“Alfa Bank is the largest private commercial bank in Russia. According to the original Slate story, from May 5, 2016 until late September of 2016, an Alfa Bank server performed 2,820 DNS lookups of a server operated by a marketing firm contracted by the Trump Organization. Slate quoted several DNS and cybersecurity experts. To varying degrees, each supported the article’s thesis: That the DNS lookups appeared to show a covert back channel between Trump and Vladimir Putin through a Russian cutout.
Slate described one of the experts as a “malware hunter” who used the nickname “Tea Leaves” for anonymity. Tea Leaves reportedly discovered the DNS lookups in late July 2016 and eventually brought the data to Slate and other media outlets.
Tea Leaves had provided the above chart of the activity. It shows very few DNS lookups from May 5 until late June. Then, the activity increased in a series of spikes until late September. Hundreds of thousands of words have since been published about this supposedly unsolved mystery, both by cybersecurity experts and the otherwise curious.
Since April 26, 2018, they need not have bothered.
At RealClearInvestigations, author Lee Smith published a story headlined “Unpacking the Other Clinton-Linked Russia Dossier” that day. Smith, who has since written two popular books on the Russian collusion plot, was referring to the lesser-known “Shearer dossier.” In 2016, longtime Hillary Clinton operative Cody Shearer reportedly wrote two four-page memos about Donald Trump and his associates. The two memos contain many claims that were also described, in similar fashion, within the Steele dossier. In September 2016, Sidney Blumenthal—the well-known Clinton insider—passed the Shearer dossier to the State Department.
The Shearer dossier includes the following information, reported Smith:
Shearer quotes a conversation with former CIA officer Robert Baer, again hinting at another intermediary between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Shearer writes that Baer told him “the Russians had established an encrypted communication system with a cut out between the Trump campaign and Putin.”
The Shearer dossier describes almost perfectly the Alfa Bank/Trump server story. It even includes the existence of a “cut out.” Corroboration?
No, as Smith goes on to show. “Fatal error” is more apt:
Baer told [Smith] that “he’d heard that story from acquaintances at the New York Times who were trying to run the story down.” Baer said he remembered speaking with Shearer about Trump and Russia in “March or April” of 2016.
Got that? Both the New York Times and Clinton operative Cody Shearer reportedly were tipped off about the “established” backchannel up to two months before the purported evidence of the backchannel existed.
The first DNS lookup did not occur until May 5.
Further, Tea Leaves, according to Slate, did not begin poring through millions of DNS records—a task Tea Leaves undertook despite having no reason to presume this particular haystack even contained a needle—until mid-June. Tea Leaves reportedly did not make the exceptionally improbable find of a potential “encrypted communication system with a cut out” until late July.
Alfa Bank has filed several lawsuits over the backchannel allegations. Alfa Bank has also presented an expert analysis that concludes Tea Leaves’ data was likely created by a criminal “spoof” of the email marketing server.” (Read more: American Greatness, 10/15/2020) (Archive)