Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to "leak" into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
I've gotten a little too deep into arguments with conspiracy theorists in Salon comments, who argue that Glenn Greenwald has the goods on this dossier story, because it was released (per Greenwald) by the CIA to CNN, who then (somehow) got Buzzfeed to publish it, all on behalf of the "Deep State."
Which is all pretty much Alex Jones territory, but where Mr. Jones is a crank, Mr. Greenwald is a font of wisdom and truth, and where the U.S. intelligence agencies couldn't be trusted to tell you it was raining outside, Mr. Greenwald's "evidence" is irrefutable and taken as fact as a matter of faith.
Yeah, it's pretty stupid.
Anyway, the version of the story being told, starting with CNN getting the document from the CIA and somehow convincing Buzzfeed to do the dirty deed, is so full of ignorance of the facts it isn't even funny. Samantha Bee got closer to them than any one story has so far.
But let us all say: Thank the Lords and the low creatures for the Beeb.
First, the idea these documents were released by the CIA moments before CNN convinced Buzzfeed to publish them:
BBC News correspondent Paul Wood said he understood Mr Steele left his home on either Tuesday or Wednesday, before he was publicly named, and was now "in hiding".
He said he had been told Mr Steele, a father of four, had asked his neighbour to look after his three cats.
Our correspondent said he had been shown the memos about Mr Trump in October last year, when he was told Mr Steele was "in fear of his life", having spoken out about potential Russian involvement in Mr Trump's election.
He said he had been told by members of the intelligence community that Mr Steele was "extremely highly regarded" and was thought of as "competent".
The central allegation made in the memos was that Mr Trump was "vulnerable to blackmail", he added.
Which is really the question: how vulnerable is Trump to blackmail? One can't imagine this story having any credibility if it involved Obama, or even George W. Bush (well, maybe in his drinking days, but not afterwards). But Trump? All to easy to imagine it's true, even if it is all fictional. None of which even gets to the question of Trump's financial connections to Russia. He says he has none; he refuses to release any documents proving that statement. So why should we believe him, especially with the Presidency literally at stake?
Of course, these reports may be false, despite the background information on Mr. Steele:
As a member of MI6, he had been posted to the UK's embassy in Moscow and now runs a consultancy giving advice on doing business in Russia. He spoke to a number of his old contacts in the FSB, the successor to the KGB, paying some of them for information.Well, the sex ones were lurid; the financial ones were so dull they're already disappearing down the memory hole.
They told him that Mr Trump had been filmed with a group of prostitutes in the presidential suite of Moscow's Ritz-Carlton hotel.
I know this because the Washington political research company that commissioned his report showed it to me during the final week of the election campaign.
The BBC decided not to use it then, for the very good reason that without seeing the tape - if it exists - we could not know if the claims were true. The detail of the allegations were certainly lurid.
And once more, with feeling:
The 35-page dossier on Mr Trump - which is believed to have been commissioned initially by Republicans opposed to Mr Trump - has been circulating in Washington for some time.The first sentence is the best part, but we can do a bit better than that:
Media organisations, uncertain of its credibility, initially held back from publication. However, the entire series of reports has now been posted online, with Mr Steele named as the author.
Intelligence agencies considered the claims relevant enough to brief both Mr Trump and President Obama last week.
The opposition research firm that commissioned the report had worked first for an anti-Trump superpac - political action committee - during the Republican primaries.But then we really go down the rabbit hole:
Then during the general election, it was funded by an anonymous Democratic Party supporter. But these are not political hacks - their usual line of work is country analysis and commercial risk assessment, similar to the former MI6 agent's consultancy. He, apparently, gave his dossier to the FBI against the firm's advice.
And the former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by "the head of an East European intelligence agency".So, to be clear, there is this set of documents Buzzfeed published; and then there is other information. Apparently, a lot of it. The sex allegations may be, as one CIA informant told the BBC, "Hokey as hell." But then we have to follow the money:
Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file - they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was "more than one tape", "audio and video", on "more than one date", in "more than one place" - in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg - and that the material was "of a sexual nature".
But it is not just sex, it is money too. The former MI6 agent's report detailed alleged attempts by the Kremlin to offer Mr Trump lucrative "sweetheart deals" in Russia that would buy his loyalty.
Mr Trump turned these down, and indeed has done little real business in Russia. But a joint intelligence and law enforcement taskforce has been looking at allegations that the Kremlin paid money to his campaign through his associates.
On 15 October, the US secret intelligence court issued a warrant to investigate two Russian banks. This news was given to me by several sources and corroborated by someone I will identify only as a senior member of the US intelligence community. He would never volunteer anything - giving up classified information would be illegal - but he would confirm or deny what I had heard from other sources.
Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was - allegedly - a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.
It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States. The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created.
The taskforce included six agencies or departments of government. Dealing with the domestic, US, side of the inquiry, were the FBI, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Justice. For the foreign and intelligence aspects of the investigation, there were another three agencies: the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency, responsible for electronic spying.
Lawyers from the National Security Division in the Department of Justice then drew up an application. They took it to the secret US court that deals with intelligence, the Fisa court, named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wanted permission to intercept the electronic records from two Russian banks.
Their first application, in June, was rejected outright by the judge. They returned with a more narrowly drawn order in July and were rejected again. Finally, before a new judge, the order was granted, on 15 October, three weeks before election day.
James Clapper called me yesterday to denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated. Made up, phony facts.Too bad!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2017
Which isn't even a correct statement of what Clapper said. Then again, what Trump said in that tweet above isn't correct either. This document wasn't "leaked" because it was never classified; and it was never classified because it was never a government document. It was oppo research commissioned during the primaries. Which brings us to the interesting observation at the end of the BBC article:
In a New York Times op-ed in August, the former director of the CIA, Michael Morell, wrote: "In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr Putin had recruited Mr Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation."Damn that Buzzfeed and their lack of journalistic ethics!
Agent; puppet - both terms imply some measure of influence or control by Moscow.
Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the NSA, simply called Mr Trump a "polezni durak" - a useful fool.
The background to those statements was information held - at the time - within the intelligence community. Now all Americans have heard the claims. Little more than a week before his inauguration, they will have to decide if their president-elect really was being blackmailed by Moscow.
Adding: since I wrote this (but before I published it) the discussion is already shifting to how this "secret" document was "leaked." But of course, it was never a secret, not even an open one. It was "secret" because it hadn't been published. It wasn't "secret" because it was classified under U.S. or other applicable laws.
This is the root of conspiracy theories, especially theories about how "the media" hide information from "us." If I don't know about it, it must be because it's being kept from me. Well, in this case, it was; but in the name of journalistic ethics, not in the name of perfidy.
That Trump wants to use this to rail against the U.S. intelligence agencies again, and to turn to the verifications of Vladimir Putin, is what is really troubling here.
Paranoia strikes deep.