Streetwise Professor

January 13, 2017

Dossiergate: The Rogue Intelligence Operation Here Is Not Russian

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:36 pm

It pains me to do it, but I feel compelled to comment on the Trump dossier. I will not call it the “intelligence dossier” because it is the antithesis of that. It is a retard dossier, but the retarded has become a political reality. And because the story of its release has very troubling implications.

I will just try to focus on a few high level points.

First, the document’s credibility is undermined by its narrative voice, which is best described as third person omniscient. This is is often reserved for bad fiction written by amateurish writers, which is the case here. There is no way that any private intelligence operative, ex-MI6 or not, would have so many sources who knew so many important people who were present when said important people had conversations about extremely sensitive–and indeed explosive–topics.

Second, even overlooking that, the chain of transmission of each story is rather long. A source observes the principals (e.g., Putin and Ivanov) having a conversation; tells that to a (presumably) Russian contact of Christopher (not Remington!) Steele; who tells Steele who then transcribes it and passes it along. Even in a game of telephone with honest players there is an appreciable opportunity that the story will become garbled along the way, especially since at least one translation was likely involved for each story. And why should we possibly believe any one of the participants in these chains, each of whom had incentives to lie and embellish? Consider Steele’s (presumably Russian) intermediaries. They were no doubt paid, and their income was dependent on the putative salience of their information. Passing along “I had lunch with Ivanov’s chief of staff. He had borscht” wouldn’t command a very high price, would it? Dishing dirt about Ivanov conversations with Putin would be much more valuable. And who could verify the stories? Who could even cross check basic facts? So spice it up!

Especially when it appears that the buyer of the information (both at the first stage, Steele, and his downstream political customers) hardly seems to be skeptical, and has a definite desire for the lurid, the incentives of the intermediaries to make stuff up are strong indeed. Not to mention the fact that the alleged sources (if they exist) have an incentive to tell the stories they want heard.

In other words, this type of communication is inherently unreliable. The incentives to fabricate are strong, and the penalties for fabrication are negligible.

Third, some of the stories are real clangers. I’ll focus on two.

The first story claims that in 2015 Sechin told Carter Page, an alleged Trump emissary, that if Trump would lift sanctions, Sechin would sell Trump the 19.5 percent share of Rosneft to be privatized. Look, I think Sechin can be a moron, but there’s no way he could possibly think that would work. Just how would Trump hide the acquisition of such a large asset? How would he pay for it? How would he possibly deal with the political maelstrom that this acquisition would cause? Maybe Sechin envisioned a Russian-style (or Mafia-style) acquisition, in which a straw buyer would take ownership, but Trump would be the economic beneficiary. But even that would be wildly unworkable.

The second story–stories actually–relate to Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s now ex-chief of staff. A note about Ivanov. He is a scary guy. A real Chekist, who served in the KGB, SVR, and KGB. He was reputed to be a Chekist’s Chekist. He is the kind of guy about whom you could say (and about whom I did say): “Be careful what you ask for if you desire getting rid of Putin. Somebody like Ivanov could take his place.” And he is exactly the kind of guy you would expect not to be blabbing about things said in confidence to Putin, or with anyone else.

In the dossier, several conversations between Ivanov and Putin are described. In one set, Ivanov is harshly critical of the attempts to influence the US election. On July 30, the dossier claims that the Kremlin is concerned that the operation is spinning out of control. On 5 August, Ivanov allegedly (I will drop the “allegedly” hereafter) tells a confident who tells Steele’s source that he is angry at the turn of events, and blames Peskov for screwing things up. Pesky is “scared shitless” that the operation is resulting in huge blowback, and that he will be blamed. Ivanov claims to have opposed the operation from the beginning, and claims Medvedev does too.

Five days later (!), Ivanov claims that Putin is “generally satisfied with the progress of the operation to date.” So pleased, in fact, that he has a drink with Ivanov to celebrate!

I’ll pause here for a second, to give you the opportunity to test your knowledge about Putin. See the problem with this story?

Yes: Putin is a teetotaler. Maybe it was just Ivanov drinking, but this detail hits a very false note.

But even overlooking that, according to the dossier, in 5 days the Kremlin goes from being “scared shitless” about the blowback, to being generally satisfied.

But wait! Two days after Putin and Ivanov were toasting the success of the influence operation, Ivanov is fired unceremoniously–and shockingly. The next month, the dossier claims that Ivanov was fired because he had given Putin “poor advice” on the operation. Whereas the earlier telling in the dossier portrays Ivanov as an opponent of the operation, by mid-September the dossier claims that Ivanov (and the SVR!) had advised Putin that the operation “would be effective an plausibly deniable with little blowback.” The blowback was so severe that Putin ordered everyone to dummy up, and deny, deny, deny.

August 10th (or thereabouts)–“Серге́й, Давайте выпьем за успех нашего дела!” August 12th, Putin does his Donald Trump imitation: “вы уволены!”

Maybe there is a way of squaring all this, but I don’t see it. Is he [Ivanov] a supporter of the deal, or ain’t he? Was he afraid of blowback from Peskov’s stupidity, or was he convinced there would be no blowback? Was Putin bipolar, and serially displeased, pleased, displeased, pleased?

One possibility is that Ivanov was changing his story in response to shifting political winds in the Kremlin. But if that’s so, every other source could have been doing so as well. And recognizing that, no statement in the entire freaking dossier can be taken at face value. Instead, even if the statements were made (a big if), they were all self-serving tales told to advance the tellers’ interests.

I am not the only one to call BS on all this. My colleague, Paul Gregory, does so as well, and he has much deeper experience in Russia, including long work in Soviet archives (including some intelligence documents). He too ridicules the Sechin offer, though I don’t think (as Paul does) that Sechin was offering the stake for free.

Paul’s conclusion is that the document was written by a Russian, probably with background from the security services.

Wrap your head around the possibilities inherent in that, especially when you consider the twisted ways that spies think. Given the impact the document has had, and assuming that this impact was anticipated by those who prepared it (or at least, provided the stories that Steele typed up), and the “Putin hacked the election to help Trump” is not the only hypothesis in the running. Please submit your hypotheses in the comments.

One last point. As I mentioned in response to a comment by elmer earlier today, the way this document came to light is very disturbing and casts a very ominous light on the US intelligence agencies. This document, by multiple tellings, has been circulating for some time. Harry Reid referred to it in a letter to the FBI (or at least, that’s obvious in retrospect). Multiple journalists have admitted that they had seen it. No media organization would report it, however, because it was so clearly unsubstantiated, and incapable of being substantiated.

But lo and behold, the dossier is allegedly mentioned in an intelligence briefing given to Trump. “Trump told about possible kompromat” is a legit story, right? And that makes the source of the claim that US intelligence forwarded to Trump a legitimate story, right? So soon after the story about the briefing hits, Bottom Feeder–excuse me, Buzz Feed–publishes it.

In other words, a necessary condition for the release was that the intelligence community tells Trump about it. In the public interest, of course. (And in the event, it was a sufficient condition as well.)

Spare me. This document had been around more than a crack whore, so of course Trump knew of its existence. He didn’t need some anal retentive type from Langley to tell him about it. The briefing served no public purpose. But it did serve the purpose of green lighting the release of the document.

It could be that the CIA/FBI/DNI etc. knew what the media’s Pavlovian response would be to the LEAK about the briefing, and didn’t need to collude with CNN or whomever to ensure that things would play out as they did. Or perhaps the intelligence community did collude with some in the media. That’s of secondary importance. What is of primary importance is that the intelligence agencies–with the assistance along the way of John McCain–most likely deliberately schemed to ensure the publication of this document days before Trump’s inauguration.  A document that they had to know was full of falsehoods, and likely a falsehood in its entirety. (If they didn’t know, we are just screwed in a different way, being served by asses instead of demons.) And a document that was sure to have explosive political consequences.

In other words, there is a rogue intelligence operation here, and it isn’t Russian.

This is beyond the pale, and bodes very ill for the coming months.

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  1. It seems entirely likely that the dossier was created by Russian operatives – fed to a credulous spook shop that had been hired to dig up anti-Trump dirt – for the purpose of fomenting chaos in the US. It seems to have succeeded.

    Comment by Douglas Levene — January 13, 2017 @ 8:57 pm

  2. You are making it too granular. The very premise of the dossier is simply laughable. So, Putin has cultivated Trump as an agent for four (or eight) years, since he is such a genius that he could predict and understand American politics better than anybody (including all American politicians). Or better yet, he used Trump as an intelligence service to track the oligarchs in the US. Who could read this stuff and not laugh. What’s wrong with people?

    Comment by Krzys — January 13, 2017 @ 9:56 pm

  3. “In other words, there is a rogue intelligence operation here, and it isn’t Russian.

    “This is beyond the pale, and bodes very ill for the coming months.”

    Yes. Alarming.

    Comment by Ex-Regulator on Lunch Break — January 14, 2017 @ 6:58 am

  4. yeah, Douglas Levene, Russians did it. They even did more sinister thing – they made Douglas Levene write such great and insightful comment too.
    By the way, given the nice history of USA business (Enron, anyone) it is a bit rich of the author to call business/conmen tricks “Russian-style”. It could be called USA-style with much more reason.

    Comment by Lidia — January 14, 2017 @ 7:20 am

  5. No wonder Trump has decided to keep some of his own security detail on staff after he becomes POTUS.

    Comment by WeNeedThomasJefferson — January 14, 2017 @ 11:49 am

  6. well, SWP, I understand your pain.

    but the Golden Shower Dossier has made the midiots (media idiots) very horny, baby, to quote Austin Powers, and they won’t stop.

    Here’s another take on the whole sordid mess, which I think is pretty good, to add to your excellent observations:

    Comment by elmer — January 14, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

  7. Nice link Elmer – I wonder if Christopher Steele will zip himself into an over-sized sports bag, padlock it and suffocate? Seems to be a common fate of guests of certain “safe-houses”.

    Comment by crankshaft — January 14, 2017 @ 5:26 pm

  8. @Professor:

    I doubt Russian intelligence was involved in the creation. Too risky: knowing it would get leaked in the right way that would hurt Trump but not lead to Clinton’s election.

    More realistically? Shoddy work by a political hack. Everyone who saw it realized that – Democrats sat on it because they realized it was unbelievably bad and would only blow up if they’d tried to use it in the campaign. CNN et al saw an opening to bring it up following the bat signal of briefings on Russian intelligence operations. The current Democratic narrative is “we lost because of Russian interference”, so it was easy to slide in and treat semi-credibly. (Note the invariable semantic parsing by reporting in the NYT around it to insinuate that it’s true while ducking any clear statement of veracity).

    Comment by FTR — January 15, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

  9. shakes of KGB kompromat techniques!!!!!! and Skuratov!!!

    Brian Whitmore has a discussion of the “Russian kompromat” – at about 17 minutes of the 33 minute podcast, he points out that an official who was investigation corruption in Russia was subjected to an announcement that he had been caught, in bed, with 2 women. The official, Skuratov, was booted.

    Who was the FSB official responsible for this little gem of kompromat? PUTLER, who was FSB chief at the time!!!


    Comment by elmer — January 15, 2017 @ 1:17 pm

  10. not Remington

    Or Lexington, thankfully.

    Comment by Tim Newman — January 16, 2017 @ 8:24 am

  11. @Tim. I wouldn’t know anything about that 😛

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 16, 2017 @ 10:11 am

  12. narciso at patterico just linked to this post four hours ago. Thanks for giving some more details.

    >> Please submit your hypotheses in the comments.

    About what? About how this came into existence?

    The big question is, of course:

    Q. If the Russians wanted to help him get elected, why did they tell all the lies to Steele in the first place? Wouldn’t Steele’s Russian contacts just not have said anything?

    A. Because they thought he was working for somebody British!

    Lost in the shuffle is that Christopher Steeles’s contacts had no idea he was workinmg for any Americans. On top of that, he probably lied to them

    They wanted the British to distrust the Americans. Another possible reason for feeding Steele disinformation, and even contradictory disinformation, is that perhaps he had discovered something real, and they wanted to turn all of his reporting into garbage.

    Putin drinking was put in onn purpose, in case this was believed by the wrong people and ccaused trouble. It wasa way to take the story back. For the same reason Konstantin Kosachev is described as being a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, when he’s actually a member of the Upper Housem and Aleksei Gubarev, who lives in Cyprus and hasn’t lived in Russia for 15 years, was made into a “hacking expert, who had been involved in plans to “transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’

    It seems to me that Steele personally believed this, or believed he was on to something.

    To Steele, not so familiar with American media, maybe it sounded credible that Donald Trump so hated Barack Obama that he wanted to put urine on a bed that Obama had slept in (but unwilling to do so himself, had hired some prostitutes for that purpose)

    Although this may not have sounded so credible to the folks at Fusion GPS because they knew that Trump didn’t personally hate Obama that way, nor had ever done that in a hotel. You would also think that Trump would expect a bill or a complaint. He’s not a spoiled Saudi Arabian prince.

    Steele later tried to tell everyone he trusted about this, and John McCain didn’t know to make of it and he gave it to the FBI which already had it..

    Comment by Sammy Finkelman — February 12, 2017 @ 6:36 pm

  13. Update: A Russian beleived to be a source for the Donald Trump dossier compiled by Christopher Steele has been murdered:

    An ex-KGB chief suspected of helping the former MI6 spy Christopher Steele to compile his dossier on Donald Trump may have been murdered by the Kremlin and his death covered up. it has been claimed.

    Oleg Erovinkin, a former general in the KGB and its successor the FSB, was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow on Boxing Day in mysterious circumstances.

    Erovinkin was a key aide to Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister and now head of Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, who is repeatedly named in the dossier.

    That would prevent him being questioned.

    Others who may have been involved in the hacking have been arrested.

    Two Russian intelligence officers who worked on cyberoperations and a Russian computer security expert have been arrested and charged with treason for providing information to the United States, according to multiple Russian news reports…

    …Russian media reports link the charges to the disclosure of the Russian role in attacking state election boards, including the scanning of voter rolls in Arizona and Illinois, and do not mention the parallel attacks on the D.N.C. and the email of John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman.

    But one current and one former United States official, speaking about the classified recruitments on condition of anonymity, confirmed that human sources in Russia did play a crucial role in proving who was responsible for the hacking.

    This happened or became known the week after Donald Trump was inaugurated.

    More recently, according to NBC, Putin is reported considering sending Edward Snowden to the United SAtates as a “goodwill gesture” to Donald Trump.

    Comment by Sammy Finkelman — February 12, 2017 @ 6:40 pm

  14. The quote from the New York imes ends with the word hacking.

    The words starting with “This happened.” are mine.

    Comment by Sammy Finkelman — February 12, 2017 @ 6:42 pm

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