Habakkuk on the dossier’s beginings

Habakkuk

My strong impression is that nobody on the British side vetted the dossier for publication. A striking feature of the early news coverage is that there appeared to be total confusion, with some of the reporting suggesting that the sources quoted wanted to hang him out to dry, others that they wanted to defend him.

An interesting aspect is that not only were anonymous sources linked to MI6 quoted on both sides of the argument – which could have been explained by disagreements within the organisation: in different stories, not however far apart in date, its head, Sir Alex Younger, was portrayed as holding radically different views.

When CNN publicised the existence of the dossier on 10 January 2017, the same day that it was published by ‘BuzzFeed’, it suggested that the author was British. The following day, the WSJ named Steele.

On 13 January, Martin Robinson, UK Chief Reporter for ‘Mail Online’, published a report whose headlines seem worth quoting in full:

‘I introduced him to my wife as James Bond': Former spy Chris Steele's friends describe a “show-off” 007 figure but MI6 bosses brand him “an idiot” for an “appalling lack of judgement” over the Trump “dirty dossier”: Intelligence expert Nigel West says friend is like Ian Fleming’s famous character; He said: “He’s James Bond. I actually introduced him to my wife as James Bond’; Mr West says Steele dislikes Putin and Kremlin for ignoring rules of espionage; Angry spy source calls him ‘idiot’ and blasts decision to take on the Trump work; Current MI6 boss Sir Alex Younger is said to be livid about reputation damage.’

(See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/… . )

On 15 January, however, Kim Sengupta, Defence Editor of the ‘Independent’, produced a report headlined: ‘Head of MI6 used information from Trump dossier in first public speech; Warnings on cyberattacks show ex-spy’s work is respected.’

(See https://www.independent.co…. .)

A great deal of evidence, I think, suggests that practically all those involved in ‘Russiagate’ were caught totally unprepared by Trump’s victory, that they then went rushing around like headless chickens, and that part of this process involved a decision being taken to publish the dossier, without consulting British intelligence. If people like Younger were not consulted, then it would seem to me unlikely that Steele was.

This leads me on to another puzzle about the dossier to which I have been having a difficulty finding a solution. Long years ago I was reasonably familiar with libel law in relation to journalism. Anyone who ‘served indentures’, as very many of us did in those days, had to study it. Later, I got involved in a protracted libel suit – successfully, I hasten to add – in relation to a programme I made, and had the sobering experience of having a top-class libel barrister requiring me to justify every assertion I had made.

In the jargon then, a crucial question when an article, or programme, was being 'vetted' before publication was whether it represented a ‘fair business risk.’ This involved both the technical legal issues, and also judgements as to whether people were likely to sue, and how if they did the case would be likely to pan out.

On the face of things, one would not have expected that people at ‘BuzzFeed’ would have gone ahead and make the dossier public, without having it 'vetted' by competent lawyers. And I have difficulty seeing how, if they did, the advice could have been to publish what they published.

I have some difficulty seeing how the advice could have been to include the memorandum with the claims about the Alfa Group oligarchs, unless either these could be seriously defended or it was assumed that contesting them effectively would involve revealing more ‘dirty linen’ than these wanted to see aired in public.

And I have immense difficulty seeing how any competent media lawyer would not have recommended, at the minimum, the redaction of the names of Aleksej Gubarev and his company from the final December 2016 memorandum. This would have made legal action unlikely, without greatly diminishing the effect of the claims.

Trying to make sense of why such an obvious precaution was not taken, I find myself wondering whether, in fact, the reason may have been that the people responsible for the dossier may have actually believed this part of it at least.

If that is so, however, the most plausible explanation I can see is that while other claims in the dossier may well be total fabrication, either by the people at Fusion and Steele or by some of their questionable contacts, this information at least did come from what Glenn Simpson, Nellie Ohr et al thought were reliable Russian government sources.

But if this was so, and if what they thought was accurate information was actually disinformation, the likely conduit would not have been through Steele, but from FSB cybersecurity people to their FBI counterparts.

I think that the cases involving Karim Baratov and Dmitri Dokuchaev and his colleagues may be much more complex than is apparent from what looks to me like patent disinformation put out both on the Western and Russian sides.

It it is I think material that intelligence agencies commonly include a great variety of people, ranging from very able analysts and operators to complete dolts. So, the CIA has employed both Philip Giraldi and John Brennan, MI6 both Alastair Crooke and also Christopher Steele and Alex Younger.

It is however somewhat revealing that one now finds Giraldi and Crooke appearing on a Russian site, ‘Strategic Culture Foundation’, while Brennan and Younger are treated as authoritative figures by the MSM.

If you want to get a clear picture of quite how low-grade the latter figure is, incidentally, it is worth looking at the speech to which Kim Sengupta refers.

(See https://www.sis.gov.uk/medi… .)

A favourite line of mine comes in Younger's discussion of the – actually largely mythical – notion of ‘hybrid warfare’: ‘In this arena, our opponents are often states whose very survival owes to the strength of their security capabilities; the work is complex and risky, often with the full weight of the State seeking to root us out.’

Leaving aside the fact that this is borderline illiterate, what it amazing is Younger’s apparent blindness to clearly unintended implications of what he writes. If indeed, the ‘very survival’ of the Russian state ‘owes to the strength of [its] security capabilities’, the conclusions, seen from a Russian point of view, would seem rather obvious: vote Putin, and give medals to Patrushev and Bortnikov.

My strong suspicion is that ‘Russiagate’ is a kind of nemesis, arising from the fact that key figures in British and American intelligence have, over a protracted period of time, got involved in intrigues where they are way out of their depth. The unintended consequences of these have meant that people like Brennan and Younger, and also Hannigan, have ended up having to resort to desperate measures to cover their backsides.

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