The few people who have looked at this so far haven’t really known what to make of it. I don’t claim to have a definitive answer right now either. But with the corporate mindset on Spygate/Russiagate finally shifting to where it’s been headed for months now – toward the recognition that “X”-gate started well before the FBI put down the stake of a formal predicate for an “investigation,” in July 2016 – this is a good time to deploy the chip.
Here is the context in which to view it. If the FBI’s (and other U.S. agencies’) “Trump-Russia probe” started before there were supposedly specific, documented suspicions about George Papadopoulos, that means two things of overriding importance.
First, it means the “Papadopoulos” narrative about how the suspicions supposedly arose is no longer a constraint for reconstructing what happened.
And second, it means that there is nothing constraining us to assume it was a good-faith investigation at all.
We are not constrained to assume otherwise either. But we are free to test our data points against differing hypotheses, and see which one the data points fit the best.
The Obama administration’s activities can be interpreted in basically one of two ways. The activities, to recap, were deploying an informant to seek access to the Trump campaign; reportedly – potentially – putting at least one informant into the campaign (not demonstrated as yet, and the informant(s) not identified); putting Trump associates under FBI-managed electronic surveillance of various kinds; and unmasking at least some Trump associates, in their communications, at the National Security Council level.
These activities are separate from the related activities of the Clinton campaign and the media. But they were demonstrably coordinated, via some of the links we know about, among the three sets of actors: the Obama agencies, the Clinton campaign (and Democratic organizations), and the media.
Two potential interpretations
This set of bare facts has to affect our thinking about how we interpret what was done. And it is hard to account for quite a bit of it, if the overarching construct is the first basic interpretation: i.e., that this was an FBI investigation of Russia and Trump.
For example, the investigation, on the government end, has leaked like a sieve. It has been constantly disclosing tendentious and self-serving information to the media since at least July 2016. In all my years as a sentient adult, I don’t recall that ever being characteristic of legitimate FBI investigations.
Couple that with things like the off-the-wall use of the Clinton-commissioned Steele dossier to justify the FISA application on Carter Page; the John Brennan (! – CIA director?) suasion blitz with Congress in late August 2016, trying to put heat on James Comey; the illegal leak to the media of highly classified intelligence in which Michael Flynn was illegally identified by name – even just these three threads show a pattern of trying to force kinetic effects via unsanctioned means. That pattern leads us directly away from “FBI investigation.”
The overall character of this thing looks more like an operation being run against Trump. That would be the second basic interpretation. We can’t tell yet if it might have been an operation to try to discover and exploit dirt on Trump (a fishing expedition), or an operation to plant dirt on Trump.
I wouldn’t be in haste to assume the latter. Trump and his associates did start with a lot of connections, however incidental some of them may have been, to shady Russians. That this made Trump no worse than Hillary Clinton is a valid point, and an important one. But it mustn’t cloud our analytical judgment about the nature and purpose of the operation. The anti-Trump operation, if such it was, could well have hoped to find exploitable information, rather than having to manufacture it.
If it was an operation, however, then we need to both rethink some things we’ve already thought of as accounted for, and seek enlightenment in data points that have lurked there all along, but might not have had a place before.
One element of that is looking further back in the timeline, into at least the latter half of 2015. I’ve mentioned that several times; Sara Carter brought it up in her excellent article on Friday as well. I have quite a bit to go into later in that regard.
But in this post, I want to look at just one set of events from February 2016. It’s a weird pair of events, and it’s the kind of thing that – if we were getting good-faith leaks about an FBI investigation – we would have heard about already, in stereo. It’s a wailing klaxon that there was something significant about George Papadopoulos in February 2016.
If you wanted to show there was something “off” about Papadopoulos, you wouldn’t go on and on about Joseph Mifsud and Hillary’s emails. You’d key on this.
Yet the data point has been out there since the beginning, unplucked and un-showcased by the media narrative about Russiagate. That is very informative – and in more ways than one.
Not much appeared to be happening in the Russiagate timeline of February 2016. This was after Papadopoulos left the Ben Carson campaign (in January 2016), where he had briefly been a paid consultant, and before he was accepted as a consultant to the Trump campaign in early March. Papadopoulos, having lit out for London, would reportedly meet Joseph Mifsud, Maltese man of mystery, on 14 March, and go on to develop a connection that was mostly about trying (and failing) to arrange meetings between Russians and the Trump campaign.
But February was the month in which Papadopoulos’ rather vague status as a “director” of the think-tank-ish London Centre of International Law Practice (LCILP) was first documented. Mifsud held a position with the LCILP as well, that of Convenor and Director for International Strategic Development. The Papadopoulos post was Director for International Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Law.
Papadopoulos was listed as holding this position from February to April 2016. Analysts have been universally skeptical that there was much to it, considering the skeletal quality of young Papadopoulos’ resume.
The question left mostly unasked is why someone seemed to want to confer the appearance of credentials on Papadopoulos, and whether – this is certainly my question – the out-of-the-blue haste in that regard, just at that moment in February 2016, points to a motive somewhere.
I suspect this is fated to come into better focus for us in the days ahead. In any case, February was the month when Papadopoulos assumed his weighty title in the London think-tank.
Others have provided essential-reading summaries of the association between Papadopoulos and Mifsud; see Lee Smith’s profile of Mifsud from 30 May (“The Maltese Phantom of Russiagate”) for one of the best. (Also, along the line of what type of activity the Obama FBI was embarked on, don’t miss Andrew McCarthy’s latest, which in essence casts doubt on the narrative that the key information Papadopoulos supposedly received and passed on – about “Hillary’s emails” – was actually offered to him, in the nefarious, agent-of-influence manner the narrative implies. If it wasn’t offered in a way that validates the narrative, then what has this all been about?)
What I am focused on here is a very specific aspect of the Papadopoulos-Mifsud connection, which is that it overlapped two crucial dimensions of an emerging picture.
One is the two men’s common link to the LCILP think-tank. The other is the additional connection both of them had – Papadopoulos seemingly through his link to Mifsud – with Link Campus University in Rome.
I’ve written before, at least twice, about the possibility that Link Campus University has filled a recruiting role of some kind for – not to put too fine a point on it – government spy operations. The whiff is there; and more strongly of it having a British and/or other Western European connection than a Russian one.
But the point in this post is to highlight something significant to both the LCILP and Link Campus in February 2016. There is strong evidence that on the same day, 16 February 2016, a money-facilitating arrangement was altered that appeared to implicate both entities (although in different ways).
Money is always a definitive tracking indicator, rarely if ever meaningless. It’s usually the first or second thing you look at (along with the people connections). In this case, the shift in arrangements originated with the same person. That person is a bit player (so far) in the Russiagate drama, Mifsud associate Dr. Stephan Roh.
Roh, a Swiss citizen and resident of Monaco and the UK, is the owner of a string of businesses across the Eastern hemisphere: among them investment firms, mining, consulting services, and a law practice, with offices from Hong Kong to the Middle East, Russia, Europe, and London. His wife, Olga Shakhovskaya Roh, is Russian-born, reportedly from an elite family, and now a fashion designer in the UK with Prime Minister Theresa May as one of her high-profile clients.
As Lee Smith wrote, Roh and Thierry Pastor, both business associates of Mifsud, are publishing a book about Russiagate. Entitled “The Faking of Russia-gate: The Papadopoulos Case, an Investigative Analysis,” the self-published work reportedly makes the case that Joseph Mifsud, if he has spying or informant connections, has them to Western and not Russian intelligence agencies.
There is much in this tangled web still to be sorted, and no gotchas in anything we know about Roh or Pastor. But it raises big questions, when we look into two obscure business interests of Dr. Roh, and discover that, just at the exact time George Papadopoulos was rather incongruously made a director at the LCILP, Roh on 16 February 2016 formed a new London-based company called Global Global, which went on in June 2016 to be renamed the London Centre for International Law and Diplomacy Ltd., and formed a separate new company under the name Drake Global Ltd., to invest in Link Campus University.
An especially interesting feature of these two companies, formed on the same day, is that they both have their anonymous shareholders registered in the Marshall Islands. Both companies’ filing documents reflect shares held by ILS Publishing Ltd., on which there is no extant information other than the generic trust-company contact listing in the Marshall Islands. (The “ILS” maps back to a name in the Roh family of companies, but there is no further information on ILS Publishing.) Each subsidiary has 1,000 shares of stock in these anonymous hands at £1 each.
In other words, the shares are held through a shell corporation. The Republic of the Marshall Islands (formerly a U.S. Trust Territory) isn’t a tax haven, per se, but it’s a haven for anonymous shell-company incorporation. The LCILD and Drake Global entities seem to be the only ones linked to Roh in the UK that have this structure.
A Drake Global filing for 2017 shows net company assets of £2.29 m. According to an oddly elusive Italian news article from October 2016, for which I am using a cached link (and have retained screen caps in case that fails), Drake Global was a new “strategic partner” for Link Campus University. The university management company was valued at €50 m, and Drake Global, described as being owned by Dr. Stephan Roh of R & B Investment Group, was purchasing a 5% stake.
(The BBC described this in a March 2018 report as Roh “buying Link Campus University,” but I’m going with the more careful Italian language on the arrangement here.)
ICILD (Global Global), on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have ultimately amounted to anything. In 2017 and 2018, it filed as a “dormant” company, listing only its original £1,000 capitalization and no current assets.
But UK researcher “caltonjock” suggests in an information-packed entry at his blog that the intended function of ICILD – so similar in name to ICILP – was to “replace” the ill-starred London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD), Joseph Mifsud’s other major vehicle for London-based networking, when it dissolved in 2016. (For more on the LAD, see Jon Worth’s seminal post here.)
That may be, although it doesn’t seem likely that Roh and Mifsud, or any combination of the two of them with others, would have sought to so closely duplicate the name of the ICILP, an established entity in its own right run by Peter Dovey and Nagi Idris – and at the time, in 2016, employing Mifsud.
A better supposition, I think, would be that the newly formed ICILD was created as a means of moving money around for something. It was quite probably related to George Papadopoulos and Joseph Mifsud, who held positions at the similarly named ICILP. The formation of ICILD Ltd. and Drake Global Ltd. on the same day, both of them with apparent relationships to Mifsud and Papadopoulos, and both with the same shell-company shareholding structure in the Marshall Islands, cannot have been a coincidence.
Two more data points on Stephan Roh help explain why, however little attention he got from the FBI in 2016, he had plenty of it by late 2017. One is that Roh had invested, rather oddly, in a one-man “nuclear services” company in 2005: Severnvale Nuclear Services Ltd. The BBC, at the link above, outlines this arresting transaction (emphasis added):
In 2005 Dr Roh bought Severnvale Nuclear Services Ltd from its one man-band owner, British nuclear scientist Dr John Harbottle. He then invited Dr Harbottle on an all-expenses paid trip to a conference in Moscow.
But the nuclear scientist was alert to the danger that visitors to Moscow can be targeted or even honey-trapped in compromising situations. Dr Harbottle said: “We smelt a rat. It didn’t sound as if it would ring true and I decided that I wasn’t going to go to this meeting.”
Under Dr Harbottle the company’s turnover had been £42,000 a year. Within three years under Dr Roh, Severnvale Nuclear, with just two employees, was turning over more than $43m (£24m) a year.
Dr Roh declined to respond to repeated attempts by the BBC to ask him to explain how he had transformed the business.
Why did Roh want Harbottle to go to Moscow? (Harbottle was fired after refusing to make the trip, incidentally.) And how did Severnvale make such a leap in revenue in three years? The media haven’t cracked the code on that so far.
The other data point on Roh is that he appeared at a conference of the “Center for Global Dialogue and Cooperation” (CGDC) in 2012, with Bill Clinton. (See photos here. Note: this is not the similarly named American group “Center for Global Development,” which was founded in 2001 and has its headquarters in Washington, D.C.)
There is no apparent evidence at this point of a deep or longstanding connection between Roh himself and the Clintons. But the CGDC was very active with the Clinton Global Initiative between 2009 and 2013, coinciding with Hillary Clinton’s stint as secretary of state.
It is interesting to note that the CGDC, founded by Europeans in Vienna in 2009, has shown no activity on its website since the end of 2015. In fact, after its last participation in the Clinton Global Initiative annual conference in September of 2013, the CGDC’s website shows only three more events between then and December 2015.
All of this was readily discoverable in 2016. If the FBI was conducting a good-faith investigation of Russian influence based on information about Papadopoulos received in July 2016 (or even 3-4 months before that), this is what would have stood out about the timeline of his connections to Mifsud. And – if we believe in the bona fides of the leaks machine to the U.S. media – this is what we the public would have been hearing about, at least a year ago.
But we weren’t. In fact, we’ve heard very little about it even after Stephan Roh was pulled aside by the FBI at Immigration, during a trip to New York in October 2017, and questioned for hours.
This suggests to me that the very real circumstances surrounding Roh’s links to Mifsud – and whatever may lie beyond that, which I stress we do not know – lack the quality the Russiagate narrative-spinners seek. Those circumstances don’t make Trump look suspicious.
It may even be felt that they seem to exonerate Trump, or at least take the focus off of him. For whatever reason, we haven’t heard about this.
What does it mean, meanwhile, that someone wanted to create a pair of new companies with implications for exactly the two men who would go on to figure in the Russiagate narrative, three weeks before one of those men joined the Trump campaign? We will ponder that question in a future post.