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From Russia With Love

Birds are the eyes of heaven, flies the spies of hell.

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Rep. George Santos, Capitol Hill 2023

Newly elected Rep. George Santos from New York’s 3rd Congressional District is under investigation this week by county, state, and federal authorities who’re scrutinizing his finances and fraudulent personal biography. There are rising concerns he may be the first Russian operative to infiltrate the U.S. Congress.

Consultants, donors and other Republicans — including those in Washington — knew the Santos biography didn’t line up prior to the 2022 election regarding his education, employment, and what the SEC is calling a possible Ponzi scheme at Harbor City Capital. Yet those voices were no match for 142,673 ballots, 54.1% of the vote centered in Nassau County.

During his first bid for the U.S. House in 2020, Santos reported no assets and a $55K annual salary, though he’d raised six figures for his employer Harbor City the same year. By 2022, he was donating $700K to his own campaign via the Devolder Organization, an offshoot of his tenure with Harbor City Capital. His financial disclosures claim the organization paid him dividends upwards of $5 million in 2022.

Russian businessman Andrew Intrater invested the maximum USD $5,800 to Santos campaign in 2020, but tens of thousands more to committees with connections to Santos, and hundreds of thousands more with Harbor City Capital, according to The Washington Post.

Intrater manages the investment firm Sparrow Capital, formerly known as Columbus Nova, the American affiliate of Russia’s Renova Group. It is owned by Russian oligarch Victor Vekselberg, Intrater's cousin, and the United States Treasury imposed sanctions on Vekselberg and Renova Group for tampering in the 2016 United States presidential election.

Characterizing this open seat won by around eight percentage points, a mild upset helping Republicans narrowly retake control of the U.S. House, lies a credible suspicion of espionage.

Battle For Moscow

Espionage, spying, or intelligence gathering is the act of obtaining secret or confidential information. A person who commits espionage is called an espionage agent or spy, while a spy organization is a cooperative in the service of a company (industrial espionage) criminal organization (criminal espionage), or government (political espionage).

Sovereign nations prioritize intelligence gathering techniques over others. The former Soviet Union, for example, preferred human sources over research and open sources, while the United States then and now tends to emphasize technological methods such as SIGINT and IMINT. In the Soviet Union, both political (KGB) and military (GRU) intelligence officers were judged by the number of agents they recruited.

Among the allegations being levied against Rep. George Santos, the most intriguing are his campaign finances. That Santos has received generous contributions from Viktor Vekselberg, one of Vladimir Putin’s wealthiest and most influential courtiers, means that "for all we know,” writes the National Review, “some foreign power may have bought itself a congressman. This isn’t outlandish speculation.”

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Andrew Intrater 2021

Starting in March 2021, Intrater and his wife began pouring tens of thousands of dollars into auxiliary committees backing Devolder-Santos: $20K to GADS PAC, a leadership political action committee; $12K to Devolder-Santos Nassau Victory; and $12K to the Devolder-Santos for Congress committee. Newsweek’s William Bredderman observes, “Devolder-Santos was far and away the largest beneficiary of Intrater’s largesse this year.”

“Every congressman has access to classified information which terrifies security professionals, because they haven’t been vetted for it,” says Brad Schwartz, a doctoral candidate of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University. “His profile objectively meets intelligence criteria for an operative, colluder, or foreign agent.”

War and Peace

Russia has covertly given at least $300 million to political parties, officials, and politicians in more than two dozen countries since 2014 and plans to transfer hundreds of millions more with the goal of exerting political influence and swaying elections.

This information is contained in a document which the State Department distributed to U.S. embassies in early fall, and which summarizes a recent U.S. intelligence review. “The Kremlin and its proxies have transferred these funds in an effort to shape foreign political environments in Moscow’s favor.”

Santos was parroting the Kremlin’s propaganda on Ukraine even before the February 2022 invasion, and persisted in questioning the U.S. support for Ukraine after the invasion. He even called Ukrainian president Voldomyr Zelensky “fascistic” and “totalitarian,” implicitly supporting Russia’s invasion.

A State Department memo observes, “Russia supports populist politicians and movements all around the world. The common thread is that the political parties and movements funded by Russia have all called for the weakening of western economic and military alliances like NATO, and for policies which would be more favorable to Russian interests.”

10 Republican representatives, including six first-term members of Congress from New York, have urged Santos to step down.

Moscow on the Hudson

Only five members of the U.S House of Representatives have been expelled from Congress. Three for supporting the Confederacy (Clark, Reid, Burnett), and the other two for bribery and racketeering (Myers, Traficant). All democrats, the disciplinary process begins when a resolution to expel or censure is referred to the House Committee on Ethics. An investigation ensues and recommendation made either to accept > reject > or alter the report. If the committee recommends expulsion, two-thirds of the members must concur.

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Russian oligarch Victor Vekselberg, Vladimir Putin 2021

For Russia, the smart money is on the U.S. debt. Having reached USD $31.4 trillion this week, Republicans threatening not to raise the debt ceiling this year will thwart the nation’s ability to pay its own bills, call the world’s dominant reserve currency into question, send interest rates soaring around the world, and shunt the global financial community into catastrophic chaos.

Still, the U.S. managed to borrow USD $50 billion in 2022 for military assistance to Ukraine. If the U.S. defaults on its own debt in September 2023, the balance of global economic world power and influence will predictably begin shifting to the east.

By falsifying his resume alone, Rep. George Santos of New York’s 3rd Congressional District would be disqualified from any university or public institution in the nation. That he was exalted to the U.S. House Committee on Small Business this week may suggest the 118th United States Congress has yet to fully decode or appreciate Russia's long game.

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