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By John Helmer, Moscow

Dominic Cummings, presently a powerful and wealthy 47-year old special advisor to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was hard at work in Moscow and Samara for three years, between 1994 and 1997. He has acknowledged himself that “I worked in Russia 1994-7 on various projects.” This was no news to the Russian authorities then or since; it is also an advertisement to British critics and media investigators in London that however much Cummings’ role in plotting the Brexit referendum and Johnson’s no-deal ultimatums have antagonized many, Cummings once, and still now, enjoys the protection and confidence of the British secret services.

The three Cummings years in Russia were a period of fierce undercover combat between MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency, and Russia’s reviving foreign and counter-intelligence services, successors to the Soviet KGB — the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service), led by Yevgeny Primakov,  and the FSB (Federal Security Service)  under Sergei Stepashin and Mikhail Barsukov.

That was also the time a junior MI6 spy named Christopher Steele was running operations in the Volga region south of Moscow, starting in Samara. When his cover was blown in the spring of 1993, Steele was evacuated to home office to train replacements. Just over a year later, after graduating slowly from Oxford, Cummings’ time started in Samara. That too came to an abrupt and unsuccessful end. Cummings himself is behind the hint published in his Wikipedia profile that he “fell foul of the KGB”.   Since then Steele has become more successful at running operations and agents in Washington;  Cummings more successful on Downing Street.

But in the mid-1990s what exactly was Cummings doing in Samara and other places in Russia, for whom was he working, what contact did he have with Steele, and why was he ordered out of Russia – these are questions  Cummings was asked to explain on Monday. He refuses to answer.

Cummings graduated in mid-1994 from Oxford with a degree in Ancient and Modern History; he was just shy of 23. In one of his authorized biographies, he claims that “on leaving university his adventurousness found its first outlet in going to Russia for three years. He helped set up a new airline flying from Samara, on the Volga, to Vienna. The KGB issued threats, the airline only got one passenger, and the pilot unfortunately took off without that passenger. Cummings is a Russophile, speaks Russian and is passionately interested in Dostoyevsky. In 1997 he returned to London.”

 By the contemporary investigative standards for detecting Russian agents, sleepers and fellow-travellers set by the British Government’s Integrity Initiative, Cummings’ Russian connection ought to have attracted more attention than it has.

A month ago, the London Daily Mirror reported that it had found an American named Adam Dixon, currently living in Connecticut, who said he had employed Cummings in Russia, paying him to commute weekly between Vienna and Samara. According to Dixon,   “I met Dominic Cummings in the 1990s, when I was working with a Russian partner to develop a regional airline Samara Airlines into an international carrier – in order to link the city of Samara (an economic and intellectual power on the Volga River) directly to Europe.  For anyone who didn’t experience the total anarchy and fast-moving chaos of Russia in the ‘90s, it is hard to imagine now what it was like then – there was a deep fear that the country would descend into civil war or simply disintegrate, and it was a constant theme of conversation how, when, and by whom order would be restored.”

“Although he did not speak much Russian [sic], Dominic was fascinated by the anarchy and the potential for catastrophe, and willing to work in these bizarre and sometimes dangerous circumstances…Since we were a small team without much money, I gave him some responsibilities which he then quickly led me to regret, because he leveraged the fact that we now ‘needed him’ to sometimes behave as he liked, which included offending people that we needed to get on with – and this could be very counter-productive.”

“Left to himself, he would dress out of his laundry bag and had a silly objection to wearing a tie, and he was usually unshaven and often looked hung-over and unwashed. This was all an obvious liability when there was widespread concern that Russian airlines were negligent about maintenance. On the other hand, he was courageous, clear-thinking, and could really ‘hold his drink’, which, on several particular occasions, was much more of an asset than it should have been.”

“Although he did not leave us completely in the lurch, he certainly did go much too abruptly, and on his schedule, not mine. I made it plain that I felt I had been generous to him in every way, and therefore, that he should not think of me as a good reference for future jobs – and I never heard from him again. A few years later, I read in a bio-blurb that he had ‘started a Russian airline with a friend’, a distortion that was annoying, given the real circumstances.”

Source: https://www.mirror.co.uk/

Sources in Moscow from the Anglo-American banking, investment and night-clubbing circles of the time say they never knew, and do not recognize, either Dixon’s or Cummings’ name. They are skeptical of Dixon’s Samara airline story and of Cummings’ role in it.

Samara sources are also skeptical of the published story. One, a lawyer, claims that “whatever Dixon and Cummings were up to, it was unlikely to have been legal. I suspect Samara Airlines may have taken them for a ride. In the 1990s, in order to get a Russian Airline Operations Certificate (AOC) an applicant must: 1. Have [had] at least 2 aircraft suitable for commercial carriage of passengers; 2. Have at least 4 aircrew certified for operating (1); 3. Have an agreement with base airport; 4. Have an engineering crew certified to service (1); and 5. Have an air carrier insurance policy.  To operate an international route the applicant also had to be put on the list of authorised carriers of the relevant intergovernmental agreement (Russo-Austrian in this case).  All of that required an investment of approximately US$5-4 million in the early 90s. I have a lot of doubts that any American guy would go to Samara, invest all of this money, get an AOC and allow his ‘baby’ to be shut down. I have a strong gut feeling the whole story is ‘fake news’.”

“Most probably these two guys chartered a [Samara airlines] plane and tried to set up an unlicensed quasi-regular service to Vienna. In the havoc of the 90s that could have been possible. A Belorussian adventurer operated commercial flights in a similar way between Bulgaria and Minsk for three years until he was caught in the act.”

An FSB source says that at the time in the Volga region, Samara, and especially Saratov, were gateways for opiates and hashish smuggled in from Central Asia, mixed with vegetable and fruit cargoes so that sniffer dogs couldn’t detect them. “Samara was also a convenient distribution point for synthetic drugs like ecstasy with the right connections,” the source adds.

The Samara sources express suspicion of a one-aircraft airline run from Vienna by an American, represented in Samara by an Englishman who couldn’t speak Russian. The FSB source made no claim about the legality of the cargoes such an airline might carry. A Durham city source claims that during Cummings’ time as a bouncer at a local nightclub owned by an uncle,  the club had a reputation for drug dealing, and the club’s bouncers for their involvement. “I know,” according to the Durham source, “the door is a key location for keeping out drug dealers and sometimes for letting in preferred dealers. At the very least, a robust doorkeeper would be acquainted with the dealers if only by threats and established dealers pointing out new competitors.”

Noone in Samara or Moscow has been found to clarify what Cummings and his Wiki  biographers mean by the claim that the Samara airline project “fell foul of the KGB”. The Wikipedia profile originated in June 2016, and the Russia claims by Cummings have been repeated in other British media, almost without variation, and without the reporters checking with Russians.

The British press has also failed to notice that in the years Cummings was in Russia, the entire British intelligence establishment in the country “fell foul of the KGB”.  The trouble for the British started in 1993 with the arrest and exposure of Vadim Sintsov for spying.   The Platon Obukhov case followed in April 1996. A British intelligence source believes that Steele was one of the MI6 agents rolled up in 1993. For more details on Steele, click to read.  

Left to right: Christopher Steele, MI6 officer expelled from Russia in 1993; John Scarlett, MI6 station chief in Moscow expelled in 1994; Platon Obukhov, arrested for spying for MI6 in 1996. Read more: https://www.independent.co.uk/

The period of Steele’s tour, then Cummings’ employment with Dixon, was disastrous for John Scarlett, the MI6 station chief in Moscow in 1993-94, and for more than 30 other British spies who were expelled in 1994.   More expulsions followed from Moscow and from London in 1995 and 1996.

In the blog Cummings publishes for his essays and commentaries,   there is only one inconsequential mention of Russia:   Cummings refers once to President Vladimir Putin, but mocks the conventional Russia-hating line of the London press:  “a conspiracy of baddies (Putin, Trump, Farage, hedge funds), dangerous sounding technology (that approximately nobody in politics/media actually understands), awesome superpowers wielded by secret forces (often a powerful meme historically) and so on — the perfect conditions for ‘unreason’ to flourish.”  

Without directly addressing the allegations of Russian meddling in US elections through social media, Cummings is dismissive of the underlying claim. “Much of the political science world is dominated by bullshit ‘research’ and their claims cannot be relied on. One of the few reliable and interesting scholars in this field is David Broockman at Stanford. He recently published a big and interesting study including randomised control trials to detect campaign effects: The Minimal Persuasive Effects of Campaign Contact in General Elections: Evidence from 49 Field Experiments, Stoockman et al 2017. The conclusion? Almost everything campaigns do in America has no discernible effect when tested with RCTs. (NB. this finding was for US party elections — referendums are different.) This broad conclusion holds for digital marketing. Almost all claims you read are bullshit, particularly if they involve CA’s magic potion of Big 5 personality type marketing. Is everything rubbish? No. Is there a method demonstrated to have reliable big effects? No. Does CA have Jedi powers? According to the experts, no chance.”

Regarding Russian cyber-warfare and the KGB, Cummings wrote this in 2014: “The old Technical Faculty of the KGB Higher School (rebaptised after 1991) ran similar courses; one of its alumni is Yevgeny Kaspersky, whose company first publicly warned of the cyberweapons Stuxnet and Flame (and who still works closely with his old colleagues). It would be interesting to collect information on elite intelligence and special forces training programmes. E.g. Post-9/11, US special forces (acknowledged and covert) have greatly altered including adding intelligence roles that were previously others’ responsibility or regarded as illegal for DOD employees. How does what is regarded as ‘core training’ for such teams vary, how is it changing, and why are some better than others at decisions under pressure and surviving disaster?”

Last month the New York Times ran a commentary by a columnist for the London Times, attacking Cummings for his methods and for lying. “Mr. Cummings proved that stories and lies, allied to strategic cunning, conviction, secrecy, ruthlessness and upending convention, could be much more appealing than reason and fact. Years of studying and writing obsessively about the art of strategy, the failings of most institutions and the success of revolutionary thinkers like Otto von Bismarck had paid off. Now this single-minded insurgent is the most powerful individual in the British government, vaulted into Downing Street as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief strategic adviser.” Nothing was said about Cummings’ Russia connection.

The Prime Minister’s office in which Cummings works allows emails to be directed to him and the office’s media spokesmen through an internet form. Cummings also provides a personal email address at his blog. To both on Monday Cummings was sent these questions:

There has been no response from Cummings.

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