Two former Trump aides tied to firm engaged in Russian domestic spying program

WASHINGTON, U.S. - Two of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's former close aides are linked to a firm that tried to help the Russian government spy on its own people, according to ...

• Trump campaign distances itself from former aides controversy

• Russian chess master Kasparov “absolutely” certain Putin interfering in U.S. election

• Experts in Moscow warn U.S., Russia at "brink of war"

WASHINGTON, U.S. - Two of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's former close aides are linked to a firm that tried to help the Russian government spy on its own people, according to a report in the New York Post.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and ex-aide Rick Gates have financial ties to the firm EyeLock, which fought to win a contract for iris-scanning machines to be placed in Moscow’s subway stations to help the Russian government locate people on watch lists.

The firm eventually lost the contract, but the connection of Trump's former aides with a firm that sought to help the Putin government enhance its domestic spying program, has raised uncomfortable questions on national security and the “unusual business relationship” between senior U.S. campaign personnel and a foreign government.

Prior to leaving the Trump campaign, Gates had refuted the claims, saying he was only helping EyeLock secure U.S. government contracts. 

The firm told the New York Post that Manafort had no direct involvement or operational role in the company. 

However, according to sources, both Manafort and Gates were aware of the company's plans to enter the Russian market.

Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign in August following revelations of his business ties to pro-Russia leaders in Ukraine involving millions of dollars in cash payments. Gates stepped down just one month later.

Trump, meanwhile, chose to distance himself from this controversy. 

A spokesperson for his campaign stated, “Mr. Trump and the campaign have absolutely no knowledge of this, and these individuals are no longer with the campaign.’’

The embattled Republican nominee is already under the scanner over his own relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has publicly praised Trump, prompting Hillary Clinton to call the businessman-turned-politician the Russian president's "puppet" during an acrimonious presidential debate. 

Trump has earlier said Putin was a stronger leader than Obama. "The man has very strong control over a country," he had declared.

Trump's public praise for Putin has ensured the Kremlin at the center of a tumultuous U.S. campaign, which could be what the Russian dictator is aiming for. Russia clearly seems to be intent on making its voice heard and its presence felt.


Putin interfering in U.S. election

This latest controversy comes at a time when there is increasing scrutiny of Russia's involvement in the U.S. presidential elections following a series of cyberattacks that have targeted the Democrat presidential campaign, with millions of emails hacked from accounts belonging to the Democratic National Committee, raising fears that not since the Red Scare of the 1950s has Russia been accused of such sweeping influence on U.S. politics.

Russian chess master Gary Kasparov, who fled the country three years ago because of his opposition to the Putin regime, echoed his views on Russia’s influence on the election. 

He said he was "absolutely" certain the Russian government was linked to the cyberattacks on the Clinton campaign. 

“Putin sees in Trump an ideal counterpart,” Kasparov said. “Trump shows no respect for democracy, for rule of law.”

Kasparov also warned that Trump going on and on about a rigged election is “fertilising the ground” for potential civil unrest. “That is Putin’s greatest dream,” the former world chess champion said.

The Russian-U.S. relationship is at its lowest point since the Cold War, with the two sides differing over the civil war in Syria, Kremlin intervention in Ukraine and western sanctions on Russia. 

Military and foreign policy experts in Moscow believe the Russian president and western leaders are headed for a dangerous stand-off, with the former head of the Russian ministry of defence’s international treaties department saying the two sides were "teetering on the brink of war."

The Russian side is sitting on the largest nuke stockpile in the world and its most powerful missile is the SS-18 – better known as the Satan. 

Russia is believed to have 55 of the weapons in service, but experts have warned as little as five could annihilate the East Coast of the United States.


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