Point-by-point factcheck of the Steele dossier

On March 30, Vanity Fair published an article by Howard Blum about the infamous dossier on Donald Trump, prepared by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, the one that Buzzfeed published in full after Steele had apparently shopped it around for months to various US journalists.

If you don’t know the background, you can click on the linked articles above (and the other links in those articles) and get up to speed. The Cliff’s Notes version of it is this, though: in June 2016, Steele’s London-based private investigations firm Orbis Business Intelligence was hired by Fusion GPS, an American research/investigations firm, to investigate whether Donald Trump has business ties to Russia. According to The New York Times, Fusion GPS was initially hired by anti-Trump Republicans (but according to Jeb(!) Bush, not for him), then was hired pro-Hillary Democrats to continue the same work–to prepare opposition research (gather dirt) on Donald Trump. According to the British press, Steele was paid a total of £200,000 ($250,000) to produce the reports.

Steele didn’t go to Russia and actually do the research, though. He was in contact with various sources, identified in his dossier only by letters (e.g., “Source A”) and/or general descriptions. It’s not clear how he communicated with his sources, but presumably it involved some spycraft. Almost immediately after the job began (before the end of June), Steele reported that his sources had started telling him that sure enough, not only did Donald Trump have a history in Russia, and not only was Trump’s campaign involved in a criminal conspiracy with the Russians to use cybercrime to damage Hillary’s candidacy and boost Trump’s election prospects (and later, to cover the whole thing up), but, more worryingly in light of Trump’s subsequent victory (the story on the dossier broke after the election, though Steele had been approaching the news media for months about that), the Russian government had scandalous (to put it mildly) material they could use to blackmail Trump.

According to Steele, he decided on his own to first approach the FBI and then go to the news media with his reports, as a whistleblower motivated by conscience.

MY TAKE ON THE DOSSIER

As Vanity Fair reported, Christopher Steele lived in Russia for 3 years beginning in 1990 (Russia was still part of the USSR until December 1991), almost 30 years ago, and apparently he can’t or won’t return to Russia because he’s a known British intelligence agent. So his reports aren’t firsthand information, they’re based on a network of contacts that he has somehow maintained in Russia despite not traveling there himself.

These are the general impressions a Russia-knowledgeable person gets from the dossier (I’ll expand on these as we go through the points of the dossier):

  • With about 10 minutes of Googling in Russian (which I then confirmed with English-language sources linked to below) I was able to debunk one of the allegations in this supposedly “unverifiable” dossier: that longtime Kremlin insider Oleg Govorun supposedly was a “bag carrier” for Alfa Group in the early ’90s who delivered cash to Vladimir Putin while he was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. I was able to establish that Govorun didn’t go to work for Alfa until 1997, leaving Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s holding Rosprom together with Vladislav Surkov (who joined Alfa in March 1997), 8 months after Putin had moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow to work for Yeltsin after Putin’s boss, St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, had lost the 1996 election. At the time Putin left office (his boss having been voted out), Govorun was working for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a rival of Alfa’s owners. And no, he didn’t work for Alfa before that. I was also able to see how Steele’s sources made this mistake: Govorun’s Wikipedia page leaves out his time working for Khodorkovsky, and makes it look like Govorun worked at Alfa-Bank from 1993 to 2000. Ah, the perils of doing your research on Wikipedia!
  • The person who actually organized the reports in the dossier (as opposed to the sources) is not very familiar with Russian business or politics (particularly the personalities involved) in 2016, probably doesn’t speak Russian or know what’s being reported in the Russian media, and there are a number of clear or easily checkable errors.
  • If the dossier were true, it means Steele’s contacts are not only supernaturally well-connected, having access to unreported information from various parts of the Russian state apparatus (and from inside the Trump campaign) on intelligence matters and criminal conspiracies, but are willing to take incredible risks in order to help Steele prepare his reports.
  • Some of the information that Steele’s contacts provide would only make sense if (1) the Russian government works completely different from how even Russians close to the government believe it works, (2) the personalities involved are completely different from how they appear to close observers, and (3) all of the prevailing wisdom about how the Putin team works behind-the-scenes is wrong.
  • There’s a strange juxtaposition of on the one hand, information that, if true, would be ultra-insider, completely surprising, mind-blowing revelations about the inner workings of the Russian ruling clique, and on the other hand, basically cut-and-paste jobs from whatever was in the headlines in the weeks before any given report in the dossier. Steele does not seem to be concerned that his client will simply Google the names and incidents in his reports and find out that this information had already been in the news for days, or sometimes weeks or months – in the case of Steele’s “scoop” about the relationship between Aras Agalarov and Trump, the “intel” had been in Donald Trump’s own Twitter feed for almost 3 years.
  • The dossier doesn’t seem to have had much intelligence value: if you go by the dates on the individual reports that make up the dossier, all of the verifiable information refers to things that had already been reported or speculated on in the Russian and/or Western media by that time. The unverifiable information is presented in the form of unfounded allegations. There isn’t any “actionable” intelligence – accurate predictions of future events and people’s plans, or “dirt” for which there is at least some evidence.
  • There are also glaring omissions given later developments in the Trump/Russia story. Why no mention of Cozy Bear, Fancy Bear or the GRU? Why no mention of internet troll armies or fake news? Why no mention of the role of RT or Sputnik in the overall influence operation? The most logical explanation is that Steele’s sources were riffing off of media reports, and the omitted narratives didn’t get traction in the press until the US intelligence community issued its declassified report on Russia’s election interference in January 2017, after the dossier was already out in the wild. But if the dossier was really based on knowledgable insiders’ reports and not on a bunch of rumors peddled in response to the news of the day, you’d expect it would have foreshadowed many of the revelations in that report (assuming the intel agencies’ report has merit).

THE DOSSIER

June 16, 2016 report001002

The part where Putin was overheard talking about his desire to return to 19th Century politics and move away from an ideals-based order sounds like complete BS. For Putin to do so would be to agree with criticism of some of his most prominent critics, including Barack Obama and John Kerry, who both had been accusing Putin specifically of wanting to return to a 19th Century world since at least 2014.

The criticism that Putin has a 19th-Century worldview has been frequently directed at him for at least 8 years. Take a look at this August 2008 Washington Post column by prominent neocon (and Hillary Clinton supporter) Robert Kagan (emphasis added):

Historians will come to view Aug. 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Russia’s attack on sovereign Georgian territory marked the official return of history, indeed to an almost 19th-century style of great-power competition, complete with virulent nationalisms, battles for resources, struggles over spheres of influence and territory, and even — though it shocks our 21st-century sensibilities — the use of military power to obtain geopolitical objectives.

In March 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry went on TV to criticize Putin, saying “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”  That same month, another senior Obama official said anonymously to The New York Times:

Administration officials said Mr. Putin had miscalculated and would pay a cost regardless of what the United States did, pointing to the impact on Russia’s currency and markets. “What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President Putin to address problems,” one of the officials said. “What he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st-century world, an interdependent world.”

And according to The Guardian, Obama himself would tell foreign visitors to the White House that Putin is “pursuing 19th-century policies with 20th-century weapons in the 21st century.”

How many leaders–how many people–would describe their own thinking (even in private) in exactly the same words and concepts their biggest critics use to describe their thinking?

The dossier’s claim that Putin talked about the “ideals-based international order” also rings false. Putin only ever refers to Western ideals when saying that Western countries’ leaders are hypocrites for not adhering to them.

The more straightforward explanation is that, knowing that this is opposition research, Steele and his sources provided information that rang true with what the client already believed and would want to hear. This is the first report in the series–in effect, a teaser trailer–and no consultant working on a monthly retainer is going to tell you in the first memo that his services aren’t needed. If Steele had indicated that there was no dirt to investigate, the $15,000/mo. (as estimated by Vanity Fair) contract wouldn’t have lasted longer than a month or two.

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We know about Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant; it’s surprising that journalists and intelligence leakers haven’t given us more details about his other trips to Russia. There are rumors going around the Moscow expat community that Trump has come to Russia on a number of previous occasions, but not a lot of details.

The dossier’s use of the phraseology “Trump and his team” and “Trump team” and the like is confusing in reference to the pre-2016 campaign period. Other than his lawyer Michael Cohen, there’s nothing I’ve seen to indicate that the other Trump campaign people mentioned by name in the dossier (Paul Manafort and Carter Page) knew Trump before 2016. By all appearances, the key members of Trump’s team before 2016 were his children, and maybe his talent agent.

It also seems out of character for Trump to have the foresight and planning that it would take to seek out intelligence on Hillary Clinton several years back. Several years ago, Trump and the Clintons were friends, and the Clintons attended Trump’s wedding and Bill and Donald played golf together. Trump would’ve had to be Nostradamus to know several years ago that he’d need info on Hillary Clinton someday, and he’d have to be reckless to be willing to enter into a quid pro quo relationship with Russian intelligence to get it. And regarding his other “opponents” – since Trump had never run for office before, who were his opponents before 2016? Rosie O’Donnell?

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Have you ever hated someone so much that you hired hookers to piss on a bed they slept in once? And then decided you like that person after all?

So the FSB agents responsible for the Ritz-Carlton—having been tasked with a super-secret operation to videotape Donald Trump enjoying a golden showers show in the Presidential Suite—successfully complete their mission then go and tell several of the hotel staff? How else would the staff know? Wouldn’t it be a primary objective of the operation to keep it hidden from regular hotel staff? How often does the staff of the hotel you’re staying in know what kind of sex you’re having in your room–aren’t hotels specifically supposed to be discreet places to have sex? Doesn’t this give the hotel and its employees nearly the same leverage over Donald Trump that the Russian government worked so hard to have? Wouldn’t it be a giant fuckup for the FSB if the key piece of blackmail they’re going to use to control the newly elected US president has become common knowledge of Ritz-Carlton staff, who are so loose-lipped that they are happy to talk about their knowledge of this top-secret operation with Steele’s sources?

As a source quoted by the mainstream British newspaper The Independent put it:

Russians are very cautious about what they talk about, even amongst each other.  Therefore, with the story about [sexual acts] in the Moscow Ritz Carlton, the idea you have managed to triple source it via an employee at the hotel, a serving FSB [Russian security service] officer, and the security officer at the hotel, who inevitably will be at least a former FSB or GRU [Russian intelligence agency] officer … It just doesn’t make sense. If such a thing had taken place, it would be a Russian state secret.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. And it’s completely at odds with the overriding narrative about Russian interference in the 2016 election–that the operation was pulled off extremely professionally, efficiently and leaving little evidence behind. Even a small-time private detective knows that if you’re trying to get people on tape having illicit sex in a hotel room, you need to make sure the hotel staff don’t know what you’re doing.

Again, remember – this is the very first report. If you want to be cynical about Steele’s motives (or the motives of the sources he was paying), it’s definitely in their interests to make the client believe that there’s a whole sordid conspiracy to be uncovered, and to hint that Steele’s sources are better placed than the media, Western intelligence agencies, etc., to dig up the dirt.

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Does Russian intelligence have a file on Hillary Clinton? I’m sure they do. Why wouldn’t they? She’s been one of America’s most powerful and prominent political players for over 20 years.

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This is one of the parts of the dossier that sounds really unlikely if you live in Russia or follow Russian news. Peskov, first of all, is a press secretary. And he’s not much of a secret agent. Click here for an exposé by Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation about how Peskov’s daughter’s Instagram posts allowed cybersleuths to figure out that Peskov spent his honeymoon (2nd marriage) with family and friends on an exclusive yacht off the coast of Sardinia.

Here’s a recent interview with Peskov, so you can put a face with the name:

Anyway, it sounds very odd that Putin—himself a former intelligence agent who’s made rebuilding Russia’s intelligence agencies a major priority of his presidency—would hand his press secretary the Hillary Clinton blackmail file, which according to the dossier is the fruit of Russia’s highest-priority, most secretive operation of all time. And if there’s one guy you don’t want to burden with knowledge of top-secret shit, isn’t it the press secretary? Otherwise you’re expecting him to be an incredible actor when he’s explaining in interviews and press briefings that the Russian government isn’t involved in anything sinister.

 

July 19, 2016 report

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Carter Page’s visit to Moscow in early July was more widely reported in Russia than it was in the US, though it was reported in the US. It happened 10 days before the Republican Party convention, and there was a lot more for American journalists to report on back at the time–Page was a marginal campaign figure and the Trump/Russia story was only a couple months old.

Page’s visit was viewed suspiciously at the time by Russian journalists, who thought it was odd that a Trump adviser would make a “private visit” to Russia at such a sensitive time. The Russian press speculated on whom he might be meeting with (he refused to say), casting doubt on Page’s explanation that he came because he was invited to give some speeches. Some came right out and speculated that Page came to Russia to conduct secret negotiations on Trump’s behalf.

On the one hand, you could say “but that corroborates the Steele dossier.” But does a press report that doesn’t claim to be anything more than a theory, and which predates the Steele dossier, really corroborate anything? Seems more likely that it’s just a piece of “scuttlebutt” that Steele’s sources, pressed to find anything juicy on Trump, saw in the newspaper or in a news search on Google or on Russian search engine Yandex.

A lot of the people who believe in the Steele dossier without corroboration (or hope against hope that it proves to be true) look at the points of intersection between stories in the media and the dossier’s reports as evidence of the truth of the dossier. I don’t see how the fact that the dossier includes information that had already been reported makes the dossier any more credible. If anything it hints at the likely method for preparing the “verified” parts of the dossier: Internet research by sources whose main qualification was that they could search in Russian.

If someone can show me anything in the Steele dossier that was reported in the media after the date of the Steele report in which it is mentioned, that’s something that should be seriously checked out. But if the media scooped Steele and he’s just reporting something that was already in the public domain, that’s really not impressive at all from an intelligence perspective.

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This is the most plausible-sounding allegation in the dossier, mostly because Page does come across as a reckless, self-centered jerk.  Page didn’t know for sure at that time whether Trump would be nominated, he didn’t know whether Trump would win the general election, he didn’t know whether he’d have a role in Trump’s administration ( if he took this reckless trip, he probably didn’t see a bright future for himself in the administration) – but he had an opportunity to come to Moscow and be treated like a VIP, and he couldn’t resist.

Page is a person whose business (apparently) involves putting together oil deals, and if he were offered a meeting with Sechin it would have been hard to refuse. And, after the election and after the Trump campaign had started disavowing him and it came out that the FBI had been investigating his July trip, Page went back to Russia in December 2016 for more meetings (he would not disclose with whom). By this time, some Russian politicians were calling Page an impostor trying to leverage his connection with the Trump campaign to get business in Russia. Whatever the truth of the matter, Page is clearly someone who was very keen to network with powerful Russians in 2016 and was not shy about leveraging his affiliation with the Trump campaign to do it.

But at the same time, this would also mean Page was a loose cannon and a huge potential liability to the Trump campaign. Igor Sechin is, and was in July 2016, on the Specially Designated Nationals list of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. This means that it’s a crime for any US citizen to do any business with Sechin personally (though not with Rosneft as a corporate entity).

Page, by all appearances, is reckless and kind of an idiot. He had to have known that his activities (even if they were limited to just non-treasonous networking with Russians) carried a huge risk of blowback for Trump. He didn’t care. Carter Page’s willingness to toe the Russian line on foreign policy, publicly and on the record, goes beyond even what the most Russophile Western expats in Moscow say in private conversations. I think it’s a perfectly valid question to ask why and how Carter Page came to be affiliated with the Trump campaign, why he visited Russia alone at least twice in 2016, and what contacts he’s had with Russian officials (he definitely met with some of them, at least at the New Economic School graduation reception on Jul. 8, at which there were several senior Russian officials present and Carter Page was commencement speaker and an honored foreign guest).

That said, by reputation and by all appearances and accounts, Igor Sechin is an extremely smart, wily hardass who takes himself and his role as a Kremlin insider very seriously. The Steele dossier (and derivative conspiracy theories) is virtually the only source that would lead us to believe that Carter Page was anything more than a peripheral member of the Trump campaign. And Trump hadn’t quite clinched the nomination yet – just before the meeting The Washington Post and other media were reporting that #NeverTrump Republicans were plotting to block Trump at the convention.

You might argue that Page was sent by Manafort, Trump and the other colluders to pass on a message to Sechin, that a low-level campaign adviser traveling to Russia on “personal business” would provide cover and ensure a low-profile trip. But frankly, even that doesn’t make any fucking sense. If all they needed was a courier and wanted cover, why send a campaign adviser at all? And why send him to give a public university commencement speech in which he rails against US foreign policy, ensuring wide media coverage? I know what you’re thinking: Trump and his people are a bunch of idiots, that’s why. OK, maybe Trump’s people are stupid and maybe they’re not, but Sechin is definitely not stupid. A meeting with a Trump adviser on the sidelines of such a noisy, high-profile trip–with both the Russian and foreign press speculating in real-time what the hell Page was doing in Moscow–seems like an extremely incautious setting for a meeting to discuss the most scandalous quid pro quo since the secret protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

To sum up, I have serious doubts that a meeting took place as described. But I also think that Carter Page was–at the very least–trying to leverage his connection to Trump in Russia for personal gain at the very earliest opportunity he got.

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The part of this that sounds odd is that on the one hand, the dossier says that the Hillary Clinton file is supposed to be a top-secret document kept only by the press secretary at Putin’s personal instruction, and yet everyone in the entire government seems to know about it and is quite open and chatty about it, even with someone whose authority to speak for Trump is unclear.

One of the most intriguing things in the dossier is the “(nfd)” after Diveykin’s name.* This is a German abbreviation that stands for nur für den Dienstgebrauch, meaning “for official use only”—the lowest level of classified information in the German intelligence services. Seen in the light most favorable to the dossier, this is an indicator of possible authenticity – it would suggest that Steele has a source in German intelligence who provided Steele with details of an intercepted conversation. On the other hand, according to point 2.1.1 of the official German instructions on dealing with information marked “NFD,” it says that documents containing classified information should be stamped at the top of the document, not noted in parentheses after a particular piece of information such as a name. And why would an intercepted conversation between top Russian officials concerning the biggest conspiracy of the 21st Century be marked at the lowest level of classified information? Still, this is intriguing, and I would call it “unexplained.”

UPDATE. A Twitter follower pointed out that this probably stands for “no further details,” a phrase used elsewhere in the dossier. I agree, this makes much more sense than my original theory.

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Would Trump need to be reminded about this?  According to other reports in the Steele dossier, Trump had had a sex party in a Moscow hotel room a few years before (among other sexual indiscretions in Russia) and had been taking secret information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian intelligence agencies for “many years.”  He had been being developed as a Russian intelligence asset for years.

What could possibly be the purpose of telling Carter Page that Trump should watch out because of the Russians’ kompromat? If the Russians told Carter Page that they had kompromat on Trump (who, according to the dossier, had been a Russian agent for years), aren’t they pointlessly empowering Carter Page? Now Carter Page, a complete nobody, has dirt on Trump AND has dirt on the Russian president’s chief of staff Ivanov and the Russian government generally.

Report No. 2016/095*

*This report doesn’t have a date. However, the July 19 report is numbered “2016/94” and the July 26 report is numbered “2016/097” so it seems like this is where the report should go.

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This is the central allegation against the Trump campaign – that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to take actions aimed at defeating Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. The one thing that I’d add (or, rather, remind) is that by late July, the story of allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election was in full swing. Manafort’s history in the former Soviet Union was being widely reported. Carter Page, as mentioned above, had traveled to Moscow for unknown purposes a few weeks before, a trip that was covered in the Russian and US media.

So this information hews very closely to what was in the news at the time.

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The above is one of the central accusations against the Russians in the context of 2016 election meddling.

What I’d like to point out here–in terms of the timing of the information in this report–is that the DNC hacked e-mail dumps on WikiLeaks that led to Debbie Wassermann Schultz resigning as head of the DNC happened on July 22, 2016, and even before the WikiLeaks dumps the DNC had been attributing the hack to Russia.

Wouldn’t it have been more impressive if one of the Steele dossier reports in June said hey, watch out, the Russians are about to dump the DNC e-mails on WikiLeaks?  How would Source E be in a position, just a week or so after the WikiLeaks dump, to confirm conclusively that Russia was behind it, without having been in a position to warn about it beforehand?

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Since this report refers to the WikiLeaks dump of DNC e-mails that happened on July 22, even though it’s undated we know that the report must have been made after that, as well as after the Republican National Convention that happened on July 18, as well as after reports had emerged that the Trump team had been behind a change in the Republican Party platform to remove a reference to providing lethal arms to Ukraine. The allegation made here closely tracks what was being reported in the media at the time.

Also, about the “plausible deniability” point (this comes up a lot in the dossier): in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI director James Comey made a point of saying that US intelligence services were struck by how unusually noisy the Russians had been in their election interference, as if they wanted to be discovered.

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Here’s the biggest problem with this paragraph: Russia has no diplomatic presence in Miami, and no diplomatic staff there. Russia has an embassy in Washington, of course, a UN mission in New York, and consulates in New York, Houston, San Francisco and Seattle. And Russian diplomats are required to get State Department approval when they travel more than 50 miles beyond their official posting, and the FBI monitors their movements closely, so using official Russian diplomats to run a payoff scheme in Miami would’ve been pretty risky.

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Here’s the context of this paragraph: at the time when Steele was writing the dossier, the media were scouring Trump’s history for connections to Russia. One that was easy to find was the time when Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to Russian “oligarch” Dmitry Rybolovlyev in 2008. So in mid-2016 you started seeing headlines like “Trump and the Oligarch.” However, there’s nothing else in Trump’s biography that would indicate that he would be a particularly good source of information about Russian oligarchs’ activities and assets in the US.

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It is a US federal crime to pay bribes to foreign officials to gain business advantage. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is a very serious piece of legislation and the Justice Department has a dedicated unit that investigates FCPA violations.

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It had been widely reported by mid-2016 that Trump had explored real estate deals in Russia several times over the years, going back all the way to 1987. This is part of the public record.

July 26, 2016* report – general notes on Russian cybercrime and cyberwarfare

*The actual date on the report is “26 July 2015” (in the British style), but since it refers to events that happened as recently as June 2016, and based on the news reports that said that Steele was hired in June 2016, I assume this is just a typo.

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I would expect that if Steele is marketing his firm as experts on Russia, and touting their expertise as former intelligence professionals focusing on Russia, they would be in a good position to evaluate their sources’ statements about Russian intelligence-gathering priorities. I am not in such a position. I would note what’s missing from this list, though: monitoring of Russians abroad – in other parts of the Steele dossier there are multiple mentions of Russia wanting information on Russian citizens’ activities abroad. Why is it missing from this list?

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Probably true – even if it’s not exactly like this, certainly Russia has serious cyber capabilities, among the best in the world.

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Tidbits like this make me think I could be an intelligence researcher. In Moscow there’s all sorts of “a friend of a friend told me” rumors about things like this. It sounds plausible enough. Why would they be approaching Jewish people specifically though?

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Sounds plausible, and along the lines of what US companies have to deal with in terms of surveillance requests from the FBI (so-called National Security Letters). However, it would read more convincingly if Steele / Orbis just said that Russia had this capability, rather than making it an anecdote about an anonymous IT guy at an unnamed company who was asked to spy on a foreigner.

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When the Steele dossier came out, a number of IT people in Russia (Telegram’s creator is from Russia and it is widely used there), and finally Telegram’s creator Pavel Durov himself, denied that Telegram had been cracked and explained that the encryption used in Telegram could not be cracked without the encryption key. This denial got picked up in the Western press but not the context of why.

The context was this: a few months before the date of this report, in April 2016, it had been widely reported in Russia that two Russian opposition politicians had had their Telegram accounts broken into by parties unknown (strongly implied to be Russian law enforcement).  The method for doing this was by shutting off the two politicians’ text messages on their devices, spoofing their numbers and re-activating Telegram using text messages sent to another device. Apparently this required an “inside man” at the mobile phone operator who played with the security settings. This same technique could be used to break into any messenger that uses text messages to activate or verify the account. But this isn’t the same thing as “cracking” Telegram’s encryption.

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The Anunak (aka Carbanak) hacking group’s activities have been on cybercrime enforcement’s radar since at least 2014. The origin of “Anunak” is apparently a French UFO conspirologist named Anton Parks, who uses “Anunnaki” as an alternate name for the Reptiloids, the lizard people that some paranoid folks believe have replaced the world’s human leaders. My googling couldn’t turn up anything on Buktrap or Metel, other than references to the Steele dossier. Buktrap means nothing in Russian (“buk” means a beech tree, and “trap” means either a rope ladder hanging off a ship’s stern or a type of volcanic rock), and Metel means a storm, particularly a snowstorm.

July 30, 2016 report

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This strains credulity. So there’s a single Russian emigre who not only knows the internal mood of the Trump team, but also knows what the Russian leadership is thinking (about a matter that, remember, according to the dossier is top-top secret)?  And I know what you’re thinking – well, if they were in collusion, of course there’s such a person. But who is it? You’d think that there couldn’t be too many people who fit this description – being a Russian emigre, close to the Trump campaign, and also with top-level Kremlin access.

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This is described as someone’s opinion so it’s hard to argue against or fact-check. I will note that the e-mails from John Podesta’s Gmail account started being published by WikiLeaks in October 2016, and since the e-mails run only through March 2016, and given that WikiLeaks usually takes time to prepare for a dump, whoever broke into Podesta’s Gmail account was likely very active at the time when this report was dated. If you believe that it was the Russians who broke into Podesta’s Gmail account, then this intelligence report is precisely wrong. Eleven days after this report, on August 10, Guccifer 2.0 published the personal contact info of 200 prominent Democrats, so if you believe that Guccifer 2.0 was the alter ego of the Russian government, this intelligence report was precisely wrong.

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At least 8 years. So, given that this report is dated the end of July 2016, this means that this cooperation started no later than the first half of 2008. It’s funny to look back at this now, but as recently as mid-2015, there were lots of people who refused to believe that Donald Trump would ever actually run for president.  Lots of people thought it was a reality TV-type stunt, which many people thought about his previous musing about running for president.

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This paragraph seems like filler. So the source said that the Kremlin had intelligence on Hillary Clinton. That does not seem like an earth-shattering revelation, especially since this allegation was already made elsewhere in the dossier. And having alleged that the Russians have blackmail material on Trump, is it necessary to then say that as long as he’s cooperative it won’t be released? Does Steele think his clients are so naive that they need an explanation of how blackmail works?

August 5, 2016 report

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This report is dated precisely one week before Sergei Ivanov was dismissed from his post and moved to a less political role as Putin’s special envoy for the environment.  If you want to be charitable to the dossier, you could say that this report foreshadows Ivanov’s dismissal (later reports say that the dismissal was unexpected). But on the other hand, clearly Ivanov’s move to his new position was already in the works on Aug. 5 – it was reported that rumors of the move had been circulating since spring. Why hadn’t Steele’s “well-placed and established” sources heard those rumors?

It’s not clear what the text in quotation marks mean. They appear to be direct quotes by Ivanov.  Or are they quotes by the sources?  Either way, they would appear to be translations of snippets from conversations that originally took place in Russian. There really is a Russian saying that goes “like an elephant in a porcelain shop.” It appears to be from a 1921 poem by Nikolai Agnivtsev, “On Elephants and Porcelain.” There isn’t a phrase that translates as “sit tight,” though obviously the concept exists.

One of the criticisms that have been directed at the dossier is that it appears to have been drafted by Russians, and Steele’s sources were Russian. So I don’t mean to imply that the fact that one of the quotes in the dossier is an actual Russian saying is an indicator of authenticity, just thought it was worth pointing out.

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This time the text in quotation marks is unambiguously intended to be read as a direct quote by Ivanov. “Scared shitless” is not a saying that exists in Russian, but there are shit-related sayings that have to do with fear, like “chut’ ne nalozhil v shtany ot strakha” (so scared he nearly shit his pants).

Peskov is widely considered not to be an independent political player in the Kremlin. He is seen as being a sort of assistant to Putin in addition to his role as spokesman, but someone who likes the spotlight, celebrity and glamour a bit too much.

About Turkey: Peskov started his career in the Russian diplomatic corps as a Turkey specialist and worked as the third secretary of the Russian embassy in Ankara in the early ’90s. He speaks Turkish. So hearing him mentioned in connection with Turkey makes some sense.

Russia was reported to have given advance warning to Erdogan, based on intelligence intercepts, that a coup was being planned. Peskov denied these reports. Just a few weeks earlier, Turkish president Erdogan had apologized to Putin for shooting down a Russian fighter jet on the Turkey-Syria border and Medvedev had announced that Russia would begin lifting the sanctions it had imposed on Turkey in connection with the incident.

So in early August 2016 it seemed like Russia-Turkey relations had turned a corner and were being handled quite well – as a matter of fact, over the course of 2016, Turkey went from being the US’s partner on Syria to being in a de facto alliance with Russia. The turnaround is stunning – in January 2016, the US and Turkey were conducting joint operations in Syria, and in January 2017, Turkey and Russia were conducting joint operations in Syria. Whoever was handling Russia’s relationship with Turkey, they did a good job by any objective measure – hard to see how this can be considered “botched.”

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If you follow Russian politics, this sounds ridiculous. The day before the date of this report, on August 4, 2016, a petition appeared on Change.org, addressed to Putin, calling for Medvedev’s ouster. Western observers of Russia were predicting that Medvedev would be dismissed. It seems highly unlikely that he’d be “openly” working against members of Putin’s team in mid-2016, confiding in people that he wanted to be able to travel to the US, when he was on very thin ice and his political enemies were sharpening their knives to hasten his dismissal. Going around expressing open doubt about Putin’s course of action would’ve been out of character for what we know of Medvedev and would have been, at the least, politically self-destructive.

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Around this time, there was a lot of speculation in the media about whether Trump would drop out of the race. It’s remarkable how the “intelligence” in the dossier follows what was being reported in the news at the time.

August 10, 2016 report (1 of 2)

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Remember, Ivanov was dismissed on Aug. 11, the day after this report. So in his last week on the job, just a few days before being relieved of his duties and assigned to work on environmental protection, Ivanov was supposedly confiding in close colleagues about future developments planned for the super-secret Kremlin election meddling operation? He, and his close colleagues, would’ve known by then that he would be gone soon. So Steele’s sources were privy to Ivanov’s confidential conversations about secret operations, but they didn’t know that Aug. 11 was going to be Ivanov’s last day on the job? Ivanov was leading the operation to “hack the US election” literally days before he was fired? That doesn’t make sense.

And of course, starting in October, WikiLeaks began dumping e-mails from John Podesta’s hacked Gmail account. That hacking occurred in March 2016. If you believe Russia was behind that, then the people in the Russian government who were knowledgeable about the operation would have known in August 2016 that there were many more leaks to come.

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Again, this seems like an unlikely conversation for Ivanov to be having in his last week on the job.

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Putin doesn’t drink. He’s only been known to consume small sips of alcoholic drinks at official functions.

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Lyndon Larouche is in his 90s. He appeared on RT a few times back in 2008 and 2011. The most recent media appearance I could find of his was an appearance on Roger Stone’s radio show in November 2016, and he sounded alive and well. If the FBI are verifying the dossier, they have access to the databases that would let them see whether Larouche traveled to Russia recently. Carter Page had been to Moscow the previous month. Jill Stein and Michael Flynn attended, on a paid basis, RT’s 10th anniversary gala in Moscow in late 2015, and both were seated at Putin’s table. This had all been made public, in the news, by the date of this report. So no scoops here.

August 10, 2016 report (2 of 2)

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This ethnic Russian associate of Trump – who is it? Is it Sergei Millian? He’s supposed to be Source D, a “close associate” of Trump, but he might also be the ethnic Russian (even though Millian is technically from Belarus) associate referred to here and elsewhere.

Here we have Carter Page telling the maybe-Millian about his collusion with Russian intelligence on the DNC leaks. Do people really go around confessing crimes willy-nilly? According to this dossier, they do.

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The big Trump campaign news of August 2016, of course, was that on Aug. 17, Steve Bannon replaced Paul Manafort as head of Trump’s campaign. This news was absolutely huge. If Steele’s source would have said on Aug. 9 that Bannon would be replacing Manafort, or even that a change of campaign management was being discussed, then in retrospect, you would have to admit that this source was well-informed. But if on Aug. 9, this source was talking about “a rethink and a likely change of tactics,” s/he either was not very close to the campaign or was holding back on Steele.

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So this associate was so close to the campaign that he was privy to all of the team’s discussions about collusion with the Russians, but he didn’t know that Steve Bannon was about to be named as the new campaign head?

August 22, 2016 report

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President Putin really was in Volgograd on Aug. 15, 2016. It was announced on the Kremlin website in advance and he was accompanied by the Kremlin press pool. He attended a meeting in central Volgograd of something called the Presidium of the State Council, and the topic was development of barge transportation – a transcript was up on the Kremlin website at 6:45pm that same day.  An hour later, at 7:45pm, photos went up on the Kremlin website showing Putin inspecting the newly remodeled Volgograd airport on his way out of town, and apparently the press followed him from the meeting to the airport. It seems like there would be better opportunities for a secret meeting than during a fly-in-fly-out, same-day trip to a public, official event closely covered by local and national press.

But my main beef with this paragraph involves the phrase “kick-back payments to MANAFORT as alleged.” Manafort wasn’t accused of receiving kickbacks (as I’ll explain in a moment, that doesn’t make any sense) – he was accused of being paid cash by Yanukovich’s political party in an off-the-books scheme, and this was widely covered in the press after the story broke in The New York Times on Aug. 14.

That’s not a kickback. A kickback is when a government or other organization is offering a contract to an outside contractor, typically in a competitive bid situation, and then when the winner is selected the winner kicks back some of the contract proceeds to the person who manipulated the contract selection process. That is a form of bribery, and it is illegal under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for Americans to pay kickbacks to foreign officials. So if there were kickbacks involved in Manafort’s work for Yanukovich, it would’ve been Manafort kicking back money to Yanukovich, not the other way around.

However, what Manafort was actually accused of in the press–receiving money not properly accounted for under Ukrainian law–is a crime under American law only if he received income that he didn’t report to the IRS, or engaged in money laundering, even if an indisputable “documentary trail” emerges.

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It is difficult to imagine Putin and his inner circle being fearful of political vulnerability and embarrassment in connection with Manafort. As even Julia Ioffe–a journalist opposed to both Trump and Putin–conceded in a recent article iThe Atlantic, the political consulting work that Manafort did for Yanukovich and others in the former Soviet Union was hardly unusual. And even if Manafort was paid off the books in Ukraine, that’s not a crime in America (and hardly unusual in Ukraine, one of the most corrupt countries in the world), and there’s no extradition agreement between the US and Ukraine (it’s a safe bet that Manafort will likely never go back to Ukraine). Now the journalists and investigators going after Manafort are looking at it from an income reporting / money laundering angle, possibly involving some real estate transactions in the US. But Putin’s people would hardly have been thinking that far ahead back in August 2016.

Just to point out – there’s a certain implication in the dossier’s description of Manafort’s work for Yanukovich that this work was “exposed” during the 2016 US election campaign. That’s not the case. Manafort just wasn’t a household name before 2016, so no one cared. He was just another American political consultant who was more than happy to offer his services to unsavory foreign politicians, like Sandra Bullock’s character in “Our Brand is Crisis.”

Manafort’s work for Yanukovich was public knowledge in Ukraine as early as 2005, and was reported actively in the Ukrainian press. By 2016 it was part of Manafort’s resume.

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This is all stuff that was being reported on in the mainstream media in August 2016, in much more detail and with better sourcing. If I were paying good money for Steele’s intelligence reports, I’d be disappointed with “insight” like this.

September 14, 2016 report (1 of 2) – Alfa Group

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The report on the Alfa Group (yes, Steele spelled it wrong) is actually the only place in the whole dossier where the dossier was ahead of the mainstream news cycle. The report doesn’t give any context for why a special report on the relationship between Putin and Alfa was requested.  But on Halloween 2016, the story broke that in Spring and Summer 2016, white-hat hackers had been tracking electronic communications between Trump’s e-mail server and an Alfa-Bank (part of Alfa Group) computer in Russia, posting their findings on Reddit – so it was in the public domain but you really had to be paying attention (as apparently a few New York Times journalists and probably the FBI were). I doubt that Steele or his sources were following hacker forums on Reddit.

So here’s what I think happened: by September, Steele’s ultimate client was the Democrats. Someone tipped off the Hillary Clinton campaign (and/or the Clinton-aligned group that was paying Fusion GPS / Orbis) about the electronic link to Alfa, and then Orbis (Steele) got a call asking for an intelligence report on Alfa Group’s connections to Putin, without saying why. However, since it was on the phone, the Orbis person heard it as “Alpha Group,” and their Russian sources didn’t correct the error.

Obviously this is very minor. This is one of the “errors” that is frequently referred to (in BuzzFeed’s original story accompanying the dossier, for example) in the mainstream media when talking about why the media are cautious with the dossier. Not hard to deduce that the reporters who refer to spelling errors as the main identifiable problem with the dossier are really implying “this thing looks legit other than some typos.”

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I’m very proud of myself here – with my Internet research I found a smoking gun to prove that the allegations in the above paragraph of the dossier are demonstrably false.

Vladimir Putin was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg from 1992 to 1996. In August 1996 Putin moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow to be Deputy Chief of the Presidential Property Management Directorate (Yeltsin was president at the time, of course). He needed a new job because his boss, St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, lost his re-election bid.

putin

At the time when Putin left St. Petersburg, Govorun was working as head of government relations for Rosprom, Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s holding company (small world, eh?). Govorun didn’t start working for Alfa Group until March 1997 at the earliest (he was reported to have joined Alfa after Vladislav Surkov, who went to Alfa in March 1997). Also, his title at Alfa (one of them) was deputy head of government relations (not head).

Govorun

Alfa-Bank was a direct competitor to Khodorkovsky’s Bank Menatep (a subsidiary of Rosprom) at the time. So there’s no way Fridman and Aven used Govorun to deliver cash to Putin when Putin was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. The dates don’t line up. There was an 8-month gap after Putin left St. Petersburg and before Govorun started working at Alfa.

How could Steele’s sources have made this mistake? Because Govorun’s Wikipedia page omits his time at Rosprom, and makes it look like Govorun worked at Alfa-Bank from 1993 to 2000. This is why you don’t prepare your report based on Wikipedia, kids!

Govorun wikipedia

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Well now that we know this “top level Russian government official” either doesn’t exist or is full of shit, we can just ignore this paragraph as “intelligence.”

But do Fridman and Aven play ball with the Putin government? Sure they do, and so do other Russian businesspeople, and they play ball with local authorities too. It’s part of the Russian business climate, which helps to keep Russia near the bottom of Transparency International lists. That’s been reported on elsewhere though, in much more detail and with much more authoritative sourcing, so we don’t need Steele’s BS “top level Russian government official” to tell us this.

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September 14, 2016 report (2 of 2) – Trump in St. Petersburg

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This report gets the prize for the most worthless report in the dossier – it appears to be a space-filler (gotta earn that $15K/mo retainer) but also may have been prepared in response to a special request from Fusion GPS’s Hillary-aligned clients to investigate whether Trump had business in Russia’s second-largest city (to expand the focus beyond Moscow).

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Now remember, Fusion GPS is paying Steele’s firm a monthly retainer plus expenses to find dirt, usable dirt, on Trump’s connections with Russia. And what they get is: Trump paid bribes in St. Petersburg, but don’t expect there to be any proof. And Trump went to sex parties in St. Petersburg, but all of the witnesses have been silenced.  Here’s your bill.

This piece of “intelligence” had zero value to Hillary’s people.

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Is Google against Steele’s religion or something? What’s funny (but only if you’re not the client who paid good money for this shoddy intelligence) about this paragraph is that, in an effort to sound like the client is getting juicy tidbits from “well-placed sources” speaking to a “trusted compatriot,” Steele actually presents his information about the Trump-Agalarov connection as being a bit uncertain (“my sources believe”) even though the information was not only completely accurate, but also easily confirmable by anyone with Internet access.

With a 5 second Google search, Steele could’ve easily cut out the middleman of the “well-placed sources” and “trusted compatriot” who “believed” that Araz [actually spelled Aras – maybe that’s why the Google search failed?] Agalarov was involved with Trump.

If Steele had presented this information honestly, he wouldn’t have gone through the pantomime of claiming that unnamed “figures” “believed” that Agalarov was closely involved with Trump; Steele would’ve come right out and said: yes, it is a documented fact that Aras Agalarov was closely involved with Trump in Russia, and there were numerous media reports on this in the English-language mainstream press before the date of Steele’s report (not to mention the Russian press), accompanied by lots of photos of Trump posing with Agalarov and his pop star son Emin. As a matter of fact, Aras Agalarov and Trump were partners in the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, which was held at Crocus City Hall, a building owned by Aras Agalarov.

Not only was the relationship between the Agalarovs and Trump not secret in any way, they went out of their way to hype it in the media. Here’s Trump holding a fucking joint press conference with Aras Agalarov and his son in 2013:

agalarov and trump.png

Had Steele’s team done a search for Trump’s name on YouTube, he would have found Aras Agalarov’s son’s music video in which Trump has a cameo – note that this video was posted on November 20, 2013.

And the video was filmed at–get this–the Ritz-Carlton Moscow! Or at least the pool scene was.

Or if Steele was feeling particularly lazy, he could’ve gone to Trump’s Twitter feed, where Trump proudly told his millions of followers that he’d just spent the weekend with Aras Agalarov and that he wanted to do more business with him. Maybe in Steele’s world, being “well-placed” to hear intel about Trump’s connections with Russian businesspeople means reading Donald Trump’s tweets?

There’s no other word but “fraud” to describe an “intelligence report” that tries to make it look like the connection between Trump and the Agalarov family is some kind of inside information that you’d need “well-placed sources” to obtain. It took some serious balls for Steele to present it that way, since all anyone would have to do is Google the names mentioned in the report and it would be instantly clear that the intelligence was worthless.

October 12, 2016 report

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Hmm. This is the intelligence that Hillary’s people were getting less than one month from Election Day.  Intelligence that they paid for. Makes you feel sorry for her; I strongly suspect she was being conned with these reports.

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This directly contradicts previous reports in this dossier that said that the Wikileaks dumps were over and done with. Of course, a few days before this report, on Oct. 7, the first dump of John Podesta’s e-mails was posted to WikiLeaks, just one hour after Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” Access Hollywood video came out.

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It makes you wonder whether Christopher Steele is actually partly to blame for Hillary’s loss, by making her team overconfident so close to the election?

The allegation that Putin was close to firing Lavrov is ridiculous if you follow Russian politics. Lavrov is, next to Putin, probably Russia’s highest-profile politician, and in terms of likability he’s probably number 1 (the guy is on T-shirts, for Chrissakes), because even Putin’s opponents tend to see Lavrov as a professional, highly skilled diplomat who represents Russia well on the world stage. It’s easy to imagine Lavrov staying in the job even in the extremely unlikely event that Putin chooses not to run for another term. How the hell would Putin explain to the public why Lavrov is being canned?

075

Well, there’s one prediction the dossier got right: Trump certainly is “divisive in disrupting the whole US political system.”

October 18, 2016 report

076

There’s a verifiable factual error in this paragraph. It’s a very subtle one, but it’s there. It says the meeting “took place on either 7 or 8 July, the same day or the one after Carter Page made a public speech to the Higher Economic School in Moscow.”

So reading that, it’s clear that Page made his speech to the Higher Economic School on July 7, and then July 8 was the day after, right?

No. For two reasons. First, Page was invited to Russia by the New Economic School, not the Higher School of Economics. They’re two different universities, and whichever one Steele was trying to refer to, he got the name wrong.

Secondly, Page gave speeches to the New Economic School on both July 7 and July 8.  July 7 was a lecture called “The Evolution of the World Economy: Trends and Potential,” and July 8 was a commencement speech at the New Economic School’s graduation, where Carter Page’s speech was called “How to Increase Your Potential in Unstable Times.” According to journalists in attendance, the speeches sucked.

To make things more confusing, in 2014 Carter Page had been a guest lecturer at the Higher School of Economics. He gave a joint lecture on Feb. 27, 2014 with the two themes  “Cooperative Approaches to the Political and Economic Development of Iraq” and “Measuring Preferential Polarization: Theory and Application,” together with his co-lecturer Ozdemir Ugur, a Turkish scholar who is currently a lecturer in quantitative political science at Edinburgh University.

077

In December 2016, Rosneft did indeed sell 19.5% of its shares to two investors using a complicated financing structure. Some have pointed to this as an example where the dossier correctly predicted something would happen. However, the sale of 19.5% of Rosneft to an investor was part of Russia’s privatization plan for 2016, which the Russian government announced in December 2015, and the timeline for the privatization (referring to the 19.5% figure) was updated throughout the year. Anyone who was following Russian business news in 2016 knew that Rosneft was planning to sell 19.5% to an investor that year.

078

Oct. 17. That’s like 3 weeks before the election. Sechin and Rosneft had been under sanctions for about two-and-a-half years by this time. Why not just wait until the election, see who wins, and then re-adapt?

079

Sucks to be Michael Cohen! Unless the dossier is true, he should sue for libel.

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Sechin is a very big deal in Russia, and a total badass that you don’t want to mess with. He is an intimidating guy who is as serious as a heart attack. Carter Page is a dumbass. But the account of this conversation makes it sound like Page was running the meeting like a seasoned pro, leaving Sechin hanging, keeping things vague and noncommittal. I, on the other hand, think that Sechin would never bother meeting with a nobody like Carter Page to discuss something as consequential as billion-dollar oil deals and international relations unless Page had made his bona fides abundantly clear.

Igor Sechin

Above: Igor Sechin.

October 19, 2016 report (1 of 2)

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So now we’re supposed to believe that Steele’s sources were so dedicated to providing information to him that they were happy to disobey a direct order from Putin not to discuss these matters, even in private.

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“Unexpectedly.” This looks suspiciously like ass-covering as to why Steele’s earlier reports dated mere days before Ivanov’s dismissal, containing statements attributed directly to Ivanov, made no mention that these were his last days on the job.

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Hmm… “without the need to release more of her e-mails.” Now this is just a sloppy factual error. The only e-mails the Russian government is accused of releasing in 2016 (through WikiLeaks) are from the DNC hack and the hack of John Podesta’s Gmail account. Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, on the other hand, were being released by the United States government pursuant to Freedom of Information Act requests.

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Most political observers believed at the time that it was Bernie Sanders, not Russia, who pushed Hillary Clinton away from supporting TPP. This is because Bernie Sanders said openly that he was pressuring Hillary to drop support for TPP.

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Strangely, the only place where the “veterans’ pensions ruse” was ever reported was in the Steele dossier, and the media haven’t been tipped off to it to this day. Dodged a bullet!

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Remember, this is after Putin had supposedly directly ordered all Kremlin insiders, all of whom are tried-and-true Putin loyalists, not to talk about these matters even in private.

October 19, 2016 report (2 of 2)

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Steele’s team has made the bold decision to misspell Paul Manafort’s name as MANNAFORT (Mannafort from heaven?) throughout this report.

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We learn more details in the report dated the very next day – the EU country where this alleged meeting took place was the Czech Republic.

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This is a factual error. What is referred to here as a “pro-government policy institute” called “Law and Comparative Jurisprudence” is actually called “The Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law Under the Government of the Russian Federation” and it was founded in 1925 under the jurisdiction of the “people’s commissariats of the RSFSR [what Russia was called when the USSR was a multi-ethnic union].”  In other words, it’s not “pro-government,” it is explicitly the government, and not just the government but an institution with a 90-year unbroken history of being part of the government since its founding by the Evil Empire USSR, back when Vladimir Lenin was still running the show.  So any contact with this institute, like with Rossotrudnichestvo, is contact with the Russian government, not with mere “agents of influence,” and if the Kremlin was “farming out” contact with Trump’s people to another part of the Russian government with an arguably even more questionable legacy it wouldn’t really help the Trump team to escape the “hotter” situation.

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“Need to cover up now that it was being exposed”? Trump had been accused of being in league with the Russians since before he got the nomination.

October 20, 2016 report

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Czech intelligence says they have no evidence that Cohen went to Prague, witnesses say that he was in the US during August and September 2016 and his passport doesn’t have stamps showing that he left or entered the US. FBI investigators would have full access to Cohen’s comings and goings to and from the US.

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This and the other mentions of Rossotrudnichestvo’s alleged involvement in the alleged Trump-Russia conspiracy are some of the most easily debunkable parts of the dossier. Whoever wrote the dossier didn’t bother to do even 10 seconds of Google research on Rossotrudnichestvo.

Rossotrudnichestvo isn’t a “parastatal organization.” It is, as it helpfully describes itself on its own English-language “About Rossotrudichestvo” webpage, a “Federal agency for the Commonwealth of the Independent States, Compatriots leaving abroad and for the international humanitarian cooperation” [sic – they mean “living,” not “leaving”] that “operates under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation,” and whose head was appointed by presidential decree. How in the hell is that “cover” or a “‘plausibly deniable’ vehicle” for holding secret meetings with Trump’s personal lawyer during a campaign where Trump is being accused of being in cahoots with the Russian government?

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Again, laughable as to “plausibly deniable.” So it would’ve been safe for Cohen to be meeting with the pro-Putin head of the foreign relations committee of the Russian Duma, which (in the West, at least) is considered a rubber-stamp legislature?

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As mentioned above, the dossier seems to treat Manafort’s work for Yanukovich as having been a “revelation” exposed in 2016, when in reality this information was in the public domain (though no one cared until Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager) since 2005. And Cohen would’ve had to be a huge idiot to believe that meeting with Russian officials at a Russian foreign ministry office in Prague was somehow less “compromising” than traveling to Moscow. If anything, it looks much more cloak-and-dagger.

December 13, 2016 report

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NGO stands for “nongovernmental organization.” As mentioned above, Rossotrudnichestvo is a GO, an integral part of the Russian government. So that’s pretty thin “cover” for any “interlocutors from the Kremlin.”

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This timeline seems off – isn’t this a little late to start organizing the cover-up? The DNC hack started in September 2015 and apparently ended May 2016, which is when the latest e-mails in the WikiLeaks dumps were dated.  Podesta’s e-mails were hacked in March 2016, the time of the infamous phishing attack.

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This is one of the juiciest paragraphs in the dossier. The reason it is redacted is because I downloaded it from BuzzFeed after BuzzFeed was sued by Alexey Gubarev, whose name along with the names of his companies XBT Holdings and Webzilla were previously given in the dossier under the blacked-out spaces. Gubarev sued BuzzFeed and its editor-in-chief for libel and slander and, lacking any basis other than the dossier itself for these allegations, BuzzFeed blacked out the identifying information.

Again, the timeline according to the dossier seems to be happening a little late given the known dates of the hacks. They had happened months before the alleged Prague meetings.

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This is quite a cinematic portrayal of hacking. The implication seems to be that there were teams of hackers in a room somewhere and they were ordered to “stand down.” Is that how hacking works? Especially in this case, where the hacking that resulted in the 2016 DNC and Podesta leaks had taken place several months before this alleged meeting? This also seems to contradict the declassified US intelligence community findings that said that the hacks were done by Russian government hacker teams called “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear” that were working for the GRU, a Russian intelligence agency that isn’t mentioned once in the dossier. The Romanian angle apparently refers to Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be Romanian but was also believed to be a Russian intelligence agency alter ego only pretending to be Romanian. If these were Russian government hackers, why would they be ordered to cross international borders and “lay low” in Bulgaria, a member of NATO?

Also, given that Russia allegedly had huge wins in their 2016 election meddling, why would they be so stingy as to demand that Trump pay his share for the hacking? Especially if they were so concerned about covering their tracks? This only would implicate the Trump campaign and create a paper trail leading directly to Trump transition team members in the United States, plus they would be involving themselves in a criminal conspiracy to violate US money laundering laws, RICO and the like.

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3 thoughts on “Point-by-point factcheck of the Steele dossier”

  1. […] sole source for that August 2016 Brennan claim of “Russian hacking” is the absurd Steele dossier some ex-MI6 dude created for too much money as opposition research against Trump. The only […]

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