Meet the Russian Hackers Behind Russia-Gate
A Russia-Gate bombshell per day. Watergate burglars Gordon Liddy & E. Howard Hunt were already famous by now. So why aren’t the Russian hackers?
Things change. Don’t they?
Russia-Gate is so much like Watergate that it feels like a half-remembered dream in an old Fellini movie.
President Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey drew immediate comparison to Richard Nixon’s famous Saturday Night Massacre for good reason.
They’re eerily similar. It is beyond uncanny. It’s Deja vu all over again.
FLASHBACK: The special prosecutor issues a subpoena for White House tapes. Nixon has him fired. Nixon says ‘I am not a crook.’ No one believes him.
In a televised Senate hearing, Senators press Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield on how he took such precise notes during Nixon’s meetings with John Dean.
A Nixon Aide Does the Right Thing
When he speaks, his voice shakes. He reveals Nixon has a taping system in his office. Secret White House recordings, once they’re secret no more, will bring the President down.
A chair scrapes. Somebody coughs. Trump fires Comey. To get him to keep his mouth shut, Trump insinuates he has tapes of their meetings.
It was the most breathtakingly-stupid move by an American President since George W Bush invaded Iraq.
Trump is his own Butterfield. Trump is impeaching himself. Trump is a human Hindenburg Zeppelin. The world watches, mouths agape.
This is real shock and awe.
Just mechanics, like the Cuban Watergate burglars
It began with a break-in barely noticed, because news of Russian hackers penetrating computers at the Democratic National Committee followed hard on the heels of a violent national tragedy.
An American-born man pledging allegiance to ISIS has just gunned down 49 people at an Orlando nightclub. It is the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11.
Any impact news of the DNC break-in might have had on the closely-contested U.S. Presidential election is blunted by the grisly details dribbling out of Central Florida.
Omar Mateen—an Islamic “fundamentalist” who hung out in gay chat rooms and gay niteclubs—was laughing as he fires under a bathroom stall where he knew people were hiding. “It was bloodcurdling,” says a survivor.
They could, and they do, just two nights later. A 7-foot-long alligator attacks a 2-year-old boy wading at the water’s edge of a lagoon at Disney World, and drags him underwater.
His remains resurface several days later.
Hunt & Liddy were the first Russian Hackers
If it had been anything but a slow news day, the Russian hackers would be famous already, like Gordon Liddy and E Howard Hunt. But right now they remain faceless.
As the scandal heats up, they will step out of the shadows and into the light. The Russian hackers aren’t faceless automatons, or emanations from the evil mind of Emperor Ming.
They have names, biographies, work history’s, girlfriends, wives, squads of bodyguards, armored limousines, mansions, and multi-million dollar car collections.
At least two of the Russians accused by the FBI of hacking during the U.S. election have longtime American partners who today remain nameless. Their identities will almost certainly lead to even higher-level players.
With the Watergate burglars the big question was whether they would dummy up or cut deals and spill the beans, telling who they’d been working for in the break-in.
The intrigue swirling around the Trump-Russia investigation is over much the same thing. Will the Russian hackers’ links to American criminal networks be revealed?
Nobody’s talking about this yet.
Pavel “Red-Eye” Vrublevsky: Russian Hackers Original ‘G’
Four of the most important Russian hackers— Pavel Vrublevsky, Peter Levashov, Roman Seleznev, and Jevgenij Nikulin— have recently been in the news. But Pavel Vrublevsky is the most prominent.
All have a few things in common. Still in their 20’s and 30’s, they were all already pulling down NBA star LeBron James’ kind of money. They all drove “statement” cars. And all three were busted while they were on vacation.
But not Vrublevsky. He’s sitting tight in Moscow.
In the Russian hacker fraternity, Pavel Vrublevsky is the Original ‘G.’ Just a decade ago he was known as “Red Eye.”
Mafiya, Mob, Trump, & Putin: The New Combination?
Back then Pavel Vrublevsky was the first Russian hacker known to have worked inside the U.S. In 2003 Vrublevsky begins living and working in a house in John Gotti’s old neighborhood in Howard Beach, Queens.
The house was owned by a currently-incarcerated Mobster from Tampa named Mike Muzio.
Vrublevsky was running backend servers and credit card operations for thousands of sleazy Mafia porn site. Like Muzio’s VoyeurDorm.com.
Later, Muzio and Vrublevsky will both move upmarket.
Pablo Vrublevsky becomes the first Russian hacker accused by the FBI of election interference, in the hacking of election databases in Arizona and Illinois. And Muzio?
Mike Muzio and Andy Badolato
From his beach-house in Sarasota Florida—where Bannon took refuge when the press hounded him mercilessly during the campaign for being registered to vote at the address of a vacant house in Miami—Andy Badolato helped Mike Muzio run a highly-lucrative penny stock fraud.
For crimes committed while he was partners with Badolato, Muzio is currently doing a stretch in the pen, incarcerated for a hacker-assisted penny stock fraud in which he made millions of dollars. Along with Muzio, a handful of other company officials go down.
Was this because of Badolato’s other gig, as the business partner of infamous Trump advisor Steve Bannon?
Badolato’s seeming immunity in the scam is especially curious, because this was by no means Andy Badolato’s first rodeo.
“Working off a beef” in Moscow
After Vrublevsky moved back to Moscow from Queens, he was convicted for hacking and sent to prison in Russia.
Then something happened. He was sprung out of jail through the good offices of what used to be known as the KGB.
Afterwards, he became known as a respected “Russian businessman” and “cyber-expert” working for the Kremlin. But he was was no longer a free agent.
In the colorful language criminal Russian “vors” in Siberia share with our own ‘made” guys from Jersey, Vrublevsky was “working off a beef,” often the only escape from doing serious time.
Two years ago he accused two Russian FSB agents—one of whom was hooded and then frog marched out of his office in front of curious onlookers—of working for the Americans. The charges so far appear to be sticking.
A number of Russian hackers have made headlines in the past month; none more interesting than 32-year old Roman Seleznev, one of the world’s most prolific traffickers in stolen credit cards.
His signature crime was stealing credit-card numbers from restaurant point-of-sale systems, then selling them on in underground internet forums.
Before his capture, Seleznev was living a typically-lavish Russian hacker lifestyle, roaring around on the streets of Moscow in his imported Dodge Chargers and Dodge Challengers, his favorite cars, even taking photos in Red Square.
For more than a decade Roman Seleznev was hunted by federal agents. Their problem: Russian hackers only get arrested when they go abroad these days. Despite being named in three separate federal hacking-related indictments, the U.S. couldn’t catch Seleznev.
The FBI concedes it may never catch another Russian hacker that isn’t willing to risk arrest to feel the sun on his skin in a clime less gloomy than Moscow or St. Petersburg.
Getting cabin fever in Moscow
U.S. Agents met with Indonesian authorities, who declined—for fear of upsetting the Russians—to help capture Seleznev on their turf.
Then, in July 2014, he finally made a mistake.
He felt safe there; his research showed the Maldives had no extradition treaty with the U.S. And he was right., as far as it goes…
But despite the lack of a treaty, as soon as federal agents knew where he was, they sprung into action. An official at the State Department with a relationship with Maldivian police made some calls.
A Secret Service agent flew in from Thailand, another from Hawaii.
“The Russo-American Extradition Wars”
Just as he boarded his flight back to Russia, Maldivian police took Seleznev into custody.
FBI agents placed him under arrest and ushered him directly onto a chartered plane which took off on a 5000-mile-long flight to Guam, where he was immediately taken before a U.S. District judge.
Federal prosecutors accused Seleznev of hacking into businesses around the world, stealing the credit-card information of tens of millions of consumers and selling it for millions of dollars on the black market.
Seleznev is the son of a powerful Russian politician who is a close friend and ally of President Vladimir Putin.
His father angrily accused Washington of engaging in the kind of extraordinary rendition the CIA used to nab terrorism suspects in foreign countries and drop off at secret detention facilities. “For all I know, they may be demanding a ransom tomorrow,” Valery Seleznev told Russia Today television about his son’s detention.
What Dad didn’t mention: when he was arrested, Roman Seleznev had 1.7 million stolen credit card numbers on his laptop computer.
According to court documents, while in custody, cooling his heels in the Federal Detention Center (FDC) in SeaTac awaiting trial, Seleznev and his father plotted to tamper with witnesses.
They also discussed escape.
It’s always the little guy that gets hurt
A stereotypical Russian homophobe, he focused on stealing credit card info from gay restaurants and bars like The Broadway Grill, a shamelessly proud anchor for Seattle’s gay culture.
The Broadway Grille was an exotic place with “a glass chandelier that looked like Carmen Miranda’s headgear on steroids,” and a clientele that “looks like Miranda’s backup dancers on Social Security.”
Using hacked data from just this one restaurant, Seleznev ultimately stole the personal identification and credit card numbers of 32,000 people.
The crime devastated the owners of the restaurant, and the ancillary bad publicity destroyed their business. When the once popular bistro closed, the owners blamed the credit card fraud for its demise.
Hacking, drug trafficking, & financial fraud
Remember Pavel Vrublevsky’s first American partner, Mike Muzio? The Tampa Mobster who was also in business with Donald Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon’s longtime partner Andy Badolato?
Mike Muzio was a name I already knew… well before I’d ever heard of Pavel Vrublevsky, or could tell a Russian hacker from a hawk, or a handsaw. I knew about Muzio back in 2004.
“Testimony in an extortion trial in Tampa, Florida, the MadCowMorningNews learned exclusively, fingered Michael Muzio, President of Genesis subsidiary www.opendoormusic.com as the intended victim of a Mafia hit ordered by a business associate, Joseph Forlizzo of Queens.
“Genesis” is short for GenesisIntermedia, a California company owned by Saudi fixer Adnan Khashoggi, being used in 2004 to perpetrate massive financial fraud—the STOCKGATE scandal, which netted billions, and led to a large Minneapolis securities firm going bankrupt—and drug trafficking, using a pair of DC-9’s painted to be indistinguishable from planes from the Department of Homeland Security.
“Being connected means never having to say you’re sorry.”
That’s supposedly a no-no; not for these guys, an ecumenical drug trafficking organization pooling the skills of Israelis and Saudis, professional Canadian stock fraudsters, and Americans with a variety of former iU.S. intelligence agency backgrounds.
Muzio was engaged in a continuing criminal conspiracy in St. Petersburg Florida—a story I’ve been covering for a decade— that was first exposed when an American-registered DC-9 was busted in Mexico’s Yucatan on April 10, 2006.
The plane was carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine.
Three business partners of Trump buddy Badolato and Russian hacker-hiring Muzio were involved in the drug move.
Maybe this Russia-Trump scandal is about more than “just” collusion in fixing an American election; but about the brazen incursion into the still-shaky American economy of the malevolent forces of transnational organized crime.
Drug trafficking, laundering dirty money, subverting elections. The usual.
Tomorrow: profiles of two more Russian hackers busted recently by U.S. agents while they were on vacation: Peter Levashov and Evgeny Nikulin.