Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Russiagate or Intelgate? Stephen F. Cohen, The Nation, 2/7/18

2/7/18, “Russiagate of Intelgate?The Nation, Stephen F. Cohen

Stephen F. “Cohen first raised the question of “Intelgate,perhaps coining the word, in the first half of 2017. He returns to it here.”…

“Steele’s dossier, which alleged that Trump had been compromised by the Kremlin in various ways for several years even preceding his presidential candidacy, was the foundational document of the Russiagate narrative, at least from the time its installments began to be leaked to the American media in the summer of 2016, to the US “Intelligence Community Assessment” of January 2017 (when BuzzFeed also published the dossier), the same month that FBI Director James Comey “briefed” President-elect Trump on the dossier—apparently in an effort to intimidate him—and on to today’s Mueller investigation….

The dossier and subsequent ICA report remain the underlying sources for proponents of the Russiagate narrative of “Trump-Putin collusion.”…

Where, then, Cohen asks, did Steele get his information? 

According to Steele and his many stenographers—which include his American employers, Democratic Party Russiagaters, the mainstream media, and even progressive publications—it came from his “deep connections in Russia,” specifically from retired and current Russian intelligence officials in or near the Kremlin [1/5/18, NY Times]. From the moment the dossier began to be leaked to the American media, this seemed highly implausible (as reporters who took his bait should have known) for several reasons: 

§ Steele has not returned to Russia after leaving his post there in the early 1990s. Since then, the main Russian intelligence agency, the FSB, has undergone many personnel and other changes, especially after 2000, and especially in or near Putin’s Kremlin. Did Steele really have such “connections” so many years later?
§ Even if he did, would these purported Russian insiders really have collaborated with this “former” British intelligence agent under what is so widely said to be the ever-vigilant eye of the ruthless “former KGB agent” Vladimir Putin, thereby risking their positions, income, perhaps freedom, as well as the well-being of their families? 

§ Originally it was said that his Russian sources were highly paid by Steele. Arguably, this might have warranted the risk. But subsequently Steele’s employer and head of Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, wrote in The New York Times that “Steele’s sources in Russia…were not paid.” If the Putin Kremlin’s purpose was to put Trump in the White House, why then would these “Kremlin-connected” sources have contributed to Steele’s anti-Trump project without financial or political gain—only with considerable risk?…

And indeed we now know that Steele had at least three other [non-Russian] “sources” for the dossier, ones not previously mentioned by him or his employer. There was the information from foreign intelligence agencies provided by Brennan to Steele or to the FBI, which we also now know was collaborating with Steele. There was the contents of asecond Trump-Russia dossier [1/30/18, UK Guardian:The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016. It was handed to them by Steelewho had been given it by an American contact.”] prepared by people personally close to Hillary Clinton and who shared their “findings” with Steele. And [third] most intriguingly, there was the research” provided by Nellie Ohr, wife of a top Department of Justice official, Bruce Ohr, who, according to the Republican memo, was employed by Fusion GPS” to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump. Ohr later provided the FBI with all of his wife’s opposition research.” Most likely, it found its way into Steele’s dossier. (Mrs. Ohr was a trained Russian Studies scholar with a PhD from Stanford and a onetime assistant professor at Vassar, and thus, it must have seemed, an ideal collaborator for Steele.)”… 

[Added: Ohr and his Russia scholar wife are mentioned in US Senate Judiciary Committee letter of 1/4/18, 2/6/18 version with fewer redactions. page 5, pdf p.7: ("Filings" in first sentence refers to Christopher Steele's then recent relevant court filings in UK):

More on Ohr: 12/11/2017: “A senior Justice Department official [Bruce Ohr] demoted last week for concealing his meetings with the men behind the anti-Trump “dossier” had even closer ties to Fusion GPS, the firm responsible for the incendiary document, than have been disclosed, Fox News has confirmed: The official’s wife worked for Fusion GPS during the 2016 election.

Contacted by Fox News, investigators for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) confirmed that Nellie H. Ohr, wife of the demoted official, Bruce G. Ohr, worked for the opposition research firm last year [2016]. The precise nature of Mrs. Ohr’s duties – including whether she worked on the dossier – remains unclear but a review of her published works available online reveals Mrs. Ohr has written extensively on Russia-related subjects. HPSCI staff confirmed to Fox News that she was paid by Fusion GPS through the summer and fall of 2016.” 12/11/2017, Wife of demoted DOJ official worked for firm behind anti-Trump dossier, James Rosen, Jake Gibson, Fox News]

(continuing): “We are left, then, with a vital, ramifying question: How much of the “intelligence information” in Steele’s dossier actually came from Russian insiders, if any? (This uncertainly alone should stop Fox News’s Sean Hannity and others from declaring that the Kremlin used Steele—and Hillary Clinton—to pump its “propaganda and disinformation” into America. Such [seemingly] pro-Trump allegations, like those of Russiagate itself, only fuel the new Cold War, which risks becoming actual war any day, from Syria to Ukraine.)
And so, Cohen concludes, we are left with even more ramifying questions:

§ Was Russiagate produced by the primary leaders of the US intelligence community, not just the FBI? If so, it is the most perilous political scandal in modern American history, and the most detrimental to American democracy. And if so, it does indeed, as zealous promoters of Russiagate assert, make Watergate pale in significance. (To understand more, we will need to learn more, including whether Trump associates other than Carter Page and Paul Manafort were officially surveilled by any of the agencies involved. And whether they were surveilled in order to monitor Trump himself, on the assumption they were or would be in close proximity to him, as the president once suggested in a tweet.)
§ If Russiagate involved collusion among US intelligence agencies, as now seems likely, why was it undertaken? There are various possibilities. Out of loathing for Trump? Out of institutional opposition to his promise of better relations—“cooperation”—with Russia? Or out of personal ambition? Did Brennan, for example, aspire to remaining head of the CIA, or to a higher position, in a Hillary Clinton administration?

§ What was President Obama’s role in any of this? Or to resort to the Watergate question: What did he know and when did he know it? And what did he do? The same questions would need to be asked about his White House aides and other appointees.

Whatever the full answers, there is no doubt that Obama acted on the Russiagate allegations. He cited them for the sanctions he imposed on Russia in December 2016, which led directly to the case of General Michael Flynn (not for doing anything wrong with Russia but for “lying to the FBI”); to the worsening of the new US-Russian Cold War; and thus to the perilous relationship inherited by President Trump, who has in turn been thwarted by Russiagate in his attempts to improve relations through “cooperation” with Putin.

§ With all of this in mind, and assuming Trump knew most of it, did he really have any choice in firing FBI Director Comey, for which he is now unfairly being investigated by Mueller? We might also ask, given Comey’s role during Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign (for which she and her team loudly condemned him), whether as president she would have had to fire him. 

Listening almost daily to the legion of former US intel officers condemn Russiagate skeptics ever more loudly and persistently in the media,we may wonder if they are increasingly fearful it will become known that Russiagate was mostly Intelgate. For that we will need a new bipartisan Senate Church Committee of the 1970s, which investigated and exposed misdeeds by US intelligence agencies and which led to important reforms that are no longer the preventive measures against abuses of power they were intended to be. (Ideally, everyone involved would be granted amnesty for recent misdeeds, ending all talk of “jail time,” on the condition they now testify truthfully.) But such an inclusive investigation of Intelgate would require the support of Democratic members of Congress, which no longer seems possible.”

Added: Linked above, “Second Trump-Russia dossier,” “the Shearer memo” is among at least 3 other “Russiagate” sources in addition to alleged “Russians:” 

The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016. It was handed to them by Steelewho had been given it by an American contact.”

1/30/18, Second Trump-Russia dossier being assessed by FBI,” UK Guardian, and

“The FBI inquiry into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 US presidential election has been given a second memo that independently set out some of the same allegations made in a dossier by Christopher Steele, the British former spy.

The second memo was written by Cody Shearer, a controversial political activist and former journalist who was close to the Clinton White House in the 1990s….

The Guardian has been told the FBI investigation is still assessing details in the “Shearer memo” and is pursuing intriguing leads….

The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016. It was handed to them by Steele – who had been given it by an American contact after the FBI requested the former MI6 agent provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation, according to multiple sources.

The Guardian was told Steele warned the FBI he could not vouch for the veracity of the Shearer memo, but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.

Among other things, both documents allege Donald Trump was compromised during a 2013 trip to Moscow that involved lewd acts in a five-star hotel.

The Shearer memo cites an unnamed source within Russia’s FSB, the state security service. The Guardian cannot verify any of the claims…. 

Steele’s dossier, his motives for writing it and his decision to share it remain controversial….He says he approached the FBI about concerns he had about links between Russia and the Trump campaign after he was commissioned to investigate the matter by a private investigative firm called Fusion GPS on behalf of the firm’s clients.”…

Comment: British subject Christopher Steele had not set foot in Russia or made any up-to-date contacts there for over two decades at the time he assembled the “explosive” 2016 Trump-Russia “dossier.” His entire career in Russia was at most 3 years. Of that time, in the first year and few months Russia didn’t even exist as an independent country. The Soviet Union didn’t dissolve until Dec. 1991. Steele arrived in late 1990 and left in 1993 to return to the UK. Source: Steele was married in the UK in July 1990 and “was posted to Moscow months later.” Steele left Russia sometime in 1993. And, Steele has not returned to Russia after leaving his post there in the early 1990s.” He couldn’t enter Russia–or have many phone calls or emails returned from “contacts” there–after 1999 because his name was on a list of outed spies or former spies, if anyone needed such confirmation. Most reports of this 1999 event and names involved have been scrubbed, though a 1999 NY Times article, not mentioning names of those outed, describes the calamity for the UK that many spies’ names were published online in an act of vengeance by former M.I.6 spy Richard Tomlinson: 

5/14/1999, “Britain Closes Web Site With Spies’ Names,” NY Times, Warren Hoge

“An embittered former British spy has used the Internet to make public the names of a large number of secret agents, but officials in London said today that the Web site had been shut down and that no duplicates had surfaced. 

The Foreign Office said…the lives of more than 100 people were put in jeopardy by the action, which it attributed to Richard Tomlinson, 35, an agent of the Secret Intelligence Service, formerly known as M.I.6, who was let go in 1995 and later served a jail term for violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act.”…

A Jan. 2017 Daily Mail article mentions in passing that in 1999 Steele and his partner Burrows were among those named as MI6 agents on a list published online by disaffected former British spy Richard Tomlinson. Tomlinson is also mentioned in above 1999 NY Times excerpt. The Daily Mail article doesn’t elaborate on the significance of this as it relates to Steele and Russia. Although Steele left Russia in 1993 and was assigned other duties by the UK government, publication of his name on that list confirmed he had worked undercover as a spy at some point. This likely wasn’t news to anyone in the spy business in Russia, but it’s preferable not to have such information publicly documented:

1/12/2017, “Kremlin blames UK for Trump ‘sex storm’ as top Tory says relations with Russia are ‘about as bad as it could get’ without us being at WAR, UK Daily Mail, by Larisa Brown, Defence Corresondent for The Daily Mail, and Martin Robinson, Sam Greenhill, Sam Tonkin, and Dave Burke for Mailonline

Mr Steele’s business partner Christopher Burrows was also named as a former MI6 agent, but has not been linked to the dossier….

Both men were named as MI6 agents in 1999 when they appeared on a list published online by former British spy Richard Tomlinson.”…

Below is screen shot of the above sentence referencing the 1999 outing of names of many past and present UK spies including Steele:



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