Russian intelligence has been targeting Jewish-American businessmen with Russian backgrounds for use as operatives in criminal cyber activity, alleges one of the documents in the controversial dossier published by Buzzfeed on Tuesday. The unverified documents in the dossier, which claim that the Russians have compromising personal and financial information on President-elect Donald Trump, have been presented both to Trump and President Barack Obama. Trump has condemned the documents as being “fake news” and representing a “total political witch hunt” against him.
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The assertion regarding the Jewish businessmen is contained in a dossier entitled “A Synopsis of Russian State Sponsored and Other Cyber Offensive (Criminal) Operations” and dated July 15, 2015.
The report asserts that the Russian intelligence bureau, known as the FSB, “was approaching US citizens of Russian (Jewish) origin on business trips to Russia.”
According to the document, these businessmen represented the FSB’s “recruitment of capable cyber operatives to carry out its ideally deniable, offensive cyber operations” in a process that involved “using coercion and blackmail.”
The report described one specific case of a “US citizen of Russian ethnicity” who was visiting Moscow to find investors for a new information technology program. Russian intelligence agents “offered to provide seed capital to this person in return for them being able to access and modify his IP with a view to targeting priority foreign targets by planting a Trojan virus in the software.”
The businessman “was told that this was common practice.”
The dossier of reports has “been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks,” Buzzfeed reported. The website said that the documents, which are dated mainly from the second half of 2016, had been prepared as research for Trump’s political opponents by a man identified only as a former British intelligence agent.
Although Buzzfeed reporters were unable to verify – nor falsify – the assertions in the memos – and even found several errors in them – the website stated that it decided to publish “the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest level of government.”
Another report in the collection, dated September 14, 2016, focused on the relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Alfa Group, the largest financial and industrial investment group in Russia. The company is headed by three Russian Jewish billionaires with ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky: Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven and German Khan.
Khan and Fridman, whose wealth Forbes estimates to be over $13 billion, both hold Israeli citizenship, and Alfa has a corporate presence in Israel which appears to be mainly focused on real estate investments and media.
The report – which misspells “Alfa” as “Alpha” – claimed that “significant favours continue to be done in both directions and Fridman and Aven still giving informal advice to Putin, especially on the US.”
It cites a “top-level government official” in Russia as saying that while Fridman has recently met directly with Putin, their communication takes place primarily through a middleman for reasons of “plausible deniability” given the "continuing sensitivity of the Putin-Alpha relationship." The middleman is named as Russia’s minister of regional development, Oleg Govorun.
In the 1990’s, the document claims, “Govorun had been head of government relationships at Alpha Group and in reality the “driver” and “bag carrier” used by Fridman and Aven to deliver large amount of illicit cash to the Russian president, at that time deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.”
A source close to the three businessmen told Haaretz the material on them in the memo was “untrue” and “fake news,” denying that any of them gave cash to Putin or offered him any advice on US affairs - and said that they haven’t had contact with Govorun for “many years.”
The three billionaires are active and generous Jewish philanthropists. Fridman co-founded the Russian Jewish Congress. The trio is best-known for co-founding the high-profile Genesis Philanthropy Group, which supports Russian-speaking Jewish communities around the world as well as the Genesis Prize, branded as "the Jewish Nobel." The $1 million prize to “honor those people who attribute their success to Jewish values” has for past three years held a glitzy ceremony in Jerusalem. Its recipients so far have been former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Hollywood actor-director Michael Douglas and Israeli-American violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.
In early November, journalist Franklin Foer reported in Slate that there was possible evidence that a computer server owned by the Trump Organization “appeared to be unusually configured, and to communicate almost exclusively with two servers registered to Alfa Bank in Moscow.” Alfa Bank is the largest private commercial bank in Russia and is primarily owned and controlled by Fridman.
The group of computer scientists Foer cited “found the evidence strongly suggestive of a relationship between the Trump Organization and the bank but not conclusive.” The story was debunked by the Washington Post and several other media outlets.