BuzzFeed News / 2001: A Space Odyssey, courtesy of Everett Collection
Rion began her question by making the explosive — and false — claim that “new information” had revealed that former president Barack Obama had used a foreign intelligence service to surveil two floors of Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. “So to what extent was [former CIA director] John Brennan behind that?” she asked.
People in the briefing room may have been scratching their heads, but a hyperactive Twitter user with a photo of one of the astronauts from 2001: A Space Odyssey as its avatar was elated. “Great job!” tweeted @GregRubini at Rion, claiming she had “asked a spicy question from my book.”
It was another coup for the pseudonymous account with more than 120,000 followers. He has injected himself into major news events, in part by claiming to have sources in the FBI, Trump Tower, and within government and intelligence circles. This week, as protests swept through the US, @GregRubini tweeted that antifa is "controlled by the CIA." New York mayor "De Blasio is ANTIFA," he also wrote, in a post that was retweeted thousands of times.
But the Rubini account’s claims of insider intel and “high placed” sources appear to be some of its author's litany of fabrications — which include his online identity.
His viral Twitter threads helped his conspiracy-filled self-published book, The Spy Operations on Trump, climb Amazon bestseller lists after its May 22 release. He was among the first to tweet the name of the alleged Ukraine whistleblower. His tweets claiming that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease official, “made” the novel coronavirus went viral and helped launch that baseless rumor into the mainstream. And thanks to national reporters like Rion who follow his path of conspiratorial thinking, he even has a line to the White House itself.
But the Rubini account’s claims of insider intel and “high placed” sources appear to be some of its author's litany of fabrications — which include his online identity. The man behind @GregRubini is Gregorio Palusa, a 61-year-old Italian sound engineer and marketer with no national security or intelligence credentials. His background includes a pattern of unverified claims about his business relationships and expertise, and a brief spell as a groupie for a Pink Floyd tribute band.
Palusa did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls.
The Rubini account first attracted national attention late last year when it tweeted the name of the alleged whistleblower more than 20 times, according to the Washington Post. Since then it’s become a mainstay of far-right conspiracy thinking.
May's White House briefing was the second time Rion brought one of Rubini's false claims to prominence. In mid-March, OAN aired an outlandish report from Rion that suggested a link between the novel coronavirus in Wuhan and a lab in North Carolina.
Rion, who has spread conspiracy theories and false information in the past, credited Rubini for the information, describing him as “a citizen investigator and monitored source amongst a certain set in the DC intelligence community.” Rion did not respond to a request for comment.
Rion’s story sparked a firestorm of criticism and caused the Daily Mail to dig into her background, exposing that she had changed her name, made misleading claims about her past, and had little journalism experience.
But her source escaped a similar level of scrutiny. Until now.
The bio of @GregRubini currently describes him as a “Strategy Advisor at /classified/.” It gives no account of who he really is, other than, presumably, that his name actually is Greg Rubini.
But that wasn't always true. In 2018, the account's Twitter biography contained a link to the site vertygoteam.com, a site that is registered to Palusa, who commonly goes by “Greg” in online profiles, including one he maintains on Blogger.
Palusa was born on Jan. 4, 1959, in Trieste, a seaport in the northeast of Italy, according to a consulting contract that Palusa signed with an Italian book publisher in 2012. Two former business partners said Palusa had spent years in the US and in London, and spoke English very well.
He was living in Trieste at the end of the 1990s and in the first decade of the 2000s, a former business associate who requested anonymity told BuzzFeed News. His mother still lives in Trieste, but in a phone call told BuzzFeed News he was no longer living with her. She said she didn’t know where her son currently was and wasn’t sure whether she could get in touch with him.
Around 2010, Palusa moved to Tuscany, listing an address in Pienza, a small town near Siena, and lived there until at least 2015, according to domain registration records. Several music and film festivals held in the Siena area between 2013 and 2018 included Palusa’s name in promotional materials.
An artist from Trieste told BuzzFeed News that he had ended a business partnership relating to several collaborative creative and design projects with Palusa more than a decade ago. The artist said he had not been in contact with Palusa for at least 10 years.
“I never wanted to deal with this person again.”
“He started to have delusions of greatness, claimed to ask millions of dollars from companies, boasted about having assignments with companies with which he had had no relationship,” said the artist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He also said Palusa became more difficult to deal with over time, eventually forcing him to hire a lawyer to end their partnership. “I never wanted to deal with this person again," he said, "because of his growing megalomania that can seriously endanger those who work honestly.”
These days, Palusa claims to be employed in marketing. His LinkedIn profile lists him as the London-based director of international relations of marketing firm Vertygo Team, although on other sites he claimed his title was director of communications.
Palusa has also used “Greg Rubini” as an alias in the past, according to a Facebook post in March 2016 from an Italian book publisher that specializes in books about spirituality, ancient astronauts, and religious history. In the post, the publisher claimed a WordPress blog authored by "Gregorio Palusa aka Greg Rubini on social media" had defamed the publisher by pushing false and “delirious” information, that Palusa had stolen thousands of euros from the company, and had wasted a year of its time after pretending to represent a nonexistent marketing company.
Uno Editori CEO Prabhat Eusebio told BuzzFeed News that Palusa, who lived in Tuscany at the time, had contacted his company in 2012, promising to bring one of its authors to the US. “He claimed to have contacts with large American publishers,” said Eusebio.
“We realized the fraud after a loss of about 6,000 euros,” Eusebio alleged. “He seemed like an expert in publishing, but it all ended up in a soap bubble.”
The Uno Editori CEO claimed that Palusa became increasingly uncompromising as it seemed more clear he was unlikely to deliver on his promises. “After repeated requests to meet, and questions about how things were going in the search for publishers and agents, his position became more and more intransigent — and he blackmailed us when we stopped paying his fee.” Eusebio said Palusa threatened to not return revised texts, and to sue and go after the publisher in public if he wasn't paid. "He also asked for an exorbitant amount — €137,000 — outside the scope of the contract as compensation for his time, arbitrarily counting hours worked without providing any evidence.”
Eusebio said the company paid some of those fees, but started legal proceedings, after which Palusa created a WordPress blog to attack the company. The publisher said he had to abandon proceedings because it had become too costly.
Palusa also appears to have worked as an audio engineer.
His Blogger profile includes the claim that he worked with Deutsche Grammophon engineer Klaus Hiemann, whom the Rubini account has tweeted about. (Deutsche Grammophon didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Italian organist Marco Lo Muscio said Palusa was a sound engineer on his 2009 album, Dark and Light. Palusa’s YouTube account showcases musical performances that he claims to have filmed and edited, many of which have to do with the rock band Pink Floyd. At an Italian festival held in Tuscany in 2013, Palusa presented a multimedia exhibition called Pink Floyd: Odyssey in Space in conjunction with a performance by tribute band Pink Noise.
Carmelo J., a member of the band, said they fell out of touch after Palusa began offering the unsolicited feedback about its work.
“Greg Palusa liked us very much as a band, he followed us for a bit,” Carmelo J. told BuzzFeed News in a Facebook message. “Then he disappeared (I don't remember why, probably some small squabble) and we have no more news of him.”
Asked if he could recall what the argument was about, Carmelo J. replied: “I just remember that at a certain point his stylistic ‘advice’ about us became ‘critical,’ expressed even in an inelegant way.”
Palusa also said he’s worked with several prominent companies, a claim which could not be independently verified.
Many of the companies that Palusa listed on his Blogger profile as having worked with told BuzzFeed News they had never heard of him. He claims to have worked with London marketing agency AKQA, Angels Costumes, Ferrari, Apple, and music label EMI.
The managing director of AKQA, who’s been there for 13 years, told BuzzFeed News that Palusa’s name did not appear in any records and he didn’t recognize him. Angels Costumes of London said the same. A spokesperson for Apple said the company has never employed Palusa and had no record of working with Vertygo Team. EMI did not respond to requests for comment.
Ferrari declined to comment, but Palusa’s claim that he had worked for the company made its way into a 2011 lawsuit filed by the Ford Motor Company against Ferrari. In the suit, filed in Michigan, Ford alleged that Ferrari had infringed on Ford’s F-150 trademark. Ford’s complaint described Palusa’s company, Vertygo Team, as “Ferrari’s outside marketing consultant” and quoted from an article he published on his website about Ferrari’s marketing strategy. The suit was dismissed less than a month later after the parties came to a settlement.
Palusa claims on his LinkedIn profile that his article about Apple’s marketing strategy was being studied by companies including Nokia, Microsoft, Sony, and Goldman Sachs. Backlink data from SEMrush showed the vast majority of links to the post came from spammy online coupon sites.
As @GregRubini, Palusa claims to have sources inside the US government with knowledge of intelligence, judicial, and White House matters. For example, in May of 2019, he said his “well placed source inside the FBI” had seen indictments for former CIA director John Brennan and former FBI director James Comey. Neither has been indicted.
He has also tweeted that people should stop asking him who these supposed insiders are: “my sources are confidential. I always honor my commitment to confidentiality, so: don't even ask who my sources are.”
He threatened to block anyone who asked about his sources.
“My sources are confidential. I always honor my commitment to confidentiality, so: don't even ask who my sources are.”
The @GregRubini account was created in 2014, but it took until January of 2019 for it to join the firmament of followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory and supporters of President Donald Trump.
That month, Palusa claimed the Twitter accounts of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former CIA director John Brennan, and former national security adviser Susan Rice had been taken over by military intelligence as part of a supposedly secret prosecution. Core to the QAnon conspiracy is the unfounded idea that these so-called deep state operatives have been or will be arrested and tried for treason and other offenses in secret.
That same month, Palusa claimed Obama’s Twitter account had also been taken over, and that a recent photo shared in a tweet was a signal “to tell us - Patriots - that OUR GUYS have Hussein in custody in Gitmo.” He also said former FBI agents Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe, and former Department of Justice lawyer Sally Yates were “under prosecution at the Military Tribunals secret trials.”
“My sources told me that at least 80 (possibly up to 140) congressmen will be prosecuted and brought to jail,” Palusa said.
The cover of Rubini's self-published book.
None of these things happened, of course. But Palusa kept adding new followers. On May 22, he published a book in which he alleges a broad deep state conspiracy against Trump. In its appendix, he includes a screenshot showing that in February of this year his tweets generated 53.8 million views.
His book is filled with references to supposedly high-placed sources, including the false claim that Rion cited in the White House.
In the book, Palusa also offers a document he claims is a memo from the head of the British communications intelligence agency to then–foreign minister Boris Johnson outlining the Trump surveillance operation. Palusa’s attempts to verify the memo and its implications occupy close to half of the book. He writes that the most likely conclusion is the “document is 100% authentic.”
In fact, according to responses from the UK government as well as outlets who examined it, it is a sloppy forgery that doesn’t hold up to the slightest scrutiny.
Palusa also cites a March 2017 claim from Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano that the UK spied on the Trump campaign at Obama’s request, an allegation that has been widely discredited. When that surfaced, the usually tight-lipped GCHQ called it “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous.” A spokesperson for then–British prime minister Theresa May said the claim was "ridiculous and should have been ignored." The US government agreed to not repeat it. Even Donald Trump — the person who benefits most if the claim is true — has declined to repeat it.
But none of that is mentioned in the book. Instead, Palusa writes that three “high placed confidential sources have confirmed to the author of this book, Greg Rubini, that the GCHQ Top Secret document is authentic.” ●
Jun. 05, 2020, at 15:17 PM
Correction: Theresa May's name was misspelled in a previous version of this post.