A Bit about Dossiers: You’ve Been Eating this FUD for Years

NB: Note the byline — this is Rayne, with what might be another minority report.

Once upon a time in a nearby galaxy in the not-too-distant past, I worked in competitive intelligence. I gathered information about large technology companies’ competitors and summarized it into reports — dossiers, if you will. These firms made product decisions after reading these reports. Thanks to non-disclosure agreements I can’t tell you which companies or products, but know that if you are reading this you have been in contact with their goods and/or the long-term impact of their products and services.

The technology you’ve used or been in contact with has been shaped by these same dossiers.

My research was based on publicly available information. No sneaking around inside fence lines with false identification or hacking servers and networks to pry open locked-away goods. No flights overseas to slink through alleys into dark pubs with shady characters. I was armed with my native curiosity, a decent computer, both internet and library access, and a background in Fortune 500 report writing.

These companies took my work and used it in what is corporate warfare. It goes on around you every day, skirmishes and battles for your wallet and attention, volleys lobbed by hard and soft goods manufacturers and retailers, by firms selling services and intangibles. You think of this as marketing and often consciously blow it off.

Some of this corporate warfare is negative, openly bashing competitors based on comparative price and quality. But some of it is far more insidious; it attacks brands in a way designed to inspire long-term avoidance of entire product lines and brand names, and based on fairly flimsy information. Sometimes it’s just plain false — truly false misinformation and plausible disinformation.

But isn’t some of this fraud, you might ask? Hah-hah. Good luck proving it and making a case. Disinformation is particularly weaselly because it is plausibly true, plausibly deniable.

And I would bet dollars to donuts you’ve made tens and hundreds of purchasing decisions in your lifetime based on disinformation, perhaps even disinformation created from my dossiers. This is the point of corporate disinformation campaigns: to dissuade you from supporting their competition.

As a researcher I often ran into laundered information. For example, it might be disseminated as a small press release in another country in a language Americans don’t often bother to acquire any level of fluency. The press release may get picked up in another country, then by an English language media outlet which reports the content now two degrees from origin as news. Presto: what was once the direct output of a corporate entity is now news upon which buyers make decisions.

Is there media complicity here? Sure, to some degree; the point of origin may be lost and the first news outlets may not perceive the importance of information’s provenance because to them the origin is still visible; witness this week’s reporting by U.S. news outlets all ultimately relying on a single German business paper’s report. But the news media doesn’t bear all the culpability here. News consumers in the U.S. have been notoriously lax in validating content for decades.

It’s unsurprising given the antiquity of the admonishment, Caveat emptor. It has long been a problem that consumers of goods whether information or products and services must be more skeptical before committing their wallets and health, let alone their votes.

Social media has only made the job of laundering information even easier, between the number of washings platforms can offer and the automation of repetition, scale, and dispersion, all for a pittance. Over the last ten years the work I did as a researcher has become incredibly difficult; tracing the origin of a single piece of highly controversial or relatively arcane news originating overseas is like swimming against a mighty current.

And much of that current is deliberately crafted “alternative narrative” (pdf) — disinformation.

You may look askance at information laundering about products and services. Don’t. My own work was laundered not once but twice that I’m aware of. I wasn’t a marketing department employee at the firms which contracted competitive intel research. Nor was I an employ of the small firm contracted by these Fortune 100-1000 firms needing my services. That’s two removes and I am sure there was at least one more — the work I did was probably restated and re-presented internally, at a minimum.

Immaculate information conception — you were sold a bill of goods without knowing I was at the other end of the food chain. You never saw my fingerprints, heard my heels on the pavement, or caught a whiff of my perfume, even though in one way or another you have been touched in the last decade by decisions made based on my research.

~ | ~

You have been eating the FUD prepared for you — fear, uncertainty and doubt which gave you pause and made you choose something else. FUD has long been a tactic of technology companies; billions in sales have relied on its use. Entire industries have depended on it, created wholly from competitive intelligence dossiers like those I’ve prepared.

And yet concern trolls tell you Russia wasn’t a factor during the 2016 and that ‘fake news’ played no role whatsoever in Trump’s election? Bullshit. Russia’s culture and government make Silicon Valley look like pikers when it comes to the development and use of FUD. Social media and the decades-long reflexivity of right-wing media only served to weaponize Russia’s FUD against the U.S. We never saw it coming because we bought our own nonsense disinfo of American exceptionalism and western democracy’s inviolability.

Out there on the internet in either social media, public records, or leaked data is your voter records, disclosing your location, your state/congressional district/precinct, your voting habits; your vehicle records, your home address; your telephone number, your social media accounts and the network of family and friends and businesses with which you choose to associate. Add your purchasing habits from buyers’ loyalty cards and subscriptions, your fast food purchases when not made with cash. Your debts, whether your small business’ Dun & Bradstreet report, your mortgage, and now your personal credit record (thank you so much, Equifax). Your entire life can be digitally reconstructed to reveal your soft underbelly: what is it that makes you wake up at night in a cold sweat?

It takes little for corporations to identify and target you with an ad to make you doubt another company’s product. I don’t even have to weed through all sources I once mined and aggregated to tell them what you were thinking about Competitor X’s product Y. You’ve already told the world and the places you’ve connected to have shared it. There are simple algorithms to harvest what’s needed, quickly and cheaply.

You are not exceptional nor inviolable because you have been conditioned to exist in this information matrix. You have made little effort to pan golden fact from streams of manufactured information, too eager to swallow misinfo and disinfo because it’s easy — plausible, palatable, hits you right where you are most sensitive and vulnerable.

And yet concern trolls tell you a competing nation-state wouldn’t have used this against you, inserting FUD in a way that furthers their interests above our own, though trillions of dollars benefit at least one nation-state to do so? Though a competing nation-state’s disinformation campaign may have a very low benchmark of success, merely to dissuade you from wholeheartedly supporting restrictions against them?

Hah. Sucker. I have some technology to sell you.

~ | ~

Now here’s the part where I get annoyed with the friction over the Steele dossier. I have reasonable confidence in Steele’s findings. But this doesn’t put me in the same camp as folks who believe the dossier is gospel truth waiting to be decoded into trial-worthy evidence. My confidence separates me from those who pooh-pooh the dossier as ‘fake news’.

The fundamental problem with the public’s understanding of the dossier is the dossier’s utility. It is like the documents I prepared for technology companies — a competitive intelligence report, designed to inform its purchaser about the weaknesses and threats a competitor poses, or the most sensitive point where a competitor can be attacked. It’s not a full-blown SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) as the dossier is an external view; it’s closer to an inverted SWOT looking at a competitor excluding any internal perception of the client and its place in the market. It also doesn’t have to be one hundred percent accurate — just reasonably close for the marketing equivalent of a grenade or a Daisy Cutter as the situation dictates.

The friction on the left exists because nearly everyone with a published opinion on the Steele dossier doesn’t see it as a marketing document which should have helped a purchaser develop the political equivalent of the Four Ps — product, placement, promotion (pricing doesn’t really work here, apart from ensuring messaging includes the opportunity costs of electing the right/wrong candidate).

The Clinton campaign nor the dossier-purchasing campaign before it would not necessarily take the Steele dossier as evidence in a legal sense, just as the marketing documents I prepared weren’t evidence. I didn’t get sworn statements and multiple corroborating witnesses to disclose what competing technology companies were doing; neither did Christopher Steele or his intermediary client(s) do this about candidate Trump. (It kind of runs up a flag to your targets when you ask a witness to swear out a statement in front of a notary — so much for gaining a competitive edge.) But just as the firms who bought my services trusted me to gather reasonably accurate information sufficient to make a marketing decision, so, too, did Steele’s clients trust him to do the same. (Just as an aside, it’s rather amusing so few ask how such trust is generated.)

In short, competitive intelligence dossiers are not evidentiary. They’re aggregations of reasonably accurate information for the purpose of making a marketing decision, whether the dossier’s user is a product, service, or a campaign. They help a client look forward. They aren’t designed to lock down and set in stone facts for retrospection. And in most cases, competitive intelligence dossiers try to capture a moving target; they work within a narrow time frame because the field can change rapidly.

Think about a technology company approaching someone like me today for competitive intelligence. What use would the dossiers I prepared years ago be today? They don’t capture the competitive environment in which products now go head to head. I can think of multiple competitors I followed and wrote about in my dossiers which no longer exist. In the technology sector, the landscape can change overnight. What in the Steele dossier has changed if a Trump competitor were to try and use it today?

Argue all you want about the Steele dossier. In the mean time, the competition has been drafting a more fluid dossier on us, shifting their information warfare, I mean, campaign to persuade us to their cause or to our detriment, serving up fresh, hot FUD you may all too willingly consume. For all you know, the friction itself is a direct result of disinfo-created FUD.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

74 replies
  1. matt says:

    Spot on.  You’re like the biblical scholar equivalent for dossiers.   Whether its a car brand, political party, or a religion most people see only absolutes – it takes a lot of effort to pull apart whats true, kinda true, and total bullshit.  Thanks for an informative and insightful post.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Nice comment. A little bit of truth, or a lot, mixed with lies is the essence of propaganda and persuasion in general. Look at tobacco companies and the successors following their propaganda model.

    Specific to Hillary, the CJR reported an interesting study that quantifies what many of us knew intuitively, that the MSM, and the NYT in particular, gave much more coverage to Hillary’s foibles and vulnerabilities, while treating Donald Trump – and his policies [sic] – as serious. That worked out well. Imagine what could be done by players with serious intent and capabilities to sway an election, but not bound even by the few rules that limit GOP operatives.

  3. orionATL says:

    rayne ‘

    i really appreciate the extended discussion of FUD illustrated with your experience. it allows me to recognize and file a lot of institutional corporate, government, and think tank arguments into a simple, named category. you have used this term before but it as not familiar and so its relevance (and widespread use) had not sunk in.

    as for the second half of your argument – steele dossier – i also believe it is credible as raw reporting and was reported by a guy who is widely treated with respect, fbi to international business community. when you’ve got serious business and money riding on a project you don’t want a flake or a con reporting back to you on “reality”.

    as for:

    “…. Argue all you want about the Steele dossier. In the mean time, the competition has been drafting a more fluid dossier on us, shifting their information warfare, I mean, campaign to persuade us to their cause or to our detriment, serving up fresh, hot FUD you may all too willingly consume. For all you know, the friction itself is a direct result of disinfo-created FUD… ”

    yes. the fuckers are at it every day; eating in the woodwork, cf james _____ and the attack on wapo. the day democratic candidates start a roaring full volley of canonade against Republicans an party FUD on, e. g., the affordable care deceit from 2010 thru dec, 2017 or the 3rd reagan, bush/cheney, trump tax dumb-monkeys tax bill deceit, is the day i will be convinced the democratic party has removed its speakers block and has recovered its voice – a voice of rage at injustice and immorality that will lead naturally to policy choices flowing naturally there from.

    • Avattoir says:

       orionATL: “i also believe it is credible as raw reporting and was reported by a guy who is widely treated with respect”

      Does “raw reporting” include the sorts of rumors ‘reported’ in grocery store checkout line tabloids?

      But that’s actually not what causes me difficulty with this passage: my concern is with the coupling of that to “a guy … widely treated with respect”.

      This is from experience: After something like a ‘career’ in government service, then time to adapt to the different pace & priorities of working the other side, attorneys can enjoy hot runs of the kind of high profile & unlikely wins that garner them not-necessarily-earned public notoriety plus exaggerated credit among their peers. Non-lawyer clients for whom money doesn’t present limits seek them out, and colleagues see prudence in referring out even (even especially) longtime prized clients to them. And if they have anything in the way of personal charisma, even that already exaggerated status gets elevated.

      What all that can lead to – & usually does – is an opportunity to cash in. But all falls from grace travel the same distance.

      It’s an error to tie accumulated cred of a spokesman to any assumption of objective value in what said spokesman says. And it’s pretty much exactly the error who’s paying the tab wants made.

      • Rayne says:

        This: “the sorts of rumors ‘reported’ in grocery store checkout line tabloids” — there was a lot of disturbing news about Trump all along, but because it was labeled gossip column material, and one of his friends used a tabloid to treat it as gossip, it was discredited. Like recently deceased celebrity news columnist Liz Smith’s work which included details of Ivana Trump’s 1990 divorce, blown off because gossip.

        Which is how a guy — who creeped on naked teen girls in the beauty pageant he owned, who likely trawled for sex through modeling agencies (hello, wife number three) including the agency he owned, who rubbed shoulders with a sex offender and an alleged sex trafficker-cum-modeling-agency-owner — ended up in the White House. It’s all just gossip.

      • orionATL says:

        abbatoir:

        “…. This is from experience: After something like a ‘career’ in government service, then time to adapt to the different pace & priorities of working the other side, attorneys can enjoy hot runs of the kind of high profile & unlikely wins that garner them not-necessarily-earned public notoriety plus exaggerated credit among their peers. Non-lawyer clients for whom money doesn’t present limits seek them out, and colleagues see prudence in referring out even (even especially) longtime prized clients to them. And if they have anything in the way of personal charisma, even that already exaggerated status gets elevated…. ”

        your error in thought is using the typical gov attorney turned money-grubbing money rakeing adviser/lobbtyist in retirement as proxy for anything else :))

        secondly, your criteria is essentially statistical (group-based proxy data). that data is not necessaryily useful for evaluating a single individual who is a trained counterintelligence analyst with his own reputation and an evidently serious committment to finding out what high level russian officials were up to, in this case on involvement in the 2016 federal election.

        put differently, you cite”some” lawyer behavior of some wide reference group with nothing other than your opinion to validate their behavior. i cite the bon fieds supplied in print by the fbi regarding for steele’s reliability, the m16’s regard for its former counterintelligence employee, the cia’s regard, and the business community involvement with him.

        there is no reason to think the guy was a flake or a guy on the make. could be, but not evidently so without additional info (called “evidence” among lawyers) which has not been forthcoming.

        there are questions one can raise about dossier content, but i haven’t seen steele’s character raised as an issue.

        and, mysteriously, a portion of the dossier “has gone missing” as the brits say. consequential or in- ? why missing in such a hot doc? somebody has seen all the dossier. who’s holding back and why? those are useful questions.

  4. lefty665 says:

    The point Marcy’s making is that the dossier propaganda that Dems are propagating is not true. Up is not down. Even though both are directions, that is not close enough to make them equivalent or “reasonably accurate”. At their base propaganda and FUD are lies. Plausible enough to sometimes be believed, but still at their core lies.

    I appreciate your openness in relating the experience you had here, and am fortunate it is a career path I never had the opportunity or need to choose.

    FUD was a primary tool IBM used to maintain its dominance of IT. Those of us in the small computer revolution found ways to combat it and eventually destroyed IBM’s monopoly. It was not easy. The ability to tell truth from lies and to be able to simply articulate the difference was crucial. George Orwell had some observations on the topic.

    • Rayne says:

      1) “the Dems” — who are they? Be specific about whoever it is you said is propagating dossier propaganda. I’m sure Marcy will be more specific. If you don’t care for the fuzziness of plausibility then don’t make sweeping generalities.

      2) Save your passive-aggressive dig about ‘career paths’. My contracts paid five to six figures and only required me to do research comparable to what the average academic does when writing papers.

      3) Save the mansplaining about FUD, too. Seriously. I’m only surprised you didn’t whip out a copy of the Halloween Document 10 or quote Eric Raymond.

      Again, as I wrote above, the Steele dossier itself was essentially a marketing document. A business purchasing research like this should analyze it carefully, then augment the findings with additional research before making and implementing a decision. Ditto for a political campaign. What I saw in the portion of the Steele dossier published by BuzzFeed should have spurred more research AND some changes in the Clinton campaign — yes, even if some of the material in the dossier demanded further validation.

      The so-called pee tape, for example — this particular claim of kompromat for which so many on the left have been clamoring because of its prurience — should have spurred a different assessment than I saw happen from a distant and public perspective. The claim may or may not have been true; what it suggested, though, is that Trump is and has been rabidly anti-Obama and deeply racist. This takeaway (combined with his obvious Islamophobia and anti-immigrant position) should have spurred more research into his racist activities and an action plan which in my opinion would have encouraged an unforced error on the part of Trump or his campaign, combined with more and better outreach with people of color. This also was a glaring weakness in Sanders’ campaign, not having better relations with minority non-white groups; HRC improving relations with non-whites would have helped even more in the primary. It was a failure to misread this kompromat claim as merely salacious content, and not as a flag about race relations and an opportunity to message more effectively on popular Obama efforts.

      But this is what happens with outsourced dossiers; consultants on the outside don’t have control over how the content is analyzed or used. One company for which I did research made a similar gross error in misreading aggregate dossiers. They chose not to address repeated customer concerns but instead made a choice that led to an expensive loss in court to a competitor. The choice they made could have been fatal to a smaller corporation and frankly should have led to the termination of some executives (but didn’t).

      If this company had instead been a political campaign I’m sure they would have spun the situation in news and social media instead of burying it in dry quarterly SEC filings, their spin limited to financial analysts following their stock.

      And now the left is busy looking at this bloody dossier retrospectively, while the rest of the country is slowly being inoculated against both the ‘pee tape’ kompromat and 19 sexual harassment and abuse claims against Trump. Right under our noses Sen. McConnell and the RNC did a 180-degree turn and swung over to support Roy Moore this past week; this should have been a signal that they’d figured out how to immunize their base with disinfo and tinkering.

      Next Tuesday when Alabama’s flawed election system likely suppresses just enough voters to swing the election to a known pedophile, Trump’s base will cheer and the rest of the country will shrug. They will have become numb; suddenly, Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief won’t seem anywhere near as bad as Senator Pedophile, or that kiss-forcing liberal from Minnesota.

      But his pee tape!” ~sigh~

      • lefty665 says:

        Thank you for the response.

        1) “the Dems, who are they” They are those hysterical, still tantruming, neolib elites. Marcy referred to them in her post a couple of weeks ago as fucking stupid Dems. She referred to them again in her post two days ago “Cognitive rot and the Steele dossier”. I presume you have read those. You may not like my definition, but it is curious that you did not retain her definitions.

        2) “save your passive aggressive…” Actually I was being polite. I’d have chosen to be a roofer, pouring hot tar under the summer sun before I debased myself by doing what you did.

        3) “save your mansplaining about FUD” I was commenting from my experience on how it is possible to successfully counter FUD and propaganda rather than to embrace it as you chose to do and illustrated with examples from your work history.

        Propaganda oftentimes piles up a lot of false equivalencies (not equals in Marcy’s ‘Cognitive rot’ post phrasing) and tries to twist them into equals. You have illustrated that here by suggesting that a lot of false reporting in the dodgy dossier adds up to ‘reasonably accurate’. Goebbels would approve.

        Marcy’s point, and one I embrace, is that there are a lot of good reasons to dislike and pursue Trump, but rationalizing propaganda and touting the phony dossier discredits opposition to him.  It seems you may not have learned and progressed from your old line of work.

         

        • orionATL says:

          lefty writes his own intellectual epitaph:

          “…. Propaganda oftentimes piles up a lot of false equivalencies (not equals in Marcy’s ‘Cognitive rot’ post phrasing) and tries to twist them into equals. You have illustrated that here by suggesting that a lot of false reporting in the dodgy dossier adds up to ‘reasonably accurate’. Goebbels would approve… ”

          this paragraph, which you wrote, lefty, best describes a great deal of your political writing here about the democratic party and about democratic party political work.

          – propaganda.

          – and endless vitriolic criticism of hillary clinton (sold uranium, sold uranium,).

          that’s your two-note song. sung over, and over, and over, and……

          • lefty665 says:

            Since I’m apparently in the epitaph business here’s one for you. “orionatl, once a moron, always a moron, over, and over, and over…”

    • Hobbs says:

      Lefty, thirty years ago  I did the same thing Rayne did, for a brief period of time .  No, my reports weren’t lies, unless you live in a completely deconstructed, post-structuralist universe.  The reports were built on carefully researched material.  Only once did I knowingly include something that was laundered, with an upfront caveat to that point.

      • lefty665 says:

        Glad you moved on and that you had more integrity than the practices Rayne describes. Hope it’s been a good life.

        • marksb says:

          Wow. Back in the day, as a product manager (where engineers sometimes evolve to who are actually interesting in how and why products are greenlighted to be designed and built), I did competitive analysis and deep research into competitors product lines, in addition to their technology innovations that could show where their next releases were going. I would also dig deep into consumer behavior (end-consumers as well as ISPs and Telecoms). Due to the length of development of hardware and software (2+ years in some cases, involving new LSI chips and completely new code) this information is essential before deciding to invest the substantial funds it will take to design and launch the new product. Rayne’s description of the analysis rings true–and is essential to a successful business.

          The analysis is never absolutely clear; I ran into hard cold facts, ‘soft’ facts, rumors, inferences, and sometimes just logical progression to create my analysis. We all did; that’s how it’s done–you build an analysis and try to weight the truth of the information based on its relative “factness”. I knew Cisco was developing an IPv6 enhancement as a fact, so we moved ahead quickly to be able to be there at the same time. But I heard through the grapevine that another competitor’s boxes were catching fire in the machine room rack–it was rumor at first that finally was tracked down by talking to a couple of network sysops who had to bolt for the door when the haylon went off, and led to the greatest four-word tag line in my career: “Ours doesn’t burn up.”

          Purity trolls want to sneer at this effort, but that’s how it’s done in a competitive industry. In any competitive environment, from industry to classrooms to baseball. But I guess they’re above all that capitalistic stuff, and would be OK not having the result: our ubiquitous communication network and advanced computing devices that fit in the palm of our hands.

          • lefty665 says:

            I’ve got no problem with what you did. Part of my working career in IT was to know what my competitors capabilities and plans were. My comments were to Rayne’s extolling the peddling of fear, uncertainty and doubt, along with outright propaganda.  It is clearly something she enjoyed as evidenced by her continuing fearmongering here. To see that look at her continuing touting of Steele dossier crap compared to Marcy’s analysis of the issues, and cautions to be careful of relying on it especially since there are other valid avenues to pursue with Trump. Rayne piles up falsehoods (not equals) then pronounces them in aggregate “reasonably accurate”. That’s no better than Trump. Be afraid, be very afraid.

             

  5. PG says:

    “Immaculate information conception — you were sold a bill of goods without knowing I was at the other end of the food chain. You never saw my fingerprints, heard my heels on the pavement, or caught a whiff of my perfume, even though in one way or another you have been touched in the last decade by decisions made based on my research.”

    We are plainly awash in disinformation and efforts to manipulate our perceptions. But, you are equating the type of research you did for corporations with Steele’s work compiling his dossier for Fusion GPS? Did your research result in a similar magnitude of damage to your clients and their customers?

  6. emptywheel says:

    Rayne:

    Aside from claiming the dossier is accurate without pointing to anything accurate in it (an exercise thus far no one has been able to fulfill, which is one of a number of reasons why my treatment of the dossier has gotten more strident), there is a very significant difference between what you did and what Steele did.

    Steele was working with sources. He was working with them, by everyone’s admission, at least one step and sometimes three steps removed.

    Moreover, there are multiple plausible ways — starting with Rinat Akhmetshin, who also worked for Fusion — that some of those two and three steps would have learned about the project and shared that information with Russia. And that’s well before you consider that Steele was sharing this project with journalists while still collecting.

    By Luke Harding’s take, Steele’s sources dried up before all but at most 4 reports of 17 were issued.

    So what is left? And why is it less accurate than reporting without sources might have been? And why did Fusion miss what Fusion researcher Akmetshin was personally involved with, one of the actually important reports here?

    I’d suggest the evidence increasingly suggests an obvious answer, one that might explain why the folks at DOJ who mainstreamed this are now all getting demoted.

    • emptywheel says:

      Yes. That is one of two options. The one I treat as increasingly likely, in part bc I now am pretty sure the June 9 meeting public story is a cover story, the June 9 meeting is far more damning than thus far reported, and Rinat Akhmetshin’s role is far more important than I had thought before. Plus, the fact that someone appears to have paid Akhmetshin to attend that meeting, but it wasn’t Baker Hostetler.

      The other possibility is that Steele was feeding generalized shit to the Dems bc he knew something would stick and the sole purpose of the dossier was to get FBI to treat things more urgently. If Harding is right that Steele’s reliable sources dried up about the time the Dems started paying him, then even what he provided is likely shit.

      • Silence Hand says:

        I agree with this assessment.  Not to say that I wasn’t delighted to learn salient features of Steele’s work when it came out, of course.  What can I say, everyone loves kryptonite.  I know people who still think the Michelle Obama “Whitey tape” must exist, so why can’t we dearly wish for the pee tapes to be real?  But really, how could Putin et al. not take advantage when they learned that an old school British spook was nosing around?  Regardless, at this point there’s far more coming out that’s inarguably insulated from Russian manipulation, and the Steele fooferaw is just distraction.

        All of this, of course, does not diminish my fond imagining that the pee tapes exist.  Not a whit.  Kryptonite: breakfast of champions!

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Unless Steele wants to go out of business as a reliable conduit for information out of opaque Russia, or be hired by Faux News, I should think he was fed propaganda by Putin’s people.  That this was intended initially for consumption by Democratic leadership makes your hypothesis more likely to be true.

    As the ground shifted on his sources, source Merlin turned out to be Bill Haydon’s minders, and good intel turned into chick feed.  Food for thought.

  8. orionATL says:

    ew:

    “… The other possibility is that Steele was feeding generalized shit to the Dems bc he knew something would stick and the sole purpose of the dossier was to get FBI to treat things more urgently…”

    what’s wrong/objectionable about using dem oppo to get to the fbi? when discussing steele i keep getting the distinct feeling you are working from a disguised moralism that you have not made clear to your readers is behind some of your judgements, in fact quite likely why you have made this an itch you keep scratching.

    “….If Harding is right that Steele’s reliable sources dried up about the time the Dems started paying him, then even what he provided is likely shit…”

    have you resolved the curiously off timing harding used yet.? which if inremember correctly seemed to say russians might have been on to steele before he ever got started.

    • orionATL says:

      which could mean fusion-glenn simpson passed info either of two ways – to dem lawyer firm to authorize hiring someone like steele.

      or to russian client saying a steele-like analyst was going to come calling.

      and then there’s the issue of the “rolled up” soviet chatters rattling on about russian actions, perhaps attributable to flynn, who weren’t rolled up until december, 2016. have i got the timing right and were these events relevant?

    • orionATL says:

      exactly how did the dem party use the dossier? and how much?

      thru their lawyer and fusion, they probably gave a story to david corn and four other journalists.

      what else?

      after subrosa oct press discussions, which generated much communications noise, due in part to admin’s and press’s timidity/distrust, it does not pop up until buzzfeed provides it for us peeons to read in jan 2017.

      steele apparently gave a copy to some british lord who gave it to mccain in canada who gave it to the fbi.

      and maybe steele gave a copy directly to the fbi?

      and surely the cia got its copy, maybe from brits gmhq.

      • emptywheel says:

        The important part (again, as I’ve written), is that after FBI refused to attribute the RU hack in June, the Dems paid to do their own RU intelligence and then it was shared with the FBI, without apparent notice that Steele was sharing an oppo research document.

        That actually is a problem, basically an attempt to put a finger on the scale of DOJ. And, as I’ve noted repeatedly, it was unnecessary.

        • zonefreezone says:

          Are you talking about CrowdStrike doing the forensics on their servers instead of permitting the  FBI access to them?  Isn’t that the greater actual problem? Before even getting to the with or without notice of Steele’s duplicity, why did the FBI stand down?

           

  9. orionATL says:

    ew:

    “… So what is left? And why is it less accurate than reporting without sources might have been? And why did Fusion miss what Fusion researcher Akmetshin was personally involved with, one of the actually important reports here?

    I’d suggest the evidence increasingly suggests an obvious answer, one that might explain why the folks at DOJ who mainstreamed this are now all getting demoted… ”

    ew, i’ve missed this (among many other things :)) in your writing. can you fill me in briefly.

    – ” why did fusion miss… akmeteshin involved with?” what was missed? the july 9 meeting? why is fusion subject of your sentence rather than steele?

    – who has been demoted at doj “who mainstreamed this”? the guy who got sent to h. r. from mueller’s staff? him? who else?

    – as a general question let me ask: just how far off was steele in each of his numbered sections? who has written this up? it is often the case that a line of criticism that has some truth to it will take over a document or movie or novel without in fact it having thoughtful, complete analysis behind it.

    can you point to any individual who has done a numbered section by numbered section thoughtful, detailed critique of the known dossier components that demonstrates serious error? where can i read that?

    – what’s in the hidden section of the dossier? why hidden if the entirety of the doc is so suspect? who has access to it?

    thanks.

    • emptywheel says:

      The June 9 meeting was missed. The product we have is a Fusion product, not a Steele product. That means it was produced by an entity, if not a person, who met with June 9 meeting participants before and after the June 9 meeting and employed someone who was present at it, and possibly paid him for it. That that was missed, then, really demands explanation.

      Two people have been demoted: Peter Strzok and Bruce Ohr. Both were in the loop on the Fusion dossier and the latter met with Steele during the election and Simpson after it.

      Again: Me. I’ve written this up, others have too. More importantly, no one defending the dossier have done the same, afaik.

      The “hidden” section of the dossier is the non-Russian stuff. I would only be interested in assessing the quality of that to see if whether the problems with what we see were introduced by shoddy Fusion standards or by Russian disinformation.

      • orionATL says:

        thank you. these are important details to understand.

        – strozak was fired by mueller for emails and sent to h. r. i hadn’t heard ohr’s name before. a former trump whitehouse type was quoted as praising strozak’s “professionalism”. he has elsewhere been praised as highly competent counterintelligence pro, like steele. is his firing political to protect fbi from nunes or warranted due to poor judgement about dossier?

        “…The June 9 meeting was missed. The product we have is a Fusion product, not a Steele product….”

        exactly. so why is it brought up in a steele dossier discussion? i wasn’t sure from reading whether your criticism was that steele should have had it in the dossier.

        finally, let me suggest the steele dossier may not have been intended as a be-all-end-all discussion of russian govt designs on the 2016 pres election, but what could be called, rather awkwardly, a “live russian voices and real russian faces” illustration to supplement dem party use of the discovery that the russians had hacked the dnc, the dccc, and the clinton campaign (podesta).

        thank you again for this patient explanation. your similar explations are one of the truly graceful aspects of this on-line political report.

        • emptywheel says:

          It’s not a “steele dossier” discussion it’s a “steele contribution to fusion dossier” question. It’s a fusion dossier.

          And while it may not be intended as the end all and be all, the fact that a meeting two Fusion associates should have known about did not appear in the Fusion dossier is worth probing.

          • orionATL says:

            well this seems to touch on (more accurately, implicate) a point that has bothered me, to whit, fusion-glenn simpson seems caught in a web of conflict of interests – working for two american orgs (repubs and dems) and for two russian orgs (prevezon corp and russian gov’s psuedo-private anti-sanctions effort).

            the veselnitskya/don, jr. meeting on july 9 is for one client. the steele dossier is for another client (dems) whose interests are strongly opposed to the anti-sanctions’ sponsor, putin.

            even if fusion knew akmeteshin was present on june 9, they might feel they could not relate that to steele.

            and of course fusion may not have known of akmetshin’s presence.

            how else might steele have found out? thru phone calls? but this was not ostensively an “election” meeting but arranged thru privates, e. g., agarov, sr.

            counter-argument please :)

    • zonefreezone says:

      I understand your confusion. As far as I can find, the post below is the first reference to Bruce Ohr made at EW. As opposed to Strzok, Ohr’s  demotion is  at DOJ not FBI, a fact which really should be highlighted.

      Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  10. orionATL says:

    ew writes:

    “… Aside from claiming the dossier is accurate without pointing to anything accurate in it (an exercise thus far no one has been able to fulfill, which is one of a number of reasons why my treatment of the dossier has gotten more strident),…”

    let’s turn that around. do you have the expertise to fairly evaluate any section of the dossier? or have you and others merely been pointing over and over to obvious and easy “sillys” and misses on steele’s part?

    who would have the expertise to seriously evaluate steele’s work minus its superficial errors – the expertise to go beyond who wasn’t in prague, maybe? or who didn’t meet with a high level oil official or his assistance, maybe?

    can you point me to a document by that analyst?

    • emptywheel says:

      You’re at such a document.

      The expertise to point out things that are false is basic reading. I’ve been basic reading on the individual claims, point by point, for months now, which is why I continue to get more and more strident that a bunch of so-called rational people don’t do the same.

      In particular, I do the whole timeline against the known facts about the kompromat in question, on which Steele’s dossier is particularly bad on, which is especially curious given that Akhmetshin was part of that.

      But you appear not to trust that. Here’s another piece that adds in Russian expertise to point out aspects of the dossier that shouldn’t have gotten by Steele.

      That’s the thing. The analysis of boosters is so bad no one has done a fair point by point analysis, at least not that I’ve seen, to see whether known reality matches it.

      You somehow never question my ability to read any other kinds of documents and compare them with known reality. But having done the same analysis with the Steele dossier, you find it wanting, without doing any counter-analysis to prove it wrong.

      • orionATL says:

        thanks for the response:

        ew writes:

        “… You somehow never question my ability to read any other kinds of documents and compare them with known reality. But having done the same analysis with the Steele dossier, you find it wanting, without doing any counter-analysis to prove it wrong…”

        i’ve read your work for years; i have criticized in strongly from time to time when i thought warranted.

        i am not an analyst; i am not a lawyer; i am not a computer savant; i am not a surveillance/counterintelligence specialist.

        i come hear to read and learn (and practice political writing :) ) because this is a trustworthy site to get a whole lot of info and insight in a hurry.

        as that reader, your continuous return to what i see as a trivial political matter whose time has come and gone except for being fodder for republican sophistry is peculiar – your perfect right – but peculiar.

        in particular, key phrases with strong emotive content set off my alarms: “cognitive rot”, “inflammatory”, “dems and dossier”, etc. the last is particularly anoying because it includes me, my family, and friends – the repetitive use of an unqualified “dems”. there are millions of us and thousands of our leaders. we are working our butts off to defeat rightwing destruction of the new deal, the johnson civil rights and anti-poverty policies, and consumer and environmental laws and rules protection. i doubt more two dozen dem leaders, journalist-provacateurs like marshall and chait included, have any remaining interest in steele’s work.

        and here is my basic reader’s point, which you made for me:

        “… The analysis of boosters is so bad no one has done a fair point by point analysis, at least not that I’ve seen, to see whether known reality matches it…”

        that is what this reader would like to see. where is the review of this movie that seems both understanding and critical with fairness? i haven’t read it. i’m not sure though that” bad booster’s analysis” is a proper focus of blame.

        it takes little to convince me about j. marshall or j. chait. fairly or not, i have long considered them lightvweight partisans (yes, i will. pay for this).

        thanks again for your patient explanations.!

    • PG says:

      When political operatives, pundits, and authors continually use the dossier to discredit their opponents (this goes “both” ways), getting to the bottom of it doesn’t seem silly to me.  Especially when the search for the truth in this case may ultimately lead to black propaganda.

      It’s also a cautionary tale for both distributers and consumers of news and information.  Facts and truth should matter.  But, in the case of the dossier in particular (as well as the state of our political discourse in general) they too often don’t.  We have our work cut out for us sifting through the bullshit.  It’s demoralizing and exhausting.

      • bmaz says:

        Nobody but dopes are making “use” of “the dossier” for anything whatsoever, save for demagoguery and PR stunts. It has never been useful in that regard. And, no, it is not being used by the Mueller shop to obtain FISA warrants. It has turned into a wooly mammoth that is a political pawn.

        If you, or anybody else, thinks it exists on its own as a tool, other than independently corroborated information the Special Counsel’s office has, you are nuts. And the dopes in Congress that talk about it, whether on one side or the other, are dopes. That is not how evidence works in federal investigations.

        • PG says:

          I referred to “political operatives, pundits, and authors ,” not Meuller, not his investigation.  They may be dopes but I don’t think they, or their efforts, are benign.

          • bmaz says:

            I will leave you to your “political authors and pundits” then. Clearly they are  more important to you than how the law actually functions.

            • PG says:

              No, they are separate issues.  Both are important to me.  I trust Meuller and his team more than I trust the 4th estate. I’m hard pressed to find a politician I trust.  I have lost faith in our political system as a whole.  So leave me to that sorry state.

  11. Steve McIntyre says:

    Bruce Ohr provides an interesting new incident in the Nov-Dec timeline of the dossier (which you discussed here). Ohr reportedly met Fusion GPS around Thanksgiving (Nov 24).  That places the meeting after the Halifax conference at which Wood met McCain+Kramer and before McCain delivering a dossier version to the FBI (Dec 9), which, needless to say, they were well aware of. Guardian in Jan said that Obama admin already had dossier at time of McCain’s Dec 9 meeting. I don’t know basis for claim, but is slight indication that Fusion gave full dossier to Ohr at DOJ (though dossier memoranda seem to have been in hands of CIA and FBI since July/August.)

    An interesting “coincidence”: Akhmetshin was at Halifax conference where Wood discussed dossier with McCain and Kramer.

     

  12. Bay State Librul says:

    Hasn’t Mueller interviewed Steele? If so, I’m hoping that when he writes the narrative to accompany his findings, we may have some answers, or is this wishful thinking?

    • emptywheel says:

      Well, we DEFINITELY will if it turns out there was deliberate disinfo, especially if it was done by Akhmetshin. If not, then probably not.

  13. orionATL says:

    here’s an up-to-date guardian article on steele’s career. he is who portrayed as i would expect – professional, thorough, an accurate assessor of his intelligence work and others.

    it’s irrelevant here, but interesting personal history, that steele was assigned to deal with the murder in london by putin assassins of the former fsb agent litevenko.

    steele also was assigned to look at football (soccer) in russia and uncovered profound fifa (world governing body of soccer) corruption that led him to work with the u. s. doj and to a u. s. gov’s corruption suit that brought down the entire fifa ruling establishment, including the odious swiss football venue fixer sep bladder – the donald trump of soccer, always a mere one remove from the red-hot corruption taking place.

    of steele’s professional reputation, this guardian article is but one source. make what you choose of it:

    “… Steele discovered that Fifa corruption was global. It was a stunning conspiracy. He took the unusual step of briefing an American contact in Rome, the head of the FBI’s Eurasian serious crime division. This “lit the fuse”, as one friend put it, and led to a probe by US federal prosecutors. And to the arrest in 2015 of seven Fifa officials, allegedly connected to $150m (£114m) in kickbacks, paid on TV deals stretching from Latin America to the Caribbean. The US indicted 14 individuals.

    The episode burnished Steele’s reputation inside the US intelligence community and the FBI. Here was a pro, a well-connected Brit, who understood Russian espionage and its subterranean tricks. Steele was regarded as credible. Between 2014 and 2016, Steele authored more than 100 reports on Russia and Ukraine. These were written for a private client but shared widely within the US state department, and sent up to secretary of state John Kerry and assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland, who was in charge of the US response to Putin’s annexation of Crimea and covert invasion of eastern Ukraine. Many of Steele’s secret sources were the same people who would later supply information on Trump.

    One former state department envoy during the Obama administration said he read dozens of Steele’s reports. On Russia, the envoy said, Steele was “as good as the CIA or anyone”.

    he had a good rep with the state dept too, in part because of his ukraine/russia reporting. this will be viewed negatively here, no doubt, for american political reasons not related to his personal competence.

          • PG says:

            All I know or care about Harding is from his writing.  Take this early piece, for instance, conveniently clarifying questions circulating about the dossier memos and their author.  In my opinion, it is PR:

            https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/12/intelligence-sources-vouch-credibility-donald-trump-russia-dossier-author

            Harding and Steele’s time in Russia overlapped.  Harding wrote a book about Litvinenko’s murder.  According to Harding, “sources say” Steele was the spy who first identified Litvinenko’s death as a “Russian state “hit”.”  So they’ve been down this road before together.  Steele as the heroic spy, Harding writes the book.

            In this and other pieces, Harding not only crafts Steele’s image, he conveniently offers answers to questions surrounding the memos about Steele’s methods and sources.  These explanations are introduced by speculative language: “he appears to have;” “it’s believed the former spy hasn’t;” “Steele would have;” “these individuals will have had;” “Steele would likely;” “This method of intelligence collection may explain;” “would;” “must;” “may.”  And on and on.  But the explanations that follow read as though they were written with first hand knowledge.  By the end, you’re pretty well convinced Steele could have had the “top job” at MI6 but for world circumstances.  Harding crafted the narrative around Steele and his work for Fusion that has become conventional wisdom.  But if you ignore the glowing spin, you may find every reason to doubt Steele’s sources and methods.

            • orionATL says:

              thanks for the reply. sounds like yet another journalist writing his novel. :)

              there’s also the question about harding’s statement about the timing of steele’s sources”drying up” in july 2016 that does not seem to have been resolved yet.

              • PG says:

                Yes, on both points.

                I’ll also clarify that I haven’t read any of Harding’s books and I don’t know if Steele made an appearance overtly or covertly, if at all, in his Litvinenko book.  But the coincidence of their mutual history and present circumstances opens the door to questions.  If Harding has addressed this publicly, I haven’t found it.  Maybe he covers it in his new book.

                • bmaz says:

                  Oh goody, you are now claiming that Steele is….wait for it….an agent of Luke Harding?

                  That is truly sweet. Do tell some more!

                  • PG says:

                    God no, I’m not claiming Steele is an agent of Luke Harding.  I’m skeptical of Harding’s spin and bias in his reporting on Steele and his dossier memos.

                    • PG says:

                      Bmaz, you have misinterpreted two of my recent comments so, I’m concerned that my writing isn’t clear.  I’ll make a final brief attempt to make sure what I’ve said here is what I mean.

                      From what I have read, Harding covers Steele uncritically.  To me, he appears enamored of Steele.

                      Since Harding has written books like Mafia State (about Russia under Putin) and A Very Expensive Poison (about Litvinenko’s poisoning) and Steele headed the MI6 investigation into Litvinenko’s poisoning, I think it’s fair to wonder if Harding has openly discussed whether he knew Steele personally prior to covering his work on the dossier.  Is Harding’s reporting on Steele informed by personal opinions or biases that were shaped by his previous work?  (These are the kinds of questions I referred to in my comment above.)  He hasn’t touched on this in the articles of his I’ve read.  So, I wondered if he discussed it in his new book.

                      I hope that makes sense and doesn’t imply an irrational conspiracy theory.

                       

            • PG says:

              I have to correct “Harding and Steele’s time in Russia overlapped.”  That’s a big mistake and I’m sorry for my confusion there.  The “overlap” is their work on the Litvinenko case, and the fact that they both worked in Russia, but not at the same time.

              • orionATL says:

                thanks for the correction.

                not to worry. we all routinely make errors. i’ve made my share and then some.

                the surest way to avoid making mistakes is not to say anything, but if you care about what’s happening in the country, that’s just not an option. :)

  14. Trent says:

    PSA: personal credit records were not stolen from Equifax. The main credit reporting databases were not breached in the crime this past summer based on congressional testimony.
    Just wanted to cut through that FUD whether it was intended or not.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Objection!

      Assumes facts not in evidence.

      Yes, there was another firm from Florida that was worse!

      Do not trust *any* testimony in Congress.

      [trolls begone]

  15. Trent says:

    @space
    Go to hell.
    The facts not in evidence are that credit records are on the internet as a result of the Equifax hack.
    Go find some more OT bullshit for us to scroll over.

  16. orionATL says:

    i’m going to reprise here also this comment from the other dossier post.

    i think the larger point we have been missing is that republican politicians are mounting a sustained propaganda campaign against mueller personally and the fbi and, eventually, inevitably on the law and the courts. that’s likely what dem columnists are trying to counter. i support that effort. we cannot just sit around.

    rayne’s comments about her earlier “practical” work provide just the background to make this larger, far more important practical political point.

    “… orionATLsays:

    December 10, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    desider says:

    “…I don’t see the importance of this at all – the Steele Dossier’s impact was pointing to a lot of possible funny stuff going on with Russia, not taken very seriously until Buzzfeed published it.
    Since then facts from investigations have far surpassed it.
    So whether Steele was 20%, 50% or 80% right, the larger implication has been proven correct,… ”

    this is a succint summary of how i feel about the dossier. the dems were at war with the republicans. they were under what proved to be a disastrous cyber assault. they had some investigation done by an expert. expert’s report showed there is lots of smoke,i. e., russian gov (putin) interest in affecting the outcome of the election against clinton was multiply manifest.

    – steele’s facts were not very accurate. so what? they were in the ballpark and sketched an accurate overview of russian intent that was borne out.

    – checking the precision of the gossip steele recorded seems quixotic. my wife serves as neighborhood leader. we often smile a bit at the level of (in)accuracy of gossip in our neighborhood about simple things by the time they get to her – like whose dog was it that was out.

    though i can never be quite sure, what emptywheel serms offended about is not the steele report per se, or fusion’s effort, but about the analytical/argumentative sloppiness of people like maddow, chait, marshall who are using steele beyond it’s expiration date. still, propaganda is not just the repub option and steele can be presented to carry a large propaganda message.

    war is not a nice affair, particularly war with intellectual barbarians.

    Reply

    orionATLsays:

    December 10, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    let me suggest that maddow, marshall, and chait may be seeing and fighting the propaganda war millbank describes here:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-gops-all-out-assault-on-justice/2017/12/08/2e1ce9ba-dc28-11e7-b1a8-62589434a581_story.html?

    Reply

    orionATLsays:

    December 10, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    and this:

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/10/robert-mueller-trump-special-counsel-russia

    …”

    emptywheel has not shown sensitivity that i am aware of of the need to fight back strongly against the attack on law.

Comments are closed.