"Excuse me, can you help me? I'm a spy." (Doctor Who)
First, a bit of background.
The dirty Trump dossier made several claims:
One: Russia had strong blackmail material on Trump and could thus control him;
Two: Most damning in that material, Trump used prostitutes while he was in Russia, and paid several of them to urinate on a hotel bed Obama had once slept in;
Three: Russia hacked DNC (Democratic National Committee) emails and passed them on WikiLeaks, who published them. The emails were damaging to Hillary and helped Trump win the election;
Four: Russia wanted Trump to win the election.
Major media are now covering the Trump dossier from a new angle---who paid a British ex-spy to assemble it?
And the answer everyone already knew---Hillary Clinton's camp and the Democratic National Committee---is out in the open.
Follow the bouncing ball. It goes this way:
During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Hillary team and the DNC funneled some $9 million to a Hillary lawyer, Marc Elias, and his law firm, Perkins-Cole.
That money then went to a research firm, GPS Fusion, who passed some part of it on to a British ex-spy, Christopher Steele. Steele had once worked in Russia and allegedly had many connections there.
Steele put together the Trump dossier after consulting with a number of Russians and spreading some money around. He gave the dossier to his employer, GPS Fusion. The dossier found its way to many media outlets, who sat on it for a while and eventually decided to run with it and slam Trump without let-up.
Steele also took the dossier to the FBI (and other intelligence agencies in the US and England). The FBI offered to pay Steele to keep digging up dirt on Trump!---but when the dossier went public and the media trumpeted its claims, the FBI withdrew its offer.
Given that background, let's go deeper.
The fact that Hillary's team paid to get damaging info on Trump is no surprise. It's called opposition research, and many candidates engage in it.
But paying Steele to put together the dossier and hiding the payments ---that's illegal. It's also a ruse to parlay the un-vetted dossier into a pretext for: Democrat eavesdropping on Trump and his associates, as well as Robert Mueller's investigation of Trump.
The contents of the dossier are open to question. Is Steele's research accurate?
And here is what no one is examining in any depth. Steele claims, in the dossier, that he was talking with a number of well-placed Russian officials. That's where he obtained his information.
What? Why would these Russians speak with him? Why would these Russians expose a purported plot, built by their own colleagues, under Putin's orders, to hand the election to Trump?
If such a plot existed, it would be a tightly controlled secret.
Yet, here are Russian intelligence people spilling the beans to Steele, a former British spy.
And by spilling the beans, they're risking their own lives, because there is a good chance their Russian colleagues and superiors will be able to track them down and identify them, since they've had connections to Steele in the past.
Steele appears to have pulled off an intelligence op for the ages. He goes to Russia, sits down with a number of Russian intel people, asks them questions, and they tell him all about a top-secret plot to sway a US election. No problem.
Keep this in mind as well. While Steele worked for MI-6, the British spy agency, he was stationed in Moscow (1990-92) using a diplomatic cover. In order to put together the numerous Russian sources he was able to tap years later while assembling the Trump dossier, Steele must have blown his cover to pieces as he cultivated those Russian intel sources back in the 1990s. Odd, to say the least.
Let's imagine a similar scenario playing out in the US. During a campaign to elect a president of Russia, a Russian ex-spy who once worked at the Russian Embassy in Washington, under diplomatic cover, comes to the US and sits down with a few of his old pals from the CIA.
Risking their reputations, careers, and lives, these CIA people tell him that, under orders from the president of the US, they've been putting together files on one of the Russian presidential candidates. They tell him they favor this candidate. They tell him they have important blackmail info on this candidate and can control him if he wins the Russian election. THEY HAND HIM THE MOST IMPORTANT INFO IN THE FILES.
Poof. No problem. The Russian ex-spy returns to Russia with the info.
Really? How likely is that?
If we bend and twist credulity, and assume Christopher Steele did extract highly secret info about a Russian plot to hand the election to Trump and then control Trump as a Russian asset---if we assume all that to be true, well, we have just uncovered a MAJOR FRACTURE in the Russian intelligence establishment.
We have uncovered a volatile rebellion in the Russian ranks, a rebellion against Putin himself. This rebellion is so relentless, the Russian instigators are willing to risk life and limb to forward it.
Their hostility toward Putin is so great, they've picked this operation---Russia influencing the US election on behalf of Trump---to torpedo the president of Russia.
If you were Putin, what could you do? The answer is obvious, and what you could do would be quite effective:
"All right, men, I've brought you here because I trust you, and I'd better be right in that trust. I want you to collect every shred of information that exists on this British spy, Steele, going all the way back to when he was first stationed in Moscow. I want to know everyone he knew, everyone he had coffee and drinks and lunches and dinner with---every single Russian. I want you to unearth every detail, and find out who he tapped a year ago, when he put together this Trump dossier. Give me names. Don't fail."
Of course, these Russians who supposedly handed over key information to Steele already knew, at the time, that this would happen. They would be hounded and most likely exposed. But...they didn't care. They were willing to go to the wall.
OR...Steele never accumulated all the information in the Trump dossier. He made unwarranted leaps of inference. He inflated information. He invented key facts. He wanted to satisfy his employers, GPS Fusion, Hillary Clinton, and the DNC. They wanted dirt on Trump, and he gave them dirt.
For example, Steele claims, in the Trump dossier, that he discovered Russians hacked the DNC servers, extracted thousands of emails, and passed them on WikiLeaks. The implication is, Russian operatives told Steele about the plot.
As we know, there has been a great deal of discussion around this point. Was there a hack of DNC emails, or was it a leak from inside the DNC? Without trying to draw a final conclusion from myriad technical and political analysis, I'll point to a statement, published in The Nation, by a several analysts from the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS):
"For more than a year, we have been pointing out that any data acquired by a hack would have had to come across the Internet. The blanket coverage of the Internet by the NSA, its UK counterpart GCHQ, and others would be able to produce copies of that data and show where the data originated and where it went. But US intelligence has produced no evidence that hacking by Russia led to it acquiring the DNC e-mails and passing them on to WikiLeaks."
That's a cogent point. If Steele really did extract a confession from Russian intelligence officials pointing to a Russian hack of the DNC emails, why doesn't the NSA or GCHQ confirm it and show us the evidence?
All in all, Steele has built a Trump dossier based on his highly questionable access to Russian intelligence professionals. If at this point, he cares about convincing us he's on the level, he'll have to do a lot of talking. At a recent photo op, he declined to comment on anything more than how happy he was to get back to work for his current private-sector company, Chawton Holdings. Otherwise, he was a silent bland egg.
That isn't going to cut it.
We're left with a fantastical story about his penetration of Russian higher-ups. Daniel Craig could play the Steele role in a Netflix series, and a bunch of good Russian actors who've been hanging around since the early James Bond movies, hoping for work, could step in, but beyond that, Steele has nothing to offer.
I'm working on the Netflix script. Here are the first few lines:
Steele: Hi, Ivan, remember me?
Ivan: Why, it's Chris Steele! Haven't seen you in years. Let's see, you were working for MI-6 in the old days here in Moscow, right? Pretending you were a diplomat. Yes, we had a few lunches back then.
Steele: Right. Look, I was wondering whether you can tell me anything about a super-secret file you guys are building on Donald Trump. This is the off the record, of course.
Ivan: Sure. We're blackmailing him. If we can help him win the election, he'll be under our control, completely. This is a Putin operation. I don't like it myself. I think it's over the top. Anything I can do to put a thorn in Putin's side, I'm ready to help. It's a little noisy here in the restaurant. Why don't we go over to my office and I'll show you all the data.
Steele: That'd be great.
Ivan: We also hacked the DNC and stole thousands of emails. We're leaking them to Julian Assange. Be sure to keep my name out of it.
Steele: Of course.
Ivan: Putin wants Trump to win. I don't like Trump or Putin. I prefer Hillary. I assume you do, too.
Steele: Well, sure. I'm working for her. That's why I'm here.
It's a sure-fire hit.
It's so believable.