The Gatekeeper Files: Military Involvement in the Game of “Reputation Management” and Lawfare

(Opinion) As the death toll rises, it’s times like these when we find ourselves forced to hunker down and socially distance ourselves from the world that we begin to calculate the odds of America having to face its most serious pandemic since 1918 with someone like Trump in the White House. If you thought Trump was alarmingly dangerous before Covid-19, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that Mussolini’s psychopathic distant cousin running on about seventy IQ points is in charge of this deadly shit show. But the odds of Trump being at the helm of this pandemic isn’t so astronomical when you revisit what happened during the 2016 Presidential election.

That’s what this series and investigation is about. It’s about what happened, who the players are, and the operations deployed to push a fascist nutjob like Trump into the White House. It’s a reminder to pay attention, that history always repeats itself, and that men like Jeffrey Giesea, an expert on “memetic warfare” who works directly with the U.S. military and intelligence community, helped create the “troll army that boost Trump in the election.” If that’s not obvious enough, the founder of Palantir, Peter Thiel, actually attended the 2017 alt-right celebration called Deploraball that Giesea helped organize.

Looking back, the 2016 election not only feels like the genesis of full-scale psychological warfare waged upon the American psyche, the evidence seems to suggest it. It means military-grade psyops in full play to swing an election and public opinion in favor of authoritarianism, fascism, nationalism, U.S. imperialism, crushing the media, chilling speech, and the punishment and murder of journalist and publisher, Julian Assange, just to name a few examples.

But something else happened after Trump’s election, specifically after WikiLeaks started publishing the CIA’s malware and hacking arsenal (not the actual tools themselves but knowledge of them), Vault 7, where multiple people tried to associate themselves with Assange, much the same as the Trump crowd had done throughout the entire 2016 election season.  First, there was the popular online puzzle called Cicada 3301 that started in 2012, rumored to have been hijacked by music composer Thomas Schoenberger sometime between 2016 or 2017. He spent months trying to convince conspiracy theorists and Assange supporters that Cicada and WikiLeaks were working together and that he had a close relationship with the Australian publisher. Some, delusional or desperate enough to believe him, fell for it.

Then there was, or rather is, the Seth Rich conspiracy that exploded in the spring of 2017, after Fox News ran a story about the case alleging that he was in contact with WikiLeaks and may have been the source for the DNC emails.  They retracted the story less than a week later.  Because of information that Texas financier Ed Butowsky alleged to have received about Seth Rich in late 2016, he became a central figure in the conspiracy as did D.C. private investigator Rod Wheeler and Unity4J co-founder and multi-convicted criminal Kim Dotcom.  Independent investigator Matt Couch and political operative Cassandra Fairbanks took it upon themselves to serve up regular doses of the conspiracy throughout the year. 

What made 2017 so interesting, among a host of other things, is the fact that the oddball characters associated with Cicada 3301: Thomas Schoenberger; Manny Chavez aka Youtuber “Defango”; Beth Bogaerts formerly known as @NoxFemme @WellTraveledFox @Foxfire2112 @Foxfire3113; and later, disgraced publicist Trevor Fitzgibbon who did some work for WikiLeaks forever ago, ended up forming an (unregistered) reputation warfare company called Shadowbox whose first client was none other than Ed Butowsky, a prominent figure albeit a self-professed reluctant one in the Seth Rich case, courtesy of Fitzgibbon.

As was reported by activist Ray Johansen, members of Shadowbox were allegedly paid by the wife of attorney Steven Biss (he’s the one currently suing the Twitter cow on behalf of U.S. Representative Devin Nunes) to troll and provoke victims so they could turn around and sue them.   

Emails reveal that in the Robert David Steele (RDS) v. Goodman case filed by Biss in 2017, Shadowbox members were also encouraged to write affidavits for the former CIA case officer and file multiple lawsuits against the same victim.  They were also paid to be Steele’s legal research team and directed to censor speech, dox people they thought they could use in legal proceedings, and then encouraged to send those names to Biss. Emails indicate that certain members of Shadowbox were actually directing other members on what they should say both publicly and privately, or how to troll their victims. 

Since the RDS case, Biss has gone on to file over fifteen different lawsuits on behalf of Devin Nunes, Ed Butowsky, Trevor Fitzgibbon, and more. The million dollar question is who’s funding this lawfare but unfortunately we don’t have the answer.  What the following does try to reveal is why Shadowbox’s Thomas Schoenberger repeatedly discussed with other Shadowbox members the use of a ex-military/intelligence team and how much of a connection did Shadowbox members, more specifically Trevor Fitzgibbon, have with the U.S. military.

JLA 1.4 

On October 3, 2017, a presentation entitled “JLA 1.4,” which stands for Janus Lares Associates, was emailed to at least six recipients, all of whom except one have or had an extensive, if not exceptional, military career.  The email was allegedly sent by former 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan’s husband, Joseph Burkett, a former military contractor who, according to Newsweek, was paid to plant false stories in Iraqi media during the war and who may have presented the Janus presentation to attendees at that infamous September 2017 meeting at the home of Ed Butowsky. 

This investigation spoke with Butowsky who confirmed that Burkett was indeed at the meeting that included Shadowbox members Schoenberger, Bogaerts, and Chavez, to discuss reputation management. However, he couldn’t remember what exactly, if anything, had been presented to the group.  What he did make clear is that Shadowbox failed to deliver on services promised minus some work he paid Manny Chavez to do which, according to Butowsky, he completed. Indeed, if publicly released documents are any indication, the off-the-record company, after being paid, did very little for Butowsky in terms of work and managing his reputation.

As far as public records are concerned, none of the Shadowbox attendees at Butowsky’s home have a military background or ties to the U.S. government except Schoenberger who discussed his ties to the CIA and visits to the Pentagon during a deposition for the Rich v. Butowsky case.  And yet, the presentation distributed by Burkett was sent to none other than former Shadowbox member Trevor Fitzgibbon and five military guys.

Fitzgibbon’s name can be seen on the presentation which begs the question of how he got involved in a project like this with this particular group of individuals, some of whom are currently in high-level positions. Fitzgibbon forwarded the presentation to another Shadowbox member indicating that at least one other member of the company was well aware that he was working with or considering working with a team of military guys or as one Shadowbox member described them “spooks.”

And make no mistake, there has never been any indication from a single Shadowbox member that Fitzgibbon’s close proximity to the U.S. government was why Fitzgibbon, who went on to become the starring character in a 2019 propaganda piece Unity4J’s Suzie Dawson published just last year, was allegedly kicked out of the company before it imploded.  However, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if after this publication former members started using that excuse. On the contrary, Schoenberger practically gloated about having “a team of ex intel guys” like Burkett:

The Presentation

When the JLA 1.4 presentation was emailed it was obviously a work in progress and it’s interesting to note that Fitzgibbon was added to the document as a user with editing permissions. 

Some of the pages state things like:

“Setting the Record Straight”

“Ensuing [sic] that a true understanding of relevant facts are available”

“Managing the reputation of both individuals and companies”

“Automation and Artificial Intelligence”

And some of the diagrams used in the presentation were taken from other presentations such as Alejandro Perez’s “Military + Civilian Best Practices: Risk Management ver 1.1,”  a Wikipedia page on causal loop diagram, and MoreSteam.com’s article on system diagrams that discusses “feedback loops and other factors that influence how decisions are made, including attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors.”

Shortly before Fitzgibbon received this presentation, a coordinated attack against whistleblower attorney Jesselyn Radack was initiated. Fitzgibbon directed fellow Shadowbox member, Beth Bogaerts, to publicly provoke Radack on Twitter in order to elicit a negative response that could be used against her later in court.  At one point Fitzgibbon even mused that he might be evil and in yet another set of messages, he discussed creating an account to publicly humiliate Radack after which Bogaerts advised him to use a “burner email” and VPN in order to not get caught.  Fitzgibbon, Bogaerts, and Schoenberger have all created multiple fake Twitter accounts aka “socks” over the last few years. 

Bogaerts continued to help Fitzgibbon despite his working relationship with Burkett by reaching out to journalists such as Sharyl Attkisson in November 2017, who subsequently published favorable stories about him. Consortium News’ Elizabeth Lea Vos who was heavily involved in Pizzagate also wrote multiple stories about Fitzgibbon at Bogaert’s prompting which started during the summer of 2017. The articles were published via Disobedient News who has since scrubbed their entire website of Fitzgibbon. No retractions, no explanations. 

Both journalists also reported on the idea that Fitzgibbon was the target of multiple sexual allegations because he did some PR work for Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks in the past. This narrative continues unabated today and if you’re wondering why he would be a target when he’s literally done nothing professionally for WikiLeaks in recent years, look no further than Burkett’s wife, Lara Logan, who pushed the idea that he would be under attack because of the Seth Rich conspiracy, stating in so many words that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source for the DNC emails.

Thus, in Logan’s world, Fitzgibbon had become a target because Assange was his “client.”  But Assange wasn’t his client and he was just a down and out PR guy which makes it even weirder that Logan would say something like this.

Did Fitzgibbon lie to Logan about his relationship with Assange or indicate that he could get to him one way or another much like his associate Thomas Schoenberger did?  According to one former Shadowbox member, Logan’s husband had been pushing the same narrative since 2015:

 “Joe had provided counsel to him [Fitzgibbon] after Dec 2015 and the attacks on Trevor…Joe explained it was Military Intel that was really behind the attacks on Trevor…Joe and Trevor seemed very friendly.”

The “attacks” mentioned above are in reference to public outcry after multiple women accused Fitzgibbon of sexual harassment and abuse, allegations that spanned across almost a decade and two different PR firms, including his own.  According to a source who used to work for Fitzgibbon, in response, he shuttered his firm right before Christmas, leaving his entire staff without a job or insurance. The former Shadowbox member added:

“Joe was Trevors buddy…and Lara, his wife even more so…Ed [Butowsky] had not paid us after promising he would hire us so Joe was ‘working’ on Ed for Trevor.”

So according to a former Shadowbox member, Joseph Burkett was acting as a middleman to collect money from their client, Ed Butowsky, for Shadowbox? There are emails that seem to indicate this actually happened.   

Since this is about as good of the quality as it gets for the above email, here’s what it says (from Schoenberger to Chavez):

Joe is working on him but I got the alert from Beth and have been asking Trevor
Trevor said it may have been his partner who got spooked, but seriously, Ed already asked us to do work and as you know, when Trevor asked him to wire the money on that video call, he agreed
Between us, I have trust issues with Ed
Maybe because he is going through some shit, or maybe because he is lying
I do not know
I know our chess move now is to get Joe to talk him off the ledge
Trevor will keep us up to date
Manny, Ed will be in violation of a verbal contract if he flakes

If all of these statements above are true, it means that Fitzgibbon has long been associating with a former military contractor and Burkett actually advised him on the serious sexual allegations Fitzgibbon was facing from a multitude of women who risked their reputations and careers by coming forward. Not only that, Fitzgibbon wasn’t just tied to Burkett via the Janus Lares project, it appears that Burkett was involved with Shadowbox on at least some level as evidenced by Schoenberger’s email to Chavez about Burkett trying to collect money on their behalf. 

But don’t worry, some of the former members of Shadowbox swear that they’re hyper WikiLeaks supporters and “researchers” so what could possibly be concerning about secretly galavanting around with a bunch of military/intelligence guys? 

Joseph Burkett and the Lincoln Group

According to New York Magazine, Lara Logan and Joseph Burkett initially met and briefly dated in Afghanistan sometime during the early 2000s.  In November 2002, Burkett was deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom where he served as an operations noncommissioned officer with the 1st Information Operation Command.  In 2004, he was awarded the Soldiers Medal at Camp Mabry for saving a woman who had fallen on the metro tracks in D.C., but according to comments seen here he wasn’t particularly well-liked or perhaps he had made a few enemies:

“I was there also and I also know Joe Burkett. He did run alcohol from the duty-free store at Baghdad International Airport and other places and there was nothing non alcoholic about the Tiki bar…This is also a man with no work ethic. He never lifted a finger to do anything (including his job) that didn’t benefit him personally.”

And:

“Joe Burkett worked harder at finding ways of not doing his job than actually doing it.  It got so bad that he had to be treated like a child in that he had to ask for permission from his supervisor in order to go to lunch, the bathroom, etc. I won’t go into any more detail about his ethics.  But I will say this:  Joe Burkett has now lost any credibility he ever had in his career field and no one will hire him unless they are desperate or stupid or both.” 

Three years after Burkett’s deployment, the Los Angeles Times ran a story with the headline, “U.S. Military Covertly Pays to Run Stories in Iraqi Press,” about how the government had awarded lucrative contracts to a company called the Lincoln Group to plant false stories in the media. According to Newsweek, Burkett was employed by Lincoln to do just that.  And lobbyists for the Lincoln Group, which received millions of dollars from units like the Joint Psychological Operations Support Effort (part of the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command), included Charlie Black of BKSH & Associates Worldwide.

BKSH represented Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi during the Iraq War and it was Black’s firm that assisted in spurring on U.S. invasion by selling the WMD story with Chalabi’s help.  BKSH also lobbied for contractors like Lockheed Martin, United Technologies, and Thales Inc., the same defense firm where one particular member also owns SC Strategy which is directed by Lord Arbuthnot, the husband of the magistrate overseeing Julian Assange’s extradition hearing. 

Charlie Black is the Black in Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly, a lobbying firm formed by himself, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort back in 1980.  Before the firm merged with Gold & Leibengood and became BKSH & Associates, the three men got paid millions for lobbying on behalf of brutal directors with a mile long list of human rights violations. 

By 2007, two years after the government got caught funding war propaganda, Logan and Burkett had rekindled their relationship despite both of them being in a relationship at the time (Logan was dating news correspondent Michael Ware and Burkett was married). As the rumors go, one night the Pilgrims Group, a security firm hired to protect CBS’ outpost in Baghdad, let Ware upstairs to Logan’s accommodations where he allegedly found her and Burkett in a compromising position.  As the tale continues, a fight ensued between the two men and according to New York Magazine, Logan used her power at CBS to move Pilgrim’s security contract over to another UK company called Blue Hackle.

Blue Hackle

Blue Hackle was co-founded by two brothers, Charles and Michael Raper, and former security advisor Justin Penfold. According to it’s website:

“Founded in 2004 in Great Britain, Blue Hackle transitioned to a wholly-owned American company in 2011.  Headquartered in Laurel Springs, New Jersey, and with major operations in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and Africa, Blue Hackle provides the most capable, reliable, and discreet security services across Energy, Government, Foreign Government, Commercial, Diplomatic, and Non-Profit sectors.

Blue Hackle is an innovative, minimally intrusive, low-profile security solution designed for challenging and complex environments. We  employ the most highly trained individuals in their respective fields.  Many of our employees are former U.S. and UK Special Operations Forces, with experience coordinating with foreign governments and local communities where we provide protection.”

Charles Raper died a year after the company was founded.  As for Michael Raper:

“Prior to co-founding Blue Hackle, Mr. Raper served as Head of Kroll’s Security Consulting Group (Europe, Africa, and Middle East) and Head of Kroll’s global security consultancy (excluding North America).  Before joining Kroll, Mr. Raper served in the Special Branch of the British police with responsibilities in counter-terrorism, counter-espionage, counter-subversion and counter-proliferation. He was involved in numerous anti-terrorist operations and investigations, and has particular expertise in surveillance, counter-surveillance, and anti-surveillance.  

In his position with the Special Branch of the British police, he provided threat assessments, intelligence and security reviews for British Nuclear Fuels, BAE Systems Marine (particularly involving the Nuclear Submarine Programme), British Gas, GlaxoSmithKline, and the Faslane nuclear submarine base. Mr. Raper served as a British Army officer in Germany, Canada, and Northern Ireland, and also saw active service with a reconnaissance unit in the Gulf War.”

In 2016, the leadership team of Blue Hackle included retired U.S. Army General Michael T. Harrison and retired general and former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Sir Jeremy MacKenzie, but their names no longer appear on the website. In 2006, Lara Logan was able to land an interview with then-CENTOM commander, General John Abizaid, who became a Blue Hackle board member five years later. 

WikiLeaks emails also reveal that Blue Hackle has had their share of problems like alleged bogus contracts in Afghanistan and illegal arms trafficking and when CBS news reporter Richard Butler was kidnapped in Iraq in 2008, the security firm was still employed by the media outlet. Meanwhile, Logan had been promoted to chief correspondent for CBS and reportedly purchased a $1.5 million home in D.C. shortly thereafter. Burkett, on the other hand, had just founded a new company called Janus Lares Associates, LLC, the same exact name seen on the documents that Burkett sent to Trevor Fitzgibbon in October 2017.  

Sakom Services, LLC

In 2010, retired U.S. Army general and former U.S. CENTCOM Commander, John Abizaid, joined the board of Blue Hackle.  Then, on June 7th, the company’s co-founders Michael Raper and Justin Penfold, who was also the managing director of Blue Hackle for almost a decade, started another company called Spey Associates.  

The company is still active according to the U.K.’s Companies House but there’s no public information about what it does or where it operates. A month later, Afghanistan tried to expel Blue Hackle from the country for what looked to be illegal arms trafficking

“Afghan intelligence agency the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said it had seized a large amount of military equipment including arms and munitions from a private security firm. It said the materiel was being illegally transferred by a private security company from Kabul city to the airport and then to unknown destination. The NDS statement named the security firm as Blue Hackle, a member of the British Association of Private Security Companies. The weapons were provided to this company by arm smugglers, it said, adding that they had been confiscated amid an investigation.”

Like Blackwater and any number of private security firms, they make a lot of money…and some trouble it seems. Regardless, by 2011, Blue Hackle was nothing to scoff at, estimated to be worth about £40 million and receiving a large investment from Torch Hill, an investment firm that “provides growth capital to domestic and international companies that play vital roles in supply chain integrity, defense, intelligence and civil and corporate security.” By then, the company had already relocated to the United States and was showing off its prowess:

“As a valued contractor to the US government providing services to DOD, DOS, US Mil, and USAID,” said Tony Koren, President of Blue Hackle North America, “we have always operated with the highest standards of transparency, professionalism, and ethical behavior.”

And then in walks Lara Logan’s husband, Joe, who goes into business with the co-founder of Blue Hackle’s wife who happened to serve as the company’s administrator for almost four years. According to Newsweek:

“In 2011, he [Burkett] was also named as the ‘governing person’ of Sakom Services LLC in San Marcos, Texas, which lists an office in the UAE, whose owner-director is Justin Penfold, a U.K.-based ‘subject matter expert in the security industry’ with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The Texas branch of Sakom Services that Burkett was a part of appears to have been shut down the following year only to have Sakom Services WI LLC rise from the ashes five years later.  Then, on January 24, 2019, Sakom Netanak LLC was also created by Penfold’s wife and the company currently holds a CAGE code meaning any organization that wants to be a supplier/vendor for the U.S. government has to be issued a CAGE code by the Department of Defense. In this case, Sakom was also issued a NCAGE code for “entities located outside the United States and its territories.”

Sakom appears to hold several subsidiaries under its umbrella and according to its website, the company operates in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Africa.  

It’s unknown if Burkett’s involvement with Sakom ended in 2012. In 2014, New York Magazine’s Joe Hagan reported that Burkett went into business with “the wife of the man who owned Blue Hackle” and that former General Abizaid was a board member. This investigation reached out to Hagan’s publicist to confirm the name of the company but never received a response. Left to our own devices, we believe that Hagan’s statement may very well indicate that Abizaid was, at one time or another, on the board of Sakom Services, as well.

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