophistication in planning and execution that nobody, let alone Russians, is likely capable of.

Wouldn't it be less suspicious to hire a crack addict and have him shoot him?

I don't get the obvoius connection to the government. Surely there are alot of potential perpetrators.

"ChEIs may be used as drugs for Alzheimer's and myasthenia gravis, and also as chemical weapons and insecticides." - Wiki on the poison.

> Wouldn't it be less suspicious to hire a crack addict and have him shoot him?

Absolutely. This was in fact how a couple of other opposition figures, such as Anna Politkovskaya and Boris Nemtsov, were eliminated. This whole cloak-and-dagger pantomime involving chemical weapons is hard to explain, unless what they wanted was a seemingly natural death that was not traceable directly to Kremlin.

While that's true, for some reason Putin always tries to pretend his hands are clean. He wants the dissidents know they will be punished, but officially he will deny any involvement of Kremlin. In this case, it will be a bit harder to pull off.

That's part and parcel of Putin's Chekist paradigm of obvious aggression combined with denials and disinformation. The idea is to create enough doubt and lies that people feel like the truth is unknowable. But everyone still gets the message that Putin can and will kill you if he so wishes.

>> Putin wants people to know he was behind the assassination

Actually, part of this agent's orders was to scrub the underwear clean after the poisoning. It was public knowledge that Putin was trailing this guy, but I believe they wanted to keep it unknown that they tried to assassinate him.

Well, unprovable at least, probably not unknown. Putin is the kinda guy that leans heavily into concepts like plausible deniability, and he'll settle for implausible deniability if he has to.

This link describes being in the room for the call and should perhaps be considered primary.

Bellingcat's Christo Grozev was indeed in the room, you can see it in the video above, and his reaction to the agent spilling the beans is priceless.

The CNN article seems to be claiming a lot of credit, calling it a CNN-Bellingcat investigation. The first Navalny video gives me the impression Bellingcat just gave the finished work to "actual journalism outlets" (although IMO, CNN barely passes for one) to check that their work is solid and was not made up.

I think they probably did a bit more but that's fairly standard for media to collaborate and market is a joint report.

Oh, come on! This is ridiculous.

Any silovik worth his salt would refuse to discuss such a hot topic over an open line. Also, some people noticed their talk is not even close to how two professionals both working in the kontora would speak. And how come 'the spy' didn't recognize his target's voice and manner of speaking? How come he didn't cross check 'the assistant' with his boss?

Not to mention that Navalny having such information about FSB agents means he's got some suspicious connections. Wouldn't he go to jail for this when he's back to Russia?

I guess you haven't seen the full investigation released last week. I'd strongly recommend you check it out, it shows how much investigation they did before Navalny took action.


Nah, it's too early. I'll wait until the next couple of episodes of the saga are out. The thing is that Navalny and Putin are the only actors of Russian political theater widely recognizable outside Russia (Dyomushkin? Platoshkin? Anyone heard about them?). Now that Navalny made it to CNN news, (hell, his was in HN top!) I'm curious what's his next move. It has to be something really-really strong. Also I'd be very disappointed if he doesn't return to Russia.

Before eating up this MSM narrative you might want to watch "The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes". Having seen that, this just looks like more of the same false narrative.

The nice thing of obedience is, that if the (assumed) boss tells you to skip the protocol you do so. Especially if the shit is burning...

How did this toxins guy keep getting ahold of Navalny's underpants?

First he had to have access to them to put poison. Then he later got access to them again to scrub them clean of the poison. I guess Navalny has no security whatsoever where he stays?

The second part of your question is answered in the video: police/FSB came to the hospital and snatched his clothes to do the cleanup.

The first part we'll never know, but he really has no security and it is known that he's always the only tenant of his hotel room. Might have come into his room in the morning and sprayed them with Novichok while he was showering.

While he was in the bathroom? That's too risky. You don't stay 24/7 in your hotel room, do you? And when travelling for a few days, you must have spare underpants in your suitcase in your room, right?

Product idea: secure suitcase with a camera that shows people who've tried to open/tamper with it while you were not there.

It'd be interesting if the hotel staff can be questioned about government agents demanding access, but maybe the staff/eyewitness has since been "neutralized". Or if the agents were sophisticated, they'd have used widely available exploits to clone hotel keycards. Or just pick the lock. The guy on the phone even said they only go in when they know it's secure, i.e. after the cameras have been switched off.

There's Haven, a mobile app that does exactly that: help you detect Evil Maid attacks.



> you must have spare underpants in your suitcase in your room, right?

I forgot to mention, that it must've been one of their jobs to figure out which pair of underpants he will be wearing the next day, i.e. which pair from presumably a few he had in the suitcase is the last clean pair. Ah, the glamorous job of a KGB/FSB agent.

Interestingly, I wonder if it meant he could only be targetted the day before he got on a long plane trip... otherwise he might put on the pair too early, get sick while still on the ground, and manage to get to a hospital.

This is not unexpected. In Obama’s memoir he mentioned that Chinese security services would send people to comb the rooms of every member of the American delegation right after they left their room in the morning. If state security services can do that to the US President and his advisors, I see no reason the Russians security can’t do that to someone like Navalny.

They got in his hotel room while he was out

And then sent to the hospital in Germany to again get his underwear and remove traces of Novichok before it could be independently tested... does that sounds believable to you? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_of_Alexei_Navalny

What are you on about? He never got his clothes back

They had people on him all the time. When you have full time coverage of the person and the authorities are on your side, it's only a matter of time when an opportunity opens when he is separated from his luggage and do the deed.

> How did this toxins guy keep getting ahold of Navalny’s underpants?

Thanks for the spit-take. Note to self: put underpants in same security category as my phone.

If your underwear is stolen twice by the same guy you may want to improve your security. This story sounds very hollywood to me.

Two meta but interesting things to note:

1) A trained FSB operative completely fell for a convincing enough social engineer, armed with nothing but caller-id spoofing software. Even though he was extremely apprehensive in the beginning of the call, he was slowly "eased into" talking top-secret stuff on the non-secure phoneline. This was so incredible that his last words on the call were "I was shocked by your questions. Was this OK that we talked about this on a non-secure line?". That's crazy. What chance do normal people have against such a good social engineer?

2) The amount of pro-Putin commenters in this thread (mind that some of these comments are dead), claiming that this is a CIA false flag or some such.

As for the first one, I think the reason was that Navalny called him after the investigation and clearly showed at the beginning of the conversation that he knew a lot of secret things, including the surnames of the other agents, facts on when and where they were, etc. Probably, the FSB guy just couldn't believe that there was a chance that a person who doesn't work for the government could be so aware of the details of the operation.

One thing I know from conversations with people working in FSB, is that working in a field is considered to be a low, starting position. Also many people start to work there only after some rudimentary training. Yeah, seemed weird to me too. Also this guy was only from a cleanup crew, whose job was only to transfer contaminated clothes to chemical institute. Seems plausible to me that he fell for some social engineering

Do you think geniuses work for those services? They are perma drunk simpletons that are no good for anything higher than beating up a person. Add the fear they harbor from their psycho superiors and if you push them right, they will fall that easy.

They're a bit better than that. You don't trust something like Novichok into the hands of a perma drunk simpleton.

(I mean, sure, I'm sure they have people that fit your description. I just don't buy that this particular operation was entrusted to that level of person.)

> The amount of pro-Putin commenters

Exercising my self judgement doesn't make me pro Putin, nor does it make me a conspiracy theorist when I wonder why the flu killed more people in France in one month (jan 2017) than COVID in 10 months.

I have a brain, I use it. Maybe sometimes I come to the wrong conclusion but at least I don't just regurgitate what the media feeds me.

So in this case I find strange that the super Russian spies never manage to kill anyone even when they use military grade chemical agents that are supposed to kill full cities (remember the Skripal case, this one was fishy as hell too).

> So in this case I find strange that the super Russian spies never manage to kill anyone even when they use military grade chemical agents that are supposed to kill full cities

That's actually not surprising. Chemical weapons turn out to have lousy effectiveness in terms of killing people. In 1995, a terrorist group released sarin into 5 subway cars during Tokyo's rush hour and managed to kill a whopping 12 people in the process. A single grenade would likely have killed more people. Admittedly, sarin isn't the most lethal chemical agent, but it is one that was actually used in chemical weapons programs, and the stronger agents implicated are only like 10× more lethal. The notion that "military-grade chemical agents" are "supposed to kill full cities" is propaganda about the effectiveness of chemical weapons; it's not a realistic assessment of their actual capabilities.

At the same time, there's also a world of difference between a targeted killing of a single individual versus a generalized killing of a large mass of people. The mechanisms you need to use to achieve this are different: in one case, you want to deliver a more spiked concentration of chemical to one individual, preferably in a manner that allows it to take effect when those who delivered it are nowhere near. But killing an entire city requires you to have extremely fast diffusion with extremely high initial concentrations, so that you can kill people before they start to run away (or don protective gear). That someone screws up the dosing when trying to use it as a targeted weapon is easily plausible.

> That someone screws up the dosing when trying to use it as a targeted weapon is easily plausible.

Twice? What kind of first class spy agency would miss a target, let alone 2 (Skripal and Navalny)?

Murdering someone is not a hard feat especially when you are a government agency with all the resources necessary to do so.

In the case of Navalny, it was even easier as they were "playing" at home.

What's the point of re-using a super duper chemical nerve agent that already demonstrated that it was not a sure deal?

Now it's possible the Russians lost all the KGB experience (remember the Bulgarian umbrella?) and are subpar spies. Why do we need to be afraid of them then?

I believe that when a spy story ends up in the press, it's because we are the targets for propaganda. Else it stays in the shadows.

My theory (which is just that, a theory) is that the US is trying hard to block the Russian gas pipeline to Europe, and this kind of stories allow them to impose sanctions.

Your purported statistic about the flu is demonstrably false.

For the entire 2016-2017 flu season, not just January 2017, there were 14,400 deaths from the flu in France. [0]

The latest death count for COVID in France is 60,549, even after all the lockdown measures were put in place.

[0] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321906828_Influenza...

INSEE is the official French statistics agency, not some conspiracy quack.

Sorry this is in French:

> En outre, l’épidémie de grippe hivernale amorcée fin 2016 a entraîné un pic de décès exceptionnel en janvier 2017 : 67 000 décès en France métropolitaine ce mois-ci.

Source: https://www.insee.fr/fr/statistiques/3629105

It basically says there was an exceptional peak of 67k deaths due to the flu for the month of January 2017.

It doesn't say those were all from the flu. Yearly deaths = 606k = average 50k a month. January had 67k, so roughly 17k flu deaths.

I can’t find any source that attributes over 60,000 deaths to the flu in France in January 2017. In fact, that’s close to 4x the most commonly reported figures for the whole 2016/2017 flu season in France. What numbers are you basing that claim on?

Copy paste from the other comment:

INSEE is the official French statistics agency.

Sorry this is in French:

> En outre, l’épidémie de grippe hivernale amorcée fin 2016 a entraîné un pic de décès exceptionnel en janvier 2017 : 67 000 décès en France métropolitaine ce mois-ci.

Source: https://www.insee.fr/fr/statistiques/3629105

It basically says there was an exceptional peak of 67k deaths due to the flu for the month of January 2017.

I disagree with your reading. Specifically, it doesn't say that 67,000 people died of the flu, it says that 67,000 people died. The entire report is about all-cause mortality, and so is that sentence. The flu was the reason for a spike in deaths, but it was not the cause of all 67,000 deaths in France that month.

What I believe to be a more accurate translation:

"In addition, the winter flu epidemic that began at the end of 2016 led to an exceptional peak in deaths in January 2017: 67,000 deaths in mainland France this month."

I can't tell if the investigative journalism is that amazing, or if the FSB tradecraft is so embarrassingly bad.

If another world power was investigated over a potential assassination and had such lax control over civilian personal data, would it be as easy to derive the chain of command and movements of their agents?

Would the cover identities be so shoddily arranged as to use the surnames of their spouses to make them easier to remember?

Or is this unique to Russia and this particular organization of the FSB.

Similarly, regarding the ongoing Solarwind attack, what is the tradecraft of the folks involved in that mission. Not only their opsec but in their own personal coms? Will we see an independent investigation that reveals the calls and networks of the hackers?

The amount of 'western' data that was leaked, stoled or plain lost is trully staggering. I would be surprised if you could not expose at least some operatives

I'm constantly impressed and amazed at how brave that man is, and the other people in Russia who are opposing what seems to have become a totalitarian thug state.

Fortunately it's still not a totalitarian state. It's just an authoritarian kleptocracy where due to rampaging corruption everyone can buy spy agency staff phone billing and banking data for few hundred dollars.

Become? It’s Russia’s pedigree for what will be close to a century soon.

This bold comment is receiving some downvotes, but Tsar Russia, USSR and modern Russia do have a horrible track record. The bloodletting of the Russian revolution was in large part motivated by just how badly the working class was abused, industrialization for them was a hell. Genocides in the baltic states middle of 20th century. Holodomor. All the recent Russian neighbour wars like Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine. List of examples is long and it's slowly getting lost in the popular history. If you're from Russia or a neighbouring country, it's very likely that you have experienced serious ramifications of its policy or politics.

Who is downvoting this comment and why?

Even if it's two sides of the same coin, the term Chekism captures the bizarre way the USSR was run better, I feel.

Wikipedia page on Chekism is an interesting read. A quote I found there. According to Ion Mihai Pacepa (former general in the Communist Romania),

> In the Soviet Union, the KGB was a state within a state. Now former KGB officers are running the state. They have custody of the country’s 6,000 nuclear weapons, entrusted to the KGB in the 1950s, and they now also manage the strategic oil industry renationalized by Putin. The KGB successor, rechristened FSB, still has the right to electronically monitor the population, control political groups, search homes and businesses, infiltrate the federal government, create its own front enterprises, investigate cases, and run its own prison system. The Soviet Union had one KGB officer for every 428 citizens. Putin’s Russia has one FSB-ist for every 297 citizens.

Have a look at the 1992 film "Chekist".

The most disturbing piece of cinema I have ever seen.

And shockingly enough rather accurate.

A century? Tsarist Russia was no less a totalitarian thuggish state.

Tsarist Russia was not a totalitarian state. State control over vast swaths of the country was pretty lax, the peasantry lived their lives unmolested except by tax officials and local magnates. Sure, anyone trying to print something would come up against state censorship because printing presses were few and monitored, but many of Russia's peoples weren't even literate pre-1905 or pre-1917.

This is true really only because it was impossible to have one at the time given the communications infrastructure. It was still the worst human rights situation they could possibly create. The peasantry weren't living their lives in freedom, they were human trafficking victims (or as they were known at the time, 'serfs').

Just for the reference:

Serfdom in Russia was officially ended in 1861. Slavery in the US was ended in 1865. So I am not sure what "worst human rights situation" are you talking about. This is without even taking into consideration bunch of other countries with horrible abuse of humans. King Leopold anyone? Singling out Russia in this department is a hypocrisy.

Serfdom in Russia ended in the mid 19th century. Plus, serfdom didn't even exist in most of the country, so e.g. peoples from the Volga-Kama region would move just a few hundred km east towards the Urals and found new villages there where control was lax.

It was still an absolute monarchy until 1906, and in the blink of an eye it went from that to dictatorship under the Soviets. For the average serf, ending serfdom just meant they went from literal slavery to strongly implied 'sharecropping' slavery, much like former slaves in the US.

I don't thing there's much of a meaningful different between authoritarian government and totalitarian government aside from the available technology. If the czars had their way, they'd be in Putin's shoes right now, doing Putin things.

I don’t think one can reasonably categorize Tsarist Russia as "authoritarian", let alone totalitarian. Oppressive to many of its people, sure, and at times even despotic. But Russia's political system was such that much of this oppression was perpetuated by local elites, and the monarch in faraway Saint-Petersburg had little relevance to the people and their plight.

What ultimately led to mass unrest and the February and October Revolutions in Russia was the same huge wealth inequality as France prior to 1789, and people don’t typically use terms like “authoritarian” or “totalitarian” to describe the Ancien Régime.

I'm not a historian, but to me the difference between despotic (and I'd say Imperial Russia was despotic at all times, given that it was always a system of unchecked executive power) and authoritarian is splitting hairs.

Sure, it would be impractical for the Tsar to exercise this authority at the individual level all the time, but all the various local vassals only had their power subject to the Tsar's unchecked authority and when the Tsar wanted them to do something, their choices were compliance or ruin.

> people don’t typically use terms like “authoritarian” or “totalitarian” to describe the Ancien Régime.

Alexis de Tocqueville does, in L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution [1]

"In this book, de Tocqueville develops his main theory about the French revolution, the theory of continuity, in which he states that even though the French tried to dissociate themselves from the past and from the autocratic old regime, they eventually reverted to a powerful central government."

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_Regime_and_the_Revolut...

I don’t think totalitarian is a useful way to describe Tsarist Russia. It was so far from exercising thought control that vast numbers of its citizens embraced an ideology dedicated to its downfall. (Source: Slezkine’s fabulous book The House of Government).

First class social engineering.

I wouldn't be surprised if that guy (Konstantin Kudryavtsev) also gets taken out by the Kremlin in the coming days/weeks.

I really like that org chart of blame.

Org charts with names and faces should accompany a far wider range of malfeasance. I get this is a nice, cute, morally unambiguous story against a state enemy so CNN can do this, but there are many environmental disasters and domestic political decisions that can be traced up and down the chain.

It would be great for things like DDT, the petroleum industry denying their own global warming studies, tobacco denying their own cancer studies.

Well... what's going to happen now? Nobody really believes there will be consequences, right?

My understanding is that Russian secret services don't even try to hide it, it's probably something they are proud of and to be exposed to the nation to show the great power of zar Putin.

Sounds like a fake as people already forgot who Navalny was and now Biden needs a good motive for new sanctions and maybe something bolder. Didn't we just kill an Iranian scientist last month and even brag on the TV? How are we any better?!


Weird how the journalists come out of the walls over there for a a Russia story.


They used the same drug on Skripals, and both of them survived. The issues is that the drug is very tricky to dose right, especially since they seem to aim for killing people slowly and with some (now obviously failed too) plausible deniability. If they would just give people a sure dose that would kill them instantly, it would be obvious what they died from and where.


Do you have any evidence for that?


Putin’s track record of poisonings say otherwise.

Administration opponents in Russia have a decades-long history of disappearing and being murdered. But you're saying that this particular murder must somehow be foreign? I mean, how does it not fit the pattern?

Any Devil wears Pravda takes from Craig Murray yet?

I'm waiting for this too. His mental somersaults on the Salisbury case were quite a thing to witness

All of Craig's reasoning over the Skripal case were pretty well documented in his blogs. I'd definitely be interested in what parts required mental gymnastics.

It wasn't so much that they were made up or anything, but my issue with Murray's contrarianism is that he has no insider knowledge on the case. IIRC he took issue over the procedure regarding the roof of their house, for example.

I don't doubt that the British secret services have adjusted the official story, but the idea that there is something genuinely fishy going on requires real evidence. His waffle-ing about Bellingcat being warmongers (if I recall his wording correctly) is similarly uninspiring.

Here's a start, each and every one of these is batshit crazy https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2019/03/pure-ten-poi...

Thanks for the link. I'd never heard of this guy, and honestly did not follow the Skripal case closely, so given your description of his objections as "batshit crazy" I expected to just laugh them off, but now that I've started to read them they actually seem like pretty reasonable objections to me.

Maybe you have another link with objections to his objections?

The onus is not on physicists to counter flat-earth claims, they just have to point to the facts

As such, here are the facts in the Skripal case: https://www.counterterrorism.police.uk/salisbury/

"The onus is not on physicists to counter flat-earth claims, they just have to point to the facts"

Yeah, but the guy on the linked-to page is not making claims. He's just asking why.

It would be far more useful for you or someone else to provide a link that answered his specific questions in detail rather than give a link to a non-specific information dump that does not specifically address those questions.

I’d rather point out the absurdity of two known Russian FSB operatives saying they were there to admire Salisbury’s famous 123m spire

An information dump is far more beneficial to the discussion of the case than a discredited former ambassador who tends to side with kleptocratic maniacs in Russia

Commentators ITT seem careful not to mention Murray's tireless advocacy for Julian Assange, while other journalists and former ambassadors have ignored his case entirely.

RIP: Konstantin Kudryavtsev, killed himself on December 24th, with three shots on the back of his head.

Time machines are dangerous.


The Bellingcat story has a weird number of just-so leaps "e.g. this telephone number is one that regularly called these spies" that suggests either that they hired a bunch of actors and put on a show or they received high level intelligence from a nation state actor (e.g. CIA).

That information is openly sold on the black market in Russia, and for a trivial amount of money. Check out their "How we did it" for the first investigation: https://www.bellingcat.com/resources/2020/12/14/navalny-fsb-...

I guess anyone who is really curious could try to replicate what they did. The investigators clearly don't know Russian very well because they misspell common names ("Arur", really?). So anyone reading this comment should be able to find and use a Telegram bot just like the authors to get some phone records. Otherwise I call BS.

There is really no question about that data being available for purchase. This sort of stuff was being sold on physical DVD's on actual physical markets since the 2000s.

Here's a ~2 year old BBC article talking about all this data being easily available for purchase online in a lot of detail with a reporter ordering their phone location history: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48348307

I knew someone who was retired FBI, who offered his services to me. He had said he could get phone records or bank account information on anyone, anywhere in the world. I don't know if he was blowing smoke, but this was apparently how he made money after retirement.

It had sounded like former agents of all different countries have access and relationships with even adversarial countries' agents.

There are literally Whatsapp accounts where you send them ~$15 and a name/DOB and they'll reply with a full "Dox" of any Russian citizen - it's a free-for-all over there.

I hear this quoted all the time, but I think this is just a tired trope. Repeat something often enough and it becomes true. We all know Russians are all corrupt, live in constant fear, bears walk the streets, and the only escape is vodka.

In any case, it's easy enough for anyone with a reasonable doubt in what they are reading to check this. Bellingcat claims that anyone capable of Googling can get dox on any random Russian, including someone high up in the FSB. So try it! Pick a random person off the internet and go get those dox. It's a free for all, right?

Otherwise what you are reading is a poorly retconned explanation of how a foreign intelligence operation got some data.

> Bellingcat claims that anyone capable of Googling can get dox on any random Russian, including someone high up in the FSB. So try it! Pick a random person off the internet and go get those dox. It's a free for all, right?

> Otherwise what you are reading is a poorly retconned explanation of how a foreign intelligence operation got some data.

Like pointed out elsewhere, it's not "Bellingcat" claiming that it's easy to do -- it's literally everyone.

* The Bell: https://thebell.io/million-za-vseh-skolko-stoilo-rassledovan...

* BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48348307

* Kommersant: https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4616645

* Teiss: https://www.teiss.co.uk/moscow-car-owners-data-sale/

I have no interest in navigating the stolen databases myself but plenty of other journalists have and confirm just everything exists like Belligcat says. Is it possible that Bellingcat were tipped off and used the databases to parallel construct their investigation? Sure? I guess? But it's exactly how they have performed many of their other investigations in Russia so I find it highly unlikely.

You asked if someone tried to do it and already got a link where a BBC journalist bought a phone location data two years ago (that is, this being a thing is absolutely not news).

Here's an independent russian newspaper estimating how much it'd cost to get all this data on the black market (note that they don't even question if it's possible to do it as everybody knows that it is possible)


They list which databases you'd buy it from and for how much. Their total estimate is about a million rubles, ~$13000


Here's another large russian newspaper: https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4616645

"For Navalny's investigation internet and some cash was enough" - "Experts interviewed by "Kommersant" confirm that flight receipts with passport numbers of passengers, their phone numbers and geo-tagged billing of the latter can be found on the black market at a price of 2-40 thousand rubles per request."

Sorry, but you're wrong. I saw a whole exchange like that on my friend's phone who needed to locate someone in the Russian Federation.

Also, it's really that cheap.

Russian disinformation organizations are moving quickly to call this a 'CIA op' or 'fake news', but the evidence laid out in the documentary is very damning and obtained easily by Navalny's team.

Here's the thing. I don't know what to believe myself. I live and work in Silicon Valley. I have Russian heritage of which I am proud, and the ongoing smear campaign is disheartening, even if not entirely unsubstantiated. I am not on payroll of any secret service.

But here I am asked to believe a story in which there is an evil dictator that has a chokehold on an entire country, yet is somehow unable to get rid of a blogger/YouTuber. The blogger in question is acting completely independently and is not propped up by any government force. It is though his pure bravery and resourcefulness that he is able to evade the evil dictator's ploys.

I can't help but think that there are parallels in this story to... Star Wars. There we also have an invincible freedom fighter improbably taking on a fearsome adversary. Except even in Star Wars we learn that all is not what it seems: the reason the dark lord could not kill the freedom fighter was because he didn't actually want to (him being his son and all, sorry for any spoilers if you still have not seen Star Wars).

And here I am asked to believe a story less plausible than the plot of Star Wars. I find this insults my intelligence.

What about Litvinienko? What about the novichok attacks in the UK?

Also unbelievable?

Litvinenko and Skripal stories make sense. Both were former Russian agents who turned on their old employer. Their assassinations were a message from that employer to the current employees: "this is what happens to traitors, you are never safe even if you retire".

> Their assassinations were a message

Yet both Skripals survived. Instead, Russians assassinated a random UK citizen, Dawn Sturgess.

The pattern of incompetence fits nicely.

My impression of the Putin's press conference from last week was that he genuinely considers Navalny a traitor. He didn't even bother to deny any allegations about those FSB officers, all he spoke about was how Navalny is connected to the CIA.

> I don't know what to believe myself. I live and work in Silicon Valley. I have Russian heritage of which I am proud, and the ongoing smear campaign is disheartening, even if not entirely unsubstantiated. I am not on payroll of any secret service.

And yet you repeat official russian propaganda word for word, including not directly naming Navalny and using the Putin's favorite "blogger/YouTuber", "The blogger in question".

Only forgot to call him "that berlin's patient" and you are ready to work on russian state television.

Also that "smear campaign" was watched over 10 million times in 10 hours in russia, because actual russians that live in russia care when the government tries to murder it's critics.

This video is not what I think of when I say "smear campaign". I think of the election interference hysteria, the whole "enemy number one" business. US media, not Navalny.

I watched the video too so I am part of the 10M. It's very well made. Most people don't have a pinboard with string on it a-la Silence of the Lambs. I got a chuckle out of the tropes.

Look, you and I have to work for a living. Who pays Navalny's bills? And no, I don't believe him when he says it is "anonymous donors". Putin is scum, but I don't think Navalny is who he says either.

More importantly, I think this whole "Russian bot" meme is incredibly damaging. Dehumanizing your opponent is standard practice for war, and this feels exactly like preparation for one. I love both countries. I have ties to both. The last thing I want is for them to fight.

I appreciate you not wanting to demonize russia, but it looks to me like you just don't understand the situation on the ground. Getting your "other point of view" about russia from sputnik and RT is not the way to go. I agree that the american hysteria is probably mostly unfounded, but the situation in Russia itself is pretty dire.

Russian duma is rubber-stamping insane restrictive laws literally every month, to the point that people have been calling it "a crazy printer". You can get arrested for posting memes on facebook or standing by yourself with an A4 piece of paper with a political message. The courts are corrupt and have a 99.8% conviction rate. Almost all real opposition is barred from participating in any elections through very restrictive requirements plus random denials that they cannot dispute because the court system is corrupt/broken. Opposition/journalist offices get raided monthly by the police that confiscate all of their electronics. Now people are getting shot and poisoned with increasing frequency. It's a real fucking dystopia here after 20 years of unchecked rule by a single guy and it's getting worse, fast.

I don't really care for Navalny aside from his willingness to stand up to all of that. All of his movements, accounts, connections, everything has been monitored by the government for over a decade. That's not a conspiracy, Putin himself confirms it all. If he had any dirt on him, it'd all be public and he'd be in jail for treason a looong time ago. An entire FSB team of 8 people has been tailing him for over three years, again, confirmed by Putin. Yet all they throw at him is that he's an "irrelevant blogger".

Also bots are not a meme, that's a thing. I don't know anything about the american election interference, but IRA office in Olgino has been a thing for almost a decade, Novaya Gazeta reported on them in 2013 (Six of their journalists have been murdered in the last couple decades btw). The people working in those buildings are not bots, but actual people getting paid to post pro government things: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Research_Agency#Saint...

You are right to be suspicious. This story has so many holes.

So many holes that made Putin on live TV confirm that FSB were following Navalny, hence confirming the whole investigation and the story

They have a separate article on it: https://www.bellingcat.com/resources/2020/12/14/navalny-fsb-.... There is a huge black market of private data in Russia.

this was my impression as well. how did they get passport photos and cell phone records? my suspicion for a while has been that bellingcat is basically a way of laundering US intelligence when it is thought to be beneficial to publicly release information or shape public discourse. that isn't to say that i think what they're publishing is necessarily untrue, or that everything they publish is fed to them.

In Russia there is a laws that force both internet services and telecoms to provide SMS and phone calls on demand to police. Not just to some spy agencies, but just to normal police. It's heavily used against opposition leaders as well as some entrepreneurs. So there is literally tens of thousands of people who can leak phone billing information to anyone.

As for passport data there is tons of points of leakage too since Russia have well-centralised online government services and tons of people have user-access to these databases. E.g people in police, medical services, education, tax departments, local government, etc.

And obviously salary of most people with such access is well below $1000 / month after taxes so they are happy to sell any information for few hundred dollars. Imagine it: all spy agency staff profiles don't have "TOP SECRET. PLEASE DON'T LEAK THIS" warning on it,

And it's very unfortunate that Bellingcat had to use this phone/sms data, because this justifies its collection.

i don't think i'm so off the mark: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/12/17/bellingcat-can-say-what...

> “I don’t want to be too dramatic, but we love this,” said Marc Polymeropolous, the CIA’s former deputy chief of operations for Europe and Eurasia.

> When former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned, it was Bellingcat that was first to publicly identify the two Russian military intelligence operatives that had traveled to the U.K. to spritz the door handle of the Skripals’ home with the Soviet-era nerve agent.

> “Whenever we had to talk to our liaison partners about it, instead of trying to have things cleared or worry about classification issues, you could just reference their work,” said Polymeropolous, who retired from the CIA in 2019.

Russian passport and cellphone records are for sale. It's as simple as that. The Russian state is corrupt at the top, but it's also corrupt all the way down to local officials with database access. There's a large pool of people with access to these records so it's not even especially expensive.


Elliot Higgins has been on the pay of the Atlantic Council before he founded Bellingcat. The Atlantic Council is a think tank that is full of former CIA employees. A big part of Bellingcat's funding also comes from National Endowment for Democracy, an organisation that promotes foreign meddling. This is no smoking gun of course, but it does smell a lot.

Instead of having suspicions you could read.

> or they received high level intelligence from a nation state actor

Much more likely they have a mole in the Russian government, FWIW. Autocrats are, in general, broadly hated by their own bureaucracies. That's why they do purges and murder opponents to begin with. But yes, clearly there was some level of intelligence work needed to make this happen, you can't just look up "state poisoner" in an index of professionals.

You don't need a high level mole when access to these databases is just floating around for sale.



> Many in the West would be shocked, about what an average (educated) Russians could tell them about Navalny ..

As an average educated Russian I wonder, what do you imagine they would tell them?

Keep in mind this can also be used as hero theatre which happened in the orange revolution if I remember correctly, also an alleged poisoning and still, 15 years later, very murky. Both sides can lie.

As per John Le Carré's Moscow rules: 1. Assume nothing.

Except official state propaganda release such interview with their own spy agency staff to prove their innocence. Waning: too funny, you might die of laugh:


Orange revolution happened 14 years earlier [1]. One of candidates in presidential campaign was pro-Russian, and other -- wasn't. There was an attempt to poison to death the later one [2] with a toxin that's part for Agent Orange, there is some irony in that, because Yuhscheko's party had orange colors.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Revolution

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Yushchenko#TCDD_poisoni...

So, I love a putin-bashing story like anyone else but, how do we know any of this story ISN'T fabricated? I take the data collected about the location of these alleged agents can be strong evidence that these people were tailing Navalny, but how can we know for sure that any of the exchange between the alleged agent and Navalny himself is true or factual?

I'm only asking because I'm surprised an actual agent would be so verbose via phone, regardless of how good Navalny was at pretending.

Is it just due to the reputation of the investigators (bellingcat and co.)?

> I'm surprised an actual agent would be so verbose.

And therefore you suspect it's faked? Well, why would Navalny do this? Doing this and being caught would be a great way for Navalny to destroy his reputation and all the work he's been trying to do despite the actually, literally, deadly dangers.

And besides, the Russian agents don't seem to be highly capable, for example one of them brought taxi receipts from their HQ to the Moscow airport to their mission, and then got caught with it: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-hack-...

You gotta love the stupid bureaucracy of needing secret agents to provide receipts for presumably reimbursement...

It may be the consequences of corruption. You can't trust the spies to file honest expense reports rather than trying to rip you off. So you make them file receipts, and so your spies get blown.

Corruption is expensive, and not just in terms of money...

I'm not questioning Navalny's intent, I'm questioning the (alleged) agent's.

Then you should've been more descriptive in what you think is faked...

'secret agents to provide receipts'

Thats the cherry on top

Means, motive, opportunity + admission. What else do you want?

Honestly, I think it's too bold to poison the most popular opposition member even for FSB (Russian FBI). So who knows maybe the person who started it doesn't belong to Kremlin.

Account is over two years old but this is your first comment?

Do you think I'm a bot?)) Lol. Most topics on politics on HN relate to USA, and I have neither interest nor competence to discuss such things.

However, this particular news referring to my home country and I express my own opinion.

There are plenty of KGB troll accounts commenting on this story. They are now most active as they have to do their job of discrediting the story and direct the narrative towards doubt: eg false flag, etc

But the evidence is staggering and it obviously doesn’t work

If you were in Russia you would know that it's not true) Most of FSB are really stupid and old fashioned. These people very far away from Tech, especially top officials. I'm not a fan of Putin either and truly believe that Russia deserves much better president with more liberal views (in a good way of course).

The Kremlin bots are on overtime here

How is the weather in Lubyanka Square comrades?

No one use "comrades" anymore in Russia) it's old stereotype

The Kremlin is the ultimate self-perpetuating stereotype

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