Here is the author’s opinion and analysis.
A month ago, the Biden administration did something unprecedented: it released top-secret intelligence to alert the world to what was about to happen in Ukraine. The effect of the masterfully executed operation was to unite NATO, push the Ukrainian armed forces towards emergency preparedness and even take Vladimir Putin on the wrong foot by exposing a “false flag” operation. at the heart of his plan to accomplish a knockout blow in Ukraine.
Today, a vital option in an attempt to stop the complete destruction of Ukraine and the likely expansion of the war into neighboring NATO countries is once again to release key US intelligence. This time, however, it can be fertilized with open-source information available on the Internet to pin down certain characteristics of Putin’s whereabouts and movements – a composite of data that may provide Putin with a ticket to oblivion. But how and why?
Everyone knows, of course, that the billions held by Putin in the United States are hidden in a maze of proxy accounts, trusts and partnerships. The dictator’s so-called “wallets” – or oligarchs – hide the wealth stolen in his name.
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Keeping up with Vlad first requires empowering the Justice Department’s recently formed “KleptoCapture” task force with groundbreaking bipartisan legislation currently going through the House of Representatives. Amending US bank secrecy law, the Enablers Act would impose strict new reporting requirements on US intermediaries – accountants, lawyers, investment advisers, bankers and even art dealers – who serve Russian clients. It would also incentivize Russian dirty money enablers to act as the modern equivalent of bounty hunters. If they revealed suspicions of money laundering, they would earn a percentage of the confiscated proceeds.
In the opinion of Bill Browder – once Russia’s biggest foreign investor and now Putin’s staunchest opponent – the sanctions list must be significantly expanded to expose and confiscate foreign bank accounts and illicit assets of all Putin’s corrupt generals, political allies, and intelligence chiefs. Browder’s argument is that pressure on the maximum number of players in Putin’s mafia state heightens the prospect of regime change within the Kremlin.
Tracking down Putin also requires exposing the Republican Party as both corrupt and loyal to the Kremlin’s cat paw, Donald J. Trump. The Justice Department is expected to file a replacement indictment to add Putin to the list of 12 GRU (Russian military intelligence) agents already formally charged for their criminal role in electing President Trump. Oleg Smolenkov, the CIA mole in the Kremlin who first exposed the Russian president, is now in a witness-protected hideout here in the United States. His testimony is clearly sufficient to convict Putin in absentia and have a warrant issued for his subsequent arrest.
Another Republican travel companion who needs to be exposed is “Moscow Mitch” McConnell. In January 2019, then-Majority Leader McConnell asked the Treasury Department to remove two companies owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska from the sanctions list. The purpose was to facilitate a $200 million investment by Deripaska to build an aluminum plant in McConnells’ home state of Kentucky. Democratic Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, called for this “deeply concerning project” to be investigated. Without such investigations, Russian intelligence agencies will continue to subvert American democracy in future elections.
Finally, we have to face the unfortunate fact that cratering the Russian economy – or even cutting off Russian oil and gas exports – will not necessarily stop Putin. The likelihood of an internal coup may, however, be enhanced by what intelligence officials call “mosaic tactics” – linking snippets of open source information such as granular location tracking, Alexa voice data, facial recognition and other networked data – with high-value intelligence extracted from secret Kremlin assets.
Jack Sweeney, a 19-year-old student who previously tracked Elon Musk’s private jet, now displays the plane movements of Putin and three Russian oligarchs. Dozens of websites such as Anonymous (“hacktivist collective”, as it calls itself, which leaks hundreds of top secret Kremlin emails in real time) or Bellingcat, a Dutch website which for the first time revealed times the murder of Russian Major General Vitaly Gerasimov (tracked via intercepted calls from Russian army cells).
The key now is for US intelligence agencies to cross-reference this type of open-source information with top-secret data to geotag Putin’s whereabouts and movements 24/7, in real time.
This would allow Russian generals, intelligence operatives, homeland security chiefs, and the Russian people (all of whom are routinely excluded from knowing Putin’s daily movements) to identify where he is hiding. (75% of the Russian population uses secure virtual private networks to protect themselves from Putin’s police.) The webpage, of course, should be curated and protected by western cyber experts to prevent the Kremlin from destroying it .
Russians and Ukrainians, who share a culture, language, religion and lineage, also have a common history of overthrowing tyrants. Tracking Putin down in both Washington and Moscow would allow them to do that again. If not, we may be heading into World War III.
Richard D. Mahoney is a former Secretary of State from Arizona. He is a professor of political science at the School of Public and International Studies at North Carolina State University.