INVESTIGATING THE CIPDH
Strike Source’s investigation into the International Human Rights Defence Committee (IHRDC), also known as Comité International pour la Protection des Droits de l’Homme (CIPDH), aims to present the following findings:
- CIPDH has falsely represented itself as a United Nations affiliated organization to establish a misleading diplomatic status.
- The majority of CIPDH’s hierarchy consists of fictitious identities, where images of individuals not associated with the organization are given faux names and positions.
- Some fake identities have been used to make statements on behalf of CIPDH.
- The United Nations Security Council has implicated CIPDH in the potential storage and transfer of Libyan assets through one of their facilities in Accra, Ghana.
- CIPDH’s leadership has connections to members of the Russian security services, Combat Brotherhood, and the Kremlin.
- CIPDH has registered as a non-profit in the United States with a Virginia-based address.
- Potential motives of CIPDH may include influence, money laundering, or espionage.
During the summer of 2020 police brutality was suddenly driven to the forefront of American consciousness; a perceived harshness that targeted one race over another fueled the country’s disaffection. But organic, social fissures such as these afford opportunities to hostile foreign intelligence services and state-sponsored information organs aiming to exacerbate polarizing situations; that is to function as a catalyst for the fracturing of society from the inside-out. Protests following the death of George Floyd demonstrated Russia’s informational apparatus remained true to form by engaging this social phenomenon via official government channels and state-sponsored outlets such as RT, Sputnik, and RedFish. But there was one instance that stood apart from the aforementioned engagements, an open letter from Alexander Ionov on behalf of an international human rights organization expressing support for the ongoing movement against police brutality and racial inequality.
During the lead up to the 2016 Presidential election, Mr. Ionov cultivated and maintained rapport with fringe groups as evidenced by researcher Casey Michel’s writing on his courting of hard-left, far-right and secessionist groups via the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. In the past, Mr. Ionov has leveraged organizations involved with social movements as a vehicle to exercise influence. Therefore, research analysts at Strike Source decided to conduct an open-source investigation into a human rights defense organization affiliated with a known Kremlin sycophant who utilizes social and political divides to tear at the social fabric.
Working from the hypothesis that CIPDH/IHRDC was a potential front entity structured the manner in which the investigation would be oriented; therefore, our team set out to verify the organization’s bona fides of U.N. status, along with examining the hierarchical structure of this syndicate.
Prominently displayed on the right-hand side of CIPDH’s website are numerous entities claimed as affiliated, however, there are two declarations that raise concern: 1) publication of their U.N. identification number & 2) asserting their association with the U.N. Global Compact. Strike Source contacted a U.N. librarian for assistance as regards the veracity of claim (1) that resulted in reviewing the United Nations Economic & Social Council list of recognized organizations. It was not possible to corroborate CIPDH’s statement that it was affiliated with or recognized by the U.N. according to their official documents.
After discerning the less than generous outward-facing narrative of CIPDH, the decision was made to further examine the institution’s upper echelon in an effort to determine who may have been responsible for implementing such a strategy. And it was during this phase of the investigation that brought into focus an unflattering, sobering truth; an international human rights organization had been created on false pretenses, signaling ulterior motives. The lack of a digital footprint with many in senior positions forced the team to turn to the Russian search engine Yandex, well-known for facial recognition capabilities. This methodology facilitated the finding of CIPDH leadership at a high rate thereby leading the team to discover that nearly 70% of profiles were fictitious; analysts either found the original photos of individuals or were able to identify people based on physical features such as ear, nose, teeth, and hairline. As an example, photos of Australian Senators Scott Ludlam and Bob Brown were uploaded to CIPDH’s website under different names. After accounting for nonexistence and personas that lacked a digital footprint, there were only eight left within the rank and file of CIPDH; two of these individuals raison d’etre is to serve as adjuncts of the Russian government: Iskander Ioussoupov and Alexander Ionov.
Iskander Ioussoupov is CIPDH’s unabashed gamble to present this facade of an organization as internationally legitimate and relevant. Mr. Ioussoupov has an established record of service with the USSR and Russian government extending as far back as ‘87. Presently, Mr. Ioussoupov operates as the Minister of Representation of The Republic of Tatarstan in France & Benelux. Between these two seemingly disparate worlds, human rights and government service, that Iskander traffics there exists a mutual intersection in the form of a phone number and address. Analysts discovered that CIPDH’s phone number wasn’t a landline as one would assume for a U.N. affiliated NGO dealing with international issues, rather a cell phone number that appears on both websites belonging to CIPDH & the Minister of Representation of the Republic of Tatarstan in France and Benelux.
Both Mr. Ioussopov’s address as Minister-Representative of Tatarstan to France & Benelux and CIPDH have co-located at 6 Rue du Docteur Finlay 75015 Paris. Overlap between the addresses and a cell phone number becomes difficult to refute as they’re linked to Mr. Ioussoupov who, prima facie, is fulfilling a quasi-government role on behalf of a foreign power while simultaneously running a shady human rights organization, all from inside the heart of France.
Dovetailing with the aforementioned deceptive tactics, techniques & procedures are numerous instances of CIPDH engaging in fraudulent or unethical behavior around the globe. In June of 2018, an investigative report published by The Institute of War & Peace Reporting brought to light inconsistencies with the operational ethos of this human rights project while in the country of Kazakhstan. Contained within the report is evidence of CIPDH deploying the following techniques: U.N. abbreviations on vehicles, fake diplomatic license plates, and a strategically altered emblem that mimics the U.N. Eventually, this situation rose to such a level that then-deputy Minister of Defence for the Republic of Kazakhstan, Talgat Mukhtarov, gave the following statement:
“The International Human Rights Defence Committee (CIPDH – Comité international pour la protection des droits de l’homme) is a private organisation that has nothing to do with the UN.”
Left within the wake of CIPDH’s supposed humanitarian contributions are instances of international hoodwinking that have occurred in Spain and Azerbaijan, amongst others, which demonstrate a pattern of behavior. In one instance, CIPDH personnel was detained by a government unit addressing organized crime within Azerbaijan; but it should be noted the purported victims that were defrauded are actually former employees of CIPDH, which raises more questions than answers. Whether it was Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, or Spain to name just a few, the core theme of deception was boundless to such a degree that it extended into the realm of passports. This issue was pervasive enough that the EU placed CIPDH on a known list of organizations engaged in the production of what they refer to as fantasy passports.
An even darker undercurrent of behavior emerged relative to CIPDH involving components often correlated with transnational crime. The June 2017 United Nations Security Council report highlighted the deteriorating political conditions inside of Libya. As the report indicates, due to these conditions, criminal networks continued to exploit different sources of financing; ultimately, missing assets related to Gaddafi’s wealth or Libya proper can become weaponized via proxy funding of networks resulting in further destabilization of the country or potentially laundered. Western Africa was singled out in the security council’s report as a geographic area engaged in the moving of monies and assets; in particular, the countries of Ghana and Burkina Faso. A source claimed to U.N. investigators that physical assets were being stored on the premises of CIPDH and contained in metal boxes marked with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)symbols, underpinning the claim was a photo given to the U.N. Counterfeit ICRC boxes have become the origin for conspiracy theories that have gone viral in previous years so much so that the Red Cross had to issue a public statement addressing their noninvolvement in transporting locked boxes containing large sums of money across Africa. Analysts were unable to find any statement from CIPDH addressing this international conundrum.
The unfolding drama of Sunny Car Center (SCC) in Finland grabbed the public’s attention through the necessary ingredients of a captivating saga; a general populace became fixated on developments and headlines encompassing alleged money laundering involving a Zambian president’s widow, Nigerian scammers, counterfeit money, and suspected governmental leaks. Even to this day, there is much confusion as to what truly happened and who was actually involved. CEO of SCC Markku Ritaluoma in August of 2014 was forewarned by Finnish law enforcement about the probability of financial losses to a potential scam based in Africa, oddly these warnings fell on deaf ears. And in September of 2014, Mr. Ritaluoma hired Fagus Yaw Berko from CIPDH to investigate possible breaches of confidence and suspected financial crimes in Zambia on his behalf.
Analysts at Strike Source found the hiring of Mr. Berko to be an odd recourse as one would assume there would be a need for a law firm or private investigator, not a human rights employee, a sentiment that was echoed by the Finnish press in subsequent articles. Strike Source is now bringing to light a piece of information that was previously unknown to the Finnish press, possibly the government; that CIPDH’s “head of legal,” Anna Bozin, who was cited in two articles by a reputable Finnish outlet in regards to Mr. Berko, was one of the 16 faux personas hosted on CIPDH’s website. Ms. Bozin is actually Lia Ices, a singer-songwriter living in California whose picture was taken from a Vogue photoshoot; however, there exist other instances involving statements, as well as signatures, from the apparition that is Anna Bozin. These revelations add a new dimension to the SCC saga.
CIPDH didn’t just limit this tactic to Ms. Bozin rather it was repeated with the persona Robert Comune (VP) replete with statements and a signature on an official document. Our team collected information related to Comune’s now deleted Facebook profile and CIPDH’s main Twitter account before it changed from Comune to Gerard Salvato.
What of their human rights work? Setting aside CIPDH’s social media with their anemic display of charity, Yulia Nauman’s (Secretary/Director) digital channels were a portal allowing viewers a glimpse into the fantastical assistance provided by this NGO. Subtracting out nonsensical, inspirational quotes, vanity posts, and feeble attempts at equating CIPDH with the U.N., analysts began to interrogate claims as well as pictures associated with the humanitarian work.
A deceptive pattern emerged upon analyzing posts made by Yulia on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook; it became evident that photos were strategically utilized in two ways: 1) pictures from previous trips were recycled consistently and 2) identifying pictorial elements such as children or clothes allowed the team to discern that newly uploaded, nonrecycled, pics were indeed from previous trips and not reflective of any current humanitarian mission. This comes across as having been done in an effort to mislead audiences about the frequency, efficacy, and continuity of human rights work. Our conclusion was reached after analyzing Yulia’s social media channels that demonstrated a coordinated effort to influence perceptions about CIPDH’s humanitarian work.
Fake personas issuing statements and signing documents, no U.N. affiliation whatsoever, impersonating U.N. vehicles, deceptive humanitarian posts, fantasy passports flagged by the EU, implicated in moving Libyan assets, employees fined by an organized crime unit in Azerbaijan, but to whose network does CIPDH belong or traffic in, if not an internationally recognized humanitarian one? There’s an idiom in Western culture alluding to the notion that you are the company you keep, and it would be prudent to ask this question in relation to CIPDH; therefore, to whose network can we trace CIPDH to exactly? In order to answer that question, our team proceeded to analyze the social media accounts of senior leadership belonging to CIPDH in an effort to tease out information related to their network.
Anvar Niyozov (Анвар Ниёзов) is described on CIPDH’s website as an expert in Eastern Europe affairs, in addition to proclaiming on Facebook (FB) as being Vice President, one of many within this organization. Finding his personal FB allowed analysts to search through pictures and posts in order to identify ‘likes’ that would lead to other accounts of interest. The team decided to focus on a specific connection of significance; namely, Mumin Khodjaev (Мумин Ходжаев). Mr. Khodjaev’s FB account depicted him meeting with Anvar in full CIPDH regalia thereby drawing the attention of analysts, especially given the background flags and Khodjaev’s fatigues with medals:
The redbox highlights the symbol of Combat Brotherhood (CB), which took time to discover as the image is quite small inevitably making it difficult to manipulate for analysis when leveraging OSINT techniques. These methodologies unearthed details that CIPDH was meeting with constituents of CB, an organization that has been sanctioned by the Ukrainian government for its activities related to the Russian annexation of Crimea. Former combat veterans gathered in Saki (Crimean peninsula) on June 30, 2019, to exchange awards and to honor fallen Soviet veterans from Afghanistan. During this occasion, Deputy Chairman of the Association of war veterans and [disabled veterans] of Uzbekistan Mumin Khodjaev presented awards on behalf of the president of the organization Talat Muradov, a former Soviet Intelligence officer, to fellow Afghan veterans.
If there are any doubts about the relationship between Mr. Muradov’s Uzbek veteran organization and Combat Brotherhood then the following quote from a recent Sputnik interview should assuage those concerns: What joint events are you planning with the Russian side?
“We cooperate with colleagues from other CIS countries. Our organization is a member of the International Union of Public Organizations “Combat Brotherhood”, which is headed by the commander of the 40th Army Boris Gromov, and here I am his deputy for work with Afghan veterans.”
Despite his meeting with Anvar, Mr. Khodjaev’s FB account adds another piece to this complex puzzle; in particular, he uploaded a picture of himself getting into a vehicle with a peculiar alphanumeric license plate that an analyst recognized.
This license plate was cited in the Project Institute for War & Peace article on CIPDH in Kazakhstan. And below is a screenshot of the license plate from their piece:
This situation raises more questions than answers such as: why is an Uzbek franchise of CB, driving around with a license plate that 1) exhibits an uncannily similar symbol to that of CIPDH & 2) utilizes the same alphanumeric combination that has been tied to CIPDH activities in Kazakhstan?
Shakim Nassibov (Director of the Subsidiary of CIPDH in Kazakhstan) is publicly associated with CB via an event attendance, plus social media friend connections. A CB article identified Mr. Nassibov as a Kazakhstan veteran and co-owner of the investment group EQS Astana. While attending the Serbia CB affair, Shakim signed a business agreement with Mayor Trstenik Miroslav Aleksich for the opening of a tractor factory that would, supposedly, yield 120 jobs. And even Alexander Ionov, VP of CIPDH, was highlighted in a CB article.
Of particular interest, there exists senior leadership within the organizational structure of Combat Brotherhood that possesses current and former links to the Russian Government. Firstly, former General Boris Gromov is the chairman of CB and previously held political office in Moscow. Then there is Dmitry Sablin who is presently serving in the Russian State Duma, implicated in subversive activity aimed at Ukraine by assisting in the founding of the anti-maidan movement, and was the previous owner of the Novator Business center until he sold the building to the Russian Ministry of Defence. The building was eventually converted into the headquarters for GRU (Unit 74455) to conduct interference operations, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Investigation. Last but not least, Ivan Ageyenko, who currently is acting as deputy chairman for CB and was the former head of Border Service at the FSB.
There exist other senior members within CIPDH that are not displayed on the website such as Dimitri Siokis who liaises with Russian security service members. Mr. Siokis in his own words considers Dmitry Fonarev a “dear friend” as evidenced by social media posts; furthermore, Mr. Fonarev is former KGB (9th Directorate) and President of the Russian bodyguard organization NAST. And Mr. Siokis is a NAST Ambassador in conjunction with fulfilling his duties as CIPDH’s representative to Greece and Cyprus, to say nothing of his service as a colonel in the Cossack military. Notably, he has attended counter-terrorism conferences addressing the autonomous area of Xinjiang, home to Uighur Muslims, wherein discussions ranged from unconventional training to adoption of advanced technologies.
In addition to the former, Mr. Siokis was photographed with Deputy Chairman of the Double-Headed Eagle Leonid Reshetnikov, a 33 year veteran of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), wherein he agreed to accompany the Chairman on a visit to the island of Lemnos. The society was founded by Russian oligarch Konstatin Malofeev who has been sanctioned by both the United States and EU for playing a role as one of the main financiers for Russia’s promotion of separatism within Crimea. On 10 September 2019 Double-headed Eagle was found to have been engaging in espionage activities inside of Bulgaria that resulted in the expulsion of the organization as well as Mr. Reshetnikov (10 Years). This claim was supported when documents seized, by Bulgarian officials, linked espionage activities back to Double-Headed Eagle and the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS) that espied an opportunity to geopolitically reorient Bulgaria; that is to say, to bring them back into the orbit of the Kremlin as opposed to having Bulgaria remain part of the EU and NATO.
Mr. Reshetnikov is no stranger to meddling in the foreign affairs of other countries as he was head of RISS, a government think-tank controlled by Vladimir Putin, when it developed the plans to undermine voter’s confidence in the U.S. electoral system during 2016, not to mention the failed coup attempt in Montenegro. By weaponizing Russia’s culture and historicity abroad, Double-Headed Eagle is nothing more than a prong in Russia’s asymmetrical assault against the West.
Absent anemic charity events functioning as propaganda, CIPDH’s bona fides as being a member of a reputable, global human rights network cannot be corroborated; rather, analysts were able to demonstrate linkages that trace back to an umbra network associated with the Kremlin. Indeed, the company one keeps can be revealing.
In recent years, it has become apparent that foreign actors exploit U.S. institutions by utilizing them as a center of global kleptocracy. This facilitates laundering activities by cleaning internationally dirty money via Western institutions and returning it back to the actors who initiated the scheme. The laundering of money was hypothesized amongst analysts at Strike Source as one of several, albeit unofficial, motivating factors of CIPDH. After discovering that CIPDH had registered as an NGO and business in the state of Virginia, the SS team began searching through the IRS database; there were multiple entities cataloged within the IRS system under the name “International Human Rights Defense Committee Cipdh”–an oddly specific name associated with various EINs. These organizations included, but were not limited to, the following: Churches, a school PTO, and groups with an international focus. Nearly half of the entities in the IRS database were listed as residing in Dumfries, VA.
The U.S. branch of CIPDH demonstrates the same deceptive signatures that have been discussed; Anna Bozin’s signature on an official document that was uploaded to the U.S. website, a possible faux persona (Emil Choueiry) that we cannot verify as existing who signed a document, claims of affiliation with the U.N. via an identification number, and a pseudo-emissary acting as treasurer. A concern, out of many, lies in the fact that the U.S. CIPDH branch can openly state that they are an American NGO thereby affording this organization many strategic benefits that range from accessing prominent individuals to potential money laundering capabilities given their NGO status.
After collecting and cataloging numerous pieces of evidence, spanning multiple countries, our team decided to offer an analysis as to potential motives, which fell into 3 different categories: influence, a plausible humanitarian cover for CIPDH employees to function as ‘access agents’ in order to broker meetings absent suspicion, and money laundering.
CIPDH personnel possesses access to certain influential networks, whether it be political, tribal, or fringe elements of society. Examples include Yulia being photographed with the current President of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, along with former President of Ghana John Agyekum Kufuor; Iskander meeting with Carol Janvier who serves as a member of the French National Assembly and coincidentally chairs a committee on the French-Russian Parliamentary Friendship Group; lastly, there is the strategic reciprocal relationship between Alexander Ionov and directors of fringe political movements. And it remains unknown as to how or why Yulia had access to Ambassador William Moser and USMC service members wherein she was photographed with them resulting in the images being uploaded to a social media account affiliated with CIPDH. A faux human rights cover facilitates access to influential people, current or former.
There is a preponderance of open source signatures suggesting CIPDH may potentially be engaged in transnational crime such as money laundering and/or fraud. This is supported by the findings from U.N Security Council evidence, Ghana, Azerbaijan, Finland, and the U.S. These activities, more often than not, are the root and branch of a broader strategy capable of destabilizing, undermining, and/or corroding Western institutions.
The lack of awareness and transparency surrounding CIPDH’s network enables its tentacles to spread, undetected, throughout the international community; furthermore, as an organization CIPDH conducts itself in such a way that it parallels front groups of the past wherein it possesses an inordinate amount of back channels to former Soviet figures and Kremlin mouthpieces, aided and abetted by digital maskirovka nowadays. Based on this inference, together with preceding evidence, a cabal of Russian chauvinists are more than capable of achieving strategic goals ‘through the force of politics as opposed to the politics of force.’
Neglecting for a moment Russia’s fluid ideology, there are three common strategic components that one will encounter in the geopolitical landscape: kleptocracy, espionage, and influence. As regards kleptocracy, it’s less about a competitive advantage for oligarchs (though useful) and more akin to a tool used within the broader stratagem to destabilize the West; moreover, their security services outsource this work under plausible deniability, for example, by a human rights organization. NGOs have been a prong in Russia’s soft power and espionage approach for some time; notable examples include the alleged recruitment of students from prominent universities within and around Washington D.C., Maria Butina’s tenuous relationship with the Russian Cultural Center, or World Council of Churches to name a few.
In the end, CIPDH appears to function in a similar manner to a Government Organized NGO (GONGO), which has increased in the past couple of years; however, what’s been revealed during this investigation may indicate an evolutionary step in tactics, techniques, and procedures. Most insidious is that there exists a strategic opportunity for GONGO’s to evangelize their distorted versions of human rights so as to sow moral confusion throughout the globe; a blurring of lines between fact and fiction such that these organizations can export cynicism writ large thereby corroding the moral authority of the proverbial West. The CIA’s legendary counterintelligence officer, James Agelton, stated that if one becomes lost in the wilderness of mirrors to ask the following: Qui Bono? And this elevated our team to reach a final judgment on CIPDH; namely, it bears all the hallmarks of being a Russian front group, allegedly, of course.
Stephen Rutledge also contributed to this investigation. As a former U.S. Army HUMINT collector, Stephen supported special operations forces by conducting hundreds of hours of booth and field interrogations. He has had multiple deployments with a multinational task force supporting the global war on terror. While assigned to the Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group, he was able to attend and graduate from the Airborne course, U.S. Army Ranger school, and the J.F.K Special Warfare Center and Schools Farsi Language program. Stephen has a BA in Political Science and Anthropology from The University of North Carolina Wilmington. He is currently studying for a Masters degree in Data Analytics.