Wednesday, February 7, 2018

UPDATED: Christopher Steele As Frontman

This will be short and sweet. Well, the sweetness will depend on individual taste.

What seems to be slowly emerging from the murky background of the Russia Hoax--or perhaps I should be saying The Great Russia Hoax--is that Christopher Steele was more of a frontman for the "dossier" than an actual author. While his writing skills are not in doubt, honed as they were in his days as a student Leftist at Cambridge, it's becoming clear that his true usefulness to the Clinton Campaign had to do with his credentials. The FBI and DoJ couldn't very well go in front of the FISC with an application and attached affidavit and tell the judge, This is something that Nellie and the boys or, as might be, Sid and the boys, came up with. No, much better to be able to talk about a former Spook from an allied country with experience of Russian matters, who has Russian sources, who knows their tradecraft, methods, and goals. Who is familiar with their desire to sully the purity of our political processes. And perhaps best of all, conservatives and Republicans tend to be an Anglophilic bunch, and thus less inclined to question the representations of a source from "British Intelligence."

On closer examination, that narrative didn't hold up well to closer examination. Assuming the truth of what we've been told about Steele, he hadn't been in Russia for many years, hadn't even been in MI-6 for quite a few years. His "sources," such as they were and given the tumult of Russian politics since the end of the Cold War, could be regarded as stale at this point, without further authentication. And, importantly, since he admits at the very least to have been dealing with these sources through intermediaries, verification of any of their assertions would be problematic--to say the least.

As it is, what we are now learning from House investigations is that the primary authors of the "dossier" appear to have been long time Clinton operatives: Sid ("Sid Vicious") Blumenthal and Cody Shearing. With assistance from Nellie Ohr--Fusion GPS employee and wife of associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr (since, twice demoted), who seems to have been the liaison between the Clinton Campaign and FBI/DoJ. Or, perhaps more accurately, that liaison was a sort of cooperative, spousal, affair.

No wonder Steele has been so reticent to testify under oath. Especially since, if he retains ties to British Intelligence he could be prosecuted for espionage under British law for simultaneously working as a source for the FBI.

As a sidenote to these British connections, it's interesting still to watch the interactions between Trump and Theresa May. Public consciousness of the precipitate resignation of the head of GCHQ has receded (he resigned for "personal reasons" giving only three days notice, not at all coincidentally, immediately after the inauguration of President Trump). Perhaps the Brits will think better of "meddling" in US politics the next time the likes of a John Brennan comes calling.

BRIEF ADDENDUM RE INTEL REPUTATIONS: Christopher Steele was regarded within British Intelligence circles, as well as within American intelligence circles, as a Great Expert on things Russian--especially Russian intelligence matters. But such reputations in the intelligence world need to be taken with a large dose of salt. They are easily gained and difficult to refute, in the ordinary course of events. To offer just one example, the FBI "handlers" (both metaphorical and literal) of Katrina Leung over a period of about 20 years were no doubt regarded as Great China Experts. Their reputation as experts was maintained over the course of two decades, and vanished in the relative blink of an eye. As James Comey might say,
All flesh is like grass,
and all its glory like a flower of the field ...
UPDATE: Senator Grassley's memorandum makes interesting, if understated, reading. For example, regarding the subject of this post, we read on page 8 (of 10):
Mr. Steele admitted that he received and included in it [the dossier] unsolicited--and unverified--allegations.
Oh my! How ... promiscuous! And in the next paragraph we learn that these "unsolicited--and unverified--allegations" [emphasis in original] were provided, not to put too fine a point on it, by "Clinton associates." Senator Grassley finds that Steele's use of this material "raises additional concerns about his credibility." Indeed! And thus Steele's notable reticence to speak of these matters under oath.

In defense of Mr. Steele, he was being paid by the Clinton Campaign. One could hardly expect him to refuse material from his benefactors just because it consisted of "unsolicited--and unverified--allegations." Mr. Steele is, no doubt, a man of honor who felt obliged to give his paymasters their money's worth.


  1. Why did Christopher Steele stop working for British Intelligence?

    Was he perhaps fired?

  2. I don't know. His career went from 1987 to 2009, twenty two years. I'm guessing that after 22 years of service he was able to take some sort of cushy Brit Civil Service retirement, even though he was only 45 years old, and peddle his intel expertise on the open market for supplemental income. Americans would have been eager customers, I imagine. Wikipedia, from which I derive all I know about, well, almost anything, refers to "Steele with his fellow MI6-retiree Chris Burrows" as founders in 2009 of a private intel firm.

  3. One occupational hazard of working in counter-intelligence is paranoia. The RussiaGate hysteria seems to have originated within counter-intelligence staff of DOJ/FBI. Such people are occupationally inclined to see Russian plots in "evidence" that normal people scoff at -- such as Facebook ads.

    Another occupation that has some occupational hazards is free-lance investigative journalism. Making a living in that field depends largely on discovering and reporting sensational scandals. Here the occupational hazard is excessive eagerness, is jumping to conclusions.

    Glenn Simpson, the owner of Fusion GPS, has become a nut about Russian conspiracies. Perhaps he found that Christopher Steele shares that same obsession and hired him for that reason.

    It seems that the RussiaGate hysteria originated among various people who are obsessed about Russian conspiracies. These people are zealots. They see "evidence" that normal people consider to be ludicrous, and they take reckless actions that normal people consider to be insane or illegal.

    These people are intelligent, but their occupations have made them unreasonable within their obsessions.

    In particular, Steele might be much less objective and careful as a private investigator now than he was as a civil-service official a decade ago.

  4. I would draw a distinction between "Russia Hysteria", which is partly a public phenomenon and partly a political tactic, and The Great Russia Hoax--which is a cynically invented scam, invented by the Clinton Campaign, and has nothing to do with CI as such or Glenn Simpson or Steele. Simpson and Steel were willing participants in the scam, but they didn't originate it--no matter what their views on Russia.

  5. This has been my theory for quite a while now- that Steele contacted no one in Russia, his only role was to give the FBI a "credible" supplier of intelligence. My theory, I wrote here, I think, a couple of days ago is that the travel details were supplied from within the Obama DoJ, and at Fusion GPS, a story was created around the travel. The details were then sent to Steele who then wrote up memos to send to the FBI and the media outlets.

    If you dig deep enough, you may find that Blumenthal was sending stuff to Fusion GPS, who then directed him later to Steele.

  6. How formalized the communication structure was is hard to say. In some respects it seems clear that Bruce and Nellie Ohr served as liaison--they met with Simpson, Steele, Clinton Campaign people, and also with the FBI. They seem key to unraveling this whole ball of yarn.