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RIP BuzzFeed News, Intelligence Agency Propaganda Conduit
My July 24th investigation delved into the ever-mysterious death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Soviet and Russian intelligence officer turned MI6 consultant, in November 2006. In particular, it examined how Western journalists, politicians and spies have consistently distorted the reality of what happened, and the victim’s own deathbed testimony, for malign ends.
It is now incumbent to explore another spectacularly egregious exploitation of Litvinenko’s tragic death by shadowy actors. In June 2017, BuzzFeed News published the seven-part From Russia With Blood. It documented 14 “suspicious deaths” on British soil that the outlet’s investigations team contended were actually assassinations by Russian “security services or mafia groups,” which local authorities inexplicably failed to properly investigate.
The series caused a sensation upon release, landing BuzzFeed News in the running for a welter of coveted awards, including the Pulitzer and Orwell prizes. At the time, BuzzFeed Investigations Editor Heidi Blake, who led the effort, said her team’s work had cemented the website as a “major force in global news.”
Readers of From Russia With Blood are repeatedly told BuzzFeed News relied on “a massive trove of documents, phone records, and secret recordings” to reach their bombshell conclusions. However, at no point is any of this evidence reproduced.
In fact, insinuations of Russian involvement in the 14 deaths almost invariably hinge on pronouncements by anonymous US intelligence agency sources, without supporting documentation of any kind. Even more damningly, the details of From Russia With Blood frequently contradicts the suggestion that the individuals were murdered, let alone by Russians.
Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing
Take for instance the third instalment, The Man Who Knew Too Much. It delves into the February 2016 death of British radiation scientist Dr. Matthew Puncher, who worked at a Russian nuclear facility when he was found stabbed to death in his kitchen. BuzzFeed News claimed he was the sleuth who uncovered “a vital clue that helped a British inquiry conclude Litvinenko’s murder was likely ordered by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.”
The circumstances of Puncher’s death, as reported by BuzzFeed News, seem hardly suspicious. His wife told investigators he tried to hang himself with a computer cable, a mere week prior to his death. The detective who inspected the scene moreover told the resultant inquest “there was no sign of a struggle, none of the furniture had been knocked over, and all the blood belonged to Puncher,” so they were “satisfied” he’d committed suicide:
“All the information told us he was very depressed and no one in his family seemed particularly surprised he had taken his own life.”
However, “four American intelligence officials” consulted by BuzzFeed News disagreed. For reasons unstated, they “[believed] he was assassinated.” A likewise anonymous former senior Scotland Yard counter-terror officer unconnected to the case furthermore suggested the Kremlin could have given Puncher drugs to “create depression” and precipitate his suicide.
The fourth installment - The Secrets Of The Spy In The Bag - deals with Gareth Williams. A crack GCHQ codebreaker seconded to MI6, he died in a central London lodging owned by Britain’s foreign intelligence agency in August 2010.
Williams’ demise was unambiguously mysterious. His decomposing naked body was found in a padlocked sports bag in the MI6-owned apartment’s bathroom. No fingerprints or traces of his DNA were found on the rim of the bathtub, bag, bag’s zip, or padlock. An inquest ruled his death “unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated.”
Ironically, much of the article’s content raises serious questions about the role of British intelligence in Williams’ death. For instance, BuzzFeed News notes he’d been dead for 10 days by the time his body was found, but neither GCHQ nor MI6 alerted authorities to his prolonged absence from work. It was only when his sister informed GCHQ Williams was missing, on the morning of August 23rd 2010, that the agencies alerted police - albeit five hours later.
BuzzFeed News also records how in the ensuing police investigation, detectives were prevented from interviewing Williams’ spy agency colleagues, or reviewing any relevant documents. They instead relied upon evidence gathered by counter-terrorism officers, who took no formal statements from witnesses, and only passed on anonymised briefing notes.
Conversely, BuzzFeed News failed to mention coroner Dr. Fiona Wilcox ruling MI6 involvement in Williams’ death to be a legitimate line of inquiry for police. Instead, the anonymous US intelligence quartet’s unsubstantiated claims are relied upon to blame his probable murder on the Kremlin, and/or Russian gangsters. They claim he was tracing international money-laundering routes used by organised crime groups at the time of his death.
The eponymous investigation focuses on the suicide of Scott Young, a corrupt tycoon with clear criminal connections, tied to exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Having lost all his money on a failed property endeavour, spent time in prison for contempt of court, and endured a costly divorce battle, among other crippling personal calamities, he died after falling from the window of his lavish London apartment.
Such a disastrous litany, and doctors’ appraisal of Young as “paranoid, with a manic flavour…[and a] complex delusional belief system,” would surely make him an at least potential candidate for suicide watch. British police duly concluded he took his own life.
Three of Young’s associates likewise committed suicide subsequently, having also “experienced dramatic financial [collapses]” and lost all their potentially ill-gotten gains. Two separately jumped in front of oncoming trains, while the other fell from the roof of a London shopping centre.
Open and shut cases of suicide, one might think. Again though, the word of anonymous US intelligence officials was sufficient to perk the suspicions of BuzzFeed News. They speculated Russia could have “engineered” their deaths “through manipulation and intimidation tactics.”
The same article’s discussion of Berezovsky’s seeming suicide in 2013 is likewise suspect and contradictory. It quotes a former Scotland Yard counter-terror commander as saying his department investigated the exiled Russian's death “very thoroughly,” and “hadn’t been able to find any evidence of murder.”
However, BuzzFeed News’ four US intelligence sources claim to have given their British counterparts information suggesting Berezovsky was assassinated. Although, it was evidently far from concrete:
“They could not assert with certainty that the killing was carried out on orders from the Kremlin, [but] evidence linking the oligarch’s death to Russia was considered compelling.”
Coincidentally, Berezovsky was due to testify at the Inquiry into Litvinenko’s purported murder when his body was found. Strikingly, the Inquiry report found that towards the end of Litvinenko’s life, the pair had a major falling out. Berezovsky significantly cut the level of financial support he was providing to Litvinenko’s family, which led the former KGB operative to begin working for MI6. At the same time, Berezovsky was allegedly seeking to return to Russia, and wrote to Putin asking for forgiveness.
‘Nothing for Putin’
The propaganda utility of From Russia With Blood was laid bare following the March 2018 poisoning of GRU defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England. The evidentially challenged smash series was widely cited in the mainstream as prima facie proof of Russian state involvement in the pair’s purported posioning, before a motive was established, any perpetrators identified, or other basic facts ascertained.
There was an obvious, glaring problem with this though, seemingly only discerned at the time by independent journalist Umar Nasser. Namely, even if one accepts that the deaths documented by BuzzFeed News were murders, and Russians of some extraction were responsible for them, none of the cited cases even vaguely resemble what allegedly happened to the Skripals. As such, any assassination “pattern” established by From Russia With Blood was not at all relevant to whatever happened in Salisbury.
Unlike BuzzFeed’s alleged assassinees, there is no indication Skripal had fallen foul of Moscow, or there was any particular reason for his execution. Unlike the supposed slayings so skillfully staged to resemble suicides even seasoned senior detectives were snookered, in Salisbury a poison - Novichok - with which Russia was uniquely associated purportedly served as murder weapon, allegedly delivered by two highly indiscrete deep state operatives. And unlike the “BuzzFeed 14”, there was zero chance the Kremlin would not be accused this time round - in no small part due to From Russia With Blood.
Nonetheless, the Salisbury incident compelled British authorities to eagerly adopt the dubious narrative of From Russia With Blood, even if temporarily. On 13th March 2018, nine days after the Skripals were found comatose in Salisbury, then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced police and MI5 would reinvestigate the 14 “suspicious deaths” detailed by BuzzFeed News, which the outlet reported triumphally.
Four months later though, it was quietly admitted authorities had determined there to be “no basis on which to reopen any of the investigations.” That December too, an inquest concluded Alexander Perepilichnyy - one of the BuzzFeed 14 - died of entirely natural causes.
Such embarrassing developments were almost universally ignored, due to the rapacious anti-Russian hysteria unleashed - or, perhaps, magnified - by the Salisbury incident. In the process, awkward disclosures that Skripal remained in regular contact with the Russian embassy following his arrival in Britain were likewise drowned out, and/or promptly forgotten.
Speaking to The Independent March 7th 2018, former Kremlin official Valery Morozov, a likewise exiled associate of Skripal, claimed the former GRU double agent had meetings with Russian military intelligence officers “every month.” Morozov also rejected any suggestion Moscow was responsible for the apparent nerve agent attack in Salisbury:
“Putin can’t be behind this. I know how the Kremlin works, I worked there. Who is Skripal? He is nothing for Putin. Putin doesn’t think about him. There is nobody in Kremlin talking about former intelligence officer [sic] who is nobody. There is no reason for this. It is more dangerous for them for such things to happen.”
Fast forward to April 20th this year, and it was announced BuzzFeed News would close its doors. The outlet’s abrupt death was widely mourned by establishment journalists, with many drawing attention to its impressive cabinet of prestigious journalism awards. Critical consideration of how BuzzFeed News dependably served throughout its brief existence as a conduit for black propaganda on behalf of Western intelligence was, of course, entirely absent from the deluge of fawning mainstream eulogies.