A Russian venture capitalist and tech expert whose name and company are mentioned in the now-notorious document alleging connections between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian hackers says no intelligence officers have ever contacted him about the accusations, which he says are false.
A report compiled by a former Western intelligence official as opposition research against Trump was made public Tuesday when BuzzFeed posted its 35 pages. The document included unsubstantiated claims of collusion between the Trump campaign team and the Kremlin.
It also alleged that global tech firm XBT Holding, with operations in Dallas, was instrumental in the hack of leaked Democratic Party emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton and fellow Democrats.
XBT, owner of Dallas-based enterprise-hosting company Webzilla, is run by a successful Russian tech startup expert, Aleksej Gubarev. In a phone interview from Cyprus, where he said he’d lived since 2002, Gubarev said he was surprised to see his name in the report.
“I don’t know why I was there,” Gubarev said, adding that perhaps a competitor sought to discredit him. “I still don’t understand the true reason for this report.”
The salacious innuendoes in the periodic reports about Trump’s personal life dominated social media headlines. The mention of Webzilla and Gubarev was among the more specific allegations: that XBT and affiliates “had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.”
Gubarev said he operated 75,000 servers across the globe and got real-time information if there had been hacking or illicit activity tied to his businesses. There is no evidence of that, he said, adding that no one has contacted him.
“I have a physical office in Dallas. Nobody contacted me,” said Gubarev, adding that 40 percent of his business is handled over the servers it runs in Dallas and the United States accounts for about 27 percent of his global business.
President-elect Trump confirmed Wednesday at a news conference that he had seen the 35-page report, and he blasted it as “fake news” and an “absolute disgrace.’’
McClatchy has reported that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gave the bulk of the report to FBI Director James Comey on Dec. 9. The final pages of the report are dated Dec. 11. McClatchy had the report earlier but couldn’t verify any of its allegations.
A federal law enforcement source told McClatchy that the document was being examined as part of a broader FBI inquiry into Russia’s influence on the U.S. election but wouldn’t characterize its credibility. A source familiar with the former Western intelligence expert who compiled the dossier told McClatchy that the ex-spy has extensive experience in tracking activities in the Kremlin.
The report alleges that Gubarev and another hacking expert were recruited under duress by the FSB, the Russian intelligence-agency successor to the KGB. Gubarev said he had not been threatened or blackmailed, nor had his mother, who lives in Russia.
Gubarev’s Facebook page shows his wife, Anna Gubareva, and him on the bow rail of a fast-moving luxury yacht. His profile picture shows him behind the wheel of a vintage convertible Citroen. He is the public face of a number of tech companies around the globe.
XBT offers an array of tech services, from dedicated hosting of servers and cloud-based storage to developing apps for mobile phones and offering virtual private servers. His company advertises specialized services to software developers, advertisers, gaming companies and electronic-commerce enterprises. It also operates data centers in Russia, Asia, Europe and Dallas.
XBT has been on a buying spree in recent years, accumulating companies in the web-hosting and related fields, including DDoS.com, 1-800-HOSTING, SecureVPN.com, ColocateUSA, Server.lu in Luxembourg, Singapore’s 8 to Infinity, and a site used heavily to host pornography, fozzy.com. It acquired Webzilla about a decade ago, which is a medium-sized web-hosting company.
Although Webzilla operates from Texas, it has a “pretty deep Russian client base,” analyst Carl Brooks of 451 Research, a Boston-based consultancy, said in a December interview. “They don’t have a bad reputation, by any means.”
He said the same went for XBT Holding: “To the best of my knowledge, XBT is not particularly nefarious.” He estimated annual revenues for XBT between $50 million and $200 million.
Gubarev suspected he might have been named in the report because of comments to Bloomberg’s Russia business columnist Leonid Bershidsky. Bershidsky wrote on Nov. 1 that Gubarev questioned allegations that the Trump organization maintained a server found to have communicated with two servers at Russia’s Alfa Bank, which is also named in the 35 pages of unproven allegations.
“Bloomberg asked me my expert opinion,” he said, noting it was the only time he’d ever commented about a U.S. election or U.S. politics.
In that column, Gubarev expressed doubt about the conclusions of outside experts who said they had studied the server connections between Alfa Bank and the Trump organization. These experts, Gubarev said, would not have had access to the complete logs of a server they didn’t control.
The Russian-born Cyprus resident may not be a household name in the United States, but he is tied to millions of iPhones belonging to ordinary Americans. Gubarev was a major investor in the app now called Prism. It was one of the most downloaded of 2016 and uses artificial intelligence to turn ordinary cellphone photos into a wide range of painting styles.
If law enforcement wants to talk with him, Gubarev said, his door is open.
“I’m ready for any investigation. I’m ready to cooperate with everybody, he said.