Saturday, January 12, 2019

UPDATED: Lisa Page, Brennan, And The Dossier--Once Again

There's a fair amount of commenting going on about recent leaks of "information", first by Jeff Carlson in his fact based, extensive commentary on Lisa Page's House testimony, and secondly in the NYT's vaguely sourced narrative about the FBI opening an investigation on Trump (this is not actually news). My view is that Lisa Page's testimony, while certainly interesting, produced no bombshells--no breakthrough factual revelations that truly advance our understanding of the Russia Hoax. What her testimony does offer is a view of interaction between the FBI and DoJ with regard to Trump and a better understanding of who the main players were. Page's testimony also--and for me this its most important aspect--strongly confirm the centrality of the dossier for the entire Russia Hoax. This comes out in her testimony regarding former CIA Director John Brennan's apparent knowledge of the dossier material, which Page appears to find genuinely puzzling. This comes up in an exchange regarding Brennan's briefing of former Senator Harry Reid at the end of August, 2016, in which Brennan mentioned the dossier:

Rep.: We have documents that would suggest that in that briefing the dossier was mentioned to Harry Reid and then obviously we’re going to have to have conversations. Does that surprise you that Director Brennan would be aware [of the dossier]?
Page: Yes, sir.  Because with all due honesty, if Director Brennan—so we got that information from our source, right?  The FBI got this information from our source. If the CIA had another source of that information, I am neither aware of that nor did the CIA provide it to us if they did, because the first time we —
Rep.: We do know there are multiple sources.
Page: I do know that.  I do know that the information ultimately found its way lots of different places, certainly in October of 2016.  But if the CIA as early as August, in fact, had those same reports, I am not aware of—I’m not aware of that and nor do I believe they provided them to us, and that would be unusual.

Basically, what puzzles Page is that she thinks she knows that the FBI obtained the dossier material from Christopher Steele ("our source"), although she didn't know Steele by name until sometime after August, 2016. And yet it seems undeniable that the CIA had the same information--but didn't provide it to the FBI as would have been standard procedure (since it concerned domestic US matters).

The fact is, we're all still in the dark regarding important aspects of the dossier's origin and dissemination--and at the heart of these uncertainties lies the "special relationship" between US and UK intelligence agencies. Steele, the "former" MI6 operative, is one link, but not the only one.

In a 11/15/2017 article, How Trump walked into Putin’s web, Luke Harding offers--along with quite a bit of fantasy--some suggestive facts. Or, at the least, his claims appear to reflect an official Deep State narrative. First he states:

In late 2015 the British eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, was carrying out standard “collection” against Moscow targets. These were known Kremlin operatives already on the grid. Nothing unusual here – except that the Russians were talking to people associated with Trump. The precise nature of these exchanges has not been made public, but according to sources in the US and the UK, they formed a suspicious pattern. They continued through the first half of 2016. The intelligence was handed to the US as part of a routine sharing of information.

What were "people associated with Trump" doing in this time frame that involved Russia? Most of the prominent figures--Flynn, Manafort, Page, Papadopoulos--weren't actually on board with the Trump campaign throughout that period. But Michael Cohen, a person associated with Trump, definitely was, and what immediately comes to mind is that Cohen was in touch with Russians regarding the idea of a Trump Moscow project. The chatter about GCHQ seeing a "suspicious pattern" is almost certainly nonsense: GCHQ would have had verbatim transcripts of those conversations to work with--pattern analysis would have been unnecessary.

Now, note that last sentence: "The intelligence was handed to the US as part of a routine sharing of information." Ordinarily this should have been an ongoing process, and that's exactly what Harding suggests: "The FBI and the CIA were slow to appreciate the extensive nature of these contacts between Trump’s team and Moscow." Again, we can almost certainly take that "Trump's team" with a grain of salt and substitute, for practical purposes: Michael Cohen.

Was this the fons et origo for the dossier, the germ of the Russia Hoax narrative? One question that arises in this connection is: at what point did UK intel become aware that Steele--who had been an FBI "source" since 2009--was working with Hillary Clinton's oppo research firm, Glenn Simpson's Fusion GPS, against the Trump campaign. The safest assumption is that Steele's work re the US election was known to UK intel basically from the get go. And, since we know that Steele had some sort of personal connections to anti-Russian, UK government funded, institutes, the supposition naturally arises that the Russia Hoax as a proposed narrative may have originated in the clearly anti-Trump British intelligence establishment.

However, there's a competing theory. sundance, at Conservative Tree House, has a post up today, Leaked Lisa Page Testimonial Transcripts on CIA Brennan Angle, Confirms Likelihood of Dossier Origination, which asserts that Nellie Ohr (DoJ official Bruce Ohr's wife, and himself a close contact of Steele) is at the heart of it. sundance notes that Nellie Ohr's stint as an analyst began in late 2015--coincidentally, or not, at the same time that GCHQ was focusing on the "Trump team" or, as we might say, Michael Cohen. sundance, plausibly, maintains that Nellie used access as a contracter to the NSA database to amass large amounts of information on the Trump campaign. This is how sundance believes that data became the dossier, so beloved of the anti-Trump media:

♦ ... By mid April 2016 Nellie Ohr had amassed a bunch of illegally obtained information surrounding the Trump empire, and, additionally, had information on Manafort and Russia etc. 
When Team Clinton get involved in April 2016 (that team includes Brennan Inc.), they needed to weaponize all of Nellie Ohr’s research.  That’s where Chris Steele is brought in to receive the Nellie Ohr information, launder it into an intelligence product, where it became “the Steele Dossier”, and then inject it back into the intelligence community.  CIA Director Brennan always knew of the material before the FBI did, because Brennan was part of the construction team. 
Christopher Steele is not the actual author of the material inside the ‘Steele Dossier’, but rather he was attempting to wash away evidence of FISA database abuse by finding alternate confirmation for the underlying material.  Once he could provide plausible secondary origination for Ohr’s material, Steele sent it back to Fusion-GPS in chapters. 
Nellie Ohr was, is, and will always be, the factual author of the material inside the Steele Dossier.

While there is much to recommend this theory, I have reservations. First of all, the dossier material often appears to be very topical in nature, rather than based on historical research. To take one important example, Carter Page's Moscow trip immediately features in a dossier report at the center of a well developed Russia Hoax narrative. I think sundance is selling Steele's own creative contributions a bit short. Beyond that, however, I would suggest that Steele was keeping UK intel abreast of developments at Fusion GPS and the use that was being made of the reports or was being proposed.

What then of Brennan's posited involvement? I believe that is sound, as well. If Steele was the means for keeping UK intel in the loop, UK intel would in turn be feeding the dossier material back to Brennan on a continuing basis.

Now, recall that the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane case, an "enterprise counterintelligence investigation," was opened on July 31, 2016. This opening followed hard upon the heels of Carter Page's ill fated Moscow trip. We also know that there were four subjects: Flynn, Manafort, Papadopoulos, and Carter Page. Why not Michael Cohen if, as I have suggested, it was his contacts with Russians that featured in GCHQ's early monitoring of Trump? My guess is that Cohen's attempts at deal making simply didn't add up to anything plausible, and that the Page trip to Moscow along with the Russian or pseudo-Russian contacts of the other subjects provided a far more attractive narrative--especially when it came to getting a FISA on US Persons.

In this context, let's turn to one of many entertaining passages in Harding's article, but one which is important:

According to one account, the US agencies looked as if they were asleep. “‘Wake up! There’s something not right here!’ – the BND [German intelligence], the Dutch, the French and SIS were all saying this,” one Washington-based source told me. 
That summer, GCHQ’s then head, Robert Hannigan, flew to the US to personally brief CIA chief John Brennan. The matter was deemed so important that it was handled at “director level”, face-to-face between the two agency chiefs. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, later confirmed the “sensitive” stream of intelligence from Europe. After a slow start, Brennan used the GCHQ information and other tip-offs to launch a major inter-agency investigation. Meanwhile, the FBI was receiving disturbing warnings from Steele.

The idea that "US agencies" were somehow asleep is, of course, laughable, given what we know of the aggressive undercover ops being directed at Trump's foreign policy "advisers." But, yes, Brennan became heavily involved not only in the inter-agency investigation (in which Peter Strzok played a key role) but also in political lobbying to sell the dossier to the Washington DC political establishment as well as leaks to US media outlets. In sum, what we see is a complex interplay between the intelligence agencies of the US and the UK in which we can see what amounts to a virtual equal partnership.

Now, back to Michael Cohen.

With Crossfire Hurricane off to a nice start at the end of July, 2016, the whole project got a very rude shock. Paul Manafort who, according to earlier dossier reports, was the Trump coordinator for Russian collusion, was fired by Trump. This whole notion of an "enterprise" within the Trump campaign was put in jeopardy with the loss of its head, it coordinator, and with that loss the possibility of a FISA was also put in jeopardy.

That's where Michael Cohen came in handy, and the FISA was possibly rescued by Steele. On October 20, 2016, Steele submitted an in-the-nick-of-time report (for purposes of submitting the FISA application) in which his mysterious but oh-so-reliable sources reported that Michael Cohen had replaced Manafort as Russia collusion coordinator. In fact, Cohen was reported to be traveling abroad in that role. At first it was to a "soft EU" country, but that was solidified in the final report (2016/136) to ... Prague. Where he conducted "clandestine" meetings. "Clandestine". Yes, it's a key word, a can't-do-without word, for FISA submissions: "clandestine intelligence activity."

We haven't seen the fully unredacted FISA application, submitted within a week of Steele's 2016/136 report re Michael Cohen, Trump's new master spy. Nevertheless, nothing would surprise me less than to learn that the long since debunked story of Cohen's clandestine visit to Prague was a key element of the probable cause. It takes little imagination to realize how convincing supposedly confirmed travel to a former East Bloc country to meet "clandestinely" with nefarious Russkis would appear to a FISC judge, when combined with the other taradiddles that the FBI presented to the court. Once again we see the topicality of the dossier--when needed, Steele came through.

ADDENDUM: While commenting (below) I attempted to search the blog for the reference to FISC Chief Judge Rosemary Collyer's Memorandum Opinion and Order, dated April 26, 2017. Since my search failed to locate what I thought I had written on the subject, for the record I'll include it here.

Judge Collyer's ruling was in response to an NSA audit that revealed not merely widespread but wholesale abuse of FISA. Which is to say, NSA's audit, covering the period between November, 2015, and April, 2016, revealed that fully 85% of searches ("queries") that targeted US Persons within certain parameters were "non-compliant" with mandated procedures and safeguards that were specifically instituted to prevent such abuse. In other words, the FBI and its private contracters were flouting the rules. The judge specifically noted that: "Many of these non-compliant queries involved use of the same identifiers over different date ranges." In other words, the queries were focusing on particular US Person targets--say, "Donald Trump and Russia" or simply "Donald Trump" or anything else you can imagine--and these same search terms were being updated regularly. It was a continuing and completely illegal electronic surveillance of US Person targets. And, since Admiral Mike Rogers, head of NSA, specifically traveled to New York City to confer with Trump, we can safely assume that Trump was one of those US Persons being illegally surveilled.

To crown it all, Judge Collyer concluded the relevant paragraph with this remarkable sentence:

"While the government reports that it is unable to provide a reliable estimate of the number of non-compliant queries since 2012, there is no apparent reason to believe the November 2015-April 2016 period coincided with an unusually high error rate."

In plain English, the judge is saying that there is every reason to assume that the Obama administration's wholesale FISA abuse--i.e., illegal electronic surveillance of certain targeted US Persons at an 85% rate of the total--had been ongoing since at least 2012. 2012--a year that coincided with Obama's reelection. How's that for a coincidence!

All this appears on p. 82 of the opinion, reproduced below. As you read, bear in mind that "non-compliant queries" were obviously not "errors" in the ordinary sense of the word. They were deliberate criminal acts. Which continue to go unpunished.

NSA examined all queries using identifiers for "US persons targeted pursuant to Sections 704 and 705b of FISA using the [] tool in [] ... from November 1, 2015 to May 1, 2016." ... Based on that examination "NSA estimates that approximately eighty-five percent of those queries, representing [] queries conducted by approximately [] targeted offices, were not compliant with the applicable minimization procedures." Many of these non-compliant queries involved use of the same identifiers over different date ranges. Even so, a non-compliance rate of 85% raises substantial questions about the propriety of using of [] to query FISA data. While the government reports that it is unable to provide a reliable estimate of the number of non-compliant queries since 2012, there is no apparent reason to believe the November 2015-April 2016 period coincided with an unusually high error rate. (p. 82)

UPDATE: An article by Eric Felten has come to my attention. Among other valuable information that relates to the general reliability of Christopher Steele, the article, Was Christopher Steele Disseminating Russian Disinformation to the State Department? touches on Steele's long relationship with the US Department of State. Obviously this helps explain why he apparently decided to peddle his "reports" to State first, and only after being brushed off by Victoria Nuland turned to the FBI. It also enhances our picture of the ex-MI6 spook's ties with both the US and the UK Deep State apparatus. Clearly the only safe assumption is that Steele was a facilitator between the two and, in light of his apparent ties to intel related "institutes" with specific Russian agendas, this needs to be read in that light, too. Here are the opening paragraphs, but there's lots more good stuff, including amusing CYA statements by anonymous State Department "Russia hands."

When Christopher Steele was hired to compile his “dossier” on Donald Trump in 2016, he already had an extensive history of presenting private intelligence analysis to U.S. policymakers. The former British spy had for years been funneling reports on Russia and Ukraine to senior State Department Russia analysts. Materials recently turned over to Congress show that while Steele was giving memos to State he also maintained close ties to the billionaire Russian industrialist Oleg V. Deripaska. Some congressional investigators are thus concerned that his memos may have been a channel of Russian disinformation. [Ya think?]
Here’s how Steele got his work distributed in the halls of Foggy Bottom, according to those who opened the door for him. During “the Ukraine crisis in 2014 and ’15, Chris Steele had a number of commercial clients who were asking him for reports on what was going on in Russia, what was going on in Ukraine, what was going on between them,” former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland told CBS’s Face the Nation in February. “Chris had a friend at the State Department, and he offered us that reporting free [!], so that we could also benefit [!!] from it.” 
That friend was Jonathan M. Winer, then State’s special envoy for Libya and now a scholar at the Middle East Institute. Winer and Steele had been pals since 2009, back when each was in the private international affairs consulting trade. Winer, who had left the State Department in 1999, returned there in 2013. Soon after that, Steele approached Winer with a pitch: “He asked me whether the State Department would like copies of new information as he developed it,” Winer wrote in the Washington Post in February. Winer took some of Steele’s Russia memos to Nuland. “She told me they were useful and asked me to continue to send them,” Winer wrote. “Over the next two years, I shared more than 100 of Steele’s reports with the Russia experts at the State Department, who continued to find them useful.” 
No one seems to have asked who paid Steele to produce the materials. The memos may have been free for the State Department, but someone was paying Steele to produce them. And as we’ve since learned—the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee’s funding of the Trump dossier being Exhibit A—Steele, like many in the international fraternity of consultants, had no qualms about writing intel in the interest of clients. Would it matter if the person doing the paying for Russia-policy memos was a top Russian oligarch?

Is it any wonder that the Deep State sicced a Special Counsel on Trump?


  1. GCHQ, was carrying out standard “collection” against Moscow targets. These were known Kremlin operatives already on the grid. Nothing unusual here .../

    In fact, GCHQ was searching actively for information about Donald Trump, especially information about Trump and Russia.

    Trump announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015. GCHQ began searching for information about him and Russia on June 17, 2015.

    The CIA likewise began searching on that date.


    Trump-haters in the Intelligence Community assumed that Trump was being blackmailed by Russian Intelligence. That assumption did not require any evidence. After all, Trump was a sleazy businessman doing sleazy business with sleazy Russians, and so he was being blackmailed by Russian Intelligence.

    The Trump-haters in the Intelligence Community felt certain that they would find the evidence soon. Only after they did not find any evidence by the spring of 2016 did they resort to concocting evidence.

    MI-6 ordered Joseph Mifsud to mention to George Papadopoulos (a member of Trump's campaign) that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. And then MI-6 directed Alexander Downer to ask Papadopoulos whether Russia had dirt on Clinton.

    That was an early effort to concoct evidence. It had to be done, because the Intelligence Community had not been able to find any real evidence.

  2. In regard to a Michael Cohen being in Prague, the scheme was this:

    1) An FBI contractor (Nellie Ohr) searches the NSA database and finds information that a Michael Cohen was in Prague.

    2) Nellie Ohr arranges for Christopher Steele to mention in his dossier that Cohen was in Prague. Steele indicates that he got this fact from Russian Intelligence insiders.

    3) The NSA would verify Steele's dossier and in particular would confirm that an NSA database confirmed the fact that Cohen was in Prague.

    4) NSA's confirmation that Cohen indeed was in Prague would confirm Steele's claim that he obtained this fact from Russian Intelligence insiders.

    Unfortunately for all these schemers, the Michael Cohen was not the Michael Cohen who was Trump's lawyer.

  3. As far as we know, Michael Cohen's only activity related to Russia was the proposal to build a Trump Hotel in Moscow. That activity had begun well before 2016, and so that would have been information that the Intelligence Community found early after Trump announced his Presidential campaign and the Intelligence Community began searching for information about Trump.

    Cohen's known involvement in the hotel proposal was the main reason why the NSA database was searched for information about Cohen's travels abroad.

    The Trump-haters in the Intelligence Community assumed that the hotel proposal was largely a scheme to transfer money between Trump and Russian evil-doers. The first idea was that Trump was paying blackmail money to some Russian Mafia or to Russian Intelligence. A later idea was that Trump was paying Russian Intelligence to buy Facebook ads that showed Jesus arm-wrestling with Hillary Clinton.

    Anyway, by searching the NSA database for information about Cohen's travels abroad, the Trump-haters expected to find details that might implicate Trump in financial shenanigans with Russians.

    The best that could be done was to place Cohen in Prague -- but not in Moscow -- in the summer of 2016. However, that turned out to be a mistake, because it was the wrong Michael Cohen.

  4. Mike:

    Trump announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015. GCHQ began searching for information about him and Russia on June 17, 2015.

    The CIA likewise began searching on that date.

    I hope I didn't sound naive by not challenging Harding's assertion--I'm certainly in broad agreement with your view. I suppose it's possible that Trump/Russia related searching intensified as it became apparent that his candidacy was gaining widespread support. It's also possible that the Russia angle didn't gain total focus until November 2015--although the idea certainly had to have been percolating. Perhaps they thought they'd find domestic dirt on Trump, perhaps Trump's raising the Uranium One case helped focus the searching. In any event, my views track those of Judge Collyer in her opinion re the NSA's audit of FISA:

    "While the government reports that it is unable to provide a reliable estimate of the number of non-compliant queries since 2012, there is no apparent reason to believe the November 2015-April 2016 period coincided with an unusually high error rate."

    IOW, the Obama administration weaponized FISA against domestic opposition at least in time for the 2012 election and continued thereafter. We all know that "non-compliant queries" were not actually "errors" in the ordinary sense of the word.

  5. Mike, since you brought to my attention the business of the Integrity Initiative, the following links may interest you re another somewhat similar initiative in the US. Note, as usual, the members of the board of advisers:

    A New Neocon-Backed Narrative Control Firm Works To Destroy Alternative Media

    How a NeoCon-Backed “Fact Checker” Plans to Wage War on Independent Media

    Our Advisory Board

    *Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security (George W. Bush administration)
    *Richard Stengel, former editor of Time magazine and Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy (Obama administration)
    *(Ret.) General Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA, former Director of the National Security Agency and former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (George W. Bush administration)
    *Don Baer, chairman of Burson, Cohn & Wolfe and former White House Communications Director (Clinton administration)
    *Elise Jordan, political analyst, NBC, and former speechwriter for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
    *John Battelle, co-founding editor of Wired and founding chief executive of Industry Standard magazines
    *Jessica Lessin, founder and editor-in-chief of The Information

  6. Mike, re the Michael Cohen in Prague screw-up, I think there are different ways to approach that. Fusion-GPS may have been sharing/exchanging data with Brit outfits, the Cohen angle may have come to light before Nellie came on board at Fusion, CIA may have fed the info to Fusion after getting it from GCHQ, etc. The bottom line, however, is as you describe it--one way or another it originated with database searches that were totally illegal (in the US--not so for GCHQ in the UK).

  7. Mike, again, thanks for the concise summary re Cohen. I would add this.

    Cohen appears to have been operating more or less on his own re Trump Moscow, i.e., Trump's interest had cooled but Cohen hoped to resurrect the scheme. The lack of Trump's own involvement may explain why there appears to have been so little interest in the Cohen angle UNTIL Manafort was fired and the Russia Hoax needed a new mastermind/coordinator.

    OTOH, it's possible that the Trump Tower meeting may have had a Trump Moscow angle behind it. For example, I've always maintained that the meeting was an attempt to set up Trump with a sanctions relief for dirt on Hillary quid pro quo. However, a further possibility might involve a sanctions relief for Trump Moscow facilitation deal. Either, of course, would work for oppo research/dirty tricks. In fact, we've seen something similar to that narrative resurrected recently re Trump Moscow--probably a measure of the ineffectiveness of Mueller's investigation to come up with anything truly substantive.

  8. Once again, Occam's Razor. During the Obama Administration, DOJ/FBI (and many other federal agencies) morphed into criminal enterprises via the influence of corrupt leadership appointed (or compromised) by Obama/Clinton agents. This is a big deal, and hiding this reality is an even a bigger deal because revelation undermines Swamp control of DC politics. Hence, the Keystone cops narrative to excuse the Russia Hoax is much preferable to admitting that these organizations were actually undertaking a premeditated seditious coup against an elected president. And yes, the UK intelligence apparatus (with Ausy complicity) was a willing co-conspirator. You cannot undertake a coup halfheartedly, it's all or nothing. In for a penny, in for a pound. Serious felony criminal acts were perpetrated routinely because the stakes are that you either win or you go to prison. This is not a parlor game of cleverly parsing media reports to ascertain the "truth", and the cavalry is not coming to save us. As with the yellow vest movement, redemption will arise from the heartland.

  9. Michael Cohen was attempting to monetize his relationship with Trump by selling himself to others. That is why Cohen kept up the Moscow Trump Tower effort- it served his personal narrative. As it turns out, Cohen was quite successful in using this relationship by selling his connection for millions of dollars to firms like AT&T and others.

    If you carefully examine what Cohen actually did for Trump as his lawyer, it doesn't appear to have been much at all- it appears that Trump used Cohen as the lawyer to arrange to pay off inconvenient women going back more than a decade- as far as I can tell, that was Cohen's only real work for Trump. If Cohen were a major part of Trump's legal staff, it would be unlikely that he would endanger that role by selling himself to others- that sort of thing gets you fired, if for no other reason, than it shows you to be untrustworthy.

  10. Unknown, that's totally true. This isn't about a few rogues. It's about the Obama administration's years long weaponization of the Intel Community pretty much in toto. And it includes GOPers, too.

  11. I agree, Yancey. The recent attempt to make something out of Cohen and Trump Moscow is a measure of how ineffective the Mueller operation has been.

  12. Mr. Wauck,

    There was a good Brian Kilmeade interview with John Dowd, the President's former attorney, on Brian's radio show today 14 JAN). There are also good commentaries from Gregg Jarrett and Joe DeGenova and his wife, Victoria on the Fox News website. On the Fox site, I clicked on a link regarding Ken Starr and his dismay at the actions of the FBI.

    Keep up your excellent work.


  13. Tx Joe. I'll see about looking some of that up.

  14. J.E. Dyer has a good article on the Liberty Unyielding website. She notes Lisa Page's testimony that as of August 2016, Page had never heard of Christopher Steele, although Page had worked for five years for Steele's friend Bruce Ohr before coming to the FBI. I can't do Dyer's analysis justice, but it is a good read.

  15. Tx, Steve--very interesting. She definitely tries to make the case that the FBI really believed Steele's BS and played everything according to the book. But when you read her txts ...

  16. I read it, Steve, and found it very interesting. There are some timeline issues, no doubt about it.