Two days after the Clinton campaign attorney who peddled the Alfa Bank hoax to the FBI was indicted, a Georgia Tech researcher connected to the project, who admitted the team was motivated mostly by hatred of Trump, penned a secret document entitled “fallacies” to rebut the indictment’s allegations. That document and a cache of emails obtained first by The Federalist reveal that the Georgia Tech researcher holds more disdain for the Special Counsel investigating the hoax than the people who got him embroiled in it.
The documents, obtained from Georgia Tech pursuant to a Right-To-Know request, paint Manos Antonakakis, the man identified merely as Researcher-1 in the Michael Sussmann indictment, as but tangentially connected to the Alfa Bank research. Those same documents, however, reveal that Antonakakis fails to grasp how scandalous — and how dangerous to our country and her national defense — the exploitation of sensitive government and proprietary data for political purposes is.
The emails provide some of the backstory to the Special Counsel’s indictment of Michael Sussmann on one count of lying to FBI General Counsel James Baker. That indictment alleged that when Sussmann met with Baker on September 19, 2016, to provide the FBI attorney with data and “white papers” that purported to establish a secret communication channel between the Trump organization and the Russia-connected Alfa Bank, Sussmann falsely claimed he was not acting on behalf of a client, when in reality Sussmann was working both for the Clinton campaign and an unnamed “U.S. technology industry executive” since confirmed to be Rodney Joffe.
While the indictment of Sussmann came less than six months ago, the Special Counsel’s interest in the Alfa Bank hoax dates back to at least the first half of 2020, when a Department of Justice investigator contacted David Dagon, known generically in the Sussmann indictment as Researcher-2. At that time — possibly as early as March of 2020 — Dagon told the DOJ investigator that he didn’t believe Georgia Tech or the Department of Defense agency that was funding their research would allow him to talk with Durham’s team.
But in a June 29, 2020, email to Dagon, the DOJ investigator noted that neither Georgia Tech nor the DOD agency DARPA — which stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — objected to an interview. The email to Dagon then concluded: “As I mentioned to you previously, our investigation has found that you have knowledge relevant to it. To that end, we believe that you are a witness who can provide valuable information to advance our investigation.”
It is unclear whether Dagon responded to the Special Counsel’s request for an interview and neither Dagon nor his attorney answered a request for comment.
While the Special Counsel’s office attempted to interview Dagon as early as March of 2020, the emails obtained by The Federalist suggest that it was not until June 29, 2020, that they first contacted Antonakakis asking him to contact the DOJ about a possible interview. Antonakakis told the DOJ investigator that “at this time I am not interested in participating in this interview,” and then forwarded the email to Georgia Tech folks stating “I have no idea what to make of this. This is bizarre.”
Another email exchange from two weeks earlier provides some context to Antonakakis’ refusal to speak with the Special Counsel’s office. That was when Georgia Tech Chief Counsel Kate Wasch confirmed in a June 15, 2020, email to both Dagon and Antonakakis, that DARPA had agreed that the two researchers could “speak to the DOJ and their investigator.”
Antonakakis responded to Wasch that until the Dean of the College of Engineering and/or the Executive Vice President for Research at Georgia Tech tell him and his team they want them “involved in this investigation,” they will not talk to anyone. Antonakakis continued:
Assuming we end up as [Georgia Tech] helping out DOJ in this investigation, I would like to understand how [Georgia Tech] plans to protect me and my researchers when our attribution analysis become public and we have extreme people from either the far right (i.e., KKK) or the far left (i.e. Antifa)—that do not like our findings for whatever reason—come visiting us in our homes.
When I get answers to all these then we can schedule a call with the DOJ investigator about what explicitly they want us to do. For that call, I would like someone from GT legal to be on the call, just in case the discussion goes down a path that could be potentially damaging for GT’s reputation (i.e., the DOJ is borderline unethical or even illegal). It would not be fair for just me to be responsible for that.
Antonakakis’ suggestion that the DOJ might proceed in a “borderline unethical or even illegal” manner in an interview represents the first, of what would be many, private attacks on the Special Counsel’s office.
After Antonakakis demurred on the Special Counsel’s request for a voluntary interview, nearly a year passed. Then, on July 2, 2021, Antonakakis received a subpoena to testify before a Washington D.C. grand jury. It seems likely that Durham’s team subpoenaed Dagon, “Researcher-2,” at the same time, as another email shows Dagon’s lawyer asked to speak to Antonakakis after the subpoena dropped. A few days later, Antonakakis would also write to Georgia Tech’s Deputy General Counsel Darryl Lunon asking whether they knew yet “what they want me to testify about or whether or not I am the target of the investigation?”
Then came news that the Special Counsel had indicted Sussmann.
When the indictment dropped on September 16, 2021, Antonakakis’ lawyer Mark Schamel forwarded him a link to the indictment, setting off a flurry of emails from Antonakakis to his counsel. In these emails, Antonakakis complained that the indictment was wrong or misleading, with the Georgia Tech researcher adding his abbreviated thoughts that he would later expand upon in his “fallacies” document.
The next morning Antonakakis wrote his outside attorneys and copied Christian Fuller, Georgia Tech’s Senior Counsel, saying that it “goes without saying that I feel played here.”
They have taking (sic) things out of context, ignored key facts (like the fact that GT did not buy any data that were used in the production of the article they care about), and effectively I ended up in this indictment for what exactly? For not being able to prove the narrative in the document they cared about or because I reviewed that document?
What have I done wrong to deserve to be listed in this indictment? Or more importantly, can someone tell me what I have done wrong, period?
Then, in a September 18, 2021, email, Antonakakis noted that while he was considering his next actions, “regardless what I end up doing, I would like to put in paper the parts where the investigators simply lied or are trying to mislead the reader of the indictment.”
“I suspect the prosecutor was recording or keeping notes of our discussions,” Antonakakis continued, and “if someone gets access to these transcripts, they can easily verify at which parts the prosecutors took what I said out of context in order to mislead the readers of the indictment or simply lied because my statements evidently did not fit their story line.”
Attached to that email was a document entitled “fallacies,” which The Federalist obtained on Monday pursuant to a Right-to-Know request from Georgia Tech.
The “fallacies” document expanded on the emails Antonakakis sent to his attorney Mark Schamel, but also included screengrabs of the relevant portions of the indictment providing context to Antonakakis’ complaints concerning the indictment.
“I was not tasked by anyone. They asked me if this hypothesis is true. I review several hundred hypotheses and documents every year about their validity. It is part of my job title of being an academic,” Antonakakis wrote following a screengrab of paragraph 23 of the Sussmann indictment.
Antonakakis’ other criticisms of the Sussmann indictment then converged on this same theme: that he merely reviewed data and a research paper presented by respected colleagues — part of his job as a researcher and an academic.
For instance, the indictment’s inclusion of an email Antonakakis had sent to Joffe in mid-September 2016 — mere days before Sussmann provided the Alfa Bank information to FBI Special Counsel Baker — was “taken out of context,” Antonakakis claimed because “the other researchers “asked me to review it as a non-DNS expert and that is what I did.”
Antonakakis’ claim, that in reviewing the white paper he was merely following Joffe’s instructions, reviewing reviewed the document as a non-DNS expert, is true. But the indictment made that point clear by quoting Joffe’s email to Sussmann, Antonakakis, Manos, and Lorenzen in which he asked them to review the white paper “as if you had no prior knowledge or involvement, and you were handed this document as a security expert (NOT a dns expert) and were asked: ‘Is this plausible as an explanation?’ NOT to be able to say that this is, without doubt, fact, but to merely be plausible.”
The indictment then also quoted Antonakakis’ response to Joffe and the results of that limited review: “A DNS expert would poke several holes to this hypothesis (primarily around visibility, about which very smartly you do not talk about). That being said, I do not think even the top security (non-DNS) researchers can refute your statements. Nice!”
So, yes, Antonakakis was only doing what he was asked to by Joffe by reviewing the white paper from the perspective of a security researcher not well-versed in DNS analysis. But his exclamation of “nice!” suggests he also approved of the tactic of obscuring the flaws in the DNS data.
Nonetheless, Antonakakis complains that from the indictment, “Researcher 1 could appear to be a co-conspirator/cooperator of Tech Executive 1 in writing this document.” “I reviewed something that was emailed to me. Did not draft or revise anything,” Antonakakis countered.
Nor did he continue with the Alfa Bank research beyond August of 2016, Antonakakis stressed, which Antonakakis see as conflicting with the indictment’s allegation that “from in or about July 2016 through at least in or about February 2017,” Lorenzen, Manos, and Antonakakis also “exploited” Joffe and his internet company’s data “to assist” Joffe “in his efforts to conduct research concerning Trump’s potential ties to Russia, including the Alfa Bank allegations.
“The only thing I did was look at this hypothesis between July and August 2016,” Antonakakis would write, while also stressing that “the data in the article was sent to us by others. I am not sure what I could have done to prevent people from emailing things.”
Antonakakis’ comment here, though, ignores two things. First, the indictment did not allege that all three researchers assisted Joffe for the entire time period of July 2016 through February 2017. And later in the indictment, the Special Counsel specifics that it was Joffe, Dagon, and Lorenzen who from “late 2016 to early 2017” “continued to compile additional information and data regarding” the Alba Bank allegations, as well as gathering “other purported data allegedly involving Trump-related computer networks and Russia.”
Second, according to the indictment, Antonakakis did more than merely review the data provided by others. He also, on August 19, 2016, “queried internet data maintained” by Joffe’s internet company for the trump-email.com domain that formed the basis for the Alfa Bank allegation. Antonakakis then emailed Joffe a list of domains that communicated with the Trump domain, none of which appeared to have links to Russia. The list “does not make much sense with the storyline you have,” Antonakakis would write at the time.
Nowhere in his “fallacies” document did Antonakakis contest the Special Counsel’s claim that he had “queried” the data maintained by Joffe’s internet company. And querying that data — or “mining it” as the Special Counsel framed it later — is different than merely reviewing the data provided by other researchers.
But here is where Antonakakis distinguished himself from the other researchers when he recognized the flaw in the Alfa Bank theory and emailed Joffe and the others, asking them to think for a moment “of the best-case scenarios, where we are able to show (somehow) that DNS communication exists between Trump and Russia. How do we plan to defend against the criticism that this is not spoofed traffic we are observing?” “Sorry folks,” Antonakakis continued, “but unless we get combine netflow and DNS traffic collected at critical points between suspect organizations, we cannot technically make any claims that would fly.”
Antonakakis then punctuated his point thusly: “The only thing that drives us at this point is that we just do not like [Trump]. This will not fly in eyes of public scrutiny. Folks, I am afraid we have tunnel vision. Time to regroup?”
At that point then, at the end of August 2016, Antonakakis’ involvement in the research appears to have concluded. And because his research related to Alfa Bank ended in August, with none of that data used in the analysis provided to the FBI, and because his role was limited to a review of the white paper, Antonakakis blames the Special Counsel for including references to Researcher-1 in the indictment.
It is because of the Special Counsel’s “lies,” that his entire reputation as a researcher is now at risk,” Antonakakis asserts in another email.
Antonakakis’ ire is directed at the wrong person.
While at the time Antonakakis queried Joffe’s database for a Trump-Russia connection, he may well have believed there was a connection between Trump and Alfa Bank which presented a national security risk. And Antonakakis may have had no idea that the white paper was to be fed to the FBI and later the CIA. He may have also had no idea that Dagon continued to work with Joffe and assisted Sussmann and the Clinton Campaign by serving as a go-to to the media outlets to whom the Alfa Bank hoax was being peddled.
But Antonakakis now knows that the white paper was not merely another research paper but was crafted as a political hit on Trump that Joffe and Sussmann fed to the FBI, CIA, and the media. And Antonakakis had no problem admitting in personal emails that “Researcher 1 never supported the article,” as he sarcastically called himself. Yet publicly, Antonakakis allows his attorney to call the Alfa Bank-Trump theory plausible.
Antonakakis just doesn’t grasp the problem—both to the public and to the Special Counsel, as is clear when he wrote in another email that “five years since the first article surfaced,” on the Alfa Bank-Trump theory, “nobody can decide on this issue one way or another.” “This is effectively what I told the [Special Counse],” Antonakakis stressed, adding that the core problem with the indictment is that “it is based on a technical argument that simply cannot be decided.”
Antonakakis still does not get it. The indictment is not premised on the falsity of the Alfa Bank theory, but on a lawyer for the Clinton Campaign lying about his clients to the FBI’s General Counsel to interfere in a presidential election. And the scandal is not about an academic dispute over whether it is within the realm of possibility, however absurd and implausible, that the data established a secret communication connection between the Russian bank and the Trump organization.
The outrage is over Joffe, who had unprecedented access to government and proprietary information, exploited that information for political reasons and then sold an unproven theory to the intelligence community and the press, while hiding the “holes” in the theory. The outrage is over anti-Trump researchers (wittingly or unwittingly) helping the Clinton Campaign execute this plan by assisting in the mining of data, crafting (or reviewing) the paper, and/or marketing the Alfa Bank claims to the press mere weeks before the 2016 president election another accusation of Trump-Russia collusion that was at best “plausible” and at worst a complete hoax.
And the marketing to the press was extreme: “Do the f-cking alfa bank secret comms story, it is hugely important,” Fusion GPS’s Peter Fritsch, who was working with Sussmann and Joffe to selling the story, demanded of a media contact in the final weeks before the November 2016 general election. “Call David Dagon at Georgia tech,” Fritsch would then insist when the Reuters News investigative reporter countered that the problem with the story was an inability to authenticate the data.
There is nothing to suggest Antonakakis knew at the time what Joffe and Sussmann had in mind and frankly the emails could make him a sympathetic character, innocently sucked into a scandal because he trusted colleagues who told him the data suggested a Trump-Russian connection that posed a national security concern. Antonakakis did his job after all, reviewing the data and apparently rejecting the theory, and academics aren’t responsible for what their peers write, but still, where is Antonakakis’ outrage?
As his attorney said in another email disclosed by Georgia Tech, “the work being done in the lab that Dr. Antonakakis runs, . . . is of vital importance to our national security.”
It may very well be. And that is precisely why what Sussmann and Joffe did deserves condemnation.
Instead, though, the “guardians of the internet” seem intent on debating the plausibility of the Alfa Bank theory, while castigating the Special Counsel.
So, if Antonakakis wants to know what he did “wrong,” it is that: that he continues to defend the politically motivated hit on Trump no matter that harm to our country.
That may play in the ivory towers, but it won’t play in Peoria.
Antonakakis’ attorney declined a request for comment and prosecutors in the Special Counsel’s office did not return requests for comment.
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. She is also a contributor to National Review Online, the Washington Examiner, Aleteia, and Townhall.com, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Cleveland is a lawyer and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, where she earned the Hoynes Prize—the law school’s highest honor. She later served for nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk for a federal appellate judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Cleveland is a former full-time university faculty member and now teaches as an adjunct from time to time.
As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom of a young son with cystic fibrosis, Cleveland frequently writes on cultural issues related to parenting and special-needs children. Cleveland is on Twitter at @ProfMJCleveland. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.