A civil war between news and opinion has broken out at the New York Times.
In a Times op-ed posted online Friday, Louise Mensch, a writer and former member of the UK Parliament, gives her suggestion for what questions the House Intelligence Committee should ask as it holds hearings on Russia’s influence in the US election. Mensch offers Times readers reason to trust her expertise: “In November, I broke the story that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court had issued a warrant that enabled the F.B.I. to examine communications between ‘U.S. persons’ in the Trump campaign relating to Russia-linked banks,” she writes.
On Twitter, Times reporters lashed out.
“Please note that the NYT newsroom disagrees,” national security reporter Charlie Savage tweeted. Savage highlighted from his report this month knocking down the FISA claim: “To date, reporters for The New York Times with demonstrated sources in that world have been unable to corroborate that the court issued any such order.”
The core of the dispute is whether the FISA court granted a warrant, which the Times and Washington Post have not reported, though the BBC and McClatchy have. The Guardian reported about a June FISA request but stopped short at confirming the supposed October one was granted.
[…] If Russia has ties with WikiLeaks today, that certainly wasn’t the case seven years ago, says Mika Velikovsky, a Russian journalist who worked extensively with WikiLeaks and interviewed Assange three times.
While working for the magazine Russian Reporter, WikiLeaks’ main partner in Russia, Velikovsky received packets of U.S. diplomatic cables from Shamir, sorted through the documents and published articles based upon them. He also worked on the 2012 leak of emails from the intelligence company Stratfor and collaborated with WikiLeaks on the 2013 documentary film Mediastan.
In 2010, Velikovsky defended WikiLeaks on Russian state television’s political talk shows — programs that often reflect the positions of the Kremlin. There, he clashed with pro-Kremlin experts who claimed that WikiLeaks was the anti-Russian project of American spies.
“At the time, it seemed the authorities were worried about WikiLeaks and didn’t know what it was,” he says. “So the Russian mainstream media was very anti-WikiLeaks.”
Then, in 2012, Julian Assange got a show on RT, a Russian state-funded propaganda channel. The development came amid a worldwide financial blockade of WikiLeaks, when the organization desperately needed money. Velikovsky thinks Assange’s appearance on RT marked WikiLeaks’ transformation from a threat to an ally in the eyes of the Russian authorities.
However, he suggests that WikiLeaks’ seeming alliance with Russia stems from Assange’s own personal predicament. Hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy for over 4 years has robbed Assange of “a lot of the joy [of life] that you and I have,” Velikovsky says. “If someone did that to us, it would be very personal.”
From MSNBC politics shows to town hall meetings across the country, the overarching issue for the Democratic Party’s base since Trump’s victory has been Russia, often suffocating attention for other issues. This fixation has persisted even though it has no chance to sink the Trump presidency unless it is proven that high levels of the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Kremlin to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. election — a claim for which absolutely no evidence has thus far been presented.
The principal problem for Democrats is that so many media figures and online charlatans are personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies — just as right-wing media polemicists did after both Bill Clinton and Obama were elected — that there are now millions of partisan soldiers absolutely convinced of a Trump/Russia conspiracy for which, at least as of now, there is no evidence. And they are all waiting for the day, which they regard as inevitable and imminent, when this theory will be proven and Trump will be removed.
Key Democratic officials are clearly worried about the expectations that have been purposely stoked and are now trying to tamp them down. Many of them have tried to signal that the beliefs the base has been led to adopt have no basis in reason or evidence.
- Clinton Ally Says Smoke, But No Fire: No Russia-Trump Collusion
- Beware The False Temptations Of The Russia Story
- John McCain: Rand Paul ‘Is Now Working for Vladimir Putin’
- Inside The Investigation To Get To The Bottom Of Russia’s Role In The Election
- Leading Putin Critic Warns of Xenophobic Conspiracy Theories Drowning U.S. Discourse and Helping Trump
- Obama’s intel chief says he knows of no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion
- New Twitter Detectives Want To Bring Down Trump Without Becoming Alex Jones
In January, the CIA, FBI, and NSA released their much-anticipated report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. It states that Putin had a “clear preference” for Trump and personally ordered operations designed to get him elected. Russia’s intervention, the report goes on, was the “boldest” in its “longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order.”
The outcry over Russian machinations comes with a heavy dose of irony considering that, twenty years ago, the United States launched an even bolder interference campaign to ensure Boris Yeltsin’s reelection.
The 1990s were one of the most tumultuous and tragic periods in modern Russian history. In 1996, a chaotic mix of Russian schemes — from fraud and profiteering to old-fashioned conspiracy — worked to keep Yeltsin in the driver’s seat. Throughout, American players silently watched, facilitated, and at times, actively helped construct the Faustian bargain between Yeltsin and his oligarch supporters. This pact would have ruinous effects on Russia’s democracy and economy in the decades to come.
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez host a debate between attorney Scott Horton, lecturer at Columbia Law School and a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, and Robert Parry, veteran investigative journalist and editor of the website Consortium News. (Democracy Now!)
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on Meet the Press this past weekend to discuss the Trump-Russia scandal. Chuck Todd asked: Were there improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?
JAMES CLAPPER: We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that…
CHUCK TODD: I understand that. But does it exist?
JAMES CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge.
Todd pressed him to elaborate.
CHUCK TODD: If [evidence of collusion] existed, it would have been in this report?
JAMES CLAPPER: This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.
This is the former Director of National Intelligence telling all of us that as of 12:01 a.m. on January 20th, when he left government, the intelligence agencies had no evidence of collusion between Donald Trump‘s campaign and the government of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Virtually all of the explosive breaking news stories on the Trump-Russia front dating back months contain some version of this same disclaimer.
Leading Putin Critic Warns of Xenophobic Conspiracy Theories Drowning U.S. Discourse and Helping Trump
Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist and author who has become one of the nation’s leading Russia experts and one of its most relentless and vocal critics of Vladimir Putin. She has lived her life on and off in the U.S. and Russia, but as a Jewish lesbian and mother of three children, she left Russia in 2013 and moved back to the U.S. in part because she felt threatened by the increasingly anti-LGBT climate there, one that began particularly targeting LGBT adopted families with discriminatory legislation.
Throughout the years Gessen has become one of the go-to Kremlin critics for the U.S. media, publishing harshly anti-Putin reporting and commentary in numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate, Harper’s and several articles about political repression in Russia for the Intercept. She has also become a virulent critic of Donald Trump, writing shortly after the election that “Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won,” while describing the critical lessons that can be learned on how to resist Trump’s autocratic impulses by studying Putin.
She now has a new article in the New York Review of Books – entitled “Russia: the Conspiracy Trap” – that I cannot recommend highly enough. Its primary purpose is to describe, and warn about, the insane and toxic conspiracy-mongering about Russia that has taken over not the fringe, dark corners of the internet that normally traffic in such delusional tripe, but rather mainstream U.S. media outlets and the Democratic Party. Few articles have illustrated the serious, multi-faceted dangers of what has become this collective mania in the U.S. as well as Gessen’s does.
The New Yorker is aggressively touting its 13,000-word cover story on Russia and Trump that was bylined by three writers, including the magazine’s editor-in-chief, David Remnick. Beginning with its cover image menacingly featuring Putin, Trump, and the magazine’s title in Cyrillic letters, along with its lead cartoon dystopically depicting a UFO-like Red Square hovering over and phallically invading the White House, the article is largely devoted to what has now become standard — and very profitable — fare among East Coast newsmagazines: feeding Democrats the often xenophobic, hysterical Russophobia for which they have a seemingly insatiable craving. Democratic media outlets have thus predictably cheered this opus for exposing “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s influence on the presidential election.”
But featured within the article are several interesting, uncomfortable, and often-overlooked facts about Putin, Trump, and Democrats. Given that these points are made here by a liberal media organ that is vehemently anti-Trump, within an article dispensing what has become the conventional Democratic wisdom on Russia, it is well worth highlighting them.
Nearly three decades after it helped topple communist totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe, US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is challenging Moscow again, this time with a new 24-hour TV news channel in Russian.
Officially launched in Prague this month, the “Current Time” channel targets an audience of more than 270 million people, mostly in the former Soviet area, with news and views that provide an alternative to the Kremlin’s version of reality as channelled through state-controlled media.
The new channel’s launch comes as relations between Moscow and the West have hit their lowest point since the Cold War, triggered by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its military campaign in Syria a year later.
The U.S. government already spends $600 billion dollars a year on its military — more money than the next seven biggest spenders combined, including China and Russia.
On Monday, the White House said it would request $54 billion more in military spending for next year. That increase alone is roughly the size of the entire annual military budget of the United Kingdom, the fifth-largest spending country, and it’s more than 80 percent of Russia’s entire military budget in 2015.
If Congress were to follow Trump’s blueprint, the U.S. military budget could account for nearly 40 percent of global military spending next year. The U.S. would be outspending Russia by a margin of greater than 9 to 1.
At a meeting of U.S. governors on Monday, Trump described his forthcoming budget proposal as “a public safety and national security budget.”
Vladimir Putin, you may have noticed, is everywhere. He has soldiers in Ukraine and Syria, troublemakers in the Baltics and Finland, and a hand in elections from the Czech Republic to France to the United States. And he is in the media. Not a day goes by without a big new article on “Putin’s Revenge”, “The Secret Source of Putin’s Evil”, or “10 Reasons Why Vladimir Putin Is a Terrible Human Being”.
Putin’s recent ubiquity has brought great prominence to the practice of Putinology. This enterprise – the production of commentary and analysis about Putin and his motivations, based on necessarily partial, incomplete and sometimes entirely false information – has existed as a distinct intellectual industry for over a decade. It kicked into high gear after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, but in the past few months, as allegations of Russian meddling in the election of President Donald Trump have come to dominate the news, Putinology has outdone itself. At no time in history have more people with less knowledge, and greater outrage, opined on the subject of Russia’s president. You might say that the reports of Trump’s golden showers in a Moscow hotel room have consecrated a golden age – for Putinology.
And what does Putinology tell us? It turns out that it has produced seven distinct hypotheses about Putin. None of them is entirely wrong, but then none of them is entirely right (apart from No 7). Taken together, they tell us as much about ourselves as about Putin. They paint a portrait of an intellectual class – our own – on the brink of a nervous breakdown. But let’s take them in order.
[…] Few foreign villains have been vested with omnipotence and ubiquity like Vladimir Putin has been — at least ever since Democrats discovered (what they mistakenly believed was) his political utility as a bogeyman. There are very few negative developments in the world that do not end up at some point being pinned to the Russian leader, and very few critics of the Democratic Party who are not, at some point, cast as Putin loyalists or Kremlin spies.
Putin — like al Qaeda terrorists and Soviet Communists before him — is everywhere. Russia is lurking behind all evils, most importantly — of course — Hillary Clinton’s defeat. And whoever questions any of that is revealing themselves to be a traitor, likely on Putin’s payroll.
As The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel put it on Tuesday in the Washington Post: “In the targeting of Trump, too many liberals have joined in fanning a neo-McCarthyite furor, working to discredit those who seek to deescalate U.S.-Russian tensions, and dismissing anyone expressing doubts about the charges of hacking or collusion as a Putin apologist. … What we don’t need is a replay of Cold War hysteria that cuts off debate, slanders skeptics and undermines any effort to explore areas of agreement with Russia in our own national interest.” That precisely echoes what Stone observed 62 years ago: Claims of Russian infiltration and ubiquity are “the thesis no American dare any longer challenge without himself becoming suspect” (Stone was not just cast as a Kremlin loyalist during his life but smeared as a Stalinist agent after he died).
I’ve written extensively about all this throughout the last year, as Russia Fever reached (what I hope is) its apex — or, more accurately, its nadir. I won’t repeat that all here.
But I do want to draw attention to an outstanding article in today’s Guardian by the Russian-born American journalist Keith Gessen, in which he clinically examines — and demolishes — all of the hysterical, ignorant, fearmongering, manipulative claims now predominant in U.S. discourse about Russia, Putin, and the Kremlin.
[…] It is increasingly plausible that there are powerful forces inside the intelligence community attempting to engineer U.S. foreign policy in a way that would fully reignite the Cold War and thwart any attempt to cooperate with nuclear-armed Russia at even the most basic level.
The Kremlin’s response to Flynn’s departure was fairly muted. Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called it an internal U.S. matter and refrained from commenting further. Other officials were more colorful in their language. The general view in Moscow is that anti-Russia hysteria is simply so bad in the U.S. that the intelligence agencies will do anything in their power to prevent Washington from becoming friendlier with the Kremlin. Leonid Slutsky, chair of the foreign relations committee in the Russian State Duma, said the “target” in all this was U.S.-Russia relations. He later commented that recent statements from the White House on the status of Crimea were like a “cold shower” that cooled expectations of a better relationship.
If the “anti-Trump plot” theory sounds more than a bit dubious coming from Moscow, take a listen to former Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich, who represented the Bernie Sanders left before Sanders did. He makes a reasonable case that Flynn’s departure was essentially the first shot fired in a “deep state” coup against Trump.
“What’s at the core of this is an effort by some in the intelligence community to upend any positive relationship between the U.S. and Russia,” Kucinich said on the Fox Business Network. “There are people trying to separate the U.S. and Russia so this military-industrial-intel axis can cash in.”
The first video features former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich during his appearance on FOX Business Network’s Mornings with Maria. The second video features former Republican Congressman Ron Paul in conversation with Daniel McAdams. Both men, who often came together when serving in the U.S. Congress, give their views on Michael Flynn’s resignation and the who is most likely to benefit from the scandal. (Fox Business/Liberty Report)
- The Leakers Who Exposed General Flynn’s Lie Committed Serious — and Wholly Justified — Felonies
- After Michael Flynn’s Resignation, Surveillance Defenders Suddenly Care About Wiretap Abuse
- Trump and Spicer Blame Russia Scandal on ‘Illegal Leaks’ Rather Than Lies by Senior Officials
- Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence
- Pence learned Flynn had misled him after Washington Post story
- Trump knew for weeks Michael Flynn misled over Russia contact
- White House was warned about Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia, say sources
- What Did Trump Know About Russia and When Did Donald Trump Know It?
- White House Names Possible Shortlist for Flynn Replacement
- Lawmakers Call for More Inquiries After National Security Adviser Flynn’s Resignation
- Russian Officials See Flynn’s Resignation as a Major Blow to Diplomacy
- America’s spies anonymously took down Michael Flynn and that is deeply worrying
- Kucinich Pins Flynn Leak on Intel Community, Warns of Another Cold War
- Ron Paul on the Winners and Losers of Flynn’s Resignation
- Flynn’s Resignation Won’t Stop Trump Admin From Targeting Iran
- Foreign Spies Must Be Bored by How Easy Trump Makes Their Jobs
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh said in an interview that he does not believe the U.S. intelligence community proved its case that President Vladimir Putin directed a hacking campaign aimed at securing the election of Donald Trump. He blasted news organizations for lazily broadcasting the assertions of U.S. intelligence officials as established facts.
Hersh denounced news organizations as “crazy town” for their uncritical promotion of the pronouncements of the director of national intelligence and the CIA, given their track records of lying and misleading the public.
“The way they behaved on the Russia stuff was outrageous,” Hersh said when I sat down with him at his home in Washington, D.C., two days after Trump was inaugurated. “They were just so willing to believe stuff. And when the heads of intelligence give them that summary of the allegations, instead of attacking the CIA for doing that, which is what I would have done,” they reported it as fact. Hersh said most news organizations missed an important component of the story: “the extent to which the White House was going and permitting the agency to go public with the assessment.”
Hersh said many media outlets failed to provide context when reporting on the intelligence assessment made public in the waning days of the Obama administration that was purported to put to rest any doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails.
Dark clouds are gathering overhead for the world’s women. With the inauguration of Donald Trump the state of global gender relations will probably face another onslaught.
We’ve seen the bad behaviours against women that he has exhibited at a personal level.
Now what we must face up to is that his powerful public leadership status underscores a resurgence of the demagogic “strongman” in global politics. Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and of course the persistence of the strongman in the Middle East affects the tenor of global politics.
The macho leader, egotistic, unilateral and chest-thumping, worries us because of the grandstanding, bullying and violence that all too often follows in their wake.
What a strongman at the head of a nation also does is to impact our ideas of what it means to be a “man” and what is acceptable male behaviour at an ordinary day-to-day level. It sets a precedent about how men can or even must behave in order to be men and gives permission for treating women – or minorities – badly. It gives permission to regressive notions of gender relations which still fall desperately short of balance for the genders.
[…] Founded in 2005 as Russia Today, the station was handed the modest mission of improving the global discussion about Russia. Its several branches, which now include Spanish and Arabic stations, plus semi-independent operations in the US and Britain, are entirely funded by the Russian government. Last year’s total budget was 18.6 billion rubles, or approximately $310 million.
The network appears to have changed focus about five years ago to become more about promoting the Russian point of view on international affairs, and much less about covering Russia per se. It also became a platform for coverage of social problems in Western societies, government malfeasance, corporate non-accountability, and the dysfunctions of democracy that often contrasts in tone, and sometimes content, with mainstream media fare.
But the ODNI report accuses Russia of launching a multi-faceted campaign to shape the election outcome against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump. That included allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee’s emails and giving them to Wikileaks, as well as unleashing armies of internet trolls and waves of disinformation to skew the national discourse, all on Kremlin orders.
The open face of that campaign, it alleged, is RT and its sister English-language news agency Sputnik, which serve as permanent Kremlin-directed messaging tools “to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest.”
The Real Purpose of the Russian Hacking Intel Report: Chris Hedges in Discussion with Abby Martin and Ben Norton
Chris Hedges is joined by journalists Abby Martin and Ben Norton to discuss the declassified U.S. intelligence report on Russia’s alleged “influence campaign” on the U.S. presidential election. They explore the allegations and why a large portion of the report is dedicated to RT America’s programming. (On Contact)
S intelligence agencies have pointed toward the Russia Today television channel as part of an ongoing effort to prove the Kremlin conducted a pro-Trump “influence campaign” in the run-up to the presidential election. U
The long-awaited and recently declassified intelligence report into Russian influence in the election claimed that Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine” contributed to this influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to both Russian and international audiences. The report dedicated seven of its 25 pages to RT America—an offshoot from RT’s main Moscow-based international operation—which is funded by the Russian government.
But it’s not just intelligence agencies characterizing RT America as a vehicle for pro-Trump messaging. The accusation has become a common theme across traditional US media outlets as anti-Russia hawks and both liberal and conservative analysts seek to discredit anyone who strays from the accepted narrative on RT as a Kremlin stooge.
The problem with the claim that RT America is pro-Trump is that it is simply false. Many of the channel’s biggest names were either ardently anti-Trump or highly skeptical of what a Trump presidency might mean for America.
The leader of the UK’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, called for a “de-escalation” of tensions between NATO and Russia, adding in a BBC interview on Thursday: “I want to see a de-militarisation of the border between them.” Along with the U.S., the UK has been rapidly building up its military presence in the Baltic region, including states which border Russia, and is now about to send another 800 troops to Estonia, 500 of which will be permanently based.
In response, Russia has moved its own troops within its country near those borders, causing serious military tensions to rise among multiple nuclear-armed powers. Throughout 2016, the Russian and U.S. militaries have engaged in increasingly provocative and aggressive maneuvers against one another. This week, the U.S. began deploying 4,000 troops to Poland, “the biggest deployment of US troops in Europe since the end of the cold war.”
It was in this context that Corbyn said it is “unfortunate that troops have gone up to the border on both sides,” adding that “he wanted to see better relations between Russia, NATO and the EU.” The Labour leader explained that while Russia has engaged in serious human rights abuses both domestically and in Syria, there must be a “better relationships between both sides . . . there cannot be a return to a Cold War mentality.”
The response to Corbyn’s call for better relations and de-escalation of tensions with Moscow was swift and predictable.
Tales of the New Cold War: Stephen F. Cohen on the Trump Allegations and the Possibility for Détente
In the first interview, Professor Emeritus Stephen F. Cohen speaks to John Batchelor about what he calls ‘unsubstantiated’ allegations that President-elect Donald Trump has been compromised by the Russians. In the second interview. Cohen speaks to Thom Hartmann the various scandals revolving around Trump and the possible implications for the future. (The John Batchelor Show/Thom Hartmann Program)
Last fall, a week before the election, I broke the story that a former Western counterintelligence official had sent memos to the FBI with troubling allegations related to Donald Trump. The memos noted that this spy’s sources had provided him with information indicating that Russian intelligence had mounted a yearslong operation to co-opt or cultivate Trump and had gathered secret compromising material on Trump. They also alleged that Trump and his inner circle had accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin. These memos caused a media and political firestorm this week when CNN reported that President Barack Obama and Trump had been told about their existence, as part of briefings on the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia hacked political targets during the 2016 campaign to help Trump become president. For my story in October, I spoke with the former spy who wrote these memos, under the condition that I not name him or reveal his nationality or the spy service where he had worked for nearly two decades, mostly on Russian matters.
The former spy told me that he had been retained in early June by a private research firm in the United States to look into Trump’s activity in Europe and Russia. “It started off as a fairly general inquiry,” he recalled. One question for him, he said, was, “Are there business ties in Russia?” The American firm was conducting a Trump opposition research project that was first financed by a Republican source until the funding switched to a Democratic one. The former spy said he was never told the identity of the client.
The former intelligence official went to work and contacted his network of sources in Russia and elsewhere. He soon received what he called “hair-raising” information. His sources told him, he said, that Trump had been “sexually compromised” by Russian intelligence in 2013 (when Trump was in Moscow for the Miss Universe contest) or earlier and that there was an “established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.” He noted he was “shocked” by these allegations. By the end of June, he was sending reports of what he was finding to the American firm.
A day after Donald Trump held a press conference to decry Buzzfeed’s reporting, spout nonsensically about how he doesn’t do treason, and claim that he wouldn’t take part in a golden shower party because he’s a germaphobe, the Wall Street Journal has reported the identity of the British spy who helped compile the explosive dossier.
Christopher Steele is the 52-year-old owner of a London-based private security company, but he previously served in MI6, posing as a diplomat in Russia and Paris. The English FA hired Steele’s private security firm to investigate FIFA corruption while it was still in the running to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. England was unsuccessful in its attempts to delegitimize Russia or Qatar’s bids, but in the summer of 2010, Steele reportedly supplied the FBI with information about the widespread corruption within FIFA.
According to Reuters, the FBI came to him in 2010 and the information he supplied helped spur on the FBI’s investigation.
The extraordinary but unverified documents published on Tuesday on Donald Trump’s ties with Moscow began life as a piece of opposition research, which has become as much a part of US politics as yard signs and coloured balloons.
There is a small industry of research and investigative firms in Washington, typically staffed by a mix of former journalists and security officials, adept at finding information about politicians that the politicians would rather stay hidden. The firms often do not know who exactly is hiring them; the request could come from a law firm acting on behalf of a client from one of the parties.
In this case, the request for opposition research on Donald Trump came from one of his Republican opponents in the primary campaign. The research firm then hired one of its sub-contractors who it used regularly on all things Russian: a retired western European former counter-intelligence official, with a long history of dealing with the shadow world of Moscow’s spooks and siloviki (securocrats).
According to his publicly-available LinkedIn profile, Christopher Steele never existed before he co-founded Orbis Business Intelligence, a “corporate intelligence consultancy” providing “strategic insight, intelligence and investigative services”.
There is no mention of the 52-year-old’s life before 2009, when he and Orbis took up offices in Belgravia, one of the wealthiest districts in London, and indeed the world.
The man behind the explosive dossier on US President-elect Donald Trump is proving equally elusive in the flesh, as well as online. “Terrified for his safety”, he is reported to have driven from his home in the south of England having asked a neighbour to look after his cat because he would be “gone for a few days”.
Now, though, some sources have started to fill in the gaps in the secretive Mr Steele’s CV.
[…] The night-and-day report and reaction hint at either a difficult relationship to come between the president and America’s spies, or a cagey response by a future commander in chief who is only beginning to realize how the chess masters in the Kremlin play the game of geopolitics.
The unclassified report is unlikely to convince a single skeptic, as it offers none of the evidence intelligence officials say they have to back it up—none of those emails or transcripts of phone calls showing a clear connection between the Russian government and the political intrusions. The reason—revealing how U.S. spies know what they know could endanger U.S. spy operations.
And it contains some out-dated information that seems slapdash considering the attention focused on it. Errors in the report were almost inevitable, because of the haste in which it was prepared, said one U.S. official briefed on the report. The report comes in three levels—unclassified, classified and then one so top secret that only a handful of intelligence professionals was able to view the whole thing. That most classified report is the one that went to President Barack Obama, and to Trump. The merely classified version will be briefed to lawmakers in the coming days. The classification issues alone meant it was “hard to transmit around” to be fact-checked, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
After months of anticipation, speculation, and hand-wringing by politicians and journalists, American intelligence agencies have finally released a declassified version of a report on the part they believe Russia played in the US presidential election. On Friday, when the report appeared, the major newspapers came out with virtually identical headlines highlighting the agencies’ finding that Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” to help Donald Trump win the presidency—a finding the agencies say they hold “with high confidence.”
A close reading of the report shows that it barely supports such a conclusion. Indeed, it barely supports any conclusion. There is not much to read: the declassified version is twenty-five pages, of which two are blank, four are decorative, one contains an explanation of terms, one a table of contents, and seven are a previously published unclassified report by the CIA’s Open Source division. There is even less to process: the report adds hardly anything to what we already knew. The strongest allegations—including about the nature of the DNC hacking—had already been spelled out in much greater detail in earlier media reports.
But the real problems come with the findings themselves.
Reports late Tuesday of Russia having “compromising” information on President-elect Donald Trump quickly escalated into a media frenzy on Wednesday, with the release of the full dossier making the allegations by Buzzfeed, which both fueled serious doubts about the veracity of the claims and a flurry of speculation surrounding some of sexual allegations therein.
The dossier makes several different claims, none of them substantiated beyond the claims of alleged and anonymous officials, accusing the Trump campaign of direct cooperation with Russia on the election, trading dirt on Hillary Clinton for intelligence somehow collected by the Trump team on Russian oligarchs living in the US, and providing leaked Clinton emails in return for Trump expressing doubt about US support for NATO.
The more salacious aspects of the report got the most attention, however, centering on claims that Russia had substantial dirt on Trump himself, not the least of which a 2013 video in which Trump putatively rented the presidential suite at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton, knowing that the Obamas had stayed there, explicitly to “defile” their bed.
[…] There is a real danger here that this maneuver can harshly backfire, to the great benefit of Trump and to the great detriment of those who want to oppose him. If any of the significant claims in this “dossier” turn out to be provably false — such as Cohen’s trip to Prague — many people will conclude, with Trump’s encouragement, that large media outlets (CNN and BuzzFeed) and anti-Trump factions inside the government (CIA) are deploying “Fake News” to destroy him. In the eyes of many people, that will forever discredit — render impotent — future journalistic exposés that are based on actual, corroborated wrongdoing.
Beyond that, the threat posed by submitting ourselves to the CIA and empowering it to reign supreme outside of the democratic process is — as Eisenhower warned — an even more severe danger. The threat of being ruled by unaccountable and unelected entities is self-evident and grave. That’s especially true when the entity behind which so many are rallying is one with a long and deliberate history of lying, propaganda, war crimes, torture, and the worst atrocities imaginable.
All of the claims about Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and ties to Trump should be fully investigated by a credible body, and the evidence publicly disclosed to the fullest extent possible. As my colleague Sam Biddle argued last week after disclosure of the farcical intelligence community report on Russia hacking — one which even Putin’s foes mocked as a bad joke — the utter lack of evidence for these allegations means “we need an independent, resolute inquiry.” But until then, assertions that are unaccompanied by evidence and disseminated anonymously should be treated with the utmost skepticism — not lavished with convenience-driven gullibility.
Most important of all, the legitimate and effective tactics for opposing Trump are being utterly drowned by these irrational, desperate, ad hoc crusades that have no cogent strategy and make his opponents appear increasingly devoid of reason and gravity. Right now, Trump’s opponents are behaving as media critic Adam Johnson described: as ideological jelly fish, floating around aimlessly and lost, desperately latching on to whatever barge randomly passes by.
There are solutions to Trump. They involve reasoned strategizing and patient focus on issues people actually care about. Whatever those solutions are, venerating the intelligence community, begging for its intervention, and equating their dark and dirty assertions as Truth are most certainly not among them. Doing that cannot possibly achieve any good, and is already doing much harm.
The long-awaited report by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), allegedly proving Russian “interference” in the US election, includes a section solely dedicated to bashing RT, and specifically calls out my former show Breaking the Set, which ended two years ago, as a propaganda vector marking the beginning of the Kremlin attempt to subvert American democracy.
Desperate to push this US intelligence narrative, The New York Times called the report “damning and surprisingly detailed,” while adding that it includes no actual evidence.
The very next day, on Jan. 7, the Times published another piece titled “Russia’s RT, The Network Implicated in U.S. Election Meddling.”
In the article, NYT journalist Russell Goldman used two blatantly false statements about my work at RT to support the argument that the network is simply a Putin-dictated propaganda outlet.