- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2018

Computer networks owned by a Russian entrepreneur accused in the infamous anti-Trump dossier don’t contain any IP addresses used by Moscow to hack Democrats’ computers, the entrepreneur’s attorney says in a rebuttal to a BuzzFeed court filing.

Val Gurvits of Boston Law Group lodged a libel lawsuit against BuzzFeed on behalf of XBT Holding CEO Aleksej Gubarev in a federal court in Florida in April. He talked to The Washington Times after turning over to the news website’s legal team entry logs on 13 internet protocol addresses.

“We have provided them with everything they requested, as ordered by the court, related to these IP addresses,” Mr. Gurvits said. “I can confirm that there is absolutely no evidence or reason to believe that these IP addresses or any other XBT IP addresses were involved in the DNC hack or had anything to do with the allegations against my clients in the dossier.”

IP addresses, which identify an internet-connected device’s location and network, have become the central point in BuzzFeed’s court battle against Mr. Gubarev’s libel lawsuit, as the news website tries to link the entrepreneur and his XBT web-hosting company to Russia’s computer invasion in 2015 and 2016.

BuzzFeed published the full 35-page dossier on Jan. 10, 2017, then quickly apologized for not redacting Mr. Gubarev’s name.

A December 2016 memo, the last one in the dossier written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, accuses Mr. Gubarev and XBT of directly participating in the hacking with spyware and porn bots under orders from Russian intelligence.

Mr. Gubarev has repeatedly denied the charge. He also filed a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Steele, who has admitted in a London court that his claims about Gubarev were unsolicited and unverified.

BuzzFeed attorneys now are trying to prove that the dossier is true. They have focused on those 13 IP addresses contained in a Department of Homeland Security report as possibly being used by Russian intelligence. They belong to Root SA, an XBT subsidiary.

Mr. Gurvits said the government report, known as “Grizzly Steppe,” cited by BuzzFeed “had nothing to do with the DNC hack. Nevertheless, BuzzFeed decided to conduct a fishing expedition into those 13 IP addresses.”

Amid months of investigations into the hack by U.S. law enforcement, XBT has never received a request for data from any agency, Mr. Gurvits said. No government report on Russian hacking has identified XBT.

“So, it is clear that BuzzFeed’s fishing expedition is nothing more than wishful thinking, but they will come up empty because the allegations in the dossier against my clients are absolutely false,” the lawyer said. “It is obvious that the U.S. government shares this conclusion, given that at no time had we received any inquiries from any law enforcement or government agencies regarding XBT IP addresses.”

BuzzFeed attorney Nathan Siegel, in making an evidence discovery request before a judge, said: “Here we’re saying there is specific investigative reports that have identified these specific IP addresses on your network that the government or private cybersecurity companies, primarily, the government, have found have some suspicious connection to exactly what this lawsuit is about.”

BuzzFeed is attempting to prove Mr. Steele’s XBT assertions on three fronts.

First, it asked for and received IP address data from XBT in the libel case.

Second, it has filed a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee for digital data on the hacking. The DNC has refused to turn over the material under subpoena.

In 2016, the DNC also refused to let the FBI inspect its hacked servers. Instead, the DNC called in private firm CrowdStrike, which conducted the investigation and relayed the information to the FBI. Whether those servers still exist is unclear.

Said Mr. Gurvits: “In fact, CrowdStrike’s public report lists the IP addresses involved in the DNC hack and none of them lead to XBT’s equipment.”

Third, ForeignPolicy.com reported that BuzzFeed has hired a former FBI special agent who, for months with his own team, has been investigating the dossier’s charges, including that Mr. Gubarev did the hacking.

‘Can’t find what doesn’t exist’

Anthony J. Ferrante, who was chief of staff for the FBI’s cyber unit and on the Obama National Security Council staff, is director of cybersecurity for the global firm FTI Consulting. He left the NSC three months after President Trump took office.

An FTI spokesman declined to comment.

BuzzFeed also is being sued for libel by three Russian oligarchs who are partners in Russia’s Alfa commercial bank and by Michael Cohen, personal attorney to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Ferrante was the NSC’s director for cyberincident response. Because of his White House perch, he would have inside knowledge on how Russia hacked the Democrats, stole thousands of sometimes politically embarrassing emails and, the U.S. said, funneled them to WikiLeaks for release during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Asked about Mr. Ferrante’s hiring, Mr. Gurvits said: “They can hire Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown or Sherlock Holmes. You can’t find what doesn’t exist. There is a simple reason why BuzzFeed hasn’t found any evidence to support the allegations in the dossier against Mr. Gubarev. The allegations are false.”

The anti-Trump dossier was financed by the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign. They paid the investigative firm Fusion GPS, which hired Mr. Steele, who compiled the dossier based on anonymous Kremlin sources.

Mr. Steele has blamed BuzzFeed for publishing a document that was supposed to remain confidential. He went into hiding for weeks after the online posting.

In a Feb. 13 filing, BuzzFeed attorneys asked a federal judge to compel the DNC to turn over cyberdata.

“As part of their defense in this action,” the filing says, “[BuzzFeed and editor Ben Smith] are pursuing evidence through discovery that could reasonably lead to admissible evidence that the allegations concerning [Mr. Gubarev] in the dossier are substantially true.”

The dossier section on Mr. Gubarev states: “Over the period March-September 2016, a company called XBT/Webzilla and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership. Entities linked to one Aleksei GUBAREV were involved and he and another hacking expert, both recruited under duress by the FSB [Russian internal intelligence], Seva KAPSUGOVICH, were significant players in this operation.”

It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Sevastyan “Seva” Kaptsugovich to do what Mr. Steele said he did. At that time, Kaptsugovich was serving an 18-year sentence for pedophilia in a Russian prison that doesn’t provide internet access to inmates, according to an investigation by McClatchy News.

Mr. Gurvits told The Times that XBT has 40,000 clients. If any of them did something wrong with XBT hardware, it is not Mr. Gubarev’s responsibility, he said.

“It is really like being a Verizon client for your cellphone,” he said. “You can rent a phone from them or buy your own from someone else and hook it up to the Verizon network, but what’s on the phone is one to be controlled by the client and not by Verizon. The exact same thing is true here.”

The attorney added, “We have no reason to believe any of XBT clients were involved. But that issue is wholly irrelevant. XBT has no control over third-party clients.”

He said the fact remains that BuzzFeed published an assertion that Mr. Gubarev personally did the hacking and that is simply untrue.

The Gubarev legal team has said it now knows who leaked the dossier to BuzzFeed but is prevented by a gag order from disclosing the name.

The announcement came after lawyers interviewed former State Department official David J. Kramer, a Trump opponent and an associate of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

On Mr. McCain’s orders, Mr. Kramer met with Mr. Steele in England and obtained a copy of the dossier. The senator hand-delivered it to then-FBI director James B. Comey in December 2016. By that time, the FBI had acquired the dossier from Mr. Steele and had used it to obtain a wiretap warrant on Oct. 21, 2016, on Trump volunteer Carter Page.

The dossier contains a number of Russia-Trump felony collusion charges that remain publicly unverified 20 months after the FBI began an investigation. Mr. Steele told a Justice Department contact that he was “desperate” to bring down the Trump candidacy.

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