“A major Russian bank (Alfa Bank) with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin has filed racketeering lawsuits in Lancaster County and Palm Beach County, Florida, claiming hackers attempted to frame it as a conduit for back-channel messages between Moscow and Trump Organization servers, including one run by Lititz-based Listrak,” Mike Wereschagin reported in Sunday’s LNP | LancasterOnline. “The lawsuits, filed June 11, come nearly two years after the bank’s head, Petr Aven, tried unsuccessfully to set up a back channel to President Donald Trump’s transition team at Putin’s direction, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
The world gets smaller every day, it seems.
A pandemic that originated more than 7,000 miles away has reshaped our lives in ways we’re still trying to assess.
And now a lawsuit involving one of Vladimir Putin’s favored oligarchs has been filed in Lancaster County.
It raises more questions than a spy novel, and has just as many twists and intricacies.
As Wereschagin reported, Alfa Bank claims hackers manufactured the appearance of a back channel between the bank and the Trump Organization using the server of a Lititz marketing firm and other servers.
Some background from the Mueller report:
In late 2016, Putin met with Aven, the head of Alfa Bank.
Putin raised the prospect that the U.S. would impose additional sanctions on Russian interests, including on Aven and Alfa Bank.
Putin suggested that Aven take steps to protect himself and Alfa Bank.
Aven said Putin also mentioned he was having difficulty getting in touch with the incoming Trump administration.
Aven told Putin that among the steps he would take to protect the bank would be to try to establish a line of communication with the Trump transition team.
Keep in mind that, according to the Mueller report, Putin’s suggestions are generally assumed to be directives.
But Aven and Alfa Bank now claim the outreach was merely to protect the bank’s interests — not to advance Putin’s.
To suggest otherwise, the bank says, is to promote the false narrative created by the hackers.
On hackers and spoofing
According to Alfa Bank, those hackers sent emails to the bank’s servers that appeared to come from Trump Organization servers, including Listrak’s.
As Wereschagin explained, “Listrak serves hospitality companies, including the Trump Organization, by creating internet domain names that appear to be affiliated with those companies and sending mass marketing emails from them.”
Alfa Bank says the hackers “spoofed” those domain names, making it appear emails to the bank were coming from Listrak’s server.
Because Alfa Bank wants to do business in the United States, its stakeholders have hired a heavy-hitting Wall Street law firm to press its lawsuit.
Wereschagin asked Alfa Bank if Russian state authorities directed or urged Aven to file the lawsuit.
The bank’s reply? “No. Absolutely not. Mr. Aven is a private businessman and Alfa Bank is a private Bank. Alfa Bank initiated this litigation to serve its own goals; namely, identifying and holding those responsible” for the cyberattack that made it appear the bank was involved in election meddling.
Exploiting the system
Wereschagin cited a 2018 report by the Atlantic Council’s Anders Aslund, who warned that the Kremlin “has weaponized elements of the US judicial system and process to further its own ambitions.”
The Kremlin, he noted, exploits the “generous provisions for opening a discovery case” — and exploits the reticence of U.S. courts to see the workings of the Russian state as anything other than those of a traditional government.
This is despite the fact that in Russia, crime “is not an aberration, but the standard,” wrote Aslund, an expert on Eastern European economic policy. “The best understanding is that an organized crime gang led by Putin has taken over the commanding heights of the Russian state.”
The U.S. government and institutions, he wrote, “may not be able to stop this takeover, but they must avoid colluding with it, whether intentionally or unintentionally.”
We’d urge the Lancaster County court to heed Aslund’s warning.
Wereschagin pointed out that Alfa Bank's lawsuits were filed in two county courts, in two key swing states: Pennsylvania and Florida. He also noted that “U.S. intelligence officials have warned repeatedly that Russia would again try to interfere in the 2020 election by stoking division, spreading misinformation and attempting to stir doubt about the integrity of the electoral process.”
Alfa Bank’s lawsuit insists that it “is in no way related to U.S. or international politics, nor is it an attempt to support or harm, or to align Alfa Bank with, any candidate or political party.”
We’ll just note this: The Republican-led U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed in April that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the aim of helping Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said that “Russia’s aggressive interference efforts should be considered ‘the new normal.’ ... With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it’s more important than ever that we remain vigilant against the threat of interference from hostile foreign actors.”
And yet, on Tuesday, Senate Republicans stripped from a defense spending bill a measure that would have required presidential campaigns to report foreign offers of assistance.
Why might they have done that?
U.S. troops in Afghanistan
We await more answers from the Trump administration as to why President Trump hasn’t sanctioned — or even chided — Putin for reportedly putting bounties on the heads of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCain, retweeted a New York Times story reporting that “American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account.”
That data, the Times reported, was among the evidence that supported the U.S. intelligence conclusion “that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.”
“This is all so unbelievable!” McCain tweeted. “My son was there! I’m in utter disbelief.”
Jack McCain, a Navy helicopter pilot, had been deployed to Afghanistan.
York Dispatch reported Tuesday that “U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether a roadside bomb that last year killed two Marines with ties to York County was linked to bounties offered by Russia to kill American soldiers.”
One was Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, a York native, and the other was staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, whose parents live in York County.
The Trump administration claims the president was not briefed on the matter until Tuesday. Trump officials also claim the intelligence wasn’t conclusive.
This, however, we know for sure: Trump said just a few weeks ago that he wanted Russia to be allowed to rejoin the Group of Seven — the alliance from which it was banished in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea. And he said he would invite Putin as a guest when he hosts the G-7 summit in September.
Our troops and their families — especially those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan — deserve answers.