Mara-a-Lago Search and Seizure Affidavit

We continue from Mar-a-Lago Secrets — The Plot Thickens; a Spy Job?, which is suggestive:

The purpose of the search-and-seizure was not simply to retrieve top-secret documents. It was also to gather evidence. It indicates that the documents were the center of some form of illicit activity.

Though the redacted affidavit does not list espionage as a probable cause, the affidavit author describes his qualifications:

4. I am a Special Agent with the FBI assigned to the Washington Field Office. During this time, I have received training at the FBI Academy located at Quantico, Virginia, specific to counterintelligence and espionage investigations. Based on my experience and training, I am familiar with efforts used to unlawfully collect, retain, and disseminate sensitive government information, including classified NDI.

The qualifications in red further the impression of an espionage investigation.

Unlawful retention is by itself big trouble; Harold Thomas Martin II was sentenced to 9 years for what may have been obsessive hoarding, with indications merely suggestive of espionage.  The same distinction applies at Mar-a-Lago; former POTUS may have transferred documents in expression of a hoarding instinct without any ideas for exploitation. It is likely that the redactions relate to these possibilities:

  • Hoarding without exploitation.
  • Carelessness resulting in theft.
  • Deliberate carelessness facilitating espionage.
  • Espionage.

Is it conceivable that a POTUS would  deliberately remove protections, facilitating foreign espionage? There is an historical analogy with FDR, and Harry Dexter White, who served in Treasury under FDR. In CIA Chief: Trump “Unwitting agent of the Russian Federation”, I wrote,

Has supreme self confidence been our undoing before? Harry Dexter White was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in 1946, U.S. representative to the Bretton Woods conference, and co-creator of the International Monetary Fund. He had numerous contacts with Soviet Intelligence that has lead to the somewhat debated conclusion that he was a Soviet spy. Robert Skidelsky writes,

“A combination of naivety, superficiality and supreme confidence in his own judgment -together with his background – explains the course of action White took. There is no question of treachery, in the accepted sense of betraying one’s country’s secrets to an enemy. But there can be no doubt that, in passing classified information to the Soviets, White knew he was betraying his trust, even if he did not thereby think he was betraying his country.”

In the period of conflict with Nazi Germany, Communism had many Western sympathizers, who preferred to ignore the monstrosities of Stalinism. An ally crucial to the war effort, Russia had to be our friend. Even as sophisticated a pol as FDR conjured “Uncle Joe” as someone he could befriend on the personal level, resulting in the giveaway of Yalta, the diplomatic basis for the Iron Curtain.

There is striking analogy in the key tenet of Trump’s foreign policy, the necessity of alliance with Russia to balance China. Before the 2014 invasion in Ukraine, and for a period after, this opinion was popular in reputable circles. When it became disreputable, Trump may have been too fixated on China to notice that Russia had become a warlike state.

The ghost of Harry Dexter White lingers around Trump’s meetings with Putin. (Vox) Trump reportedly hid details of his meetings with Putin from his own administration. (WaPo) Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration.

Two sinister bon mots:

You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.




(CNN) Russian security service accuses Ukraine of Darya Dugina’s murder; Dawn of the Russian Insurgency?

(CNN) Russian security service accuses Ukraine of Darya Dugina’s murder.

Although a Ukraine splinter group, such as Azov, cannot be ruled out, the weight is on domestic Russian perpetration.

With political philosopher Alexander Dugin the intended target,  this was a philosophical capitation strike. Most governments provide the member participants with enough political experience to realize that decapitation seldom provides the desired result. Most assassinations are the products of twisted logic that can be sustained only in isolation,  by terror groups, or actual insurgencies. The ample U.S. assassination history has only one, JFK, that conceivably might have been the work of more than an individual.

The attempts on Fidel Castro are a big exception,  enabled by the perception that failure had no risk. We continue with the note that the risk for Ukraine, even if they are not responsible, is severe, as it may enable further Russian mobilization.

For a decapitation to work to the benefit of those responsible, a clockwork logic must be imagined. Let’s start with imagined reasoning for Ukraine culpability:

  • With the principal advocate of destroying Ukraine removed, the entire ultra-nationalist argument springs a leak, losing all persuasive power.
  • The right-wing Russian military lose all enthusiasm for their self-created war.
  • If Dugin were still alive (as he actually is), he writes another book, makes a few speeches, and pumps the ultras up again. Since he isn’t available, the Russian army goes home.

This clockwork has three non-realistic, irrational gears that must engage. It is not a believable brainchild of a Western-oriented civil government. Such twisted logic can survive only in the mind of the lone wolf, or a small extremist organization. Even Azov is a little large for this, and it has mellowed out in the past few years. The negative outcome, which has only one gear, is pretext for general Russian mobilization. Russian propagandists are already working this angle.

In contrast, the logic for assassination available to a Russian insurgency is strong and simple:

  • Putin is ill. While his projected lifespan is not available to open source, increasing frailty limits his tenure. See Medical Arguments with CIA Bill Burns (Putin) & CNN (NY Polio).
  • There will be a power struggle between rationalists and ultra-nationalists.
  • As the premier wordsmith of the ultra-nationalists, Dugin has the potential to rally emotions to a degree that  worries the rationalists.
  • So removal of Dugin is preparatory to a Kremlin power struggle.

The quality of the second argument in comparison to the first is evident. The rationalists may have a hand in some other recent actions within Russia. They  need only their new name:

The Insurgency

See also Power Transition in Russia? Revolution? Part 1.

As always, slick reasoning can be undone by facts.









CNN is ending ‘Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter’

(CNN) CNN is ending ‘Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter’.


(CNN) See Brian Stelter’s message on final ‘Reliable Sources’ show.

Brian, you will be missed, particularly as you occasionally seemed to break the fourth wall of the actor’s stage in this direction.

In Chris Wallace announces he is leaving Fox News, joining CNN+, a Great Match, I wrote,

Journalism has a history of frequent, though not inevitable political bias. CNN is these days self-consciously liberal. Liberalism is not by itself the foundation of U.S. political discourse, which is a perpetual state of teeter-totter.

CNN does have a problem. I didn’t see Reliable Sources meta-media-coverage as a nonobjective contribution to the above perception. Perhaps management thought of meta-media as an unaffordable luxury in the quest for more than 5 viewers in Wyoming.

I’ll be looking for you, especially in print.




Mar-a-Lago Secrets — The Plot Thickens; a Spy Job?

We continue from  Nuclear Secrets at Mar-a-Lago.

The response of DOJ to the media request for release of the affidavit offers important clues. Quoting (CNN) DOJ opposes making public details in Mar-a-Lago search warrant’s probable cause affidavit,

“Disclosure of the government’s affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations,”…

The purpose of the search-and-seizure was not simply to retrieve top-secret documents. It was also to gather evidence. It indicates that the documents were the center of some form of illicit activity.

If we add to the affidavit the list of seized items, we get something resembling a zebra puzzle, familiar to every taker of the LSAT. If the real world were a logic puzzle, we could solve Mar-a-Lago in the manner of Hercule Poirot, obtaining both the nature of the crime, and the perpetrator.

The world is not a logic puzzle. It revels in overturning the puzzler’s logic, which risks accusation of the innocent. I will not risk that here. You have the chance to solve the puzzle yourself. For warmup the Zebra puzzle goes like this:

    1. There are five houses.
    2. The Englishman lives in the red house.
    3. The Spaniard owns the dog.
    4. Coffee is drunk in the green house.
    5. The Ukrainian drinks tea.
    6. The green house is immediately to the right of the ivory house.
    7. The Old Gold smoker owns snails.
    8. Kools are smoked in the yellow house.
    9. Milk is drunk in the middle house.
    10. The Norwegian lives in the first house.
    11. The man who smokes Chesterfields lives in the house next to the man with the fox.
    12. Kools are smoked in the house next to the house where the horse is kept.
    13. The Lucky Strike smoker drinks orange juice.
    14. The Japanese smokes Parliaments.
    15. The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.

Now, who drinks water? Who owns the zebra?

If you prefer, watch some shows of Penn and Teller, Fool Us!

Without risking the right of presumed innocence, I will share one implication of the Mar-a-Lago puzzle: While the Espionage Act covers various offenses that are not actually espionage, this is an espionage case. If you manage to solve it,  keep it to yourself.

Hint: It helps to know some spy craft,  the kind described for entertainment in open source.



Nuclear Secrets at Mar-a-Lago

The nuclear football is a well known icon of the atomic age. Given the requirement of maximum reliability, there is a tendency for military computer systems to lag their civilian counterparts.  Even the latest version of the football lacks a modern GUI with self documenting displays, complicating unauthorized use.

A simple football was compatible with retaliation described by MAD (mutual assured destruction.) In 1980, the options became more complicated. Quoting Wikipedia,

The original US MAD doctrine was modified on July 25, 1980, with US President Jimmy Carter‘s adoption of countervailing strategy with Presidential Directive 59. According to its architect, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, “countervailing strategy” stressed that the planned response to a Soviet attack was no longer to bomb Soviet population centers and cities primarily, but first to kill the Soviet leadership, then attack military targets, in the hope of a Soviet surrender before total destruction of the Soviet Union (and the United States).

With the emergence of non-state actors that may influence nuclear states, or which may gain their own nuclear capability, the nuclear arsenal has acquired a menu of plan books that require more presidential education than the simple end-of-the-world directive of original MAD. With requirements of simplicity and reliability, the plans are on paper.

This is likely what was retained at Mar-a-Lago. It may include

  • Plans,  on paper.
  • Meeting minutes, or addenda useful to an adversary to divine actual intention.
  • Launch Codes corresponding to each plan, which as sparse block codes, prevent unauthorized activation of the deterrent, and would otherwise be indecipherable to an adversary.

The plans are of significant value to an adversary in

  • Deployment of air and missile defense resources. Some anti-missile systems are highly mobile.
  • Survival of their leadership.

The search and seizure is justified by the critical need to recover the materials. But absent criminal intent, justice has been lenient in recent cases. Trump is preceded by Hillary Clinton, David Petraeus, and John M. Deutsch, all of whom have continued their public lives without prejudice.

This affair threatens to unnecessarily occlude the serious  events  of January 6, 2020, unless it comes to this:






Could Monkeypox Mutate into Smallpox? Part 1

Smallpox and monkeypox are both orthopox viruses, with a common ancestor. The genomes are sufficiently different that one genome can’t become the other, at least on the timescale of human history. Something equally devastating could happen, through convergent evolution.

Convergent evolution is the process by which two or more species, of no or distant relation, evolve to resemble each other, so as to fill a similar ecological niche. The most visible, widespread examples come from Australia. Beginning 2.5 million years ago, Australian marsupial mammals evolved that resemble placental mammals. There were marsupial lions and wolves, and others resembling bears and pigs. Yet placentals and marsupials forked at least 125 million years ago.

It is comforting to think that, unlike COVID, the pox viruses are remarkably stable. This is due to their double-strand DNA, which has inherent error correcting properties, reducing the rate of mutation. Unlike COVID,  a single-strand RNA virus which rapidly obsoletes vaccines with each succeeding strain, the same cowpox vaccine used by Edward Jenner in 1796 to immunize against smallpox would work today, if you could find it. And it would work against a number of animal  orthopox viruses, such as monkeypox. Sharing the same or similar serotypes, these orthopox viruses display identical or overlapping epitopes to the immune system.

Some pox virus features are less conserved than others. The replication machinery is well conserved. Orthopox virus DNA is a linear string that tends to fray in mutation at those ends, and that is where virulence is encoded. Over the historical time period,  orthopox evolution has not been seen of the kind that affects disease presentation. But all pox viruses are the products of profound evolution, with a common ancestor that may have been an adenovirus.

How then could monkeypox become as dangerous as smallpox? A surprising impediment to the answer is this: How smallpox was transmitted in the community is not known! See (NIH) What was the primary mode of smallpox transmission? Implications for biodefense. Quoting,

The mode of smallpox transmission was never conclusively established. Although, “respiratory droplet” transmission was generally regarded as the primary mode of transmission, the relative importance of large ballistic droplets and fine particle aerosols that remain suspended in air for more than a few seconds was never resolved.

It wasn’t resolved because the danger of the disease made design of rigorous studies impossible. All the knowledge gleaned from actual smallpox came from case-control studies, meaning you look for types of patients, which you characterize by findings. A gem from the paper:

In one survey, (Sarkar et al., ) 10% (Westwood et al., ) of 328 contacts had positive swabs, but only 12% (Kaplan et al., ) of those with positive swabs developed smallpox. Among 59 unvaccinated contacts 27% (Miller, ) were culture positive, but only one developed smallpox.

So if it’s not inhaled, it must be the infectious pustules, right?

In contrast to oropharyngeal excretion, scabs contained large quantities of virus regardless of disease severity (Mitra et al., ) and were shed for another week or more after throat cultures were negative. Scabs alone, however, were not associated with further cases (Rao et al., ; Mitra et al., ).

The definitive experiment, exposure of humans to smallpox aerosols, could not be performed, so resort was made to animal studies, with the relatively safe vaccinia virus as a model. Quoting,

The animal data show that artificial respirable aerosols were effective means of producing poxvirus infections, that the infectious dose by the airborne route could be very low, and that animal-to-animal airborne transmission of rabbitpox and variola was observed. They also suggest that inoculation of mucus membranes was less effective at producing a generalized rash than was exposure of the lower respiratory tract.

This is not a rigorous answer for smallpox in humans. It does raise a question. Other pox viruses transmit efficiently via aerosols. Transmission of monkeypox is currently thought to occur mainly through bodily contact, contaminated objects, and secondarily via large respiratory droplets. Could airborne transmission of monkeypox become more efficient, sustaining or enlarging an epidemic?

This has not been decided in all detail for smallpox. CDC favors transmission via large droplets while other sources implicate fine aerosols; see What was the primary mode of smallpox transmission?

See Figure 1. Smallpox case presentations suggest that by efficient airborne transmission, monkeypox could manifest as a more severe disease, with a big step towards smallpox virulence.

To be continued shortly. Several mechanisms will be discussed.



Zawahiri Killed in Drone Strike

(CNN) How Joe Biden and his team decided to kill the world’s most wanted terrorist.

I am of two minds about this. It is an impressive achievement of technology and intelligence. I probably would have pressed the button myself. Yet there is an argument of some force that it would have been more effective counter-terror to let him live:

  • Zawahiri was in ill health and immobile.
  • Ill health deprives one of ingenuity.
  • Immobility facilitates contact tracing and bugging.
  • He was an unpopular, uncharismatic leader, a factor in Al Qaeda’s relative inactivity.
  • He will be replaced; the role is now looking for an actor.
  • The replacement may have none of Zawahiri’s impediments.

See Baghdadi Dead; the Role Looking for an Actor.