Last night's release of the memo by Senator's Grassley and Graham asking the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation of Christopher Steele for possible violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001 provides critical confirmation of charges presented in the HPSCI memo prepared under the leadership of Devin Nunes, but it also confirms that Christopher Steele was not just some random guy offering good gossip to the FBI. He was an official intelligence asset. He was, in John LeCarre's parlance, our "Joe." At least we thought so. But, there is growing circumstantial evidence that Steele was acting on behalf of Britain's version of the CIA–aka MI-6. If true, we are now faced with actual evidence of a foreign country trying to meddle in a direct and significant way in our national election. Only it was not the Russians. It was our British cousins.
Here are the key take aways from the Grassley/Graham memo:
- The FBI has since provided the Committee access to classified documents relevant to the FBI's relationship with Mr. Steele and whether the FBI relied on his dossier work. . . .it appears that either Mr. Steele lied to the FBI or the British court, or that the classified documents reviewed by the Committee contain materially false statements.
- October 21, 2016, the FBI filed its first warrant application under FISA for Carter Page. . .The bulk of the application consists of allegations against Page that were disclosed to the FBI by Mr. Steele and are also outlined in the Steele dossier. The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page, although it does cite to a news article that appears to be sourced to Mr. Steele's dossier as well.
- March 17, 2017–the Chairman and Ranking Member were provided copies of the two relevant FISA applications, which requested authority to conduct surveillance of Carter Page. Both relied heavily on Mr. Steele's dossier claims, and both applications were granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
- December of 2017, the Chairman, Ranking Member, and Subcommittee Chairman Graham were allowed to review a total of four FISA applications relying on the dossier to seek surveillance of Mr. Carter Page, as well as numerous other FBI documents relating to Mr. Steele.
- When asked at the March 2017 briefing why the FBI relied on the dossier in the FISA applications absent meaningful corroboration–and in light of the highly political motives surrounding its creation–then Director Corney stated that the FBI included the dossier allegations about Carter Page in the FISA applications because Mr. Steele himself was considered reliable due to his past work with the Bureau.
- In short, it appears the FBI relied on admittedly uncorroborated information, funded by and obtained for Secretary Clinton's presidential campaign, in order to conduct surveillance of an associate of the opposing presidential candidate. It did so based on Mr. Steele's personal credibility and presumably having faith in his process of obtaining the information.
- . . . the FBI continued to cite to Mr. Steele's past work as evidence of his reliability, and stated that ''the incident that led to the FBI suspending its relationship with [Mr. Steele] occurred after [Mr. Steele] provided" the FBI with the dossier infonnation described in the application. The FBI further asserted in footnote 19 that it did not ,believe that Steele directly gave information to Yahoo News that "published the September 23 News Article."
The Grassley/Graham memo is devastating for Jim Comey. We can entertain only two possibilities–Jim Comey is a monumental dunce or he is a liar. One need only read the Michael Isikoff piece from 23 September 2016 to realize that Christopher Steele was a primary source for Isikoff. We are asked to believe that Comey is a naive, trusting soul bereft of curiosity, who refused to entertain the possibility that Steele was double dealing intel.
One of the most surprising revelations from the Grassley/Graham memo is in footnote 7. I'm surprised this was not redacted because it is drawn from a redacted/blacked out paragraph. Here is a critical bit of intel:
- The FBI has failed to provide the Committee the 1023s documenting all of Mr. Steele's statements to the FBI, so the Committee is relying on the accuracy of the FBI's representation to the FISC regarding those statements.
This means Steele was a signed up intelligence asset for the FBI. He was our spy. A FD-1023 is an FBI form used to document meetings between FBI and sources. It is also called a CHS Report–CHS aka Confidential Human Source. Here is an example posted by a Trump supporter on Twitter:
With this confirmation the next move is in the hands of the Brits. If Steele became an FBI asset without the knowledge of his former colleagues and chain of command, he faces legal risk. But two development in the last two days suggest that British intelligence officials, at least some key officials, were witting of Steele's activities in gathering information for the FBI.
First, Steele is resisting efforts to face a deposition in a lawsuit over his infamous dossier. Steele’s lawyers argued in a court in London this week that a deposition would endanger the former spy’s dossier sources as well as harm U.K. national security interests. If the Judge buys this claim then we will not have to speculate anymore about whether or not Steele was acting on his own or had a "wink-and-a-nod" from his MI-6 bosses.
Second, in my mind more telling, were the comments made this week by former MI-6 Chief, Richard Dearlove, on behalf of his former protege:
Among those who have continued to seek his expertise is Steele’s former boss Richard Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999 to 2004. In an interview, Dearlove said Steele became the “go-to person on Russia in the commercial sector” following his retirement from the Secret Intelligence Service. He described the reputations of Steele and his business partner, fellow intelligence veteran Christopher Burrows, as “superb.”
But we do not have to rely solely on Dearlove's glowing remarks about Steele. There is other information indicating that the Brits played a substantial, if not leading, role in spying on Trump and building the Russian meddling meme. The Guardian reported in April 2017 that:
Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told.
GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.
Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said.
So much for our special relationship. As the evidence of British intelligence meddling in the U.S. election piles up it will create some strains in our bi-lateral ties. It has the potential to harm cooperation on military, law enforcement and intelligence fronts. I suspect there is some scrambling going on behind the scenes to come up with a strategy to contain the damage while rooting out the sedition. Stay tuned.