Zero Hedge, Russia, and the Business of Conspiracies

Note: On December 23, 2019, I was notified that a criminal complaint (see English summary here) had been filed against me with the Bulgarian prosecutor general’s office by the subject of this piece, Krassimir Ivandjiiski. I was given a deadline of December 31 to take down this piece. I refuse to do so.

For my lastest story in The New Republic magazine, I tried to figure out where conspiracy theories come from. The answer took me on a strange reporting journey that led to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It’s a long read, but a good one, and you can read it here.

The story mentions Zero Hedge, a popular financial blog. There wasn’t room in the TNR piece to get into it, but Zero Hedge and What Does It Mean have a lot in common. They have both found that Russia and conspiracies are good for business.

Zero Hedge, with its mix of gloom-and-doom financial analysis, current events, conspiracies, and pro-Russia commentary, is one of the most popular sites on the Internet. It ranks in the top 2,000 of all Internet sites worldwide, meaning that it pulls in more than a million views every day.

Zero Hedge says its mission is “to widen the scope of financial, economic and political information available to the professional investing public” and it does that by refusing to follow what it calls the “pro-US script.”

Instead it follows the pro-Russia script.

It runs stories that hew the Kremlin line, such as how the poisoning of a double agent in England was staged by British intelligence operation or how the Steele Dossier was created by Internet trolls. Throw in commentary from a self-described “Kremlin troll” and writings from Russia Insider (which the Trump State Department describes as “an English-language publication linked to pro-[Russian] government oligarchs”) and you see how many think Zero Hedge is some kind of Russian disinformation operation.

Despite its pro-Russia leanings, or perhaps because of them, Zero Hedge a critical part of the right-wing conspiracy ecosystem. This became clear when Facebook temporarily blocked Zero Hedge in March, prompting howls of outrage from people in President Trump’s circle like his son, Don Jr., Nigel Farage, and Katie Hopkins. (The ban was lifted, and Facebook told Breibart that it was the result of a “mistake with our automation to detect spam.”)

A few days later, Australian Internet providers blocked customer access to Zero Hedge after a gunman killed 51 people in a New Zealand mosque.

The Australian ISP ban had less to do with the site and more to do more with the people who read it.

Zero Hedge readers were sharing links to the shooter’s live-streamed video of the massacre, which many of them thought was a hoax.

Yes, these are people who are so narcissistic that they think the mass slaying of 51 unarmed people in a mosque is all about them.

Who is behind Zero Hedge?

All posts on Zero Hedge are written under the pseudonym of Tyler Durden, the character played by Brad Pitt in the film Fight Club. “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority,” reads the Zero Hedge “manifesto.”

Of course, anonymity is also a shield for someone who has something to hide.

In a 2016, a former Zero Hedge employee named Colin Lokey, who wrote much of the site’s political content, told Bloomberg that he felt pressure to frame issues on the site in a way that felt disingenuous.

“I tried to inject as much truth as I could into my posts, but there’s no room for it,” Lokey explained. “Russia=good. Obama=idiot. Bashar al-Assad=benevolent leader. John Kerry= dunce. Vladimir Putin=greatest leader in the history of statecraft.”

Lokey identified the other Durdens at Zero Hedge as Dan Ivandjiiski, a Bulgarian-born financial analyst banned from the industry in 2008 for insider trading, and Tim Blackshall, a credit derivatives strategist in San Francisco. In a telephone interview, Ivandjiiski told Bloomberg that he and Blackshall had been “on the payroll.”

Neither Ivandjiiski nor Blackshall own Zero Hedge directly. The site is owned by ABC Media Ltd. In one lawsuit, ABC Media was identified as a Bulgarian company.

Cornerstone Macro v Ivandjiiski

Indeed, ABC Media Ltd. is listed on Bulgaria’s corporate registry.

Founded in 2011, ABC Media (АБЦ Медия) is a single member LLC. The sole proprietor is Daniel’s father Krassimir Ivandjiiski (Красимир Иванджийски).

If you can read Bulgarian, here’s the company’s corporate filing.

In addition, Zero Hedge’s domain name is registered under Krassimir’s name at an address in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Who is Krassimir Ivandjiiski?

Krassimir Ivandjiiski

Krassimir Ivandjiiski has an interesting background.

Born in Bulgaria in 1947, he was educated at the First English Language School in Sofia and the Warsaw School of Economics.

As a young man, Ivandjiiski worked in the Bulgarian the Ministry of Foreign Trade, before leaving to join the military and begin a career as a journalist. He became a “special envoy before 1990 to the most important political and military conflicts.” He spent more than 12 years abroad as a foreign in Prague, Warsaw and Vienna, then in Africa — Harare and Addis Ababa.

Craig Pirrong, who blogs at Street Wise Professor, wrote that this is the perfect resume for a spy:

That is an intel operative’s CV with probability 1. Probability 1. Every one of those jobs was a classic cover. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever—none—that Mr. Ivandjiiski senior was a member of the Bulgarian Committee for State Security (Държавна сигурност or DS for short)—the Bulgarian equivalent of the KGB. And remember that Bulgarian DS was the USSR KGB’s most reliable allied service during the Cold War. It carried out wet work in western countries, notably the “umbrella murder” of Georgi Markov in London. It was linked to the plot to assassinate the Pope; although in the topsy-turvy world of intelligence, it is also alleged that the CIA fabricated the case against the DS. Regardless of the truth about the links to the attempt on John Paul II, it was a very, very, very nasty operation. (The African stops in Ivandjiiski’s resume makes it highly likely that his path intersected that of another charmer, Igor Sechin, who was a “translator” in Africa.)

On his website, Krassimir Ivandjiiski assures us that he had nothing to do with the KGB and he will sue anyone who says otherwise. Zero Hedge has attacked Pirrong as “the world’s favorite finance ‘expert’ for Wall Street hire.”

In 1994, after the Soviet Union collapsed, he began publishing a Bulgarian tabloid, Strogo Sekretno (Top Secret), which describes itself as the country’s only independent newspaper. Strogo Sekretno is published by a separate company, Primex-7 Ltd., also owned by Ivandjiiski, senior.

I found out about Strogo Sekretno because it often runs the fake conspiracy stories created by What Does It Mean. Krassimir Ivandjiiski also published Bulgaria Confidential which has run stories that have nothing to do with Bulgaria such as drug trafficking in Montana.

The site is also filled with pro-Putin, anti-Semitic garbage:

  • “The US dollar is built on the so-called ‘Jewish Mafia’. This is not some racial prejudice, but a proven truth.” Source
  • Millions of people in Russia and around the world were stunned to see Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Victory Parade in Moscow on 9 May. This hideous spectacle let the genie out of the bottle: “What is it? What’s going on with the Zionist Netanyahu and at whose expense?” Source
  • “Chabad is a “racist, criminal Jewish supremacist doomsday cult.” Source
  • “It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that Talmudic behavior is the real cause of Anti-Semitism.” Source

Zero Hedge, for the most part, steers clear of such outright anti-Semitism, but is nevertheless very popular with the sort of people who like the hatred Krassimir Ivandjiiski likes to spew.

Just look at the Zero Hedge comments section: a lot of racists and crackpots are reading. Don’t believe me? Do a search for the n-word or “joo” in the Zero Hedge comments section.

What Is This All About?

In a word, money.

“They care what generates page views. Clicks. Money,” Colin Lokey, the former Zero Hedge employee, told Bloomberg.

Zero Hedge says they have nothing to do with the Russian government or any government. “We have also never accepted a dollar of outside funding from either public or private organization – we have prided ourselves in our financial independence because we have been profitable since inception,” the site wrote.

As my story on What Does It Mean shows, this may very well be true. It would be nice if Vladimir Putin were secretly running things, but the sad truth is sites like Zero Hedge don’t need to take marching orders from Russia; they gravitate to it on their own because it keeps the audience happy.

And keeping the audience happy is what really matters. An audience comprised of racists, anti-Semites, extreme right-wingers, and conspiracy wingnuts is a valuable one. They are all credulous fools, and, as all dime-store preachers know, the credulous are easily monetized.

Krassimir Ivandjiiski, who did not respond to emails sent to ABC Media and Strogo Sekretrno, wrote on his site that the only reason his name is connected to Zero Hedge is because “they even did not have $30 for the initial registration.”

That may have been true at one time, but the web domain registration fee is spare change for Zero Hedge today. Dan Ivandjiiksi, who didn’t respond to questions, lives in a multi-million dollar mansion.

It’s possible that Zero Hedge is registered in Bulgaria because it’s somehow connected to a Kremlin disinformation operation. It’s also possible that Zero Hedge is registered in Bulgaria for financial (tax?) reasons.

The bottom here is the bottom line. Conspiracies are big business.

8 comments

  1. Pingback: Twitter Search / seth_hettena: It's totally cool that Zero Hedge, the popular finance/conspiracy site loved by short sellers, is a Bulgarian operation pushing Russian disinformation. https://trump-russia.com/2019/12/09/zero-hedge-russia-and-the-busin
  2. Pingback: Адв. Николай Хаджигенов: Прокуратурата се използва срещу американски журналист за репресия | Новините от Казанлък - PressTV
    • Seth Hettena

      Thank you for pointing that out. I can’t find a copy but I think the story was about the US state of Montana. According to New York magazine, Krassimir Ivandjiiski’s story prompted the then-governor of Montana, Marc Racicot, to charge that “a number of libelous statements and defamatory untruths are included in the article, including statements that I have a history of drug abuse and that I am a recovering alcoholic.”

      Here is a letter regarding Ivandjiiski’s article published on this site: https://www.constitution.org/mil/mt/racic3.htm

      Dear Governor Racicot:

      I am in receipt of your letter of April 25, 1996 to Free Speech Newspaper demanding a retraction of the reprinted article we published from the February, 1996″ Top Secret – Bulgaria Confidential” by Krassimir Ivandjiiski. I am surprised that you have contacted Free Speech Newspaper. From what I understand the article has also been published by a wire service in England, a publication in Vancouver B.C., in Australia, and has been extensively republished on the internet.

      The thrust of the article is that there is unchecked political corruption in Montana involving drugs and law enforcement personnel. The conclusion reached by journalist Krassimir Ivandjiiski is that you have had personal knowledge and/or culpability in the covering up of investigations while you were Attorney General and during the course of your term as Governor, and that you have either ignored the reports or actively participated in the suppression of the witnesses.

      Prior to publishing the article one of our staff researchers contacted sources in Montana which corroborated key premises of the Ivandjiiski article as to drug trafficking around the Havre area and the Sidney-Fairview-Lambert area. Our researcher, who has investigated extensively the Bonano crime family operations in Arizona, also contacted investigator Michael Roe after he obtained a copy of the second report which was transferred to the FBI in Montana. Investigator Roe was adamant that his contact in the Montana Attorney General’s office told him that you had given specific instructions that the files be ignored. Numerous other individuals in Montana also very freely gave Free speech Newspaper similar accounts.

  3. Pingback: Zero Hedge, Bulgaria, and Me | Trump/Russia
  4. Mike Colmcille

    So much to say here. First of all, I’m not a Russian. I’m not paid by the Russians. I’m not representing ZeroHedge either, I’m just a fan of their site.

    Also, yes I know that you are using “conspiracy theories” in a “gaslighting” fashion, accusing anyone who doesn’t believe your lies of believing incorrect information. It is obvious. (I. E. You use it to mean “whatever the mainstream media says are conspiracy theories”, and since they are on board with this conspiracy theory, it doesn’t count).

    Now that that’s out of the way… how is it that you call ZeroHedge, who’s analysis of the Trump Russia hoax is spot on, and who’s primary purpose is to analyse the world to advise economic decisions, a “conspiracy” site… as if that’s a terrible thing… when this WHOLE SITE exists for the purpose of pushing a debunked conspiracy theory?! (You know, the debunked conspiracy theory that started with a completely disproven “dirty dossier” about Trump, and ended with a CIA agent (who was plotting to take out Trump since his first day) making up even more lies about him!) The Russia nonsense is a debunked conspiracy theory! What proof do you have that Trump conspired with Russia / is beholden to Russia?

    In your article you mentioned that you want to know where conspiracy theories come from… what exactly does that mean, “where do they come from”? It’s very simple: they “come from” people who suspect some powerful person or group of committing a crime! But I have a feeling you knew that already and we’re just making that statement to gaslight anyone who doesn’t share your opinion by insinuating that they must hold false beliefs. (“the mainstream media disagrees with you, therefore you are a conspiracy theorist, therefore you are parroting a Russian narrative”. That’s putting a LOT of faith into the folks who brought you the lies about babies being pulled out of incubators in Kuwait, the lie about WMDs that lead to war in Iraq, the tale of Brian’s RPG encounter in a chopper, the lie about the Douma gas attack, the constant lies about “bombshells” regarding Trump which end up being nothing, the lie that Trump said “neo nazis are fine people”, the lie about how footage from a rifle range was footage of a massacre that was Trumps fault, the lies about videos that are not doctored being doctored, the lies about Catholic school kids who were being racially abused being mean to a Native veteran, the uncritical lies about Jussie Smollett’s “attackers”, and I could go on all day)

    Back to what I was getting at, if you say, as you imply in your article, that you “don’t believe in conspiracy theories”, then you don’t believe that powerful people or groups ever commit wrongdoing and then attempt to cover it up.

    But that doesn’t make sense, your “side” believes in a lot of conspiracy theories:

    -the President of the United States is secretly a “Russian asset” (he’s not, he has been investigated for 3 1/2 years, we would have found evidence by now),

    -that the Russians are the reason that Hillary lost (it was because a lot of people didn’t like her!),

    -that the Russians are behind the “populist” pro-nationalist / anti-globalist movement (wanting our country to be able to make its own decisions and trade deals et c instead of losing our sovereignty, does not make us Russians!),

    -that the extensive, thorough Mueller report only didn’t say he didn’t conspire because “they covered it up” (and don’t even say he obstructed, without a crime there’s nothing to obstruct!),

    -that the impeachment failed because Trump blocked witnesses (which he did AFTER Shifty said that Ciaramella would not be allowed to be called as a witness – in what court can you NOT face your accuser? Trump had every right to block testimony from the guy that lied to us to get us into Iraq!)

    -that Russia’s meddling efforts actually had an impact on the election (they didnt- but Google’s meddling does!),

    -that anyone refusing to believe the nonsensical, illogical conspiracy theories from the far left about Trump, must be a “Russian bot”, or if in real life, a “Russian agent” (in reality a lot of people just aren’t dumb enough to buy it!)

    -that there’s Russians hiding behind your bathtub curtains when you get up to pee at night (it’s probably best to pretend you don’t notice them, they’ll be gone by morning)

    Your far fetched conspiracy theories about Russia don’t stop with Trump though. You actually believe that a sprawling, struggling nation with a GDP smaller than Italy’s, is such an existential threat to our “democracy”? Let me guess, it’s because they spend a ton on their military and they possess nuclear weapons? That’s one of those “glass houses” kind of things. Because they’ve been known to meddle in elections? (kind of like the USA and Israel?) Maybe its because they put their country so close to our military bases, or dare to make alliances with Middle Eastern dictators (like we do), and you consider that “aggression”. Or maybe it’s because they are our “traditional enemy”… well, how do you think they felt about us “traditionally”?!

    THE COLD WAR IS OVER. They were our traditional enemy back when they were the communist USSR. But guess who else is Communist to this day? And who’s got money, and weapons of mass destruction. And who IS a threat… forget Putin! I’m talking about that authoritarian Winnie the Pooh looking MF’er and his dystopian ant-hill of a country. Strange that you don’t hear much about the guys that actually COULD hit us hard, from the moonbat Russophobic crowd (this site, the MSM)

    Also, if you think election meddling is a big deal (like I do), why don’t you focus on the real culprit – GOOGLE. They can flip elections all over the world, not just here. Just by altering their search results to give more positive search results to certain candidates (compare a Google search with a search of the same terms on DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t jack around with its algorithm to meddle in elections)

    I hope you realise how dumb you (and the rest of the dinosaur media) sound when you talk about “conspiracy theories” as if they’re ALL bunk, when 1- several “conspiracy theories” have been proven 100% true in the past, and 2- your contention that Russia is behind everything from stealing our election to creating the “populist” movement to creating bots that pretend to be everyone online you don’t agree with, is the very definition of a conspiracy theory.

    Lots of conspiracy theories are obviously bunk, due to being disproven: The one that the earth is flat, the one that we never went to the Moon, the one that Russia stole the election.

    Some, we aren’t able to be sure, because the term even covers allegations as old and insignificant as the one that the NHL forced Gretzky’s trade. But some “big ones” also seem like they could be true: the one that the 9/11 attackers were aided by “rogue elements” in the government (after all, we are currently engaged in all kinds of activity alongside Al-nusra, which answers to Al-qaeda… The USA is using them as a proxy army against Russia’s proxy army the Syrian army!).

    And some have been proven without a doubt: the ideas that Bolton and Bush lied to us to go to war, that the US Government infected blacks with syphilis and watched them die as an experiment, that the Government experimented with mind control on unwitting subjects, that we are being watched / spied on by the government via phones and internet, that Trump’s campaign was spied on by Obama’s illegal abuse of FISA provisions… all of those were considered “conspiracy theories” until they were proven true. (do you remember how the NYT claimed again and again that Trump was lying that Obama spied on him, even though they admitted it on his inauguration day… and then had egg on their face when it was proven true? I do!)

    Oh, and you wanna talk about the company ZeroHedge keeps… when the Left / mainstream media are the ones who push divisive Intersectionalism and hate Whites and Jews. Bernie bros running his campaign just threatened to throw us all in Gulags and violently overthrow the Govt, to execute business owners, to set cities on fire. YOUR SIDE pushed the completely made up Russia Trump hoax, that has divided America like never before! So yes, ZeroHedge does have its share of racist and violent idiots posting in the comments… but the bulk of the people who hold your viewpoints are commie friendly, anti American, pro-regime change, anti free speech Russiaphobes. And I’d bet your side also has the same type of contingent (of violent crazies as ZeroHedge’s dregs), except instead of “right wing racist conspiracists” you’ve got a bunch of left wing, hate crime faking, bike lock wielding, gender bending, revolution plotting, gulag loving Antifa meth heads. I’ll take the bigoted trolls over those guys any day.

    TL/DR (Too Lazy / Dumb [or] Retarded) [to read the whole thing]:

    -Russia is not behind everything. They aren’t powerful enough to have the influence you’re alleging, or sneaky enough to have gotten away with it if they did. Trump got elected because Hillary was an even worse choice.

    -Conspiracy theories are simply allegations of wrongdoing. Sometimes they are untrue and sometimes they have merit. Questioning those in power is a vital part of a healthy political system. Thus, trying to stop or shut down sites for posting “conspiracy theories” is a very authoritarian tactic.

    -The whole premise of this site is that Trump and Russia conspired and covered it up. Thus, this site trafficks in conspiracy theories (almost exclusively, too!).

    -Gaslighting those who don’t believe your conspiracy theory about Trump and Russia by calling them “far right”, “conspiracists”, or outright calling them insane doesn’t work as well as you think it does! I just think you’re either too stupid to see the contradictions in what you’re saying OR that you’re a paid propagandist who

  5. Mike Colmcille

    I actually missed this last part of your article until just now:

    “It’s possible that Zero Hedge is registered in Bulgaria because it’s somehow connected to a Kremlin disinformation operation. It’s also possible that Zero Hedge is registered in Bulgaria for financial (tax?) reasons.

    The bottom here is the bottom line. Conspiracies are big business.”

    In the short span of three lines of text, you put forth a conspiracy theory that ZeroHedge is a Kremlin disinfo operation, having zero evidence to back that allegation up…

    …and then in the very next sentence, you pointed the finger at ZeroHedge for “spreading conspiracy theories to make money”. On your site that you use to sell books detailing your conspiracy theories about Trump and Russia.

    Truly unbelievable!

    Doesn’t that cause ANY cognitive dissonance in your mind, at all?

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