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Carter Page’s Dissertation

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No, I’m absolutely not, as a friend recently called it, pulling aGorkaon Page. The abysmal quality of Gorka’s dissertation was directly relevant to his claims of expertise and his position at the White House. Besides, he used it as a cudgel against his detractors. Page may have called himself a scholar in his testimony, but I don’t see any value in raking a likely mediocre dissertation over the coals just to prove what we already know: Page is not very bright.

But, as I tweeted about earlier this morning, there is a possible twist with respect to Page’s time at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS). While Page’s advisor is not listed in the online record of his dissertation, multiple people tell me that it was Shirin Akiner. It is certainly the case that Page published a chapter in a 2004 volume edited by Akiner, which looks like it predated his time as a graduate student as SOAS.

If true, this is mildly interesting, as Akiner is a figure of some controversy. In 2005 she published a “book“—really more of a report—under the auspices of Fred Starr‘s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program. Starr’s detractors used to refer to him as “Starrmanbashi” (a reference to the late President of Turkmenistan), and his institute has something of a reputation for defending Central Asian dictators.

Akiner’s report, entitled “Violence in Andijan, 13 May 2005: An Independent Assessment” is in that mold. For a quick read on the conventional wisdom concerning the “Andijan massacre,” which occurred during the tenure of Uzbekistan’s late President, Islam Karimov, see Sarah Kendzior’s 2015 opinion-editorial in the New York Times. Following Andijan, the American government pressured Uzbekistan to allow an international investigation into the matter. Karimov responded by expelling US forces from the K-2 base. Alex Cooley and I wrote about this incident in an article on the broader political dynamics of the US overseas basing network.

In the foreword of Akiner’s report, Starr writes:

the United States and Europe have systematically discredited the Uzbek government’s version of what happened and relied instead on the testimony of human rights activists and partisan journalists, many of them with long histories of opposition to the government of Uzbekistan. Conversely, Russia, China and most of Uzbekistan’s regional neighbors have discounted the activists’ accounts as biased, and relied instead on the government’s testimony, even though the government’s record of opposition to independent and Islamist forces on its territory is equally long.

Akiner finds in favor of the account provided by the government of Uzbekistan. Based on a visit to Andijan around two weeks after the events, she tentatively concludes that “The action was initiated by armed, trained insurgents, some of whom came from outside Uzbekistan.” She reports that

I did not find indications that the action was driven by religious or socioeconomic demands. It seems likely that the motive was political, intended as the opening phase of a coup d’état, on the lines of the Kyrgyz model. The choice of 13 May was, I believe, significant: it was a Friday, the main day of public prayer, and the insurgents appear to have believed that they could rally popular support by linking their action to a religious cause, underlined by the freeing of imprisoned members of the banned Islamist Akromiya movement. This did not in fact happen. I suspect that this incident was not an isolated occurrence, but part of a power struggle that will continue for some time to come.

Human rights organizations, and her other critics, are skeptical that Akiner could have collected accurate information. Her visit took place during a concerted campaign by the government to suppress independent accounts of what happened.

None of this amounts to very much with respect to Page. There’s no conspiracy at work here.

What’s probably most interesting about this possibility is how it fits in with the dominant image of Page: as someone whose primary interest was to get a share of sweet, sweet Former Soviet oil and gas money, which is how he got on the recruitment radar of Russian intelligence.

In a transcript of the conversation included in the court documents, Mr. Podobnyy tells his Russian colleague that Mr. Page frequently flies to Moscow and is interested in earning large sums of money. Mr. Page was apparently interested in striking a deal with Gazprom, the Russian state-run oil firm, according to the transcript. Mr. Podobnyy called Mr. Page an “idiot” but said he was enthusiastic.

Russian intelligence officers had been given the task of gathering information on potential United States sanctions against their country, according to the F.B.I., and the three men were focused on economic issues in particular. The third Russian spy, Evgeny Buryakov, posed as an employee of a Russian bank. Mr. Sporyshev worked as a trade representative of the Russian Federation in New York.

Mr. Podobnyy promised through his contacts with Russian trade officials to steer contracts to Mr. Page.

“I will feed him empty promises,” he was overheard saying, according to the transcript.

Casey Michael’s sardonic remarks on Twitter probably sum it up best:

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