I wish the tech media would do their job for once. Of course, their primary role is to serve big IT, and so they may be circling the wagons on this and keeping the spy story merely one of ridicule and sympathy for the Russian underdog on purpose, but even so, I expect better. The story particularly of Anna Chapman clearly relates directly to Russia's Silicon Valley, to a high-profile trip to Russia by leading tech California Silicon Valley CEOS "worth $60 billion" and leads directly to President Dmitry Medvedev. Could we get a little more curious about this, guys -- and stop ogling the missing knickers and do some basic journalistic work?
I've laid this Silicon-to-Silicon connection out in my article on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty here and I will keep posting additional information as I find it.
My comments are languishing in the moderator's queue as per usual at TechCrunch on this "exclusive" story but I managed to get in a comment through the moderator sieve on Arrington's frivolous take on this 00 and it's maddening because of all people, these Google-satured geeks should be out there using every connection and gadget they have to figure out why Anna Chapman was so embedded in their midst among their very friends -- and who -- and why -- is removing all her footprints from social media sites (at least in the English language).
Her Linked-in account is now removed from view and/or removed completely. Yesterday, I could still view, it as could others, and find out the pertinent fact that I was one person removed from her or in the second tier away from her circle -- Nic Mitham had friended her for some reason or she had friended him, possibly after attending some start-up or entrepreneurs' event. I also saw on Linked in she was one friend away from former Linden Lab educational evangelist John Lester (the notorious Pathfinder whom I've dissected in detail) but that's because he's friends with Nic or somebody like Nic.
Who is removing this footprint? It's funny to me to hear some people speculate that the FBI is doing this. If they were, they'd have removed all the FB and other footprints of all the spies -- and they haven't. Mikhail Semenko's page is left untouched (and, I might add, other than the son of some people I went to university with, doesn't seem to have anything I can recognize, and no Russian/Silicon Valley sort of connection -- but then, this guy's field was China.) So are some of the other spies. So my guess is either the lawyer is doing it, having gotten the passwords during a jailhouse visit; or the SVR, wanting to remove what traces they can of this sordid and embarassing affair, especially on *this* particular spy that reaches so close up to Medvedev and Skolkovo -- or it might possible be just a sister or the father, said to be KGB himself, who maybe worked his connections to do an old-fashioned crack of the sites and a scrub. I'm betting it's the lawyer or the sister in the U.S., because the Russian sites have been untouched.
The group that's been useful to watch for various clues has been AMBAR, that seemed paralyzed into inaction after the news struck -- with one member urging everybody to cut cards with her because they might be investigated as illegals by the FBI -- then later posting a link to the story about her sexual adventures. But then, it's not such an active group in this particular manifestation of it -- they'd hardly said anything in the group since May, when they were all impressed by the red-hot redhead startupshchitsa's video on how to get venture funding. Pro-tip -- in the U.S. it might have been a good idea to spell the word "ventures" properly in the name of your adventura -- Anna's project mentioned in the video is TIME Venchures. Of course, Time Magazine was one of the open venues that the spies used to communicate with each other, which we learn from one of the gee-whiz spy tech articles -- although it does not appear Chapman used this method.
The Facebook account was hidden yesterday the pictures hidden or removed. Now you can only see any friends you have in common with Anna Chapman. I've kept the list and I've been researching the people on it. The 60-year-old rich guy she was dating is one of those who cut her out of his list when he learned she was a spy -- and can you blame him? He gets what this is about. Not everybody is working to spin this story as a plot of evil Amerika against everything-that-is-good-for-you, Obama, and earnest innovation-seeking Russkis -- like Peter Lavelle, Timothy Post and Sean, the Guy who has a Blog Named Sean's Blog. They realize that even a charge of "working for a foreign government" is a serious one, and just because there haven't been espionage charges yet, doesn't mean they might not appear -- and they may not appear merely to protect work that law-enforcement is doing in other areas.
When you get past the Boris and Natasha stuff on the TechCrunch video, Paul Carr has a good point -- it used to be journalists were the spies, because they could travel anywhere and ask any questions. Now, with media dying, and the journalists' jobs and overseas budgets drying up, what figure in society can play this role? And the answer is: the entrepreneur, the start-up geek, because he has to aggressively push himself everywhere, network with tons of people, ask questions constantly -- especially in the social media biz. Perfect cover.
For some reason, TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld turned in a piece he called "an exclusive" which we'd all seen days ago which is just her web page NYCrentals (which also has a twitter account) and its "biznes-plan". It has that same amateurish (or fake spy cover) feel -- and TechCrunch didn't bother to ask any of the 30,000 Russians living near its offices (or me!) to translate the video which you can see here (watch both parts, and read the comments, too) -- the interview by web entrepreneur and new media consultant Alyona Popova. Popova felt she had a good example of someone benefiting from her "online school for startupery" (as they are called in Russian, hilariously) in Chapman, but her readers were skeptical -- one former Facebook friend of Anna's named Artur Velf raises an eyebrow and wonders who Chapman, who only a few months previously, was seeking her own venture capital, was now dispensing advise about how to raise it. In the AMBAR group, someone comments that she hasn't supplied any real case studies.
Velf takes the position, in a huge long wall debate worthy of Dostoyevsky and several other debates on Facebook with many participants, that she is innocent, the victim of some kind of plot, and even comes up with a theory that the FBI agent, whose last name is "Patel," is related to another "Patel" in the Facebook circles of Chapman, and therefore it's all some kind of sinister set-up. He says he met her at a venture conference in 2008 and she's just a real-estate agent. Velf writes on social media and is prominent in these circles; I'm trying to figure out why he feels such compulsion to spin the story of Anna Chapman's arrest as a function of evil Amerika and not her working for the SVR as the FBI maintains.
Here he is giving an interview to ABC swearing of her innocent:
Arthur Welt (sic), a 36-year-old Russian journalist living in Moscow who first met Chapman in 2008 at a start-up conference, said the idea that Chapman is a spy is "nonsense."
"She was very professional in the real estate market," Welt said. "Startup founders don't have time, especially not for espionage."
Right. Out of all the bloggers and friends in her list and commentators, nobody seems to be working as hard as Mr. Velf to spin this story away from looking like what it appears to be -- a spy related to Skolkolov and Silicon Valley. Why?
The lawyer is constantly quoted saying this:
Chapman's attorney Robert Baum said, "The government's case is very thin against Ms. Chapman. There is no allegation that she ever met face to face with any governmentt official. No allegation despite constant surveillane that she ever delivered anything to anyone or received any money."
As news accounts (and the complaint itself which you can get online) say this, however:
The complaint charging Chapman alleges that on 10 occasions between Jan. 2010 and June 2010, Chapman was observed on FBI surveillance communicating covertly via a private internet wireless network with a Russian government official including a coffee shop at 47th and 8th Ave and other locations around New York City. On Saturday, the day before she was arrested, the FBI used an undercover FBI agent, posing as a Russian Consulate employee to approach Chapman to set up a meeting with her to discuss problems she was having with her computer.
I guess "being in the same cafe as a Russian government official and transmitting coded message over an encrypted line that the FBI has identified" is equal to "not meeting face to face" and "not deliverying anything" LOL.
Velf points out that Nur Rubini was among Chapman's friends but he cut her.
I have to credit ABC for so far being the *only* media outlet that is doing the investigative journalistic job of searching through the Facebook and Linkedin lists and trying to interview the subjects. They came up with only one name with anything to say about, however:
Chapman was a Facebook friend of well-known economist and NYU Stern Business School professor Nouriel Roubini. Roubini, dubbed "Dr. Doom," has been credited with predicting the global economic meltdown and is well-known on the New York club circuit.
Chapman and Roubini were Facebook friends until this morning, when the former Director of the Office of Policy Development and Review at the U.S. Treasury Department removed her from his friend's list.
Roubini, who is also the former senior economist for international affairs with the White House Council of Economic Advisors, told ABC News that Chapman had "befriended" him on Facebook.
"I may have met her socially on one or two occasions in a large party (not at my place) and never had a one to one conversation or meeting with her," Roubini said. He added that he has no association with Chapman nor would ever want to have one.
At one point, listening to her second video, the thought crossed my mind that Chapman was set up by Russians in the Skolkovo project, precisely because she disses the venture capital prospects in Moscow so badly -- or perhaps because the SVR simply needed to have some scapegoats and a case that would help galvinize that sort of indignant, protective, patriotic feeling that Velf is so good at gushing on cue, and the sort of sympathy-for-the-underdog and regrets and not helping Russian ventures more that Sarah Lacey is also gushing on cue. At times thinking about this case I wonder if it is an elaborate set-up (as in my favourite book about Russia, "The Set Up" by Volkov), in which the case was created to elicit a series of other events indirectly -- in this case, the bonding of Skolkovo and Silicon people, and others in other relevant policy feels, to feel as if they are victims of hardliners and hawks on both sides, and can go questing together into the brave new future, smarter and more special than everyone else, and of course, surrounded by idiots.
In her video, Chapman basically says that unless you can suck up to some big firm you can't get in -- and the small businesses are just too niche and don't warm to any outsiders so it's all impossible. Yet she then miracuously cuts through all these difficulties and gets her funding -- in ways we never quite here in these two length videos (she said she had 6 investors; I wonder if Dvornikova, the angel investor of the American Silicon Valley, was one of them; they were FB friends).
I've studied the website domdot.ru -- it's fairly sophisticated as far as its interface and coding and functionality. It's not a craiglist because it isn't as cluttered and is more focused in putting buyer and seller together and apparently running a side consulting business in lead generation for sales agents. There was a team of people coding this site, obviously -- not Anna, who didn't study computer science, isn't a programmer, and was in economics and finance. The team is all listed in her social circle on Yandex -- but they all seem to have left in 2008 and 2009, and it's not clear who replaced them -- whether the team merely got sick, after the first flush of enthusiasm, of recording their fabulous coding adventure on social media, or whether some people removed themselves.
The young people in this social circle don't seem to be Zolotaya Molodezh (Golden Youth, privileged children of high-ranking government officials), but if you go through their ranks, you find those kind of sturdy, solid older men who built the BAM and run the industrial complex of the Soviet Union and its successor state, Russia, Inc.
Someone on TechCrunch who says he knows them says they couldn't compete in the cut-throat start-up environment, and she took the technology and business to New York. Yet the site still functions at domdot.ru
I'm wondering if her TIME Venchures has anything to do with the company of one of her Facebook connections but it might be purely coincidence, as it may just be a cool-sounding name. (In the 1990s, Russians would name their companies after their wives, mistresses, or children -- or small animals -- so you'd get firms with names like Belochka or Belka. Nowadays they seem to like to put a foreign word into the mix like "Invest".)