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Steele Yourself Against Dossier Disinformation

 

Steele Yourself Against Dossier Disinformation

The Deza Wars are coming.

Courtesy Greg Olear, PREVAIL, author of Dirty Rubles: An Introduction to Trump/Russia


 

ON MONDAY, Reggie Walton, a federal judge, is slated to begin his in camera review of the Mueller Report redactions. He can’t do this remotely. “In camera” is Latin for “in a chamber,” meaning the judge’s private chamber, where the perusal of the highly classified material must take place. (The documents were delivered by the Justice Department on 30 March, but the date of the actual review process was pushed back three weeks, due to the pandemic.)

While appointed by George W. Bush, Walton is no fan of Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the release of the Report, writing:

The Court has grave concerns about the objectivity of the process that preceded the public release of the redacted version of the Mueller Report and its impacts on the Department’s subsequent justifications that its redactions of the Mueller Report are authorized by the FOIA. These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility and in turn, the Department’s representation that ‘all of the information redacted from the version of the Report released by the Attorney General’ is protected from disclosure by its claimed FOIA exemptions.

Basically, Walton is calling Barr a liar and a company man.

With the in camera review looming, the AG took to the TV last Wednesday in a preemptive strike—a favorite Barr tactic. In an interview with Laura Ingraham, perhaps the most insidious of the Fox News propagandists, Barr called the investigation of Trump’s Russia ties “one of the greatest travesties in American history. Without any basis, they started this investigation of his campaign, and even more concerning actually is what happened after the campaign—a whole pattern of events while he was president…to sabotage the presidency—or at least have the effect of sabotaging the presidency.”

That Barr can make the “greatest travesties” claim with a straight face, while the country is on lockdown because of his boss’s fuck-awful response to the coronavirus outbreak, is particularly audacious, even for him. His statement is 100% pure, premium, uncut disinformation—Russian deza, specifically. The investigation into Trump’s campaign was warranted, as the Mueller Report lays out the many, many illicit contacts between members of that campaign and Putin’s Russia (I do the same in my book, Dirty Rubles). And what happened after the campaign was not “sabotage,” but rather the indictment and conviction of Trump campaign associates, including foreign adviser George Papadapoulos, surrogate and longtime Trump chum Roger Stone, former national security adviser Mike Flynn, RNC finance guy and Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, and the chair of the fucking campaign, Paul Manafort.

The mendacious AG is clearly trying to get ahead of the story, knowing full well that the redacted sections of the Mueller Report are damning for the President and his associates, especially Jared Kushner and Donald Trump. Jr. And make no mistake—Barr exists to protect the president. His plan of attack is obvious. Step One is to provide a counter-narrative that his Fox News disciples can utilize. “The Attorney General says it’s a witch hunt, and he’s read the entire Report” is a lovely Trumpist talking point for the Sean Hannitys and Tucker Carlsons of the world to hammer home in the coming weeks.

The second step is to conflate the Mueller Report—a document written by the Office of the Special Counsel, designed to be used in courts of law—with the series of raw intelligence reports produced by ex-superspy Christopher Steele, colloquially known as “the dossier.” This tactic has been used before to manipulate the supine mainstream media, to deleterious effect, as Eric Garland explains:

Expect the Fox News and other Trump propagandists to disingenuously attack what Garland calls “TheStrzokPizzagateDossier!!!” in the next few weeks.

The “Dodgy Dossier”

Once a Moscow-based senior intelligence officer for MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA, Christopher Steele left the agency to found his own company, Orbis Business Intelligence, in 2009. In 2016, Steele was hired by Fusion GPS, an American firm founded by former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson, to investigate Donald John Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.

Trump’s defenders insist that Steele was paid by Hillary Clinton, and that he was a Democratic Party operative actively seeking to dig up dirt on Trump. This is complete bullshit. Fusion GPS was initially hired by a Republican attorney seeking opposition research on Trump; after Trump won the nomination, a Democratic group decided to continue to fund the effort. Steele himself reported directly to Simpson and was not told, and did not ask, for whom he was ultimately working. In effect, Steele was an independent contractor, and a blind one at that.

One of the many lies perpetuated by Trump’s apologists is that the Steele dossier was the impetus for the FBI’s investigation into Trump/Russia. This, too, is patently false. The investigation itself—codename Crossfire Hurricane—began in July 2016, when the Bureau received word from Australian intelligence that another of Trump’s foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, had been in clandestine contact with agents of Vladimir Putin beginning on 14 March 2016. Later, Papadopoulos had drunkenly boasted of this encounter to an Australian diplomat, who notified his intelligence services, who in turn alerted the FBI. The FISA warrant had been obtained well before Comey was even aware of Steele’s report, which existence he seemed to ignore until relatively late in the game.

In the summer of 2016, Steele, recognizing the dire national security implications of what he’d found, was determined to share his findings with American law enforcement. Senator John McCain was one of the first to be contacted. The FBI, too, was notified, and Steele met with an agent in Rome in July 2016 to deliver the reports. But the Bureau, for whatever reason, did not share Steele’s concern.

To reiterate: Steele was a longtime British spy in Russia, the sort of character who turns up in James Bond novels (Louise Mensch described him as “M”). He enjoyed a sterling reputation in the intelligence community, with whom he’d collaborated countless times. He was uncannily, if not uniquely, qualified to assess the danger of what he found. (He was also, as it happened, predisposed to giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, owing to his relationship with Ivanka).

As the weeks wore on, and the FBI continued to ignore him, Steele showed his reports to members of the press, notably David Corn at Mother Jones. (Bigger outlets were contacted, too…but turned Steele down). Eventually—and with curious timing, as Eric Garland notes in his above tweets—Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith decided to publish the entire dossier.

The mainstream press glommed on to a single salacious detail, found on the first few pages of the dossier, involving Trump beholding Russian prostitutes urinating on a bed at the Moscow Ritz during the Miss Universe pageant in November of 2013. The phrase “pee-pee tape” entered the popular lexicon. Steele had made it clear that this was a rumor, something he heard people discussing, and that he could not vouch for its veracity. But Trump and his supporters, with a big assist from the sensationalist press, used this lurid detail as a cudgel to try and discredit the entire dossier. Steele, a consummate professional—and a British citizen trying to help his American allies withal—was portrayed as a wingnut. Some of the more crazed Trumpists in Congress demanded he be indicted!

This is ironic, because—and this is important—Steele never intended that his reports be disseminated to a wide audience. Raw intelligence is exactly what the name implies: raw. Steele was repeating what he’d heard, with the caveat that at least some of the report would turn out to be “deza.” The dossier was potentially useful to the FBI because it wasn’t a real intelligence product, and therefore wasn’t classified:

 

Try explaining to a Fox & Friends viewer—or, hell, to a Fox & Friends host—the intricacies of raw intelligence gathering. Nuance is not their jam. It is far easier for these seditious troglodytes to make a specious pro-Trump argument over the course of a week:

MONDAY: Repeat Lie
Steele’s dossier was the basis for the FBI investigation into Trump.

TUESDAY: Discredit the Dossier
The dossier contains things even the anti-Trumpers know aren’t true, like that ridiculous pee-pee tape story.

WEDNESDAY: Conflate the Two
The Mueller Report concerns some of the same characters Steele writes about, so it must be the same document.

THURSDAY: Cite Barr
The AG says the Report is a “travesty,” and he knows more than some wannabe James Bond.

FRIDAY: Trump Was Right All Along!
The whole Russia thing is a witch hunt, with no basis in fact, intended to “sabotage” the Trump presidency.

I expect some variation of this fallacious reasoning will be broadcast on Fox News and OAN and the other propaganda outlets (including “alt-left” ones) in the lead-up to the release of whatever bombshells Judge Walton may find lurking in the redactions. And there will be bombshells. Why else would the material be redacted?

Steele yourself, friends. The Deza Wars are coming.


Note: Image of the two Trump propagandists maintaining social distance during their lie-a-thon is from the Twitter feed of Laura Ingraham.

Greg Olear is the author of Dirty Rubles: An Introduction to Trump/Russia (2018), as well as two novels. He lives in New York.

You can subscribe to Olear's website PREVAIL here and follow him on Twitter here.

 


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