Russian Peter Levashov would have fared better if his wife was a gangster’s moll, who knew when to keep her mouth shut. Instead, she’s a socialite in St. Petersburg, Russia, who told journalists her hacker hubby was busted for “creating a virus linked to Trump winning the election.”

Almost immediately The New York Times began walking the story back.


The Big Fix after The Big Hack?

When Russian Spam Lord Peter Levashov ankled off to jail in Barcelona two weeks ago, his wife was left alone—not home alone in St. Petersburg, where she and her husband live, but in a strange country, Spain. Approached by a Russian-speaking reporter, she perhaps understandably talked freely, volubly, and emotionally.

One day later, The New York Times did everything but accuse her of lying. As they say in scripts for bad TV comedy TV pilots, “Hilarity ensued.”

PLThe immediate controversy was over whether Levashov was peddling dick pills, get-rich-quick schemes, counterfeit drugs, work-at-home scams and pump-and-dump penny stock scams.. .  or was he instead using his powerful algorithmic bots to hack the U.S. election? Could he have been doing both at the same time? Opinion varied.

What doesn’t vary: the names of Levashov’s American partners. These so-far-unidentified names  — when made public, as they undoubtedly soon will be— will prove useful to puzzling out the big question about the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion in the Russian hacking of the 2016 Presidential election.

Sifting the real from the fake news in coverage of Levashov’s arrest in Spain, was the immediate priority. Capturing elite Russian hacker Peter Levashov is a milestone in the quest to bust open the current public embarrassment, which appears —in one man’s opinion—capable of becoming the biggest American scandal since Watergate.

In the Russian election probe  the question is whether—given the intrigue swirling around Levashov’s arrest — the fix may already be in.


Likes:  Bob Marley, Melancholia, & Catcher in the Rye


Peter’s wife, Maria Levashova, is a socialite in St. Petersburg, where she and her husband live, one of the beautiful people, a sought-after high-end wedding planner.

She’s on Facebook, where she likes Bob Marley, the movie Melancholia, and the classic JD Salinger book “Catcher in the Rye.”

Hardly adequate preparation for a 3 a.m. raid by a dozen grim Spanish policemen wearing funny hats. When Russian Today found her and interviewed her, they headlined it  “Wife of Russian programmer ‘suspected of cyber attacks on US’ shares details about his arrest.”

“The wife of detained Russian programmer Pyotr Levashov spoke to Russia Today (the official Russian TV channel) of her anguish at the prospect of never seeing her husband again “if he is extradited to the US” from Spain “on suspicion of cyber-attacks on US governmental sources,” reported RT.

“It was a nightmare,” stated Maria Levashova. “Our apartment was stormed by a large number of police officers in the middle of the night. They smashed through the door. We were forced to the floor, right in front of our four-year-old child.”


375788_483065435045187_32927138_nWith a husband in jail, and far from home, the young wife and mother was distressed, which may be why—with apparently no prompting— she fulsomely spilled the beans.

Her husband told her in a phone call from jail, she stated, that he was arrested because he’d “been linked to Trump’s win.”

“When she spoke to her husband by phone later, he told her he had been shown “some papers in Spanish without a stamp, with a bad quality picture of him,” reported RT, “and heard the law enforcement mentioning “something about a virus” he had allegedly created, “linked to Trump winning the elections.”

B-TMaria’s words confirm one thing I believe we can provisionally accept as fact: Unspecified law enforcement officials were present with her husband in Barcelona’s jail, and told him he’d been busted for alleged involvement in hacking the American election.

Otherwise she’s Natasha to Peter’s Boris.

Maria’s last declaration is telling in assessing her state of mind. Was she just a distraught young wife and mother? Or was she a cool professional delivering a rehearsed message?

“All electronic devices had been forcefully taken from the family. I don’t know what to do. One thing I clearly understand is that if my husband is extradited to the US, me and my son will never see him again. They will cook up anything, but will never let him go.”

13mollPeter Levashov’s biggest immediate problem now was his wife. But by the time the realization sunk in that she’d given an interview on Russian TV in which she said he told her he was pinched for making Donald Trump President, the proverbial toothpaste had squirted out of the tube.


Before the New York Times kibosh

download (2)Here’s how the world initially covered the story.

“An alleged Russian hacker has been detained in Spain at the request of American authorities, an arrest that set cybersecurity circles abuzz after a Russian broadcaster raised the possibility it was linked to the U.S. presidential election,” the AP reported.

Spain’s EFE wire service reported “The detainee’s wife, Maria Levashova, told RT that her husband was arrested on a warrant issued by the United States accusing the programmer of participation in cyber-espionage orchestrated by the Kremlin to favor the victory of Republican Donald Trump.”

From the BBC: “El Confidencial, a Spanish news website, has said that Mr. Levashov’s arrest warrant was issued by US authorities over suspected “hacking” that helped Donald Trump’s campaign. Mr. Levashov’s wife Maria also told Russian broadcaster RT that the arrest was made in connection with such allegations.”

fbi-wanted-hackerChinese news service Xinhua: “Maria Levashova told Russia Today her husband had been detained as the result of an arrest warrant issued by the United States accusing him of having taken part in an alleged hacking operation orchestrated by the Kremlin to facilitate Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election,”

Many world news outlets—among them Agence France-Presse (AFP) —reported an unnamed legal source told them Levashov is “suspected of  participation in the hacking of the election in the U.S.”

“A Russian computer expert was remanded in custody in Spain on Monday on suspicion of involvement in alleged hacking of the US presidential election campaign, a legal source said. Levashov is “suspected of having participated in hacking the election campaign in the United States.”


Back-peddling as fast as they can

6a00d8341c5dea53ef00e54f5b42428834-640wiThe Director of National Intelligence describes RT as “U.S.-based but little more than an engine of anti-Western propaganda controlled by Russian intelligence agencies.”

So it is beyond ironic that Russia Today—a Kremlin-financed media outlet—broke a story the Kremlin itself would call fake news.

Enter the New York Times, dog-peddling backwards as fast as it can.

“Despite Russian news media reports to the contrary, American officials said Mr. Levashov played no role in attempts by Russian government hackers to meddle in the 2016 presidential election and support the candidacy of Donald J. Trump,” reported Michael Schwirtz.

NYTIt is a little ironic, n’est pas?

The New York Times, immediately throwing cold water on a story indicating substance to the claim that Russian hackers were involved in the U.S. election?

“However, a USDJ official defused speculation that the arrest was in connection with the election hacking, stating that the arrest was a criminal matter without an apparent national security connection.”

In a naked display of what Donald Trump likes to complain is fake news, the New York Times single-offhandedly walked back the story. Put the kibosh on it. And  then made it stick.

“According to the US authorities, who do not mention anything related to meddling in US election campaigns, as was said at the outset, Levashov has been controlling the Kelihos network since 2016.”


“All is vanity, and a seeking after wind”

YMAfter the ‘Gray Lady’ had pooh-poohed Maria Levashova’s description of what her husband told her about why he’d became the object of an international manhunt, suddenly, everything changed.

“Rumors had swirled over the weekend, sourced only to a vague report on the Russian propaganda network RT that Levashov had been involved in that country’s meddling with the 2016 US presidential election,” reported Wired Magazine.

“But there was no hint of that in Monday’s Justice Department complaint, which focused instead on Levashov’s role in developing and running one of the internet’s most pernicious and longest-running botnets.”

YLThis Russian ‘Cyber Kingpin’ Probably Didn’t Hack The US Election” was the bold headline in Forbes Magazine.

“There was a wholly unsubstantiated connection between Levashov and attacks on the U.S. election flying around the web this weekend. According to a report in Russian publication RT, Levashov’s wife claimed that when the accused was arrested while holidaying in Spain, law enforcement officials said his apprehension was in part due to his involvement in the attacks on the election, which included the notorious breach of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).”

“The Justice Department official said, however, that the Kelihos case was not connected to election hacking, and the indictment makes no mention of it.”

“But those allegations have not been confirmed by the U.S. government. The Kremlin is portraying all this as nothing more or less than a witch hunt for Russians.”


The Importance of Being Earnest

v“Verisimilitude” is “the appearance of being true or real.” In movies, novels and reporting it’s what makes any work gripping, and gives it believability, plausibility, authenticity, and credibility.

ml2I wanted to know what made the New York Times reporter dismiss Maria Levashova’s detailed and seemingly non-political account based on the word of an unnamed U.S. official. So I asked him in an email.

“Can you reveal a little about the prominence—as well as the provenance—of this paragraph from your story:

“Despite Russian media reports to the contrary, U.S. officials said Levashov played no role in attempts by Russian government hackers to meddle in the 2016 presidential election and, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, support the candidacy of Donald Trump.”

Say hey there Michael Schwirtz! How does your paragraph square with the specificity of Levashov’s wife’s comments after her husband’s arrest?


“As if that were even an option”

“Why would Russian media want to implicate Russian hackers any further in controversy over Russians hacking the U.S. election? Yet, paradoxically, isn’t that what they (Russia Today) just did?”

Lastly, I thanked him—prematurely as it turned out—for any light he could shed.

The New York  Times appears to have engaged in a textbook example of ‘fake news.’ Why? Ask them. But the real news is–clearly–the story the New York Times left out. Understanding how this happened is the first step towards ensuring it never happens again.

As if that were even an option.

Last question. In the Russian election probe, is the fix really in? Really? Already?


Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.

14 Responses

  1. notjonathon says:

    Well, the same people who control the wildly careering government seem to be in charge of the “investigatin’,” as GWB might put it, so it might go down the same rabbit hole as the Valerie Plame leak investigation (and many more). A little unexpected bravery on the part of James Comey might help, but after the election clusterfuck, I’ll believe that when I see it.

  2. DEDSTIK says:

    Great reporting, Dan! Gotta luvvit.

  3. King Kangaroo says:

    Does he visit Israel often?

    Netanyahu is best mates with Steve Bannon, Alex Jones and Larry Nichols. So, I’ll ask again, does Russia or ISRAEL have a hand in this? Did Putin put Trump in? Or did Netanyahu?

    Trump has strong links to Israel and their intelligence services. Maybe we should drop the “Russian” word and try something else?

  4. Jakob Unger says:

    I’ve purchased and loved your books, but I think your feelings about Trump have clouded your reason, where he is concerned.

  5. V. A. says:

    How about George Soros’ buddy that had the voting booth contract for 18 states? How does this play into the equation?

  6. tony says:

    First of all, anything the NYT spills out is complete garbage. The last 15 years (im being modest) of their reporting has been filled with throwing stories out without fact checking, then backpedaling and changing the subject (‘look over there’). Don’t believe me? They just did it last week with false reporting of where US warships were near Korea (spoiler alert, nowhere near there) .
    Its disgusting from such a large organization. They swing hard left when it comes to most topics and I cant stand the bias in news. Just report facts, that’s your job.
    Who’s gotten in their pockets, I dont know, but that doesnt really matter.

    Now, do i think one young adult that was probably not state sponsored hacked the election? No way. We still have no evidence of exactly what the hack entailed – no matter who did it. We just keep hearing ‘Russia hacked the election’ ..ok how? Fraud votes? Propaganda? (which isnt hacking)

    Also, lets not pretend the US hasn’t ‘hacked’ elections before, and by that I mean organized coups since the dawn of time. Its never ok when someone else does it though.

  7. Dan says:

    This is sillyness. Russian spammer has nothing to do with Trump winning the election.

  8. MSimon says:

    The so called “hack” has yet to be identified.

    Could some one tell me what it was? Votes changed? Votes added?

    Or was the “hack” just release of information later verified as valid?

  9. adam says:


    You wrote about Karam Llc and Erroudani once.
    Jamal Erroudani started a business with Chade Jesse Malli, the son of Palestinian immigrant Jesse Issa Malli, (unfl llc).
    Jesse Issa was associated with Sami alArian the leader of an active terrorist organisation, PIJ. For example Jesse employed Hussam Jubara, a parter of alarian whom alarian provided references for. Jesse helped Jubara with his INS paperwork.

    So why was the name mohamed atta from marseilles france, associated with karam llc.

  10. “Russian spammer has nothing to do with Trump winning the election.” Thank God for that! Somebody should tell Donald Trump, who’s covering-up as fast as his fat ass will allow.

  11. Chris Sapp says:


  12. Chris Sapp says:

    Good morning Daniel, The appointment of the infamous Robert Mueller , who played a major role in the 9 /11 attacks and the subsequent cover-ups of those crimes, as Special Counsel to the U.S. Department of Justice for the Trump/Russia investigation is ominous. It causes me to think that the President is guilty of very serious wrongdoing in this matter. Perhaps traitors have something in common with thieves: it takes one to know one. I don’t think that “catch” is the correct verb here. Chris

  1. May 23, 2017


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