The New Yorker on Bill Browder

This New Yorker article, “How Bill Browder Became Russia’s Most Wanted Man,” discusses a number of people who worked on passing the Magnitsky Act, most of whom were Jewish, including:
Bill Browder himself
Edmond Safra, Browder’s billionaire partner in Hermitage Capital
Senator Ben Cardin
Ambassador Dan Fried
David Kramer of Freedom House
Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations
The Ziff brothers, millionaire friends of Browder

Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s tax lawyer and accountant who was killed in a Russian prison and was immortalized in the Magnitsky Act, was not Jewish; he was an ethnic Russian.

According to the New Yorker article, the men working to pass the Magnitsky Act wanted to find a substitute for the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Act, since that old law would become unenforceable when Russia joined the World Trade Organization and the US had to drop discriminatory trade legislation in 2012.  Jackson-Vanik was designed to help Jews get our of the old Soviet Union.  Although Senator Jackson was not Jewish, his staffers who worked to pass it became some of the leading Republican Jewish foreign policy officials in the United States: Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, and Doug Feith.  According to the Bush White House, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment helped an estimated 600,000 Jews emigrate from Russia to the US, and another 1,000,000 to emigrate to Israel.  Instead of applying to emigration by ordinary Jews, the Magnitsky Act applies to some of the oligarchs who surround Putin; it prevents them visiting or doing business in the US.

While lobbying for the bill, Browder presented a list of 280 Russians to be sanctioned.  The US initially sanctioned 18, and later added 31 more.  A significant number of Putin’s oligarchs are Jewish, and some of them are included in the Magnitsky sanctions, such as Viktor Vekselberg, for example.  It seems strange that Jackson-Vanik, which broke down Soviet restrictions on Jewish travel has been replaced by Magnitsky which imposes American restrictions on Jewish travel, but there are probably some Jewish issues I don’t understand.

From Magnitsky’s viewpoint, I think it is mainly about money.  Browder’s Russian hedge fund, Hermitage Capital, made him a billionaire.  Putin kicked Browder off the Russian gravy train, and Browder wanted revenge on Putin.  Somehow he played this move in a way that attracted the support of the US Congress, led by Senator Ben Cardin, despite resistance by the Obama administration.  It may have gained support mainly from legislators who did not like Putin, and who thought the Act said, “Hey, Putin, take that! We hate your guts!”

In response, Putin banned Americans from adopting Russian children.  This doesn’t seem to have much to do with the Magnitsky issues, but it may have been something that came up for review about the same time and gave Putin a little something to retaliate with.  This is the reason the Trump campaign initially said the famous Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya was about adoption.  It was, because that’s the Russian half of the Magnitsky saga.

According to the New Yorker article, Veselnitskaya worked for the wealthy Russian Katsyv family.  Browder got the government to bring charges against the Katsyv family, which he said had brought some of Hermitage’s tax money into New York to buy property,  Veselnitskaya hired Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, the same Fusion GPS that hired the former British spy Christopher Steele to spy on Trump in Russia. While it seems farfetched and doesn’t seem to have come up in the Trump Tower meeting, the Russian Katsyv response to Browder’s charges played up Browder’s connection to the Ziff brothers (American Jewish millionaires who donated a lot to the Democrats), the implication being that Hillary’s campaign may have “colluded” with the Russians through the Ziff connection.

In a deposition related to the Katsyv case, Browder said he did not regularly talk directly to Magnitsky or Magnitsky’s lawyers.  This indicates to me that Browder didn’t really care that much about Sergei Magnitsky and his “human rights” but was more concerned about the financial implications for his business in Russia.  Yet, somehow, as a native-born American citizen who had renounced his American citizenship, he persuaded the US Congress to pass a bill that gave him revenge against Putin in the name of “human rights.”

I am guessing from his name that Joshua Yaffa, who wrote this article is also Jewish. Although there was a  lot of rehashing of old news reports and Bill Browder’s book, Red Notice, it did shed some interesting new light on the issue.  It did not change my opinion that Putin is probably justified in hating Bill Browder, who is a slimeball.




Trump and Putin

I am not upset by the Trump-Putin meeting.  I am upset by Mueller and the media.  Mueller’s decision to release the indictment of the 12 Russian spies appears to have been politically motivated to make the Putin meeting more difficult for Trump.  It’s the most overt indication I have seen that Mueller is not being even-handed and unbiased.  This action seemed clearly to benefit the Democrats and to make it impossible for Trump to have the friendly summit with Putin that he wanted.

I think it is good that Trump likes Putin and wants to form a good relationship with him.  The US and Russia still have the two most destructive nuclear arsenals in the world.  It’s good that they don’t want to use them on each other. While everybody in Washington is saying Putin is a terrible dictator, he is not saying things like Khrushchev’s, “We will bury you.”  I don’t think any American journalists asked any questions at the joint press conference about nuclear weapons.  If so, the media ignored them.  The entire focus was on Russian meddling in the US election, in part because of Mueller’s release of the indictments.  In essence the press said, “We don’t care about nuclear annihilation, we only care about election hacking.”

The thing is: Russia did hack some stuff during the election; I’m not sure what or exactly who did it.  Putin may have been personally involved, or maybe not.  We know he dislikes Hillary because Hillary had tried to remove him from office.  He probably also doesn’t like Hillary because her husband, Bill, was instrumental in expanding NATO up to the very borders of Russia, which Putin saw as an existential threat.  George W. Bush carried on the expansion.  To me, the Baltic countries — Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia — are just a nuclear tripwire.  If Russia attacks them they back up to the Baltic ocean and are only a few miles wide.  NATO defense against a massive Russian invasion looks almost impossible to me.  So the only response by us as if the attack had been on the US mainland, is nuclear.  The US will have to launch a nuclear war against Russia in response.  After a massive nuclear exchange, hundreds of millions of people will be dead on both sides.  But the press does not care about that possibility; it only cares about election hacking.  The press is willing for a hundred million people to die, if it means no more hacking.  I don’t think they have their priorities right.

Maybe Trump did let Putin off the hook as far as accusing him of hacking the election.  But does anyone really believe Putin would admit he did it?  It’s pointless to try to get him to confess.  Trump was trying to form a working relationship with Putin.  The press was insisting that the hacking was like Putin had an ugly wart on his face and was insisting that Trump tell Putin he was so ugly that it made people sick to look at him.  The press was basically yelling at Trump to spit in Putin’s face, and when he didn’t they called him a coward and a traitor.

Watching the antics of the impassioned American press, I am sure Putin thought, “Thank goodness I don’t have a free press and don’t have to deal with maniacs like this.”  The American press did not cover itself with glory.   Do they really believe that nuclear war is the best response to election hacking?

MTCR – Part 2 – Brazil

While I was overseas in Thailand and Brazil, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) had been created and agreed among the G-7.  Administrations had changed; George H.W. Bush had taken over from Reagan, and he had made a number of personnel changes to differentiate his administration from Reagan’s.  Richard Perle was out and had been replaced at the Pentagon by Stephen Hadley, who went on to be the NSC National Security Adviser under President George W. Bush.  His main assistant for missile proliferation at DOD was Henry Sokolski, and Richard Spier continued to work on the issue for him.

While I was in Brazil, the Brazilian space agency (INPE) decided to build environmental satellites to monitor the Amazon.  They wanted to build new ground stations to receive the data download sent from the satellites as they passed over Brazil.  One of the companies bidding on the ground stations was an American company, Scientific Atlanta.  For some reason, the Scientific Atlanta salesman in Brazil had missed the deadline for bidding on the ground stations.  As a result, the Brazilians chose a Japanese bidder.

The Embassy’s Commercial Counselor, who works for the Commerce Department, called and asked if I could do anything to help Scientific Atlanta.  I called some of my contacts at INPE and was somewhat surprised to find that they were willing to reopen the bidding.  They said they would prefer to work with an American company.  They reopened the bidding, and Scientific Atlanta won.  Soon we learned, however, that Stephen Hadley’s Pentagon office had denied Scientific Atlanta’s export license to build the ground stations because it said they violated the MTCR provisions.  Since there was no indication of any military connection, this ruling seemed totally wrong.  DOD’s decision was based on the fact that they thought that if the ground stations could maneuver to track satellites, they could follow a test launch of a military missile.  They could not do a good job of this, if they worked at all, because they were designed to track satellites in orbit, not rockets launched from the ground.  Nevertheless, the deal was blocked, and my contacts at INPE were furious.  They had had a deal with Japan, and now they had nothing.  They had awarded the contract to an American company, and now that company could not perform it.

I felt terrible.  Not only had I persuaded the Brazilians to award the contract to an American company, but I had been one of the creators of the MTCR, which was cited as the basis for blocking the deal.  In fact, the Pentagon for whatever reason did not like or trust Brazil.  For years, Brazil had had a nuclear rivalry with Argentina that caused both of them to maintain nuclear programs that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons, and both preserved the option of building missiles that could deliver a nuclear weapon.  Argentina led in both categories, with a missile called the Condor, and a nuclear research lab at Bariloche. While I was in Brazil, however, Brazil and Argentina had agreed to de-escalate their nuclear rivalry, although neither had yet joined the NPT.

Both nuclear and missile technologies are dual use.  They can build nuclear power reactors or military weapons.  They can build space launch vehicles for scientific research or missiles to deliver weapons.  I was convinced from my years of working with both the nuclear and space communities in Brazil and from my studies in Washington before going to Brazil that Brazil was not going to build either type of weapon under the present circumstances, although they wanted to retain the option to build one of they felt threatened by changes in the international situation.  Whatever DOD may have thought their intentions were, the satellite ground stations would not have been useful for testing a missile.  They were designed to be used for peaceful purposes only.

Around this time, I got a call from the Politico-Military Bureau at the State Department in Washington, asking if I would be interested in working on missile proliferation issues there.  I agreed in part because it might give me a chance to reverse the DOD decision to deny the ground station export license.  The fight went on for months; all that time Brazil was prevented from beginning work on its ground stations.  In the end, however, we finally got the decision reversed and the export license approved, much too late to please Brazil.

After I had been assigned to PM, I ran into an awkward situation.  Before I arrived I was promoted to FSO-1 from FSO-2.  The head of the PM Bureau was Assistant Secretary Richard Clarke, who went on to be in charge of the White House counter-terrorism office during the 9/11 attack.  Clarke had a candidate he wanted to name as deputy director of the office I was going to.  However, the candidate was an FSO-2.  I felt that as an FSO-1, it would be inappropriate for me to work under an FSO-2.  Clarke was unhappy, but agreed to appoint someone else.  I don’t remember exactly how it worked out; perhaps I was officially named deputy director or co-director so that I would not be working for a lower ranking person.  When I left, I received a meritorious honor award, which I thought was generous of Clarke, who had had to give up an appointment he wanted because of my promotion.