AGENT OF INFLUENCE:
The arrest of Maria Butina, the poor man’s Anna Chapman has opened a whole new avenue of investigation by the amateur spy hunters as well as the professionals this week. As it turns out, Maria had been under surveillance for a while and a known quantity to the FBI/DOJ as well for some time. Butina was even in the news cycles back in 2016 attached in stories to Alexander Torshin, a Russian Oligarch cum Bratva/Mobster with ties to the FSB and to Putin. This however did not make her a household name and in effect many people in the media were caught off guard I think when the feds arrested her and presented the affidavit in court on her FARA violations and flight risk potential.
Butina had been a fixture in 2015-2016 with the NRA circles and in fact it seems that she and Torshin had been a part of a plot to funnel money to the NRA as well as attempt to garner access to the Trump campaign/admin as well as others in the Republican party vis a vis entree from the NRA itself and a certain person 1, in the affidavit. Person one turns out to be Paul Erickson, an alleged master of the political universe in his own mind. He and Butina had been living together and it has become clear that it was a task that Butina felt she had to carry out to complete her mission per conversations the feds have picked up during their surveillance of her.
It seems that Butina, and Torshin with the help of Erickson and one other person yet unnamed, were able to potentially funnel money through the NRA to the Trump campaign and to the tune of 30 million dollars. With this access and her machinations to meet and greet as many players as possible (a list was provided by Erickson it seems to hit up with his direction) they would also have access and influence over CPAC, the conservative political action group as well. With this kind of access it seems that perhaps, with more information to come to confirm this, Russia had an access and influence campaign that changed the Republican platforms stance on Russia to be more along the lines of what Trump is evincing today.
Poor Man’s Anna Chapman:
After all the information started coming out post the affidavit’s publication online it then became an interesting rabbit hole to go down and see just how this operation was carried out and with what skill. After looking at things myself I am going to say here that I do not believe this was a well thought out operation that was being run by the likes of the SVR nor the FSB. I think that this was a condoned and “let’s see what happens” kind of operation that was a sideshow to the main events of the influence operations by the GRU and SVR that we are all dealing with today. I say this for a few reasons;
1) Torshin is connected to the FSB but he is not FSB: He in fact likely is an asset of the FSB much like some mobsters have been to the CIA in the past.
2) Torshin and Butina’s utter lack of OPSEC leaves me to believe that this was not a managed operation by the FSB/SVR/GRU because plainly it was so inept
3) Butina seems to be a clean skin (i.e. no history as an operative) but does have a backstop story of being a Russian business owner. She isn’t really a classic kind of “illegal” because she did not have a cover identity and paperwork like the illegals busted back in 2010 who were actually trained in tradecraft and sent here undercover.
In fact the absolutely poor OPSEC with which these two carried out communications online and off is a sign to me that there were no official handlers to the operation. If there were then they were negligent to the point of idiocy. There is even an amusing exchange between Butina and Torshin about being on a phone call and it being insecure where Butina recommends using WhatsApp but it is not clear if Torshin could handle using it and that they went silent so to speak. It seems overall that they did not and the feds have quite a bit of material on them both.
Add to this the fact that they carried a lot of these conversations in email and on facebook and Twitter and you can see a clear pattern of lack of tradecraft as opposed to what we have all seen come out of the indictments recently of the GRU operation against the DCCC and DNC as well as the disinformation operations. So once again I am gonna call it as amateur hour with a side of Anna Chapman Sparrow wannabe syndrome. This can also be reinforced with Torshin’s comments on how Butina is like and or had surpassed Anna in her operations.
A Noisy Operation:
What Maria Butina lacked in tradecraft, she easily made up for in ability to entice 54 year olds like Erickson with sex and access though. It seems that she played on this quite a bit and thought of herself as the next Anna super spy given all these photos she had taken by Oleg Volk, a photographer with a gun fetish in Tennessee. Her portfolio there is all guns all the time and since she was playing the part of a Russian NRA right to bear arms supporter it all fit the greater theme. However, even with her sex appeal and her playfulness, she managed to not be overly subtle either and her connections to Torshin were pretty clear. The media and certain people in the government noticed and asked for her to be investigated as well as her connections to the NRA.
As you can see from the text here she was a known quantity but all of these people around her did nothing to report her. They all just went along with the money and the possible access to her and Russia via Torshin. It really amazes me how people can just eschew all ethics and morals when large sums of money are being handed to them in order to further their own cause. As for the Republicans and the access there, like I said above I believe there is much more yet to come on her connections to individuals and the movements of money from them to NRA to Trump. I look forward to more of this coming out and in fact a little teaser yesterday was that a new player showed up at court for Butina’s hearing on being a flight risk.
That new player is a prosecutor who’s specialty is with trials concerning espionage. It turns out that though she has been arrested on FARA issues, she may in fact be later charged with espionage given that this prosecutor has shown up. It is also interesting that during the hearing there were two guys from the Russian consulate there and the reason that Butina was remanded without bail was the concern that she had packed all her things, moved money overseas, and that the consulate folks looked like they were planning an exfil if she was let go.
Players Yet To Be Named:
I also have to wonder who Person 2 is as well as others out there who had connections and or friendships with Butina. They all must be shitting bricks right about now I would think. One of those people mentioned in the articles I got in my OSINT searches was Cleta Mitchell. I looked her up and wouldn’t you know it, she is involved on the International Foundation for Electoral Systems board as well as seems to have raised the alarm about Russia, the NRA, and money and access being funneled from it to Trump.
I guess she saw it all up close and personal…
I wonder when we will have some more names added to the list and perhaps some indictments or at the least subpoena’s served on this matter. Overall though, this case could be a lynch pin for the Mueller investigation in a couple of ways. Certainly there is the money angle, and Mueller is following the money most certainly. The players here could end up helping the investigation for immunity as well. However, the big thing for me is that in this net of collusion and money, we may see even more republicans touched by this case. It seems pretty clear that the Republicans changed their attitudes toward Russia after the money spigot opened and perhaps this NRA money funnel and perhaps to CPAC will crack open and give us some answers on why people like Nunes and Gowdy for instance, are so available to subverting the constitution in favor of Trump and Russia.
Perhaps they are trying to hide their guilt because, gee, there’s kompromat on them as well.
Maybe some pics of Butina, guns, and naked senators somewhere…