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In the lexicon of U.S. counterintelligence, it’s called “spot and assess,” “access agents,” and “back channels.” According to U.S. prosecutors, it’s also what Maria Butina, a now 30-year-old Russian graduate student, was doing during her time in United States.
“Butina was not a spy in the traditional sense of trying to gain access to classified information to send back to her home country. She was not a trained intelligence officer,” prosecutors wrote in a memo. “But the actions she took were nonetheless taken on behalf of the Russian Official for the benefit of the Russian Federation, and those actions had the potential to damage the national security of the United States.”
The assertion, made in filings in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., was part of federal authorities’ final arguments in their case against Butina, who is scheduled for sentencing on April 26 after pleading guilty last year to being an unregistered agent of a foreign government.
She could get up to five years in prison, although U.S. officials have requested 18 months and her subsequent deportation.
In addition to laying out the final arguments, the filings provide insight into how U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials view efforts by Russia to infiltrate political groups, academia, business circles, and other parts of U.S. society.
“Acquiring information valuable to a foreign power does not necessarily involve collecting classified documents or engaging in cloak-and-dagger activities,” another memo included in the filing said.
Though separate from the now-concluded investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the case against Butina touched on many of the same issues that continue to roil U.S. politics: how and why Russia sought to interfere in U.S. politics in and before the 2016 presidential election.
At the heart of Butina’s case is the allegation that before and during her studies at American University in Washington she sought to build relationships with U.S. conservative political groups, including the influential National Rifle Association (NRA), on behalf of at least one powerful Kremlin-connected lawmaker.
She was charged not under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) but under a lesser-known U.S. law informally known as “espionage-lite.” That legislation targets “espionage-like or clandestine behavior or an otherwise provable connection to an intelligence service, or information gathering or procurement-type activity on behalf of a foreign government.”
In court filings, prosecutors homed in on specific projects that Butina allegedly undertook. For example, in March 2015, she is said to have drafted something called the “Diplomacy Project” with help from “U.S. Person 1” and, to carry out the plan, requested $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences and set up “separate meetings with interested parties.”
U.S. Person 1 is widely believed to be Paul Erickson, a conservative U.S. activist identified as Butina’s boyfriend. He was charged in February with fraud in a case unrelated to Butina’s.
The filings have asserted that Butina’s main backer in Russia was Aleksandr Torshin, a former top Central Bank official and former lawmaker whom Spanish authorities have alleged has links to Russian organized crime. He was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in April 2018, three months before Butina was arrested.
Butina was “fully aware that he reported to the rest of the Russian government and her actions were ultimately for the benefit of the foreign government,” prosecutors alleged.
In their April 19 filing, prosecutors included a memo, or “declaration,” by Robert Anderson, a 20-year veteran of the FBI and former assistant director for its counterintelligence division. Aimed at bolstering the government’s arguments, the memo highlights in detail how the FBI identifies the activities of foreigners that would potentially be considered espionage.
“A spot-and-assess operation does not require secret encryption, dead drops, or any other trappings of a Hollywood spy story,” Anderson wrote.
“Butina collected information about numerous American citizens who she believed had access to and influence with senior levels of the United States government. She focused specifically on Americans with political influence and Americans who had access, or were expected to acquire access, to the incoming presidential administration. Her ability to gain meaningful access to these powerful individuals would be incredibly valuable to the Russian government,” he alleged.
“That Butina presented herself as someone with high-level connections in the Russian government but never asked potential targets to provide any confidential information or do anything obviously illegal is entirely consistent with a spot-and-assess operation,” Anderson said.
Andrew Weiss, who was a top Russia director for the National Security Council under former Democratic President Bill Clinton, said the entire filing, including with the Anderson declaration, should be viewed not only in the context of the Butina case but also in parallel to what was outlined in the Mueller report, a partly redacted version of which was released on April 18.
In it, Mueller corroborated U.S. intelligence conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election that was won by President Donald Trump but “did not establish” that Trump campaign officials “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
“The biggest issue here is that we have a relatively small case compared to the massive set of issues raised within [the] Mueller [investigation]. And here you have the Justice Department prosecutors…outlining why what Butina did was so damaging, and then they amplify it with Anderson’s declaration,” said Weiss, who also served at the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon.
He said that mirrored what appeared to be happening in 2016 and 2017, when Russian businessmen and others were said to be trying to reach out to the incoming Trump administration — something that was documented in the Mueller report.
“The question is: Is it bad to have people who are looking for interlocutors who might be more pliable? Is it bad to have Russian figures see if Trump administration officials might be against the prevailing Republican notions of foreign policy, or policy toward Russia?” Weiss said.
When she was arrested, Butina denied the charges. She changed her plea in December and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Still, defense lawyers have strenuously fought the assertion that she was a spy, insisting that she was merely an eager advocate for improving a toxic relationship between Moscow and Washington.
In their pre-sentencing filing, Butina’s lawyers accused prosecutors of only belatedly asserting the “spot-and-assess” accusation and asked the judge to ignore it and not to let Anderson testify at her sentencing.
They asserted that the prosecutors’ memo “raises a wholly new theory of espionage activity that was never charged, never cleared by a grand jury, never disclosed, and never even raised directly with Maria during her 50-plus hours of interviews.”
Neither of her lawyers, Robert Driscoll or Alfred Carry, would comment further ahead of the sentencing.
“Anderson’s phraseology is so chilling because it shows an amazing level of Russia’s potential ability to tip major U.S. foreign policy making in a favorable direction,” Weiss said.
“How does a sophisticated adversary with a huge intelligence apparatus operate in the United States,” he added. “This is one manifestation of how they operate and it’s surely not the only one.” (RFERL)
India is known for its pickles, popularly called 'Achaar', even across the world. But who thought about the idea of pickles in the first place? Apparently, the idea of making pickles first came from the ancient civilisation of Mesopotamia, where archaeologists have found evidence of cucumbers being soaked in vinegar. This was done to preserve it, but the practice has spread all over the world today, that pickles mean so much more than just preserved vegetables.
In India, the idea of pickle has nothing to do with preservation, rather pickle is a side dish that adds flavour and taste to almost anything. In Punjab, parathas are served with pickle; in the south, pickle and curd rice is a household favourite, and in Andhra, it is a staple, eaten with everything. The flavour profile of pickles in each state is naturally different, suited to each cuisine's taste. Pickles are soaked in oil and salt for at least a month, mixed with spices and stored all year round. Mango season is often synonymous with pickle season as a majority of Indians love mango pickle. In the coastal cities, pickles are even made out of fish and prawns.
The Indian Achaar Image credit: Photo by Rahat Hossen on Unsplash
In other cultures, the pickling process has more to do with preservation. Cold countries, where temperatures drop to very low levels, pickle their vegetables in brine, vinegar, or salt. Sweden is famous for pickled herring, because fishing all year round is hard with all the snow and ice. The German Sauerkraut, originally composed of rice, cabbage, and wine, is now made using salt instead of wine. This gives it a sour flavour that is characteristic of the beloved German delicacy.
In Korea, kimchi is the national delicacy. It is a pickle that is made from pickled cabbages with a distinct mix of spices. Kimchi is made with various core ingredients, and is gaining popularity these days with the Korean Wave hitting the globe. It is a practice that represents the Korean winters, which are too harsh to grow anything. The Kimchi business is one of the largest in Korea, while the individual family recipes are also well-preserved as it is believed that each is unique in its own way.
The pickles made from dill and vinegar are most famous in America. It was introduced to the Americans by the Jewish immigrants. Dill pickles are best paired with sandwiches.
Keywords: Pickles, Culture, Brine, Vinegar, Preserves
It is impossible to detail the history of bookbinding without understanding the need for it. A very useful, and yet simple invention, spiral coils that hold books together and allow mobile access to the user came about just before WWII, but much before that, paper underwent a massive change in production technique.
Beginning in China, paper was made of bamboo sticks slit open and flattened. In Egypt, papyrus was made from the reeds that grew in the Nile. In India, long, rectangular strips of palm leaves were stitched together to form legible documents. When monasteries were established, scrolls came into being. Parchment paper, or animal hide, also known as vellum, were used to copy out texts periodically to preserve them. Prior to all this, clay tablets were used to record important events, and in some cases, rock edicts were made.
But all this changed with the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg. Paper became the medium by which inscriptions, announcements, and almost everything was made. Once paper became so accessible, printing began in full scale. Newspapers and the Bible were printed every day.
Metal coils were used before the world war Image credit: Photo by Dan Bucko on Unsplash
With wads of paper, something had to be done about keeping them together. Bookbinding began as a booming business. First, the pages were just sewn together. A special sewing machine was invented just for books. When this did not suit all book types, the process of punching and binding began. Holes were punched in books, and they were tied together.
Much later, an adhesive thermoplastic strip became available by which book pages were stuck together. They sold in this format for a long time. Ideas began to flow in for notebooks when people discovered that they could attach pieces of paper together. A machine was invented that drew lines. This made it easier for people who wrote a lot.
After a while, when people got used to having their books a certain way, The Spiral Binding Company opened in 1932, which changed the way bookbinding was done. Books could now be bound by coil and this was not only economical, but also convenient, because pages could easily be turned without breaking the bind. The original spiral bind coil was made of metal, but when supplies were rationed during WWII, they were made from plastic. This trend has remained to the present day, where spiral bound books are preferred to the other kinds of binding except in cases of publishing and official documentation.
Keywords: Spiral Binding, WWII, Paper, Books, Printing
By N. Lothungbeni Humtsoe
To keep the value and quality of what you offer, whether it's a romantic breakfast in bed or a royal wedding gift that will be remembered for years. The concept of gift-giving has taken on a number of shapes in today's society. Devina Singhania, the Founder of 'LE JAHAAN', a local home and decor accessories company, explains how the gifting paradigm has shifted.
Q: What do consumers expect from the gifting business and packaging designers these days?
A: Today's consumers are expecting more minimal sustainable products, designs and mediums. They are now more conscious about how their purchase affects the environment. Considering this shift in consumer buying, it's extremely important for companies to increase their commitments to responsible business practices and design products that are meant to be reused or recycled.
Today's consumers are expecting more minimal sustainable products, designs and mediums. | Photo by Superkitina on Unsplash
Q: The practice of self-gifting is being driven by millennials. What are your thoughts on the subject?
A: I absolutely agree with this. Millennials are so creative and expressive. They are more into personalized products with which they can tell the world something about themselves. We are often hired by millennials to monogram and personalize products for them. They truly believe it's the best way to stand out from the crowd and establish a signature style and we couldn't agree more.
We are often hired by millennials to monogram and personalize products for them. | Photo by freestocks on Unsplash
Q: What impact do colour trends have on gift designs and packaging?
A: 'Le Jahaan' has always been very influenced by colour and trends and we hope to continue this association with colour even while we break through to more sustainable products and collections.
'Le Jahaan' has always been very influenced by colour and trends | Photo by freestocks on Unsplash
Q: What has changed as a result of the pandemic in terms of how we commemorate special occasions and the gift-giving tradition?
A: It's smaller in quantity but more luxurious and thought through.
Q: What giving trends should one keep an eye on in 2022?
A: Consumers, including millennials and members of Generation Z, are especially concerned with sustainability. So, the trend is definitely to go green with eco-friendly.
Q: How does Le Jahaan keep its clients coming back?
A: Our products speak for themselves. We make small batches with exceptional quality with a personal touch.
(Article originally published on IANSlife) (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: gifts, le jahaan, festive, millennials, sustainable, gen z, paradigm, gifting