The NSA is listening to the Russian Mafia
I found some interesting things in National Security Agency newsletters that were leaked by Edward Snowden and published online by The Intercept.
These relate to the NSA’s little-known work in tracking transnational organized crime.
The NSA, which collects massive amounts of signals intelligence, has a unit called S2F dedicated to international crime and narcotics. A unit within S2F (S2F21) is tasked with monitoring mob bosses from Russia and elsewhere.
A 2006 memo revealed how this unit helped thwart the sale of a refinery to an Israeli organized crime figure via a front energy company.
The Israeli organized crime figure isn’t named. If you have any ideas about who this is, please contact me.
A 2003 memo revealed that NSA was tracking a Russian organized crime boss, Vladimir Kumarin, at the request of the State Department. State wanted to know if there were links between Kumarin’s Tambov gang, based in St. Petersburg, and Vladimir Putin.
The indispensable Catherine Belton writes in Putin’s People that in the 1990s, Kumarin, “with the help of Putin,” began taking control of St. Petersburg’s entire fuel and energy business. Putin also granted Kumarin an exclusive contract to supply fuel for the city’s ambulances, buses, and police cars. Kumarin became so powerful he became known as “the night governor.”
In 2006, NSA expanded its relationship with Spain’s Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) to target Russian organized crime bosses. There were numerous targets of mutual interest to both countries, including Zakhar Kalachov who was arrested in Dubai in 2006.
The NSA’s powerful tools tipped the Spanish police to a company called Vera Metalurgica, linked to Russian crime bosses. One of those crime bosses, according to Spanish authorities, was Oleg Deripaska.
Finally, in 2006, the NSA let its employees know of a interagency intelligence blog devoted to the latest bank accounts and other information collected on Semion Mogilevich, “the U.S. government’s top Russian organized crime target.”
Who is Aron Shaviv?
Updates with additional background.
The name of Aron Shaviv, a British-born Israeli campaign consultant with an impressive resume, has surfaced lately in investigations of underhanded election plots by Russia.
The Senate Intelligence Committee recently took an interest in Mr. Shaviv as part of its investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government.
According to a scoop by independent journalist Scott Stedman, Shaviv’s name was mentioned in a subpoena issued in April 2019 by the Senate Intelligence Committee to Walter Soriano, a British security consultant whose connections to Israeli intelligence and Russian oligarchs was the subject of one of my previous posts.
On his website, Shaviv claims to have helped elect 14 heads of state, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It’s unknown whether Shaviv did any work for the Trump campaign or why the Senate Intelligence Committee is interested in him. But that isn’t the end of his problems.
One country that’s absent from Shaviv’s impressive roster of clients is the tiny Balkan state of Montenegro. Shaviv was the chief consultant for the pro-Russian party Democratic Front in the 2016 Montenegrin parliamentary elections.
My friend Alon Eisenberg pointed me to a report this week in The Times of Israel that suggested Shaviv had another, less overt mission there. According to prosecutors in Montenegro, Shaviv took part in a plot led by two Russian military intelligence officers to overthrow Montenegro’s government and stop it from joining NATO. Police broke up the plot on the eve of the country’s parliamentary elections.
Shaviv’s partner in this was an ex-CIA officer named Joseph Assad, who was working as Shaviv’s security consultant. Prosecutors suspected that Assad’s real job in Montenegro was to help coup plotters flee the country after assassinating the country’s prime minister, The New York Times reported.
“During the investigation that was launched against Joseph Assad and eight others for creating a criminal organization and attempting terrorism, the prosecutors found evidence that Shaviv, a UK and Israeli citizen, also committed a crime. So we have ordered an extension of the investigation,” Cadjenovic told Balkan Insight.
In the run up to the Montenegrin parliamentary elections, one of Shaviv’s companies received 1.5 million Euros from a Czech company — codenamed “S.” The Czech company’s CEO and representatives are Russian, Cadjenovic said. Assad was paid out of this fund.
Four men identified as ex-FBI agents are also said to be under investigation for their role in the attempted coup backed by Russia.
Shaviv was born in Oxford, England in 1979 and made aliyah to Israel as a teenager. He became a captain in the Israeli Defense Forces and served as a “field agent for a civilian intelligence agency,” according to an archived version of his company’s website.
Shaviv got his start in politics in 2006 working for Avigdor Lieberman, an influential Israeli politician who has long been investigated — but never charged — for receiving millions of dollars from Russian oligarchs like the notorious Michael Cherney and others connected to Vladimir Putin.
While working in government for Lieberman, then the minister of strategic affairs, Shaviv set up a private consulting firm, Shaviv Strategy & Campaigns, began consulting for politicians throughout Europe and Africa. Shaviv’s clients include past and current presidents and prime ministers of Israel, Thailand, Cambodia, Poland, Romania, Kenya, Congo, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Serbia and the European Commission, according to the company’s website, which also cites its work for U.S. presidential elections.
In 2012, Shaviv played a role in the U.S. presidential election. He ran iVoteIsrael, which sought to get U.S. citizens living in Israel to vote in the American election with messages like this:
Shaviv said iVoteIsrael received its financial backing from the “[Sheldon] Adelsons of the world.” Reporters found that iVoteIsrael’s corporate filings listed the Manhattan address of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. iVoteIsrael claimed 80,000 Americans living in Israel voted in 2012, with the majority overwhelmingly casting ballots for Republican Mitt Romney.
In 2015, Shaviv was campaign manager and chief strategist for Netanyahu’s re-election. As the vote approached, polls showed Netanyahu on the verge of losing. But then on Election Day, in a move straight out of the Cambridge Analytica playbook, Netanyahu bombarded right-wing voters with millions of fearmongering text messages warning them — falsely — that Arabs were going to the polls in “droves.” Netanyahu won.
See this excellent report, featuring Shaviv, on how Netanyahu won:
The iVoteIsrael campaign won Shaviv a political consulting award from Campaigns & Elections and the Netanyahu campaign victory earned him international consultant of the year honors from American Association of Political Consultants.
But Montenegro and his alleged role in an attempted coup has cast a dark shadow over his bright career. He tweeted that he has been “PNGed” — presumably a reference to being made persona non grata — after the alleged coup attempt.
In May 2017, Shaviv said there are two theories about what happened in Montenegro.
“The first theory would be to believe that it is a failed Russian operation involving an Israeli political consultant, a retired Serbian general, a former CIA agent and some villagers with hunting rifles,” a Democratic Front press statement quoted Shaviv as saying.
But, “if there is anything to be learned from the recent past, Russian military operations neither look like that nor fail like that.”