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Where are the sanctions on Putin’s Children?

This post has been updated to reflect that neither Putin nor his daughters are listed as partners of a company that owns a Biarritz home where Igor Stravinsky once lived.

The Biden administration is going after the children of Russia’s oligarchs.

Among those sanctioned in recent days were the wealthy sons of Putin’s former judo sparring partner; the son of the Kremlin chief of staff; and the brother and sister whose dad runs the Kremlin-backed Wagner mercenary group.

“The aid of these individuals, their family members, and other key elites allows President Vladimir Putin to continue to wage the ongoing, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” the White House said.

But one pair of names is absent from the list: Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova. These are the adult daughters of Vladimir Putin.

If the Biden administration is going after the children of the oligarchs, aren’t the children of Putin fair game?

Putin has always been extremely protective of his daughters. “I never discuss my family with anyone,” Putin said in 2015. It’s taken years just to learn the most basic facts about them.

Katerina, a dancer-turned-mathematician, and Maria, a pediatric endocrinologist, have stayed out of the spotlight and taken on different surnames to obscure their connection to the most powerful man in Russia. At the same time, they have reaped the benefits of the corrupt system that keeps their father in power.

Katerina and her former husband, Kirill Shamalov, amassed a corporate portfolio reportedly worth $2 billion before their divorce in 2018. (Shamalov was sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2018; the UK sanctioned him February 24.)

An investigation by Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation found Katerina headed a foundation that developed lands owned by Moscow State University. Her foundation, Innopraktika, collected $7.8 million from Russian-state owned companies and $7.3 million from unknown sources in 2015-2016.

Maria Vorontsova in Japan (New Times)

Her older sister Maria also lived a life of luxury. Photos on social media showed her traveling the world, riding on expensive yachts, and hiring teachers abroad, according to an investigation by the Russian publication New Times.

Maria married a Dutch citizen named Jorrit Faassen, who worked at subsidiary of Gazprom. In 2010, while driving in Moscow, Faassen got into a confrontation with bodyguards of a Russian banker. Seven bodyguards forced Faassen’s BMW to stop, beat him with baseball bats, and damaged his car. The banker, Matvey Urin, had fucked with the wrong person. Faassen, described in media reports as a Putin family friend, remembered the license plate numbers of the bodyguards that attacked him. The next day, police arrested the businessman and the bodyguards. Weapons and drugs were found in their vehicles. Urin was sentenced to prison and his banks went out of business.

There are rumors that Putin had a “secret” third daughter with a cleaning woman-turned-multimillionaire, but Putin has never acknowledged the girl as his child.

Sanctioning the daughters would put Putin family assets in the West under the reach of sanctions.

One place to go looking for Putin’s assets in the West is in the French town of Biarritz, 15 miles up the coast from the Spanish border. This seaside resort town holds a special place in the hearts of the Putin family. In the summer of 1999, Putin was vacationing in Biarritz with his wife and daughters when he learned that President Yeltsin had anointed him as his chosen successor.

According to a report published February 26 by the French radio station Europe 1, Putin purchased a home on Rue de la Fregate in Biarritz where the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky once lived. Putin reportedly paid around $400,000 for the home in 1996, at which time he worked in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office on a pittance salary. The radio station says the French secret services confirmed the report. Europe 1 says the property is held in the name of one of Putin’s daughters.

Update: I spoke with Michael Anthony, who is listed as an officer of SCI Chalet les Rochers, the French company that controls the property on Rue de la Fregate. Anthony heads Anthony & Cie, a private wealth management advisory firm in France that serves ultra-wealthy clients. Anthony checked his records and tells me that neither Putin nor his daughters are partners of SCI Chalet les Rochers. He declined to name the listed partner(s), citing client confidentiality.

Katerina and her ex-husband, Kirill Shamalov, owned a different home in Biarritz. The seaside house was acquired for 4.5 million Euros in 2012 from one of Putin’s old friends, Gennady Timchenko. It’s not clear who owns the house on Avenue du General MacCroskey today. The French company that owns the house is in turn owned by a Monaco company, SCP Alta Maria, whose beneficiaries cannot be revealed, even on request.

The home on Avenue de General MacCroskey

Lyudmila Putin, Katerina’s and Maria’s mother, also spends time in Biarritz. Lyudmila was married to Putin for three decades before they divorced in 2013.

Putin’s ex-wife has come almost every year to Biarritz to “take the waters,” both before and after her divorce, Alexandre de Miller de La Cerda, Russia’s honorary consul in Biarritz, told TIME. “She stops either at the Miramar” – one of the town’s most luxurious hotels – “or in the house that belongs to our mutual friend from Putin’s St. Petersburg circle.”

Lyudmila acquired a $7.46 million home in Anglet, next to Biarritz, six months after divorcing Putin, OCCRP reported. The Anglet home is in the name of her second husband, a St. Petersburg businessman almost 20 years her junior. In recent days, the gate of the Anglet home was marred with graffiti reading ‘Putin suka!’ (a vulgar insult in Russian), ‘Putin’s mafia’ or ‘Slava Ukraíne’ (Glory to Ukraine).

Meanwhile, the US Treasury keeps noting how the Russians it is sanctioning are close to Putin’s daughters. Kirill Dimitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund who was sanctioned last week is close to Katerina and her ex-husband, the US Treasury noted in its release. It’s clear that being close to Putin’s daughters is part of being in the inner, inner Kremlin circle.

So why sanction the oligarchs’ children, and not Putin’s daughters? Is the US worried that it will be too much of a provocation for an already unstable man?

A Tale of Two Oligarchs

This was a bad week for the Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

First, Usmanov had his $600 million yacht, the Dilbar, seized by German authorities. Now, Usmanov, a reputed gangster and early Facebook investor, will have to say goodbye to his luxurious English properties after the UK joined the Americans and the European Union in sanctioning him. He will also have to give up his years-long quest to own a British football club. Usmanov ended the week on the sanctions lists of the US, UK, and the European Union.

It was a different story his fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich, who shares Usmanov’s taste for megayachts and storied English football franchises. Abramovich has somehow managed to avoid any sanctions at all.

Abramovich describes himself “a successful Israeli-Russian entrepreneur and businessman.” Alexei Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader, puts him at the top of the list of 35 kleptocrats and human rights abusers primarily responsible for looting the Russian state and repressing human rights.

“It is a mystery to me why Roman Abramovich has not yet been sanctioned,” remarked British MP Chris Bryant, who has been bringing this issue up every chance he gets. Bryant told the House of Commons that Abramovich “is terrified of being sanctioned.” Rumors are swirling that Abramovich is selling the 15-bedroom mansion in London’s Kensington Palace Gardens he bought for £90m in 2009.

Bryant read earlier from a leaked Home Office document from 2019:

“As part of [Her Majesty’s Government]’s Russia strategy aimed at targeting illicit finance and malign activity, Abramovich remains of interest to HMG due to his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices. An example of this is Abramovich admitting in court proceedings that he paid for political influence. Therefore, HMG is focused on ensuring individuals linked to illicit finance and malign activity are unable to base themselves in the UK and will use the relevant tools at its disposal (including immigration powers) to prevent this.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson slipped up last month when he told Parliament that Abramovich “is already facing sanctions.” He later said he “misspoke.”

Abramovich earned his massive fortune by acquiring Russian state resources at bargain-basement prices during the vicious “aluminum wars” of the Yeltsin era. He and his partners acquired a majority stake in the oil giant SIbneft in 1995 for $100 million. Abramovich sold Sibneft a decade later to the state-owned gas giant Gazprom for $13 billion in cash. He also acquired a 50 percent stake in the aluminum giant Rusal, which he sold to Oleg Deripaska.

In court papers filed in London, Abramovich admitted agreeing to pay billions of dollars for political favors and protection fees to obtain his stakes in the former Soviet Union’s mineral wealth, the Times of London reported.

Abramovich insists he’s not, as he has been described, “Putin’s cashier.” Journalist Catherine Belton wrote in her indispensable book, Putin’s People, that Putin directed Abramovich to buy England’s Chelsea football club in 2003 for $240 million to build a beachhead into British society. That earned Belton a libel lawsuit from Abramovich. (The case was settled after the book’s publisher agreed to amend the text to include the oligarch’s denials and make clear that the claim that the oligarch bought Chelsea on Putin’s orders was not a statement of fact.) Abramovich announced this week that he will be selling Chelsea FC.

The UK has always been slow to take action against Russian oligarchs. But there’s no sense of urgency in the United States either to sanction such a tempting target.

President Biden, in his State of the Union address Tuesday, warned oligarchs that America was coming for their ill-gotten gains. “We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts your luxury apartments your private jets,” Biden said.

Abramovich owns a fleet of yachts, including the $500 million Eclipse, one of the world’s biggest. The Eclipse has two helicopter pads, 24 guest cabins, two swimming pools, and a disco hall. It also features a German-built missile defense system, which has led to speculation that the yacht really belongs to Putin. But as I write this, the Eclipse is sailing the Caribbean unmolested.

The Eclipse

Abramovich also owns a fleet of private plans. His Boeing 787 Dreamliner is in Dubai today.

Nothing is stopping Abramovich from flying to New York where he is combing three adjacent buildings to build the biggest single-family home in Manhattan. Or he can head to Colorado where he owns nearly $50 million worth of properties around Aspen. He has an 11-bedroom house on 200 acres of land in Snowmass purchased in 2008 for $36.375 million, according to property records. Abramovich also purchased a 5,492-square-foot ski-in, ski-out house on 1.8 acres of land in Snowmass Village for $11.8 million.

Wherever he goes, Abramovich smartly gives to charities to buy goodwill. If you stroll past the Jewish Community Center in Aspen, you’ll see Abramovich’s name proudly displayed on the front of the sandstone facade. Israel’s Channel 12 reported that, before Russia invaded Ukraine, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, and representatives of several other major Israeli organizations and charities appealed to the US ambassador to Israel, urging Washington not to impose sanctions on Abramovich. In late February, Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust authority, announced a donation from Abramovich, said to be in the eight figures. This may be why the sanctions on Abramovich have been slow in coming.

I understand why Israeli charities want to protect a major source of funds. But as the investors now holding worthless shares of Sberbank know all too well, corrupt money should never be trusted.

My four-year effort to find out why Donald Trump’s name was in the FBI file of a Russian Mobster

In 2017, while I was writing my book Trump/Russia, I put in a Freedom of Information request for the FBI file of a deceased Russian mobster. I foolishly thought I might be able to get a response in time to include it in my book.

Instead, it turned out to be the start of a four-year odyssey that drew to a close recently.

My FOIA request, which became a FOIA lawsuit, boiled down to a simple question: What was Donald Trump’s name doing in the file of a Russian gangster?

A few weeks ago, a federal judge declined my request to force the FBI to release 150 pages that might have shed some light on that.

The end result will do little to clarify the ongoing debate over Trump and Russia. The Russiagate deniers can continue to claim, correctly, there was no proof of any conspiracy, while those who believe that Trump successfully covered up his ties to Russia remain equally correct when they say we still don’t have all the answers.

Some of those answers may have been in the FBI file I was seeking. It belonged to Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov, a top Russian mobster or vor y zakone (“thief who follows the code”), who arrived in America in 1992. He was arrested three years later and was sentenced to prison for conspiring to extort $3.5 million from two Russian emigres who ran an investment advisory in Manhattan. Ivankov served nine years. Upon release, he was deported to Russia where he was later assassinated.

While researching my book, I learned that during his time in New York, Ivankov kept popping up in Trump’s properties. First, sources told me that agents tracked him to Trump Tower. Next, he turned up at Trump’s new casino, the Taj Mahal.

Upon his arrest, FBI agents seized Ivankov’s phone book. According to author Robert I Friedman, who obtained a copy of Ivankov’s phone book, it included a working number for the Trump Organization’s Trump Tower Residence, and a Trump Organization office fax machine.

In response to my initial 2017 FOIA request, the FBI sent me 875 previously-released pages that confirmed that agents had tracked Ivankov to the Taj Mahal.

I wondered what other secrets might be buried in the file.

The FBI’s file on Ivankov ran to nearly 38,000 pages. Processing that large a file for public release would take years and cost more than $1,000 in duplication fees, so I agreed to reduce the scope of my request.

All I was interested in, I told the FBI, were the portions of the file that dealt with Donald Trump.

In January 2018, an FBI FOIA specialist told me over the phone that what I wanted could be found in a 528-page section of the file. There would be some privacy hurdles to clear first, she told me.

This was progress and it amounted to a confirmation of sorts that Trump’s name was in the file. How many other future U.S. presidents have appeared in the FBI file of a gangster?

But this bit of information, tantalizing as it was, meant little and only raised fresh questions.

Was Trump merely an innocent third-party mentioned in passing? Did Ivankov’s gambling at the Taj Mahal result in scrutiny of Trump? Or, as some have speculated, was Trump providing information to the FBI as a confidential source?

To answer those questions, I filed a FOIA lawsuit in federal court in Washington, DC. Mark Zaid and Bradley Moss, two well-known FOIA and whistleblower attorneys, took on my case pro bono.

The case was assigned to Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was intimately familiar with Trump and Russia. Judge Jackson had presided over the trials of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.

This was my first time filing a FOIA lawsuit and I was surprised to see the FBI, after months of no activity, switfly handed over 378 pages. But Trump’s name was not mentioned once anywhere on those pages.

That left the 150 pages the FBI wouldn’t let me see. The Freedom of Information Act allows the government to exempt information from disclosure on a variety of grounds. Some of these exemptions, such as the names of FBI agents involved in the case, were irrelevant.

There were a few exemptions, however, that could potentially be hiding Trump’s name. The most commonly cited exemption on about 90 of the pages withheld in full was one protecting confidential FBI sources. That was followed by names of people of “investigative interest” to the FBI, an exemption cited on 76 of the pages withheld.

Even though Trump was president, he hadn’t surrendered his privacy rights. To force the FBI to disclose any of that information, we needed to show that this information was already in the public domain.

There was a precedent for disclosing this information. An FBI memo released more than 20 years ago under a FOIA request by The Smoking Gun revealed that in 1981, Trump had offered to “fully cooperate” with the bureau over a casino he was trying to build in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “Trump stated in order to show that he was willing to fully cooperate with the FBI, he suggested that they use undercover Agents in the casino,” the memo states.

With that 1981 memo, we argued, the government had already revealed that Trump was willing to cooperate with the FBI to provide information on organized crime at his casino in Atlantic City, so there was no reason to hold back when Vyacheslav Ivankov showed up at the Taj Mahal 12 years later.

The FBI responded with what’s known as a “Glomar response.” What this means is the FBI was telling us it couldn’t confirm or deny whether Trump was a confidential FBI informant but, hypothetically, if he was, the FBI still couldn’t confirm it because “doing otherwise jeopardizes the FBI’s confidential source program.” The FBI couldn’t even tell us if Trump wasn’t a CI because that could potentially reveal who the real informant was.

Furthermore, the government claimed that we couldn’t show that the 1981 FBI memo had been officially released by the bureau’s Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS).

RIDS was unable to confirm whether the record was officially placed in the public domain via an authorized FBI records release. The FBI does not routinely release third party informant records to the public. Therefore, RIDS did not consider this record as an authorized official disclosure by the agency that would trigger a FOIA waiver. Second, even if the FBI were to consider the record submitted by plaintiff, which it is not, the record failed to impart informant status to Mr. Trump.

Franz Kafka would have smiled at that one.

And that, pretty much, was that. Judge Jackson was left with no issue of dispute to rule on. On August 20, the case was dismissed.

While the FBI was telling us how carefully it protects the private information of future U.S. presidents, Trump’s former deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein admitted that he had made the decision to release the intimate personal texts between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page because it would not violate their rights to privacy. Trump used these texts to mock and deride Strzok and “his lover” Page, complete with fake orgasms.

It’s an old story: Where there’s an executive will, there’s a legal way. What the president wants to keep secret stays secret.

Exclusive: The Ice Man

An Iraqi died under CIA torture in Abu Ghraib prison.

Why did a Navy SEAL platoon take the blame?

By Seth Hettena

(Copyright @ 2020)

I. A death in Abu Ghraib

Today, March 19, marks the 18th anniversary of the Iraq War, a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 4,400 American servicemen and women. Another 31,000 were wounded

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also perished in the years since U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq. This is a story about one of them, the death of a man named Manadel al-Jamadi. It’s a story I have been reporting on and trying to tell for more than a decade, but it’s also a story that parts of the CIA and the special forces didn’t want to be told.

Manadel al-Jamadi died in 2003 in CIA custody the shower room of Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, a few hours after he was captured by Navy SEALs.

If al-Jamadi’s body had been treated with respect, his name would be lost to history, another casualty in a long and bloody war.

But that’s not what happened. What did happen is a few members of the U.S. Army National Guard decided to have a little fun with his corpse.

In the photos that surfaced in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, you can see al-Jamadi’s corpse packed in ice while the soldiers who were pulling duty as prison guards leered in the background.

Al-Jamadi’s death would be investigated by the Army, the Navy, the CIA, the Department of Justice, and finally Special Counsel John Durham. It was an investigation that led into the darkest parts of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation,” exposing early on how the program led to torture.

Someone had to be held accountable for what happened to the man on ice.

It turned out to be the members of the SEAL platoon that captured him.

One day they were heroes. They next day they were criminals.

And it all started with the word of a thief.


II. Klepto

Jeffrey Hopper was a member of Seal Team Seven’s Foxtrot platoon, a reservist who had returned to active duty after 9/11. But the platoon wanted nothing to do with him.

His fellow teammates accused him of being a thief. They called him “klepto.”

Things would go missing after Hopper’s unit deployed to Iraq. Small stuff at first. A flashlight. An iPod.

One day, a SEAL named Ryan couldn’t find his body armor he wore to keep him safe on the battlefield. The whole camp was searched. No trace of it was found.

Someone happened to notice two small cigarette burns on the body armor Hopper was wearing. 

The thing was Hopper didn’t smoke. Ryan did.

Someone tugged on the velcro straps on Hopper armor. There, in black marker, was Ryan’s name written on the inside.

Stealing someone’s body armor is the kind of thing that will get you kicked out of the SEALs. Which was exactly what was about to happen to Hopper in May 2004 when he met with the commanding officer of SEAL Team Seven back at SEAL headquarters in Coronado, California.

But before Hopper could be stripped of his Navy SEAL Trident, he told his CO he had something to say. He had seen members of his unit sadistically punch, kick and twist the testicles of defenseless prisoners.

Hopper couldn’t have timed his revelations any better. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal had just exploded in the press. President Bush went on Arab television to apologize.

“There will be investigations,” Bush said. “People will be brought to justice.”

There was one prisoner whose beating Hopper said had personally witnessed.

It was the ice man in the Abu Ghraib photos, Manadel al-Jamadi.


Part III. Lions Led by Dogs

There comes a point in every military career where a commander has to stand up for his men.

If he is worth his salt, a commander accepts responsibility for the actions of those under his command.  If a ship runs aground, the captain is responsible, even if he or she happened to be asleep at the time.

“When things go wrong in your command,” General Bruce D. Clark once said, “start wading for the reason in increasing larger concentric circles around your own desk.”

Alex Krongard

Hopper’s commanding officer, Alex Krongard, certainly couldn’t ignore what Hopper had told him, but he had good reason to be skeptical.

Hopper, after all, was about to get kicked out of the SEALs.  Didn’t Foxtrot platoon deserve the benefit of the doubt?

Foxtrot platoon had completed 120 successful missions in Iraq, capturing 365 people and killing about a dozen.  They weren’t trigger happy. They were highly-trained professional soldiers.

Krongard could have done some checking of his own. He might have learned that things tended to disappear around Hopper. He might have learned that there were doubts about Hopper’s story.

But then again, Alex Krongard had his career to consider. The Abu Ghraib scandal was going to wreck careers. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had offered to resign. If Krongard stood by his men, who were connected to it however indirectly, some of that stink might land on him.

And Alex Krongard had a promising career ahead of him.

There’s a story about the Krongard family that might help explain what Alex did next.

Krongard was the son of Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard, a former chairman of the Baltimore investment firm Alex, Brown & Co., whom CIA Director George Tenet had picked for the No. 3 job at the spy agency.

Buzzy Krongard left the CIA in the fall of 2004 and took a seat on the advisory board of Blackwater, the military contracting giant founded by Erik Prince. Prince got to know Buzzy through Alex, who trained at Blackwater as a Navy SEAL.

Alex’s uncle, Howard “Cookie” Krongard, was the inspector general for the State Department. And the State Department had awarded Blackwater contracts worth more than a billion dollars to keep its personnel safe in Iraq.

In 2007, Blackwater personnel shot and killed 14 unarmed civilians in Nisour Square, a traffic circle in Baghdad, and wounded 18 more. Democrats in Congress held hearings and accused Howard Krongard of blocking State Department investigations into Blackwater.

Questioned about his brother’s role in the company, Howard Krongard testified that he had checked with Buzzy and he reported that his brother had nothing to do with Blackwater. After a recess, Howard Krongard sheepishly admitted that his brother did have a role with Blackwater. He recused himself from all State Department matters related to the company. His brother, Buzzy, resigned from Blackwater.

So what did Alex Krongard do when faced with Hopper’s allegations? He forwarded them up the chain of command for further investigation.

Krongard would be promoted all the way up to rear admiral. His men felt like they were being hung out to dry.

As one SEAL who served under Krongard told me, they were lions led by dogs.


Part IV. Kill or Capture

A dozen members of Foxtrot platoon would be accused in one way or another of prisoner abuse.

Navy prosecutors started rounding up suspects and threatened them with prison if they didn’t talk. One member of the platoon was led away in handcuffs from his wedding rehearsal dinner

Dan Cerrillo was one of the accused. He spent 12 years on active duty in the SEALs. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery and a Purple Heart.

He faced a slew of charges in the al-Jamadi case and was found not guilty of all of them except taking an unauthorized photo and making a false official statement.

Cerrillo quit in disgust over the way he and his teammates were treated during the al-Jamadi case. Even after all the Navy did to him, he continues to help prepare young men who want to become SEALs.

Cerrillo was Foxtrot Platoon’s breacher. His main job was to sprint up to a door and blast it open with an explosive charge, storm inside and take the prisoner into custody. And he did it in the dead of night while wearing 60 pounds of gear, including a helmet, body armor with two ceramic plates, an M4 rifle, a 9mm pistol, grenades, a knife and a radio.

That’s what he was wearing after midnight on November 4, 2003, when Foxtrot platoon set out to find al-Jamadi on a joint CIA-special forces mission.

The CIA’s sources had identified al-Jamadi as a group cell leader of the Abu Abdullah terrorist group that had blown up the Baghdad offices of the Red Cross in October 2003, killing 12. The explosion left a crater six feet deep and shattered windows a mile away, and it was one of five blasts that rocked Baghdad within a 45-minute span that morning.

The CIA’s sources also said al-Jamadi had two tons of high explosives at his disposal to cause even more havoc and bloodshed.

Foxtrot platoon usually went on “capture or kill” missions. The objective was to bring suspects back alive so they could be questioned and future attacks could be thwarted.

The al-Jamadi mission was “killl or capture.” If he put up a fight, the SEALs were told to put him down.


Part V. Turning Steel

Al-Jamadi lived in Al Mahmudiyah, a short, dangerous drive south of Baghdad. Al Mahmudiyah marked the upper boundary of an area known as the Triangle of Death, a hotbed of the insurgency.

Based on the intelligence, Cerrilo and his partner, Jay, who was the unit’s other breacher, built C-3 double-tamped charges, which contained a few hundred grains of explosive encased in rubber. Just enough to blow the lock open without hurting anyone on the SEAL team or anyone inside.

Jay and Cerrillo took turns alternating as lead breacher, the one who actually set the explosive charge. This mission, it was Jay’s turn.

According to the CIA’s sources, al-Jamadi lived on the third floor, at the far right end of enclosed hallway behind a wooden door.

“This is not the house!” the platoon leader called out “This is not the house! Reset! Reset!”

The assault team ran up to the third floor and then held back while Jay ran down the hallway to the right, prepping his breaching charge as he went. Eight, nine seconds passed while he slapped the charge on the door and backed off.

“Turning steel,” Jay said into his headset. That was the signal that the charge was about to go off.

BOOM!

Jay flew inside the apartment and the rest of the primary breach team followed and grabbed the man inside. 

It was the wrong man.

“This is not the house!” the platoon leader called out “This is not the house! Reset! Reset!”

The platoon leader pointed Cerrillo to a door at the other end of the hallway. “It’s that one right there!”

Cerrillo ran up to the door and got his breaching charge ready. Right as he was about to attach it he heard a faint noise, “rrrrrt” — the squeak of a door opening or the creak of a floorboard.

He attached the charge, backed up two steps and then saw a little flash of light as the door opened less than an inch and shut again. 

The hair on the back of Cerillo’s neck stood up. 


Part VI. “I was hitting him anywhere I could, and he was hitting me.”

I’ll let Cerrillo tell what happened next.

“I paused for a split-second, and then sprang up into door and hit is as hard as I could. The first thing I did was to grab hold of the guy standing behind it and try to take him to the ground.

“It was al-Jamadi, all right. He was about eight inches taller than me, but under the circumstances he seemed like a giant.

“There wasn’t enough room to bring him down in the tight hallway, with my teammates pushing to get past me. I slammed him against the wall and we tumbled into the kitchen, just to the right of the doorway. We crashed together onto the wooden kitchen table.

“I was hitting him anywhere I could, and he was hitting me. His hands were up under my face. So we were like that, fighting for a moment on top of the kitchen table, and then it broke beneath us and we crashed together onto the floor.

“He landed half on top of me. I bench-pressed him up off of me and slammed him back down and got on top of him and started pounding away. I was trying to hit him as hard as I could, but I only connected a couple of times. I hit him in the eye and in the jaw, but I was hitting the cement floor of the apartment with my gloved hands just as often. My hands were raw and swollen the next day, and they still bear the scars today. He had his hands on my neck. He must have been hitting me, too. The next day, I had a fat lip and I was sore.

“At that moment, all I could think about was shooting this fucking guy. Shoot him. Shoot him. But I couldn’t grab my gun. The shattered kitchen table was in the way and I just kept slapping the wood when I reached for my pistol. I was on my knees, with his hands on my neck, and I tried to stand up. There was an oven door handle and I grabbed hold of it to pull myself up. It was a heavy steel stove, and when I pulled on it, the thing toppled over.”

The stove landed on al-Jamadi’s head. The fight was over.

Winded from the fight, Cerrillo cuffed al-Jamadi and got him up and brought him over to the doorway.

For a long time after that, whenever Cerrillo saw the photos of al-Jamadi or thought about him, he believed that he had killed him.

Then he learned the CIA had.


Part VII. “I’m Manadel”

Al-Jamadi’s wife and kids were all in the living room. Watching. One of his children was crying. His wife was seated, wearing a little black and white kaffiyeh and a blue dishdasha. Nobody said anything.

Then, al-Jamadi turned to Cerrillo and, in perfect English, told him, “Don’t beat me in front of my kids, OK.”

“I’m not going to beat you here in front of your kids,” Cerrillo told him. “You fuck up, I’m going to beat your ass when we get outside.”

“Ok. Ok.”

“Do not fuck around,” Cerrilo told him. “We’re leaving. You’re coming with us.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.

“You know why we’re here,” Cerrillo told him.

He didn’t say anything after that.

It was someone’s job to mark time during the operation. Now, the unit heard the elapsed time announced over their headsets. Three minutes had passed since they arrived at the apartment building.

The lieutenant who led Foxtrot platoon, Lt. Drew, searched the apartment. In the apartment hallway, he found a gun. Cerrillo had probably knocked it out of al-Jamadi’s hands when he slammed into the door. Lt. Drew also found a knife in the kitchen, a big bronze dagger.

“Who’s this guy?” Lt. Drew asked Cerrillo.

“This is him,” Cerrillo repled.

“Well, how do you know?” Lt. Drew asked. “We gotta make sure.”

Cerrillo turned to al-Jamadi.

“Hey, fucker. Is your name Mohammed?” Cerrillo asked.

“No I’m Manadel,” he replied.

Cerrilo turned back to his platoon leader.

“I told you. It’s fucking him!”


Part VIII. Stuck on a Cul-de-Sac in the Triangle of Death

The SEALs were instructed to bring al-Jamadi outside so the CIA’s source could identify him.

Cerrillo led al-Jamadi out and put a sandbag over his head.

Out in the hallway, al-Jamadi started acting up. He started kicking like a mule. He was doing everything he could to make things difficult. It was like trying to get a drunk out of a bar. So Cerrillo gave him a couple of open hand shots hard to the back of his head, just as he had warned him he would.

He marched al-Jamadi to the CIA vehicle, pulled back his hood and shined a light in his face. The tinted window on the black Suburban rolled down.

Inside, the source confirmed they had right guy. Brandon, a nerdy agency case officer, gave the thumbs-up.

Cerrillo loaded al-Jamadi into one of the Humvees. The way the SEALs got detainees into the Humvee was by leaning their chests over the tailgate and then lifting their legs up so they basically did a somersault into the Humvee.

The SEALs had practiced the maneuver on themselves and they say that, while it didn’t feel great, it didn’t hurt. It was the fastest way to get a detainee loaded and they were all about getting out there as soon as possible. This maneuver would later become one of the allegations of “prisoner abuse.”

The SEALs couldn’t leave right away. One of the CIA vehicles had taken a wrong turn on the way to the target and had gotten lost. So they waited.

“Five minutes,” the timekeeper called.

Not good. The mission was taking too long.

Lights started coming on in the apartments above and around them. They started seeing heads popping up in windows and over the rooftops. Pilots in a U.S. Blackhawk helicopter that was taking part in the mission started seeing men running between buildings.

They were just sitting there, stuck on a cul-de-sac in the Triangle of Death.

Finally, the lost CIA vehicle found them. Just in time, too, because they the clatter of small-arms fire as the convoy roared off.

Jeff Hopper would claim that he saw al-Jamadi being beaten in the back of the Humvee. That night, however, he was riding in a different vehicle.

The convoy stopped to regroup at the 82nd Airborne base about a mile away. The SEALs were in good spirits. They had just captured the leader of a terrorist cell that blew up the Red Cross.

Someone pulled out a camera and snapped a few group photos to memorialize the moment. The photos would later become evidence in criminal proceedings.

Then they were off again, back to the SEAL base at Baghdad International Airport.


Part. IX The Romper Room

Cerrillo and the rest of the unit went to bed.

For al-Jamadi, the suffering was about to begin.

He taken to an area on base the SEALs sarcastically referred to as the “Romper Room.”

There, he was doused with cold water and interrogated by CIA and Naval Special Warfare personnel.

Two SEALs were present for the entire two-hour interrogation in the Romper Room. Their on-scene commander wanted them there, as one put it, to ensure that nothing got out of hand and no one died on the SEAL base.

In the Romper Room, a CIA officer used a mix of force, threats and humiliation to try to get al-Jamadi to talk.

According to one of the SEALs, the CIA officer pressed his forearm into al-Jamadi’s chest or pushed down hard on his shoulders during the interrogation.

“I’m going to barbecue you,” the CIA officer screamed at al-Jamadi

At another point, al-Jamadi was made to stand against the wall. His arms were stretched out away from him, and someone threatened to hit his hand with a hammer, though no one did. 

After about an hour, al-Jamadi had been stripped down to his underwear. Those who saw him couldn’t help but notice the healed “scars from hell” on his body. They reminded one person of the scars on John Rambo, the damaged Vietnam vet played by Sylvester Stallone in the movie First Blood.

“I’m going to barbecue you!” the CIA officer screamed at al-Jamadi.

At one point, according to one witness in the room, the interpreter translated al-Jamadi as saying “I’m dying, I’m dying.”

“You’ll be wishing you were dying,” the CIA officer replied.


Part X. “Palestinian hanging”

The prosecution of the SEALs took place in a military courtroom on the 32nd Street Navy base in San Diego. I covered the case for The Associated Press.

Inside the courtroom, the proceedings were full of secrets.

Every so often, a military judge would clear journalists from the courtroom to discuss classified matters. The only civilians who stayed behind were a pair of young CIA attorneys. When the day’s proceedings wrapped up, they would rush off to a classified phone to report back to Langley.

The biggest mystery of all was how al-Jamadi had died. It was clear there was something the government didn’t want the public to know.

All we were told is that he was found dead in the shower room at Abu Ghraib prison. The CIA had taken him there after leaving The Romper Room. He was a “ghost detainee.” He was being held off-the-books in the prison.

One day, a defense attorney for a Navy SEAL lieutenant was interviewing a witness when he asked a question that got my attention:

“What position was Jamadi in when he died?”

One of the CIA attorneys in the courtroom leapt out of his seat.

“That’s classified!” he shouted.

It took me a while, but I found out the position al-Jamadi was in when he died.

The answer was in a pile of documents a lawyer let me read in his musty, wood-paneled office in the suburbs of San Diego.

First, al-Jamadi’s arms were handcuffed behind his back.

Per the CIA’s instructions, he was made to kneel. A chain was attached from the handcuffs to a barred window above the prisoner’s head in the Abu Ghraib shower room.

If he tried to lean forward, his arms would be wrenched painfully back up over his head.

This position is known as a “Palestinian hanging,” named for its alleged use by Israel in the Palestinian territories.

A “Palestinian hanging.”
Rama / CC BY-SA 2.0 FR (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)

During the interrogation, an Army guard who saw what was going on said he was surprised that his hyperextended arms didn’t “pop out of their sockets.”

An autopsy ruled the death the result of blunt force trauma and compromised respiration.

But Michael Baden, a medical examiner who consults in many high-profile cases, reviewed the autopsy at the request of defense attorneys for one of the SEALs. Blunt force injuries were insufficient to kill al-Jamadi because he was alive and well when he entered the prison.

“Asphyxia is what he died from—as in a crucifixion,” he told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.

One of the grim facts of crucifixion is that its victims are slowly strangled to death.


Part XI. The New Sheriff

This was a glimpse into the CIA’s interrogation program when the gloves were still off, before the revelations of Abu Ghraib set in motion a chain of events that led the agency to shut down the program.  

Americans weren’t supposed to hang prisoners by their shoulders. President Bush was assuring the world that America didn’t use torture.

Someone at the CIA hadn’t gotten the message. I suspected that some people in the agency were following a different set of rules.

It turned out I was right.  The confirmation for that came from an unlikely source – the man who waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the principal architect of 9/11, 183 times.

James Mitchell

James Mitchell was a former Air Force psychologist who helped design the CIA’s interrogation protocols. He later revealed that, in the program’s early days, techniques were employed that went way beyond what the Department of Justice or the agency had authorized.

This might sound strange coming from the man who advocated waterboarding detainees, which makes subjects feel like they’re drowning. But Mitchell drew the line at causing physical harm. Waterboarding, he wrote, “is scary and uncomfortable but not painful.”

Some in the CIA disagreed with Mitchell. They wanted to inflict pain.

“There was this other view,” Mitchell testified, “that what you do is you essentially hurt the person until they tell you what you want to know, and then you hurt them a little bit more.”

One of the main proponents of this “other view” was a veteran CIA officer named Charlie Wise.

Wise had served with the CIA in Nicaragua where had learned how to inflict pain in ways that didn’t leave any marks. Like making people kneel with a broomstick behind their knees.

Wise had been reprimanded for his role in other troubled interrogation efforts in the 1980s in Beirut, according to The Washington Post.

In his 2016 book, Enhanced Interrogation, Mitchell recounted a harrowing “interrogation” Wise conducted around Christmas 2002 in a secret prison in Poland. The subject was Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the suspected mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole.

…the chief interrogator stood al-Nashiri up and cinched his elbows together behind his back with a leather strap until they touched. Then the chief interrogator and one of the newly minted interrogators started lifting al-Nashiri’s arms behind him, toward the ceiling. Al-Nashiri bent over and screamed. I knew this had not been approved.

James Mitchell, Enhanced Interrogation

Just like the guards in the Abu Ghraib shower room, Mitchell wrote that he believed the prisoner’s arms were going to pop out of their sockets.

Mitchell doesn’t name Wise in his book, but media reports identified him as the man Mitchell calls the new sheriff.

That was the first thing Mitchell heard arrived at the secret prison in Poland. “There is a new sheriff in town,” Wise had told him. “I’m calling the shots now. Wise told Mitchell he had decided to “start over from square one” and employ techniques he had used in Latin America during the 1980s.

Mitchell complained about Wise to CIA leadership and ultimately told his account to the agency’s inspector general.  Wise left the agency in the summer of 2003 and died shortly thereafter from a heart attack.

Even with Wise gone, his influence continued to be felt in the spy agency’s nascent interrogation program.

Wise had personally trained a group of five to eight hand-picked interrogators. He had instilled in them his belief that the CIA’s approved techniques didn’t go far enough and taught them the things he believed would do the job.

Mitchell called them Wise’s “acolytes.”


Part XII. Playing Possum

Another mystery in the prosecution of the Navy SEALs was the identities of the CIA personnel who were in the room when al-Jamadi died.

One evening, while I was covering the al-Jamadi case for the AP, I met a source in a hotel room in San Diego who allowed me to look through a cache of military documents.

One document prepared by Army investigators identified the CIA interrogator who was questioning al-Jamadi.

Mark Swanner

His name was Mark B. Swanner. He was a polygraph examiner at the CIA.

Swanner was the guy in the “Romper Room” who had threatened to smash al-Jamadi’s hands with a hammer and told him he was going to barbecue him.

The Senate’s investigation into the CIA’s torture program found that agency-trained interrogators “included individuals who, among other issues, had engaged in inappropriate detainee interrogations, had workplace anger management issues, and had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.” 

In its response, the CIA conceded that a shortage of people willing and able participants in the interrogation program was “a huge challenge.”

Was Swanner one of Charlie Wise’s “acolytes?” He sure acted like it.

While he was interrogating al-Jamadi in Abu Ghraib, Swanner had acted like it was a completely normal thing to watch someone dangle from their wrists.

When Army MPs were summoned into the shower room to reposition al-Jamadi, the guards were stunned to see the prisoner in such a contorted position, but Swanner seemed almost blasé.

“He was kind of calm,” Tony Diaz, one of the MPs on the scene later recalled. “He was sitting down the whole time. He was like ‘Yeah, you know, he just don’t want to cooperate. I think you should lift him a little higher.’”

Swanner said the Iraqi was faking injury – “playing possum,” as he put it.

The guards released the shackles, lowered al-Jamadi, and removed the nylon bag on his head.

Blood gushed from his mouth “as if a faucet had been turned on,” one guard recalled. “After we found out he was dead, they were nervous,” Army Specialist Dennis E. Stevanus said of the CIA interrogator and translator. “They didn’t know what the hell to do.”

“No one’s ever died on me before when I interrogated them,” said the CIA translator in the room with Swanner, a heavyset Lebanese-Christian called Clint.

The next day, al-Jamadi’s corpse was spirited out of Abu Ghraib on a stretcher with an IV stuck in his arm to make it appear that he was still alive.

Swanner no longer works at the spy agency. He has never commented on the al-Jamadi case. In photos I found on Facebook (under an alias), he seems to be living a happy retirement from the agency.


Part XIII. Bull Durham

John Helgerson, the CIA Inspector General, sent investigators to Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado in the spring of 2004 to interview SEALs about al-Jamadi’s death.

“We know you didn’t kill him,” one of Helgerson’s investigators told Dan Cerrillo. “We just need to know what injuries you caused so we can eliminate them.”

The CIA Inspector General’s office forwarded its findings to the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia. The case sat dormant for years.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 400px-John_H._Durham.jpg
John Durham

Finally, John Durham got the case. In June of 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he had accepted Durham’s recommendation to conduct full criminal investigations for two deaths in custody.

One was Gul Rahman, a suspected Afghan militant who froze to death in 2002 in the Salt Pit, a, frigid, secret CIA prison in a former brick factory north of Kabul. 

The other was Manadel al-Jamadi.

The al-Jamadi remains the only known case where you can put a CIA officer in the room with a prisoner who died in a position the world recognizes as torture.

It has taken years of media reports, a lawsuit, and United Nations inquiry to pry out even the most basic facts about Durham’s investigation into CIA interrogations.

Durham and his team of prosecutors and FBI agents interviewed 96 witnesses. Those summoned to testify before a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia included Dan Cerrillo and others from Foxtrot platoon, including Jeff Hopper. Mark Swanner testified. So did his boss David Martine, the former chief of the CIA’s Detention Elicitation Cell in Iraq, who was accused of destroying evidence – the hood covering al-Jamadi’s head.  Even the Abu Ghraib guards who took photos of detainees were called in to testify.

Little more than a year later, AG Holder announced that Durham had closed his investigation without filing any criminal charges.  

AUSA John Durham has now completed his investigations, and the Department has decided not to initiate criminal charges in these matters. In reaching this determination, Mr. Durham considered all potentially applicable substantive criminal statutes as well as the statutes of limitations and jurisdictional provisions that govern prosecutions under those statutes. Mr. Durham and his team reviewed a tremendous volume of information pertaining to the detainees. That review included both information and matters that were not examined during the Department’s prior reviews. Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths, the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.

With that decision, John Durham ensured that the only people who were charged with a crime in connection with al-Jamadi’s death were the ones who didn’t kill him: The men of SEAL Team Seven’s Foxtrot Platoon.

The decision was strongly criticized. Later, the Justice Department said Durham’s review was limited to whether any prosecutable offenses were committed and did not include “the broader questions regarding the propriety” of the conduct.

Durham laid out his reasoning in a report submitted to Holder’s chief of staff in 2012. Those reports have never been made publicly available.

Durham refused to speak to outside investigators. “Durham would not even return our phone calls,” Daniel Jones, the former Senate investigator who compiled the more than 6,000-page report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs, told me. “He refused to speak to us.”

“It makes you wonder now about Durham,” Jones continued. “What was going on? Why did he refuse to speak with the Senate investigators? And how did he come to the conclusion he did, given the CIA records the Senate reviewed?”

The Department of Justice has spent years fighting to Durham’s reports secret. Charlie Savage, a reporter at The New York Times, filed in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to bring them to light.  The newspaper lost the battle to make the reports public.

Interestingly, Durham noted in a court filing in the New York Times lawsuit that disclosing the names of covert personnel involved in the interrogation program, “could subject them to harassment or embarrassment as well as undue public attention,” according to the judge’s ruling the case.  

No one seemed too concerned about harassing or embarrassing the SEALs who faced charges in the case.

These days, John Durham is investigating a subject near and dear to Donald Trump: the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. Trump liked to call him “Bull Durham.”

“You have Bull Durham, who is supposed to be the toughest,” Trump said. “I’ve never met him. Never spoke to him. But he’s supposed to be the smartest and the best.”

Someday, Durham will reveal the findings of his investigation of the investigators.

The question we’re left with when does is this: Was the FBI’s investigation of a presidential campaign a bigger crime than crucifying an Iraqi prisoner to death?

Investigators probed Trump’s 40-year-old ties to Russian Mobster

A former New York City Mob underboss says that investigators questioned him in recent years about Trump’s ties to a Russian Mobster who purchased five condos in Trump Tower in the 1980s.

Michael Franzese, who left the Mafia after a stint in prison and became a born-again Christian, made the disclosure in a YouTube video posted to his channel on February 8.

In the video, Franzese says he was questioned — although he wouldn’t say by whom — “during the Mueller investigation.” Franzese says investigators wanted to know about his former business partner, a convicted Russian Mobster named David Bogatin.

In the 1980s, Franzese was a capo in the Colombo crime family when he partnered with Bogatin in a massive gasoline tax scam that generated as much as $9 million in cash, per week, according to Franzese’s 1996 testimony before the Senate.

David Bogatin

Franzese revealed in his YouTube video that he had been a silent partner with Bogatin when Bogatin purchased the Trump Tower condos for $5.3 million in 1984. Franzese said Bogatin paid for the condos in cash.

“As a result of that, I got questioned — I’m not gonna tell you by who — during the Mueller investigation because it came out that my friend David was the front guy buying them at that time,” Franzese said.

David Bogatin, center

“They came to me and they tried to establish a Trump connection with Russia as a result of him selling those condos to me and David Bogatin,” he continued.

Franzese said the investigators wanted to know why Trump took cash for the apartments. He says he did not know the answer.

I emailed both Franseze and the Department of Justice to to see if I could find out more. If I get a response, I’ll update this post here.

In his YouTube video, Franzese claimed that Bogatin had a family member in the KGB. This is unlikely given that Bogatin was Jewish. Jews were usually targets of Soviet intelligence, not employees.

Jacob Bogatin

What is certain is that Bogatin had a brother, Jacob, who got indicted in 2002 in a massive stock fraud along with Russian Mob boss Semion Mogilevich.

Mogilevich remains a fugitive and, as a result, Jacob Bogatin, his co-defendant, was never brought to trial.

Last I checked, both Jacob and David Bogatin continue to live in the United States.

Franzese also doesn’t mention some other facts I uncovered while reporting my book: First, it was Trump who convinced Bogatin to invest in Trump Tower. And second, Trump insisted on attending the condo signing.

But if Franzese is telling the truth about the investigators who questioned him about Bogatin and the Trump Tower condos, it’s a sign that, nearly 40 years later, Trump’s shady dealings with Russian Mobsters still haunt him.