With rumours that a first meeting between US Secretary of State Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is under preparation, the US intelligence community is doubling down on its war against Donald Trump.
First have been attempts to revive allegations that General Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, held secret talks before the inauguration in December with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which he is supposed to have urged the Russians not to overreact to the sanctions US President Obama had imposed on Russia in connection with the DNC/Podesta hacking scandal.
Flynn is being accused of jeopardising US security by talking about the subject of sanctions with Kislyak. Flynn denies doing so, but since – if he did- he is supposed to have urged the Russians to show restraint, it is not obvious why this was the case even if the accusation against him is true.
Secondly there has been the mischief making over claims that the Russians might be considering handing over Snowden to the US in order to please Trump. As I have just written, those claims are definitely untrue.
Thirdly – and far more insidiously – a report has now appeared in CNN that appears to be an attempt to put life into the discredited “Trump Dossier” compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele, which was published just a week before the inauguration. Specifically, it is now claimed that US intelligence – months after the “Trump Dossier” first appeared, and weeks since it was published – has successfully corroborated some of its contents, it is hinted through radio or telephone intercepts.
The report reads in part as follows
For the first time, US investigators say they have corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent, multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials tell CNN. As CNN first reported, then-President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the existence of the dossier prior to Trump’s inauguration.None of the newly learned information relates to the salacious allegations in the dossier. Rather it relates to conversations between foreign nationals. The dossier details about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs.But the intercepts do confirm that some of the conversations described in the dossier took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier, according to the officials. CNN has not confirmed whether any content relates to then-candidate Trump.The corroboration, based on intercepted communications, has given US intelligence and law enforcement “greater confidence” in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its contents, these sources say.
One of the major problems with the dossier in question, however, is that it doesn’t provide nearly the level of detail the CNN report claims. The dossier, by way of example, never states anywhere that “Named Person A” spoke to “Named Person B.” Instead, the dossier reports that a “trusted compatriot” spoke to “Source A” (a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure), “Source B” (former “top level” Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin) and “Source C” (a senior Russian financial official), among others. When names are provided, they were always at least one person removed from the named individual – a “Source close to MEDVEDEV” (the former prime minister), a “Close confidant to IVANOV” (a presidential advisor), or even “a separate source close to IVANOV” who “confided to a compatriot.”
Moreover, nowhere in the dossier is there any linking of the reporting provided with a specific date of the event in question. Each report within the dossier contains a date the report was written, but this far different from being the date a specific activity is to have taken place. The reports contained in the dossier provide vague time frames – “June 2016,” “late July 2016,” “mid-September 2016” – but do not provide a specific date, let alone a specific location, for any of the information provided. Any contention by CNN’s sources that the U.S. intelligence community had intercepted conversations that conform to the “same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier” is facially false – something any competent journalist would have been able to confirm prior to airing the report.
CNN also reported “U.S. intelligence agencies checked out the former MI6 operative and his vast network throughout Europe and found him and his sources to be credible” – sources that, as CNN notes, were “heavily involved in gathering intelligence damaging to Hillary Clinton.” Here, too, the dossier falls short. One of the primary sources cited in the dossier pertaining to the collection of information on Hillary Clinton by the Russians – “Source B” (the former “top level” Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin) – reported (via a “trusted compatriot”) that “Department K” of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) had “collated” reports “for many years” derived from “bugged conversations” and “phone intercepts” that “focused on things that [Clinton] had said which contradicted her current position on various issues.”
There are several problems with this report. First and foremost, “Department K” is part of the “Economic Security Service” of the FSB, responsible for customs enforcement, smuggling and corruption. Collecting and collating a dossier of “compromising information” on a first lady/secretary of state is far removed from the legal and operational mandate of “Department K,” unless Mrs. Clinton was involved in credit card fraud, caviar smuggling, or some other untoward activity. But the stated purpose of “Department K” was to collect political intelligence; the likelihood that “Department K” would have been given such a sensitive task, when there are other intelligence agencies and departments who are specifically trained, equipped and tasked with this sort of collection, is so remote as to verge on nil.
The author of the “Trump Dossier,” Christopher Steele, served in Moscow with MI6, one of the world’s premier intelligence services. MI6 officers have a well-founded reputation for being very knowledgeable and exceptionally well briefed. Any MI6 officer with Moscow experience would know the opposition intelligence services’ organizational structures, responsibilities and capabilities like the back of his hand. This level of professionalism would be expected to continue after retirement, especially if contracting out services as a Russian expert, as was Mr. Steele; Steele would have known “Department K” would not be involved in collecting political intelligence against Hillary Clinton. The same holds true for “Source B” (the former “top level” Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin), if he was indeed that which the dossier claimed.
The inclusion of such easily refutable information in the Trump Dossier (i.e., that “Department K” was collecting political intelligence on Hillary Clinton) sheds genuine doubt on the reliability of Steele’s so-called “vast network” that U.S. intelligence sources – and CNN – found to be so “credible.” It also reflects poorly on the viability of both Christopher Steele and the very “law enforcement and intelligence” sources CNN relied upon for it’s reporting. “Source B” fails the credibility test, something Christopher Steele would have known when he reported it, and any U.S. intelligence officer worth their salt would have assessed after a cursory analysis of the information. The same, too, can be said of any journalist who responsibly verified the information provided by their sources. Despite all this, CNN still aired the report.
To which I would add that it is the classic trick of a fabricator of a concocted narrative who wants to pass it off as true to relate it to actual events and to include in it real people.
Some of the individuals – some Americans, some Russians – who are supposed to have provided the information upon which the Dossier is based but whose identity the Dossier ‘conceals’ by calling them “Source A”, “Source B” etc are quite possibly real people. That does not mean that they were ever actual informants of Steele’s or of anyone else, or that they had any actual role in preparing the Trump Dossier. Rather it means that whoever fabricated the Dossier is pretending they are informants whilst calling them “Source A” or “Source B” etc to lend the pretence plausibility.
Importantly the CNN report says that all the supposed intercepted calls that ‘corroborate’ the contents of the Dossier took place between Russians. That of course makes it more difficult to prove the CNN report untrue, which is surely the intention. By contrast if the calls which were allegedly intercepted had been between Americans (of whom many appear in the Dossier) it would be relatively easy to prove the CNN report either false or true.
The CNN report is sourced to “multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials”. The reference to “former” officials is interesting, and suggests that some people who have recently lost their jobs following the change in administrations are still intent on continuing their feud against Trump. Perhaps they are angry because they have lost their jobs. That “current” officials are also involved however shows that they have no shortage of allies still serving within the US intelligence community helping them with what they are doing.
One way or another the battle between Donald Trump and the US intelligence community is far from over. On the contrary it seems to be heating up again.