The Chicago Syndicate: Vladimir Putin
Showing posts with label Vladimir Putin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vladimir Putin. Show all posts

Friday, March 09, 2018

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of @realDonaldTrump

The incredible, harrowing account of how American democracy was hacked by Moscow as part of a covert operation to influence the U.S. election and help Donald Trump gain the presidency.

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, is a story of political skullduggery unprecedented in American history. It weaves together tales of international intrigue, cyber espionage, and superpower rivalry. After U.S.-Russia relations soured, as Vladimir Putin moved to reassert Russian strength on the global stage, Moscow trained its best hackers and trolls on U.S. political targets and exploited WikiLeaks to disseminate information that could affect the 2016 election.

The Russians were wildly successful and the great break-in of 2016 was no "third-rate burglary." It was far more sophisticated and sinister -- a brazen act of political espionage designed to interfere with American democracy. At the end of the day, Trump, the candidate who pursued business deals in Russia, won. And millions of Americans were left wondering, what the hell happened? This story of high-tech spying and multiple political feuds is told against the backdrop of Trump's strange relationship with Putin and the curious ties between members of his inner circle -- including Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn -- and Russia.

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, chronicles and explores this bizarre scandal, explains the stakes, and answers one of the biggest questions in American politics: How and why did a foreign government infiltrate the country's political process and gain influence in Washington?

Monday, August 08, 2016

Putin's Number 1 Enemy - Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice

A New York Times bestseller: “[Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice] does for investing in Russia and the former Soviet Union what Liar’s Poker did for our understanding of Salomon Brothers, Wall Street, and the mortgage-backed securities business in the 1980s. Browder’s business saga meshes well with the story of corruption and murder in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, making Red Notice an early candidate for any list of the year’s best books” (Fortune).

This is a story about an accidental activist. Bill Browder started out his adult life as the Wall Street maverick whose instincts led him to Russia just after the breakup of the Soviet Union, where he made his fortune.

Along the way he exposed corruption, and when he did, he barely escaped with his life. His Russian lawyer wasn’t so lucky: he ended up in jail, where he was tortured to death. That changed Browder forever. He saw the murderous heart of the Putin regime and has spent the last half decade on a campaign to expose it. Because of that, he became Putin’s number one enemy, especially after Browder succeeded in having a law passed in the United States that punishes a list of Russians implicated in the lawyer’s murder. Putin famously retaliated with a law that bans Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

A financial caper, a crime thriller, and a political crusade, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice, is the story of one man taking on overpowering odds to change the world, and also the story of how, without intending to, he found meaning in his life.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Would Donald Trump Be Out of Business without Russian Mob Money?

Earlier this month, GRU (Russian military intelligence) hackers broke into the computers at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, stealing their files. Then, July 22, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, thousands of emails drawn from these files and embarrassing to the Hillary Clinton camp were publicly released through WikiLeaks with the clear intention of dividing the Democratic Party and electing Donald Trump president.

Asked about this by the press on July 27, Trump openly proclaimed he favored such Russian hacking, and hoped Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and company would do more of it to help expose Hillary. This remarkable and potentially felonious statement provoked a firestorm of criticism, so Trump subsequently walked it back—a rare event for the Don—saying he had been speaking “sarcastically.”

The fact that the GRU did actually conduct a black operation inside the United States to assist Trump, however, makes it not so easy to dismiss. Furthermore, this chain of events comes within a context that supports the theory of a Trump-Kremlin alliance.

Putin has praised Trump, and rather than reject such praise Trump has returned it, calling the Russian dictator “a real leader” and dismissing his many murders of journalists and political opponents at home and abroad as “unproven.”

Last January, a British court found Putin had ordered the murder by Polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB (secret police) agent who revealed the 1999 apartment building bombings in Moscow that Putin used to seize dictatorial power were the work of Putin’s FSB. Disturbingly, the billionaire appears be fine with that.

Furthermore, Aleksandr Dugin, the chief composer of the Kremlin’s new ideological synthesis of communism and fascism and its leading organizer of pro-Moscow ultranationalist and identarian fifth column movements in the West, has endorsed Trump. “In Trump we trust,” says Dugin, apparently proposing we substitute Trump for God in the American national slogan. The Russian state-owned propaganda agency Russia Today (RT), which broadcasts internationally, including within the United States, has also been unstinting in its support for Trump.

Not only that, there is a money trail. Russian organized crime channels have funneled many millions of dollars into Trump’s businesses. Without these funds, Trump would be out of business, as, in consequence of his string of cons and failures, legitimate financiers in the West will no longer lend him money.

Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, formerly chief henchman to Putin-allied Ukrainian dictator Victor Yanukovych, was himself directly involved in transferring millions of dollars of such Russian mob funds to the Don.

Nor is Manafort the only leading member of the Trump camp with deep ties to the Kremlin. Trump energy advisor Carter Page is a major investor in the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom. As a Gazprom investor, Page has a personal financial interest in ending Western sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, a move which, along with recognizing the Russian annexation of Crimea, Trump himself said in his press conference July 27 he was considering.

But it gets worse. Page actually endorsed the Russian invasion of Ukraine, going so far as to compare U.S. support for Ukrainian independence to police killings of black youth. “The deaths triggered by U.S. government officials in both the former Soviet Union and the streets of America in 2014 share a range of close similarities,” wrote Page in January 2015.

Then there is Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, who had dinner with Putin last year. Such fraternization has borne fruit for the Kremlin, as evidenced by Trump operatives earlier this month eliminating language in the GOP platform advocating U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense.

Trump has also expressed support for Syrian dictator Bashir Assad, who in alliance with Russian and Iranian military forces is flooding Europe with refugees, thereby stoking the fortunes of the Kremlin-allied ultra-right parties operating as part of Dugin’s fascist international. These include the anti-NATO French National Front, whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has also endorsed Trump. The National Front’s current leader, Marine Le Pen, also supported the Russian takeover of Crimea, and is being openly bankrolled out of Moscow.

Most importantly, Trump supports gutting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an objective that has been Moscow’s number-one foreign policy priority since the beginning of the Cold War. He has denounced NATO as being “obsolete,” and called for sharply reducing U.S. commitments to the alliance that has been the bulwark of American security since World War II. Not only that, Trump has stated that as president he would not necessarily honor the U.S. treaty commitment to defend a NATO ally if Russia attacks it.

So in summary, here’s the deal: In exchange for Russian funds and black operations support, Trump will break the western alliance and hand Europe over to Kremlin domination.

This presents us with two questions. First, is Trump a Quisling? Second, if he is, then can partisan loyalty be sufficient grounds for members of the Republican Party to acquiesce in participating in a Kremlin plot against the United States of America?

Thanks to Robert Zubrin.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

High-Ranking Russian Officials Suspected of Mafia Ties, Have Warrants Issued for their Arrest by Spain

Spanish authorities have issued an arrest warrant for several high-ranking Russian officials suspected of mafia ties in the country, the Rosbalt.ru news website reported Tuesday.

State Duma deputy Vladislav Reznik from Putin's ruling "United Russia” party was among the 12 Russian citizens targeted by Spanish authorities. Several other prominent Russian officials also appear on the list, including General Nikolai Aulov, deputy director of the Federal Drug Control Service and former KGB colleague of Vladimir Putin; and former deputy chairman of the Investigative Committee Igor Sobolev.

Prosecutors claim that Reznik and Aulov both had dealings with Tambov mafia chief Gennady Petrov, who moved part of the gang's operation to Spain from St. Petersburg in 1996.

Sobolev is suspected by law enforcement agencies of informing the crime group of police actions in exchange for lavish gifts. Investigators say they have evidence of the group's involvement in arms trafficking, drug smuggling, extortion, bribery, and money-laundering.

All three men deny the charges.

Mafia leader Petrov was arrested and detained in Spain in 2008 and 2010, but released on bail on both occasions. In 2012, he received permission to leave the country for a brief visit to Russia but never returned.

Charges were filed against 26 Russian and Spanish defendants in December 2015, but they failed to attend court when requested in January of the following year.

Spain does not try defendants in absentia.

The police investigation has so far seen officers seize assets worth more 15 million euros ($17.3 million) belonging to alleged Russian organized crime groups. One of the prosecutors involved in the case, Jose Grinda, described Russia as a “virtual mafia state” in a leaked diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Madrid in 2010.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has described the prosecutors' allegations to journalists as "total nonsense," telling the Bloomberg news agency that the claims were "beyond the realm of reason."

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Vladimir Putin Orders Creation of National Guard to Fight Organized Crime and Terrorism

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered that a National Guard be created in Russia under the auspices of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The guard will fight terrorism and organized crime.
“We have made a decision to create a new federal executive body within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, namely the National Guard," the president said Tuesday.

The National Guard "will be fighting terrorism, organized crime, all in close cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They will also continue to perform the functions which are currently carried out by riot police units, SWAT, etc.,” he added.

The National Guard will be formed out of existing Interior Ministry troops. “We thought about how to improve [the work of law enforcement] in all areas, including those related to fighting terrorism, to organized crime and illicit drug trafficking,” Putin said.

The statement came as Putin met Interior Minister Viktor Kolokoltsev, head of the Federal Drug Control Service Viktor Ivanov, and the commander of the interior troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Viktor Zolotov.

Viktor Zolotov, ex-commander of the Internal Troops and former head of the President's personal security service, has been appointed as the leader of the new structure, with orders to report directly to the president, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Tuesday.

He also drew attention to the fact that Zolotov “has grand experience in [the work of] special forces. This is a very good basis for managing a body such as the National Guard.”

The National Guard will not perform field investigation activities, but they will be involved in fighting terrorism within the country, he added.  It is not yet clear, however, whether these troops will be taking part in counter-terrorism operations abroad, according to the spokesman.

Peskov said that the National Guard will work to protect public safety and order along with the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Peskov added that the changes in the structure of internal troops do not mean a loss of confidence in them, stressing that the move is aimed at improving their combat capabilities and increasing their effectiveness.

The creation of the new department will require improving the existing legal regulatory framework, as well as setting up ties with other agencies dealing with state security, especially the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, for coordination, he added.

No increase in staffing will be needed, according to Peskov. Moreover, “a combination of merging the Federal Drug Control Service and the Federal Migration Service with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the allocation of internal troops into the National Guard will optimize the entire structure,” he explained.

State Duma representatives have welcomed the President’s decision. Michael Starshinov, head of the inter-factional group on the interaction of civil society with law enforcement and intelligence agencies, considers the creation of the National Guard the State’s response to the current challenges. “I can only support the president's decision, because it corresponds with the logic of reforming the judicial system in general and the Ministry of Interior in particular. This step, of course, is also a response to modern challenges and threats, primarily from the international terrorism” Starshinov told reporters.

The deputy chairman of the Duma committee on security and corruption control, Andrey Lugovoy,  expressed his hope for positive changes from the creation of the new structure. “The fact that the internal forces will obtain new duties – fighting against organized crime and terrorism – I would expect that the effect of this will be positive,” Lugovoy said.

Franz Klintsevich, first Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, noted the National Guard will not have to answer to a long hierarchy of superiors, which will make decision-making easier and faster. “[The National Guard will] possess the maximum resources to fight terrorism, including the best forces from the Interior Ministry troops – the people, as they say, proven in combat. It will be endowed with ample powers laid down by federal law [and] will be able to make decisions quickly, without wasting time on all sorts of coordination.”

State Duma deputy from the party 'Spravedlivaya Rossiya' Tatyana Moskalkova also welcomed the news, predicting great improvement to the effectiveness of internal troops.

“The task of combating crime involves the use of specific tools, which are owned by internal troops. [Internal troops] use this special knowledge and special tools to deal with the most dangerous criminal manifestations, such as terrorism, hostage taking, hijacking and riots. The forming of the National Guard is a step toward strengthening the structure [of security forces] and finding new solutions to these security problems,” she said.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Vladimir Putin Named Organized Crime Man of the Year

Vladimir Putin has been named the 2014 Person of the Year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an award given annually to the person who does the most to enable and promote organized criminal activity.

Putin was recognized for his work in turning Russia into a major money-laundering center; for enabling organized crime in Crimea and in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine; for his unblemished record of failing to prosecute criminal activity; and for advancing a government policy of working with and using crime groups as a component of state policy.

“Putin has been a finalist every year so you might consider this a lifetime achievement award,” said Drew Sullivan, editor of OCCRP. “He has been a real innovator in working with organized crime. He has created a military-industrial-political-criminal complex that furthers Russia’s and Putin’s personal interests. I think Putin sees those interests as one and the same.”

Putin, a former KGB bureaucrat, began arresting most major organized crime figures in Russia several years ago, but then quietly released them. That was the start of Russia’s state policy of working with organized crime. OCCRP believes that Putin agreed to tolerate criminality in exchange for criminals’ support in advancing what he defined as Russian interests.

"Vladimir Putin and his siloviki fused a Cold War mentality with modern organized crime strategies and technology to create a new level of transnational organized crime,” said Paul Radu, executive director of OCCRP. “The Russian-backed money laundering platforms have exploited the lack of transparency in the global financial and offshore company registrations systems to create a new criminal financial infrastructure used by crime groups from as far away as Mexico and Vietnam".

Vladimir Putin has been named the 2014 Person of the Year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an award given annually to the person who does the most to enable and promote organized criminal activity.

For example, OCCRP looked at a sophisticated money-laundering system set up with the help of Russian and Moldovan organized crime that used Russian banks (including one connected to Vladimir Putin’s cousin Igor), fake bank loans, and corrupt Moldovan judges. The system moved the money of oligarchs, crooked government officials and organized crime into Europe through a Latvian bank. Money moved through the system was used to support Putin’s political interests.

In another project, OCCRP's partners aired a documentary which looked at the links between the state owned Russian Railways (which is close to Putin), a notorious banker known as the Black Banker who was shot in London, a slew of organized crime figures and hired assassins and a Russian/Moldovan businessman who also ran a pro-Russian political party in Moldova. The video was responsible in part for a decision by the Moldovan government to ban the Patria party on the eve of the elections because they received illegal financial assistance from Russia. Patria’s leader, fearing arrest, fled to Russia where Russian officials defended him publicly.

Organized crime figures have served as intermediaries for weapons transfers between the Russian army and Russian-backed separatist rebels in Ukraine. Working undercover, OCCRP reporters bought weapons from organized crime figures in Moldova; the weapons originated with the Russian 14th army in the breakaway region of Moldova known as Transnistria.

Putin’s government has forced the closure of media and civil society groups that have looked at its corrupt practices and ended the year in ironic fashion by finding its fiercest critic, blogger Alexey Navalny, guilty of corruption.

Putin was chosen as Person of the Year by more than 125 OCCRP-affiliated investigative reporters and 20 investigative reporting organizations in countries from Europe to Central Asia.

“For years Putin has created buffer states run by organized crime thugs, like Transnistria, Ossetia, Abkhazia and now Crimea and the Donbass,” Sullivan said. “While there is a long history of criminal groups working with governments around the world, both in the West and in the former Soviet Union, Putin has institutionalized these connections in ways never seen before.”

Runners up to Putin this year were Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. Previous winners include theRomanian Parliament for its role in legalizing crime in 2013 and Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, in 2012 for his role in taking large cuts of state business.

Thanks to The People's Cube.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is the Russian Mob Dead?


One of the last mafia kingpins from Russia’s wild 1990s has died. Rather than marking the end of an era, the event is reminding Russians just how much their government has occupied the role once played by organized crime.

Grandpa Hassan, as the mafia don was known, spent his last day holding court in the downtown Moscow cafe that served as his headquarters. At 2:30 p.m., he emerged to catch two bullets in the head and back, from a sniper on a roof across the street. Within hours, “GrandpaHassan” was a trending topic on Twitter. In the very act of dying, a figure from a freer, more lawless era thrust the nation into an examination of its criminal past and present.

Grandpa, whose passport identified him as Aslan Usoyan, 75, was a legend in his own time. An ethnic Kurd, he was “crowned” in 1966 as a “vor v zakone” -- a Russian crime boss of the highest rank. He survived at least three assassination attempts, outliving most of the ranking mobsters of his generation and staying on in Russia as others left for warmer shores in Spain or Bulgaria. His livelihood involved mediating mob conflicts and running a network of shadowy interests, primarily in the south of Russia.

“Only one remained in Russia, one who was known to all without exception,” journalist Maxim Kononenko eulogized in the newspaper Izvestia. “A figure from an earlier time, a Loch Ness monster, a yeti, a real fossil -- someone who connected us to our past.”

As if in recognition of Usoyan’s importance, police immediately posted guards at the Botkin Hospital morgue where his body was delivered after doctors failed to revive him. “They should have called in the honorary guard from Lenin’s tomb,” wrote blogger Sergei Averin on Twitter.

Versions of why Usoyan finally met a violent death abounded. He was reported to be skimming off the multibillion- dollar budgets earmarked for the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held on his home turf, in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi. Some said his old enemy Tariel Oniani, an opponent in gangland wars since the 1980s, must have been involved in the killing. Others suggested that he had been selling weapons to Kurdish separatists in Turkey, and the hit was punishment from the Turkish special services. Still others blamed younger mobsters fed up with Hassan’s old-school methods and abnormally long reign.

“I’m sick of this Hassan already,” blogger Sergei Nikolaev commented on Twitter. “It’s as if half the country has just got out of jail.”

Since the early 2000s, mobsters had faded from public view in Russia. Stories of the “Russian mafia” were for naive foreigners. In that context, some commentators portrayed Usoyan’s demise as a benefit of Putin’s authoritarian rule.

“The murder of Grandpa Hassan has put a full stop at the end of the ’accursed ’90’s’ story, unless he somehow manages to rise from the dead,” Vladimir Novikov wrote on the state- controlled site RAPSInews.ru.

“Such murders and a well-developed criminal underworld are features of market democracies such as the U.S. or Italy,” Alexei Pushkov, head of the Russian parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee, commented in his microblog.

Others, though, see less difference between the current regime and the organized crime of old. Under Putin’s tight clique of former KGB officers, law enforcement agencies have become more powerful than any mafia. Extortion and racketeering are now largely the turf of tax inspectors and economic-crime police.

“Private business is still deprived of effective protection on the part of the law enforcement system and the courts,” wrote journalist Mikhail Kozyrev on the opinion website Slon.ru. “If there is demand for fair solutions to problems, there will also be supply” from bureaucrats, police, special services and even crime bosses. “Quite law-abiding businessmen reach out to them for protection.”

In short, the mobsters are not really gone. They have merely been forced to share the market with other protection peddlers. Albeit less visible, they are just as wealthy and well-connected.

“I have met some mobster-businessmen with close ties” to state-owned companies, bureaucrats and special services, investigative journalist Irina Reznik wrote in a Facebook comment. “Very often these businessmen have run errands too shady for government-appointed managers and officials.”

Grandpa Hassan’s cafe office, after all, was just a mile from the Kremlin.

(Leonid Bershidsky, an editor and novelist, is Moscow and Kiev correspondent for World View. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: bershidsky@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Eliot Ness and Al Capone Move to Turkey

If this column were written regularly in Turkish and I were a columnist of greater importance, I would have sworn that the man opposite me had been reading my mind. The man opposite me is, of course, the Turkish Prime Minister.

I warned our bosses more than a year ago that our group might face “corporate consequences” if we did not “behave.” We did not. And we suffered terrible corporate consequences. Last month, I expressed my concern that our boss, Aydın Doğan, might face prison if we did not behave. I compared Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vs Aydın Doğan to Vladimir Putin vs Mikhail Khodorkovsky. And a few days ago Prime Minister Erdoğan likened Doğan to Al Capone. That’s a bad sign.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 5, Erdoğan played the Turkish reincarnation of Eliot Ness, the Bureau of Prohibition agent and the man who finished off Capone as he compared the $3.2 billion tax case against Doğan with the U.S. pursuit of the famous gangster on tax-evasion charges in the 1930s. Erdoğan said: “In the U.S. there are also people who have had problems with evading taxes. Al Capone comes to mind. He was very rich, but then he spent the rest of his life in jail. Nobody raised a voice when those events happened.”

Now, what should we make of that? That champion tax payer Doğan is in fact Turkey’s public enemy number one? That he is a gangster engaged in mob wars and massacres but never leaves behind evidence so that he could be brought to justice for his crimes? That the only way to nail him was to send him a crippling tax fine? That, Doğan, like Capone, could also spend the rest of his life in jail despite his wealth?

The truth is, by using the Capone analogy, Erdoğan has unwisely confessed that his problem with Doğan was about a matter “other than taxation,” but that taxation was the only way to hit Doğan. What could that “matter” be? Drug smuggling? Racketeering? Mass killings of business rivals? Torture? Bombs and subversion? It’s just too obvious, and even my cat could tell you the truth if he could speak (in fact, he tried to scratch an answer on the rug, but I should not mention his argument here lest he be carted off to pet prison).

What else does WSJ’s Erdoğan quote tell us? Why did the prime minister say that “Capone spent the rest of his life in jail and nobody raised a voice when those events happened?” Could it be because Erdoğan is annoyed by the international reaction against the tax case, including senior EU officials warning that this case will come under the press freedom heading in this year’s annual progress report?

Apparently, Erdoğan expects everyone, especially the West, to remain silent about Doğan just as everyone was silent about Capone in the 1930s. That is hardly surprising, since the first one to criticize the international chorus of complaints about the Doğan affair was, ironically, Erdoğan’s minister for the EU, Egemen Bağış. According to Messrs. Erdoğan and Bağış, it was wrong of Doğan to voice complaints “to foreigners” about the most unprecedented tax fine in Turkish fiscal history.

In Erdoğan’s ideal world, his Western friends must treat Doğan like others treated Capone in the 1930s. Naturally, in his fairy tale, Erdoğan is the good-hearted patriot Ness fighting against public enemy number one. What heroic roles Bağış and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek would assume is difficult to guess, given the bizarre analogy. But I heard my cat meow-laughing loudly when Şimşek said that the tax fine was “purely technical.”

I have no idea what kind of car or cars Doğan drives, but they may be seized soon too. How do I know? From mob history. Scarface Al’s bullet-proof Cadillac was seized by the U.S. Treasury Department in 1932 and was later used as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's limousine. And what happens when the likes of Capone are totally eliminated from the scene? After Capone was jailed for income tax evasion in 1932, the Chicago mob flourished, establishing itself as one of the most innovative criminal associations in the country. That should be a message for Erdoğan. In a world with increasingly easier access to information, Erdoğan may even regret having fixated on one man, since the thousands of different voices that constitute the Doğan Media Group today may flourish and become a powerful, combined voice for “the opposition” tomorrow.

Thanks to Burak Bekdil

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Has the Russian Mafia Stolen Over 500,000 Bank and Credit Card Accounts?

Researchers at RSA's FraudAction Research Lab discovered one of the largest stolen data caches ever. Over the last 30 months a trojan virus, known as Sinowal, Torpig and Mebroot by various anti-virus companies, has stolen 270,000 online banking account credentials and 240,000 credit and debit account numbers. The virus is so sophisticated that it changes constantly to avoid detection by anti-virus programs, in fact, a test of the most recent virus showed that only 10 out of 35 security applications were able to detect it.

Sinowal works by hiding in the Master Boot Record of computers waiting till its victims visit one of 2700 bank and e-commerce sites where it displays new fields in to the existing website to capture personal and private information such as Social Security numbers, account numbers and passwords.

At this point it is not apparent who is behind the attacks but there is some interesting, if not revealing, evidence that suggests the Russian Mafia may be behind this crime.

Sinowal was tied to the Russian Business Network in its early days. The Russian Business Network was a hosting company in St. Petersburg, Russia that was disbanded last year after media pressure due to thier cyber-crime friendly policies and clients. With 500,000 stolen identities and accounts from at least 27 countries it is interesting that none were from Russia. Additionally, one of the Sinowal web servers also contained a spoof of the U.S. Marshals Web Site with bogus wanted posters for famous Russian people such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Leonid Brezhnev, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin and Vladimir Putin. What's more interesting is that these names were also the user names for gang members that logged in to this illegal web server.

Is all this proof? No, but that will be difficult to obtain. It does lead to a high level of suspicion though. Identity Theft Labs has stated previously that we fully expect large criminal organizations to become involved in identity theft, if they haven't already, because it is profitable and low risk. The Russian Mafia has already taken their operations in the U.S. in to other non-traditional income streams such as insurance fraud and personal injury lawsuits. Can identity theft really be far behind or have they already entered this criminal market? It may not be proven but the odds say that they have already hatched their master plan.

Thanks to Identity Theft Labs

Monday, May 15, 2000

Will Vladimir Putin Take on The Mob?

An oil executive is gunned down with a rocket-propelled grenade in rush-hour traffic. A city-council member is indicted for running a murder-for-hire ring. Another gets his head blown off by a car bomb. Thugs beat an anti-corruption crusader with rubber truncheons. And organized crime is so pervasive that it gets its hooks into people even after they're dead: the local cemetery business is reputedly controlled by a ruthless gang led by a local "businessman" called "Kostya the Grave."

St. Petersburg, the elegant city of Pushkin and the Winter Palace, is today the capital of Kalashnikov Capitalism, a place where the "rule of law" gets trumped by an older principle: might makes right. It's also the birthplace of the just-inaugurated president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin. Elected in part because of his promise to impose "a dictatorship of the rule of law," Putin could find no better place to start than the town where he first made his political reputation as deputy mayor. In Russia's most esthetically graceful city, the lines between commerce, politics and organized crime are about as thin as the cross hairs on a sniper's rifle. Since 1997 alone, according to law-enforcement statistics, there have been more than 200 contract murders carried out in St. Petersburg. Most of them remain unsolved.

Putin's initial moves against this culture of violence have not been promising. When he succeeded Boris Yeltsin at the end of last year, Putin seemed intent on ousting St. Petersburg's powerful governor, Vladimir Yakovlev. Yakovlev's critics--including a former local chief of police--claim he has ties to an organized-crime gang that is now the real power in town, having gained control of profitable local businesses like oil distribution on Yakovlev's watch. The governor has repeatedly denied the charge.

A couple of months ago Putin was talking tough about Yakovlev. At the February funeral for his old boss, the liberal St. Petersburg governor Anatoly Sobchak, a tearful Putin suggested that Sobchak died "as a result of persecution" from his political enemies. It was a clear reference to Yakovlev. Rumors flew that Putin would put the Kremlin's muscle behind popular former prime minister Sergei Stepashin to challenge Yakovlev in the governor's election next Sunday. Instead, for reasons that are not clear, Putin unexpectedly endorsed a political lightweight, a woman named Valentina Matviyenko.

Then, last month, Putin apparently decided that there would be no political war with Yakovlev at all. He forced Matviyenko to withdraw and clandestinely met with Yakovlev. Political sources in St. Petersburg assume Yakovlev offered a straightforward deal: loyalty to the Kremlin in exchange for a free ride when Yakovlev stands for re-election.

This week Putin will finally start to appoint his own people to positions of power. Many of them--his security-service chief, for one--will be from St. Petersburg. These are people who consider themselves graduates of the "good" St. Petersburg, the birthplace of the democracy movement in the late '80s that eventually brought down the Soviet Union. All, Putin included, worked for Sobchak.

In truth, Sobchak himself was no saint--he left the country in 1997 amid corruption charges, which he denied. But Yakovlev doesn't do a lot to counter the impression that forces loyal to him can play rough. One city-council member complained of corruption in Yakovlev's health-care bureaucracy. Assailants wielding rubber truncheons broke his nose, ribs and skull, but took no money or valuables. In October last year, Viktor Novosyolov, a powerful city-council member and onetime Yakovlev ally, was killed when a bomb placed on his car roof decapitated him. The victim was reputed to have organized-crime ties, but had broken with Yakovlev. According to several city-council members, Novosyolov had compromising material on Yakovlev that he was ready to make public.

It's far from clear what game Vladimir Putin is playing in St. Petersburg. Some suggest that, in return for withdrawing his opposition to Yakovlev's election, Putin asked him for help in getting the local "businessmen" to lay down their arms. Perhaps. But the only way to tell will be if the number of customers for Kostya the Grave finally begins to go down.

Thanks to Brain Whitmore


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