On Putin and Press Failures

Photograph Source: Ed – CC BY 2.0

I wrote this in 2010. As Stratfor liked it enough to steal it, I’ll republish it here

This is a March 2010 article I wrote for the old True/Slant outlet, which had its heyday circa 2009 before being bought by Forbes, which in turn promptly got rid of me, Michael Hastings, and other contributors of little promise.

 It recounts Putin’s rise to power via a series of FSB operations that succeeded despite being exposed several times (including when a draft of the plan was leaked and appeared in a European paper months before it began), and critiques the press for its inattention to the matter. I’d forgotten about it over the course of the subsequent nine years, until it turned up rather unexpectedly last night, when I finally got around to searching for my name in the Stratfor archive — several million emails seized by Jeremy Hammond and several other hackers associated with Anonymous and some of its splinter groups in December 2011. As I was later convicted for “accessory after the fact” for calling Stratfor’s execs after the hack to offer to redact any sensitive information that might lead to contacts abroad being endangered, and hit with prison time and $800,000 restitution to the firm that’s since come out of my book advance payments and other writing income, I’ve asked the firm’s executives to knock $200 off the total in restitution for using my work for commercial purposes. They have yet to respond.


This weekend brought some of the largest protests Russia has seen since the ’90s, yet the word “Russia” does not appear anywhere on the prominent website Memorandum, which lists headlines and excerpts from major online outlets of news and commentary. The word “Russia” does not appear on the main page of CNN.com, and in fact if one searches this most telling of websites for that term, one will not find anything on these nationwide demonstrations — although one will indeed have the opportunity to learn that a Moscow fire chief died, reasonably enough, in a fire, fires being among those occurrences which our nation’s less ethical news producers have determined to be of perpetual interest to their respective audiences. Perhaps the protesters should have started their own fire. I’m kidding, of course; they should have abducted a small Caucasian girl and thus gained de facto control of Fox News for a month, a tactic more easily executed than actually seizing control of a domestic television station in the traditional manner.

Of course, the demonstrations did indeed receive some degree of coverage during the time in which they were actually ongoing, and it is obviously quite reasonable and necessary that such coverage taper off over time. Additionally, the U.S. is itself undergoing a process of extraordinary significance and thus legitimate newsworthiness, and so it is understandable that our nation’s media would emphasize our nation’s prospects over those of Russia. Having said that, it is less understandable why CNN.com, for instance, did not put up a single story on a major event involving what is, unfortunately, one of the world’s most powerful entities, an event that was doubly newsworthy by way of its unexpected results (even protest organizers were surprised at the extent of the turnout). I am using the term “understandable” rather loosely, or rather incorrectly; it is perfectly understandable to anyone who in turn understands the American media as a whole.

The protest is a hit-or-miss tactic, its effects dependent on a number of factors. One such factor involves the extent to which the protest makes itself known to others who may be willing to take further action in support of its cause, whether from inside or outside of a particular country. The mass media, by virtue of being the chief conduit of information flow, is the limiting factor with regards to the extent to which a protest succeeds in its intent, which itself generally entails the spreading of certain knowledge. Such knowledge may be perpetuated by the initial media reports as the protest is ongoing; it may be perpetuated quite a bit further by way of the media aftermath — the phenomenon by which an event is followed by a period of analysis of trends, of the revisiting of related events which happened long ago, of reevaluation on the part of those who are in a position to alter the future and could be prompted to do so if only they could come to a better determination of the past and present.

Those who defied Russian “law” to take to the streets over the weekend in protest against Vladimir Putin’s continued malevolent influence over their country were successful to some extent, but they were unable to gain sufficient access to the American media apparatus to spark any substantial response from the U.S. that could have led to any shift in diplomatic approach, donations to pro-liberty organizations operating in Russia, or even an appropriate change in how our own citizens view that nation’s government and to what extent they understand what the voters of a superpower ought to understand about a relatively powerful entity which has behaved rather badly in the past and which does not seem to have since taken up meditation or anything.

The American media apparatus has largely failed the Russians this week. More importantly, it failed both the Russians and its own American constituency over a decade ago when the great bulk of its outlets ignored the obvious fact that Vladimir Putin was complicit in a 1999 false flag attack that killed several hundred Russians in order to generate a pretext for the re-invasion of Chechnya.

On New Year’s Eve of 1999, Boris Yelstin suddenly resigned, thereby elevating Vladimir Putin to the presidency of the Russian Federation. Within hours, Putin had signed into law his first decree, which protected Yeltsin and members of his family from any and all corruption probes.

Earlier that year, Yelstin had dismissed the nation’s most highly-placed prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov, who himself had been investigating Yelstin and others close to him regarding various allegations of corruption; $600,000 had made it into the credit card accounts of the president’s two daughters, for instance, having been put there by a Swedish firm which had previously won a lucrative government contract and afterward had its offices raided by Swedish law enforcement.

A few days after the sacking, Russian state television ran a video clip of a man resembling Skurativ in bed with a pair of young whores. The following month, a press conference was held in which it was announced that the post-KGB intelligence agency, the FSB, had run an expert analysis on the tape and determined the man to indeed be the nation’s former top prosecutor; it was also alleged that the prostitutes had been provided by leading figures of the Russian mafia. The press conference was presided over by two men: Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin and FSB chief Vladimir Putin.

On June 6th of that same year, Moscow-based journalist Jan Blomgren reported that top Kremlin leaders were planning to carry out a series of bombings in Moscow that would be attributed to Chechen terrorists.

On August 9th, Putin was elevated to one of the three First Deputy Prime Ministerships that existed under Yelstin, who let it be known that he intended Putin to eventually succeed him. A week later, Putin was elevated again, this time to the position of prime minister. Yevgeny Primakov, the extraordinarily popular and seemingly incorruptible former prime minister whom Yeltsin had fired from that position the previous May, was widely seen as the favorite to win the upcoming presidential election. In contrast, a major poll showed Putin receiving about two percent of the vote.

On September 9th, an explosion originating from the ground floor of an apartment building in Moscow killed 94 people and injured several hundred others. An anonymous call to the Russian news agency Interfax characterized the strike as “our response to airstrikes against peaceful villages in Chechnya and Dagestan;” the latter republic had been invaded by a small force of Islamist fighters led by Chechen militant and political figure Shamil Basayev during the previous month, prompting a successful military response by Russian forces. The apartment bombing was immediately attributed to Chechen terrorists.

On September 13th, another Moscow apartment was hit by a similar bomb, resulting in even greater casualties than the first. Gennadiy Seleznyov, speaker of the Duma, interrupted the legislative body’s proceedings to announce that he had just been informed of another massive explosion that had destroyed a portion of an apartment building in Volgodonsk. No such attack had actually occurred.

On September 16th, another massive explosion destroyed a portion of an apartment building in Volgodonsk.

On September 22nd, residents of an apartment building in Ryazan called local police after noticing suspicious activity by three individuals who had arrived in a car with a partly-concealed license plate. A bomb squad discovered and diffused an explosive device which their gas sniffing equipment identified as employing hexagen, the same rare explosive used in the previous blasts. The surrounding area was evacuated for the evening; agents of the FSB arrived to pick up the explosives, which were packed into three large sugar sacks. On the following morning, government spokespersons announced that the Ryazan police had successfully prevented a terrorist attack.

Later in the day, police located the car, which had Moscow plates. Meanwhile, a long-distance telephone operator contacted police after overhearing a conversation in which the caller reported that local cops were sweeping the city; the voice on the other line provided the following advice: “Split up and each of you make your own way out.” The number that had been called, it was discovered, was to the FSB offices in Moscow.

The three suspects were found and arrested within hours. All were in possession of cards indicating their status as employees of the FSB, and all were soon released on orders from Moscow. The FSB announced that the foiled attack had in fact merely been a test conducted in order to determine the readiness of local investigators and congratulated the Ryazan police force for having passed with flying colors. Spokespersons for that agency claimed that the bags, now in FSB possession, had been filled only with sugar and dismissed the initial police tests indicating the presence of hexagen as an equipment malfunction.

On October 1st, Putin announced that Russian forces stationed in and around Dagestan had entered into Chechnya in an attempt to establish a buffer zone north of the Terek River by which to prevent further terrorist attacks originating from terrorists based in that country. As Russian attention came to focus more on the perceived military triumphs that would follow, and as Putin came to be most closely associated with those triumphs, the prime minister’s popularity skyrocketed. Parliamentary elections in December saw major gains for those parties with whom Putin had publicly associated himself.

A few days after Putin’s sudden elevation, the U.K.-based newspaper The Independent published excerpts from an interview with Sergei Stepashin in which the former interior minister and one-time prime minister — the same fellow who had presided over the sex tape press conference with Putin back in April — revealed that the plan to invade Chechnya “had been worked out in March” by key Kremlin figures including himself.

After easily winning the March 2000 presidential election, Putin set to work reorganizing Russia’s institutions. He proposed that the Federal Council be “reformed” in order to provide himself with direct control of it, a move he described as being necessary due to widespread corruption within that governing body. In May of 2000, he successfully ended the independence of the nation’s semi-autonomous state-level entities by dividing them into seven regional jurisdictions, each presided over in turn by one of his own appointees. By the end of the year, he had also managed to gain effective control over all three national television networks.

Epilogue, October 2019;
In 2001, Friedman advised the world to “keep rootin’ for Putin,” whom he explained to be “Russia’s first Deng Xiaoping” and a strong force for reform. Three years later, Friedman announced, with some apparent effort, that “I have a Tilt Theory of History’,” and called Russia “a huge nation” (which I have managed to confirm) “that was tilted in the wrong direction and is now tilted in the right direction” as regards basic civil liberties. In 2007, Friedman finally noticed that Russia cannot even properly be termed a democracy and promptly wrote a column to this effect. Later he repeated the cycle with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud until the reformist crown prince had Friedman’s friend chopped into pieces with a bone saw.

Barrett Brown is a journalist, activist, and founder of the crowd-sourced research outfit Project PM, which was listed in a search warrant executed by the FBI in 2012 along with HBGary and Endgame Systems, two firms linked to the U.S. intelligence community that the group had investigated along with Palantir, Booz Allen Hamilton, and others. After finishing a four-year stint in federal prison over controversial charges involving the “global analysis” firm Stratfor, which was hacked with the involvement of the FBI, Brown created Pursuance, a non-profit intent on building a universal software framework for mass civic collaboration while encouraging the development of crowd-sourcing. In 2015, Brown won the National Magazine Award in the category of columns and commentary for his monthly prison column for The Intercept, “The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Prison”, along with other journalism awards. His third book, “My Glorious Defeats”, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.