A Conversation With Chris Blackburn On The Contradictions Surrounding Mifsud
After the publication of Disobedient Media’s coverage of ‘eclectic scholar’ Joseph Mifsud’s unexamined ties to UK intelligence officials, this author was contacted by Chris Blackburn, a UK Political Analyst focusing on International Relations and Security, whose Twitter post instigated this writer’s research into the matter.
This writer’s interest in Mifsud and in turn, the Trump-Russia collusion narrative, was heightened by a Twitter thread on the subject published by WikiLeaks Editor-In-Chief Julian Assange shortly before Ecuador cut off his connection to the outside world.
Chris Blackburn’s initial Tweets on the matter included of a photograph showing UK Joint Intelligence Committee member Claire Smith and Joseph Mifsud together at LINK Campus in Rome, where they collaborated on a training program involving Italian military officials. Disobedient Media was able to confirm the photograph’s authenticity, finding that the program was organized by the London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD), which Mifsud directed. The event took place in 2012 – a significant date because, at that time, Claire Smith was a member of the UK intelligence security vetting panel.
As Blackburn informed us, there is more to this story than is told by that single photograph, or by the October 2017 photograph of Mifsud standing with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. The following discussion took place electronically.
We asked Chris to explain his background.
Chris Blackburn: “I’ve been involved in numerous investigations that involve counter-intelligence techniques in the past. I used to work for the 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism, one of the biggest tort actions in American history. I helped build a profile of Osama bin Laden’s financial and political network, which was slightly different to the one that had been built by the CIA’s Alec Station, a dedicated task force which was focused on Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Alec Station designed its profile to hunt Osama bin Laden and disrupt his network. I thought it was flawed. It had failed to take into account Osama’s historical links to Pakistan’s main political parties or that he was the figurehead for a couple of organizations, not just Al-Qaeda.”
“I also ran a few conferences for US intelligence leaders during the Bush administration. After the 9/11 Commission published its report into the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon it created a public outreach program. The US National Intelligence Conference and Exposition (Intelcon) was one of the avenues it used. I was responsible for creating the ‘View from Abroad’ track. We had guidance from former Senator Slade Gorton and Jamie Gorelick, who both sat on the 9/11 Commission. We got leaders such as Sir John Chilcot and Baroness Pauline Neville Jones to come and help share their experiences on how the US would be able to heal the rifts after 9/11.”
“The US intelligence community was suffering from severe turf wars and firewalls, which were hampering counter-terrorism efforts. They were concentrating on undermining each other rather than tackling terrorism. I had mainly concentrated on the Middle East, but in 2003 I switched my focus to terrorism in South Asia.”
Disobedient Media asked Chris to expound on his connections with Bangladesh and how that led him to notice Mifsud, and to question the legacy media’s narrative around the allegiance of the ‘Maltese scholar.’
Chris Blackburn: “Bangladesh was becoming a breeding ground for terrorist groups from Pakistan. There had been an assassination attempt on Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the Awami League, a center-left political party. The culprits were believed to have been linked to Pakistan’s ISI, Al-Qaeda and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The BNP was in government at the time. John Negroponte and Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s National Security Advisor, had poured millions into Bangladesh’s counter-terrorism projects and there were rumors that Lutfuzzaman Babar, the main beneficiary of US largesse, was behind the assassination attempts. The rumors later turned into an investigation.”
“Babar is currently in jail for his role in smuggling weapons to terrorist organizations and has been charged with using Al-Qaeda affiliates to target his rivals. There was little press attention in the US and Europe. While working on Bangladesh, it quickly became clear that the ghosts of the 1971 War of Liberation were seriously holding the country back.”
“Bangladesh had a horrific birth. It used to be part of Pakistan, but was hundreds of miles away from it with India in between. A bad idea in terms of logistics and administration. Ambassador Archer K. Blood is a hero to the people of Bangladesh for standing up for them during the Liberation War. He stood up to President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who were backing West Pakistan because they wanted to keep the Pakistanis on side to develop links with China.”
“Ambassador Blood leaked a diplomatic cable to the American press in which he called Pakistan’s actions during the Liberation War a ‘genocide’. Journalists from major newspapers followed suit. The leak is known as the ‘Blood Telegram‘, a major part of South Asian history. Blood’s courage gave hope to an oppressed people. He was one of the first major leakers.”
“Christopher Hitchens and other intellectuals such as Bernard-Henri Levy have all praised the Bangladesh people for struggling against their former West Pakistani rulers. It was the first major conflict where Pakistan used religious fundamentalists, such as the Jamaat-i-Islami, to crack skulls for domestic policies. Journalists, writers, artists and poets were rounded up just before the end of the conflict and murdered by Jamaat’s youth brigades.”
“I felt it was right to help them. It was a historic wrong for the region and the world. It needed to be set right especially while Pakistan was becoming increasingly buoyant and ruthless due to a lack of accountability for its actions. They were playing fireman and arsonist with international terrorism.”
“Lisa Curtis, one of President Trump’s national security advisors, was against Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunals. She said that only a handful of old Bangladeshi Communists wanted them. She was wrong. Hundreds of thousands of Bangladesh’s youth created a movement called Shahbag to campaign for the tribunals and a secular Bangladesh. They’d had enough of the culture of impunity. They wanted to stop bigotry and hatred.”
Corruption and realpolitik meant the once-banned Jamaat Party had managed to claw its way back into positions of power – they’d had enough. It had made a whole generation sick with frustration and anger; their children wanted to take a stand. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the British Labour Party, Charles Tannock and the late Lord Avebury were some of the first to help push for Bangladesh to conduct war crimes tribunals. They gave activists like me a platform in the British Parliament. The US government was mute and feigned support, but its foreign policy advocates were openly hostile towards it.”
“I was working on the Rohingya crisis when I first heard about Joseph Mifsud being linked to President Trump’s campaign. His name rang a bell. I had always thought the Russiagate story was bizarre… I knew that there were some serious problems in the narrative.”
“When the news broke about George Papadopoulos and a mysterious ‘professor’ in London, it seriously piqued my interest… I found it strange that the court documents didn’t name him. There was also talk about Putin’s imaginary niece. So I began to make friends on twitter and started to dig. I began to look at Paul Manafort, who was indicted at the same time as Papadopoulos. Manafort was Trump’s campaign chief and I had done research on him before. I had known about Paul Manafort for years.”
“[Manafort] has a close connection to Pakistan. He was involved in the Karachi Affair, a major scandal in France concerning kickbacks and submarines destined for the Pakistani navy. Manafort had also lobbied for an ISI front organization called the Kashmiri American Council. The FBI’s counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence departments handled that investigation in 2011, shortly after the Abbottabad raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Jamaat operative, was jailed for working for Pakistan’s intelligence services.”
“I always worried that Manafort would join the growing army of US lobbyists that had been hired by those accused of war crimes in Bangladesh. Cassidy Associates, Just Consulting, and the Podesta Group were working for Jamaat members and institutions. The lobbyists had turned the war crimes issue into an Orwellian nightmare for those supporting the tribunals. The lobbyists pushed an academic that said there wasn’t a genocide at all! They planted stories in the press. US journalists ate them up and hardly deviated from the lobbyists’ talking points.”
“We had our suspicions that sections of the US, Saudi, Pakistani, Turkish and British intelligence were helping to direct it – the odds weren’t in our favor. When I was researching Mifsud, I began to have serious doubts. Counter-intelligence (COIN) investigations are complex. They are the most intrusive investigations an investigator will conduct. They can also take years if the investigators have to walk backwards from leaked information from a foreign asset. They won’t always have a name; it’s usually a codename.”
“Secrets are heavily compartmentalized as a result. COIN investigators also have to look for reasons for spying. Investigators follow the acronym MICE, which stands for “Money, Ideology, Compromise, and Coercion.” There are others, but MICE usually covers most acts of treachery and espionage. COIN investigations look into a person of interest’s family, friends, colleagues, debts, holidays, neighbors, romances, hobbies… they go through a person’s biography with a fine tooth comb to look for patterns and trends.”
“Peter Strzok, the FBI’s former counter-intelligence chief who was running the Mifsud case, should have found a few major red flags that would bring his motives into question. Strzok has been removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team.”
Disobedient Media asked Chris to explain the process of his research into Joseph Mifsud’s most important ties:
Chris Blackburn: “When Joseph Mifsud’s name was leaked by The Washington Post as being the ‘professor’ named in George Papadopoulos’ court papers, bloggers and journalists took to Twitter to try to understand who he was. Everyone was looking for connections to Russia. They quickly found them. The London Centre for International Law Practice (LCILP) had been working on hosting financial sanctions workshops, and LINK Campus in Rome and the London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD) had provided a vehicle for Mifsud to make connections with Russian universities and academics.”
“Before the story broke, I had heard of the London Centre for International Law Practice (LCILP) where George Papadopoulos and Mifsud both worked. The relatively new legal firm had been trying to move into the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) sector in the UK. They had done some research into ISIS territorial gains in the Middle East and wrote a widely circulated report on the group. They also hosted a few seminars with [UK] Foreign Office types on terrorism. LCILP had also tried to reach out to a couple of Bangladeshi activists working on the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunals. I didn’t think much of it, but I couldn’t ignore it. Why would a suspected Russian intelligence front try to engage with Bangladesh’s War Crimes Tribunal from London?”
“I quickly found that LCILP’s director Peter Dovey had been a left-wing solicitor and set up a legal entity called the Police Station Defence Service (PSDS) along with Nagi Idris, another LCILP director, and an American-Mexican called George San Martin. George San Martin had been a major figure in left-wing activism in the US. The FBI should have found that.”
“While other researchers were looking into Mifsud’s academic links to Russia, I decided to conduct a more wide-ranging investigation. The London Academy of Diplomacy was being built up in the press as a shady operation. It wasn’t. British diplomats and Foreign Office ministers often visited LAD. Sir Tony Baldry, Alok Sharma MP and former Foreign Secretary William Hague all visited LAD or spoke at their conferences.”
“The Commonwealth and various governments, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, sent their diplomats to train there. Nabil Ayad, the founding director of LAD, had built up the academy as a respectable powerhouse in London’s diplomatic community. Counter-intelligence investigators would only be concentrating on Mifsud’s high-frequency contacts and associations. They would be examining people he worked with on a regular basis. As an academic working in diplomacy, Mifsud would have thousands of contacts. FBI investigators would be looking for intelligence ties.”
“Mifsud worked with diplomats and NATO allies, so they would need to know the potential damage he had caused. I found that two of Joseph Mifsud’s closest colleagues, who the FBI would have designated as high-frequency, were Claire Smith and Gianni Pittella. They had followed him between LAD, Stirling University and LINK Campus in Rome. Claire Smith was a former member of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). As a team, Smith and Mifsud trained Italian law enforcement on intelligence at LINK Campus in Rome. LINK Campus’ ties to the Italian Foreign Ministry and intelligence agencies had been quickly skimmed over by The Washington Post, The New York Times, Buzzfeed and The Guardian.”
“Gianni Pittella has known Mifsud for a while. They met at the European Parliament and have collaborated on numerous projects together. In July 2016, Pittella gave a rousing speech at Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign launch in Philadelphia, calling Donald Trump ‘a virus’ which needed to be stopped, while his close collaborator Mifsud was supposedly helping Trump’s campaign to conspire with Russia. If the FBI had been doing a proper investigation into Joseph Mifsud, these two connections should have raised red flags immediately.”
“If Mifsud was working with western intelligence agencies that would be rather pertinent in an espionage scandal. Italian journalists have been slow to pick up the story, but they are now calling LINK Campus the ‘007 university’ because Vincenzo Scotti, a former Italian Foreign Minister, and director at LINK University, has been trying to defend himself from suggestions he’s in Russia or the CIA’s pocket.”
“The venue for the alleged acts of treachery involving Papadopoulos and Mifsud – LINK Campus Rome – should have set alarm bells ringing for the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigators. The CIA has a long history of working there. David Ignatius of The Washington Post even wrote about a CIA-sponsored event he attended at LINK Campus in 2004.”
“The FBI’s Legat [Legal Attache office] in Rome also sends its agents to train Italian and Maltese law enforcement at the small private campus. Mifsud had worked at LINK Campus for quite some time. Before the story broke in August last year, Mifsud had been working with CNN’s Freedom Project to host a televised debate on modern slavery. After Mifsud had been named, CNN continued with the event. Richard Quest hosted while one of Mifsud’s colleagues, Franco Frattini, acted as one of the panelists.”
Disobedient Media asked Chris for his thoughts on why multiple red flags easily spotted by due diligence may have been missed regarding Mifsud, intentionally or otherwise.
Chris Blackburn: “If Mifsud is a genuine Russian asset, he has been enabled by the United States’ most trusted allies. His relationship with senior intelligence and political leaders in Europe should constitute one of the greatest security breaches in decades. He had access to diplomats in training, sanctions targets and counter-terrorism strategy in the Middle East and South Asia. However, government reactions don’t show that. The FBI doesn’t appear to have warned their closest allies.”
Disobedient Media asked Chris for his thoughts on the crossover between key figures in the Mifsud arm of the Trump-Russia collusion debacle and the likely fabrication of the “Russian Hacking” narrative allegedly engineered by CrowdStrike.
Chris Blackburn: “Buzzfeed reported that the Guardia Di Finanza officers, Italy’s anti-corruption and organized crime agency, are looking for Mifsud for possible financial crimes. Mifsud helped train Guardia Di Finanza officers at LINK Campus in Rome. The FBI’s Eurasian Crime and Cyber Security officers also help with the training, running courses at LINK Campus. CrowdStrike, the DNC cyber-security team, employ senior leaders who are former FBI trainers and researchers that are alumni of LINK Campus in Rome.”
Blackburn also took to Twitter, discussing the fact that figures at CrowdStrike have been associated with LINK Campus as well as with the FBI. Specifically, according to ICANN, Andrew Bagley has served as Privacy Counsel for CrowdStrike since 2015. He also attended LINK Campus in Rome in 2010 as a visiting researcher. Finally, Bagley worked with the FBI as an “E-Discovery Technical Advisor,” echoing the connection between a number of prominent figures at CrowdStrike and the agency.
Disobedient Media asked Chris to explain what conclusions can be drawn, or questions raised, by the evidence he’s shared.
Chris Blackburn: “There are too many contradictions and blatant omissions concerning Joseph Mifsud, in the media and the judicial system, to ignore. The NSA would have been monitoring Mifsud’s communications with the production crew that worked on the CNN Freedom Project before the George Papadopoulos indictment was made public. Why didn’t CNN Europe’s producers come out and say anything? It’s one of the greatest scandals in US history. Does CNN’s European division not read the news?”
“After Mifsud allegedly engaged George Papadopoulos in trying to set him up with allegedly stolen data, he went on to host conferences with US Treasury officials, ex-CIA agents, congressmen and State Department officials in numerous venues. If the investigation were genuine, US authorities would have alerted the British government and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mifsud would not have been able to get into a position to be photographed with the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson if he was a security threat or an agent of influence.”
“Mifsud still hasn’t been named by Special Counsel Robert Mueller or indicted by his team. The first time an official named him was when Rep. Adam Schiff (D), the minority chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), mentioned him in a rebuttal to the majority memo on FISA abuses in the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ).”
“There are enough red flags here to suggest that Mifsud was potentially tied to efforts to kick-start a phony investigation that was designed to be leaked to the American press. Peter Strzok, the counter-intelligence official that started the Joseph Mifsud investigation, has been demoted and removed from Mueller’s investigative team. Mifsud is a mystery to people that can’t be bothered to look, but many journalists are aware of his links.”
“They don’t want to ruin a narrative. Trump is a divisive figure, but if we let intelligence officials illegally taint and sabotage candidates in a democratic election, it sets a dangerous precedent. Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, has previously stepped into contemporary politics to malign Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and the Liberal Democrats during British elections. He guided Christopher Steele on his strategy with his infamous dossier. It’s a trend which needs to be addressed.”
“For those that still believe we are living in democratic, free and open societies it is sadly starting to look like fantasy. Democracies flourish when the checks and balances in the system are robust. We need them to work now more than ever.”
As a closing thought on Blackburn’s findings, it’s important to set the exposure of Mifsud’s ties to the UK establishment and intelligence community into context.
Julian Assange brought this matter to the public’s attention just before being silenced by the Ecuadorian government. Although this particular story is most likely not causative in terms of Assange being relegated to solitary confinement, it is important to remember Assange’s interest in Mifsud’s ties to UK intelligence. It is one among many subjects that Assange has been prevented from discussing at the time of writing.
Ultimately, Disobedient Media’s previous coverage of Mifsud’s links to UK intelligence and Chris Blackburn’s thorough research suggest that the same interests involved in the fabrication of Russian hacking fingerprints via the anonymous Guccifer 2.0 persona are associated with the concoction of faulty evidence for the Trump-Russia collusion narrative.
Even reports casting Mifsud as a Russian intelligence asset do not object to the conclusion that Mifsud worked as a spy. Their claim simply depicts him as working for the wrong master, and in so-doing, rests the beating heart of the Trump-Russia collusion scandal on a single inaccurate premise. In exposing this sleight of hand, Chris Blackburn, Julian Assange, and others have debunked a narrative which, if successful, could have fatally raised tensions between two nuclear powers already facing off on the geopolitical playing field.
In the Trump-Russia and Russian hacking narratives, American and UK intelligence agencies appear to have recklessly and deceptively acted in the interest of a single political candidate, Hillary Clinton. This singularity of purpose speaks to the insecurity and magnitude of the unelected Western power structure, equaled by the scale of lies propping up the Trump-Russia and Russian hacking narratives.