A cyber security firm that contributed to a 2018 Senate Intelligence Committee report about Russian disinformation received nearly half-a-million dollars that same year from two non-profit groups that partnered with Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS, according to newly released tax filings.
Advance Democracy Inc. (ADI) and The Democracy Integrity Project (TDIP), the two non-profits, paid $485,000 in 2018 to Popily, Inc., an Austin-based company better known as New Knowledge.
Daniel J. Jones, the founder of ADI and TDIP, is a former FBI agent and Senate Intelligence Committee aide best known for his investigation of CIA torture during the war on terror.
He formed TDIP on Jan. 31, 2017, following a meeting with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson. The goal of the initiative was to continue an investigation into President Donald Trump that Fusion GPS and Steele started during the 2016 campaign.
That project resulted in the now-discredited dossier that accused the Trump campaign of conspiring with the Kremlin. The special counsel’s investigation found no evidence of a Trump-Kremlin conspiracy. It was recently revealed that Steele himself might have fallen victim to Russian disinformation.
The ADI and TDIP tax filings, obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation, reveal new details of the connections between the anti-Trump network and New Knowledge.
New Knowledge gained national attention in December 2018 for contributing to the Senate panel’s report on Russian active measures on social media.
That positive attention turned sour days later when The New York Times reported that New Knowledge took part in a self-proclaimed “false flag” operation that involved creating Facebook profiles of purported Alabama conservatives intended to draw divisions among Republicans ahead of a 2017 special senate election.
Undisclosed through that quagmire was that New Knowledge was on the payroll of ADI and TDIP.
Jones told the FBI in March 2017 that he had secured $50 million in funding from a group of wealthy donors and had “secured services of Steele … and Fusion GPS to continue exposing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.”
Jones also told the bureau he “planned to share the information he obtained with policymakers … and with the press.”
Simpson and Fusion GPS co-founder Peter Fritsch wrote in their recent book, “Crime in Progress,” that former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was “most helpful” in setting up fundraising meetings for Jones’s venture.
“Podesta agreed to contact some friends out west on Jones’s behalf and told him to drop his name in talks with other potential supporters,” Simpson and Fritsch wrote.
“It was a brave gesture: He could have easily chosen to stay out of it altogether, given the fact that he had served as Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.”
Jones fell short of his lofty goal, though he raised $12,491,734 for TDIP and ADI in 2017 and 2018, the tax filings show.
In 2017, TDIP paid Fusion GPS $3,323,924 and Steele’s firm just over $251,689. TDIP also paid the London-based intelligence firms Edward Austin and Istok Associates $127,915 and $149,544, respectively.
In 2018, TDIP and ADI paid Fusion GPS $2,010,317, Steele’s firm $747,608, Edward Austin $348,133 and Istok $369,771.
Istok Associates, which is owned by Neil Barnett, focused on possible Russian meddling in the Brexit referendum vote.
Edward Austin is operated by Ed Baumgartner, an attorney who worked with Fusion GPS on behalf of a Russian company accused of money laundering. Fusion GPS tapped Baumgartner in 2017 to try to bolster allegations in the Steele dossier regarding a Russian tech entrepreneur who sued BuzzFeed News for publishing the dossier.
Jones has not disclosed the funders for TDIP and ADI. But the DCNF has confirmed that Open Society Foundation, a non-profit network controlled by billionaire George Soros, contributed $1.5 million in 2017 and 2018 to TDIP. A dark money group called the Fund for a Better Future contributed $2,065,000 to TDIP in 2017. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation gave $500,000 to ADI in 2018, according to tax records.
It is not clear exactly what work New Knowledge did for Jones’s groups, and whether Jones knew of or helped with the report to Senate Intelligence.
Simpson and Fritsch mention a partnership with New Knowledge in their book.
They wrote that in 2018 they worked with Jones on a “wider, more systematic effort to monitor and protect the election.” The plan entailed monitoring battleground congressional races for possible election interference involving “botnets and bogus websites pushing fake news.”
“It began an effort, starting in early September, to sift through the traffic across thousands of websites to detect and flag any suspicious, nonorganic content.”
“Sure enough, the Russians were once again trying to fire up Trump’s base by spewing anti-immigrant propaganda. Fusion, TDIP, and their partners at the cyber research firm New Knowledge eventually identified more than ten thousand posts on the Internet traced to known Russian influence operations.”
New Knowledge’s report to the Senate Intelligence Committee showed it tracked immigration-related posts purported to be from Russian bots.
Fusion’s description of the TDIP-New Knowledge project has some similarity to what New Knowledge came under fire for in the 2017 special election in Alabama.
“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” reads an internal report for the Alabama project, according to TheNYT.
Jonathon Morgan, the CEO of New Knowledge, told TheNYT that the Alabama operation was an “experiment” to test the effectiveness of fake social media accounts.
Jones, Popily, Inc. and the Senate Intelligence Committee did not respond to requests for comment for this story.