“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

John Durham apparently believes li’l ol’ emptywheel is smarter than an entire team of seasoned FBI counterintelligence professionals. That’s the only conclusion I can draw from his effort to explain why a lie he accused — but did not charge — Igor Danchenko of telling was material to an ongoing investigation. Durham claims that in his first set of interviews, Danchenko was deliberately and knowingly hiding how indiscreet he had been about his intelligence work for Christopher Steele.

Such lies were material to the FBI’s ongoing investigation because, among other reasons, it was important for the FBI to understand how discreet or open DANCHENKO had been with his friends and associates about his status as an employee of U .K. Investigative Firm-1, since his practices in this regard could, in turn, affect the likelihood that other individuals — including hostile foreign intelligence services — would learn of and attempt to influence DANCHENKO’s reporting for U.K. Investigative Firm-1.

The alleged lie in question (which, as I’ll show, Durham misrepresents) is that Danchenko claimed to the FBI that he “never mentioned that he worked for [Christopher Steele or Orbis] to his friends or associates.”

In response, DANCHENKO falsely stated, in sum and substance, that while certain friends were aware that DANCHENKO worked generally in due diligence and business intelligence, DANCHENKO never mentioned that he worked for U.K. Person-I or U.K. Investigative Firm-1 to his friends or associates. DANCHENKO further stated, ”you [the FBI] are the first people” he had told. DANCHENKO added that the reason he never told associates about his relationship with U .K. Person-1 and U .K. Investigative Firm-1 was the existence of a non-disclosure agreement he signed with U.K. Person-1 and U .K. Investigative Firm-1.

As noted, Durham makes this claim based off Danchenko’s first series of FBI interviews in late January 2017.

It’s rather confusing that Durham claims Danchenko was hiding how indiscreet he was in those interviews, because after I read heavily redacted summaries of those very same interviews last year, I laid out a slew of ways that Danchenko and Steele were making themselves vulnerable to discovery:

PSS [Danchenko] described that his debriefings with Steele were always at the Orbis office, which meant if Steele himself were surveilled, PSS’ ties to Steele would become obvious.


[H]is communications with Steele included many insecure methods. He first met Steele in a Starbucks. Early on, he communicated with him via email and Skype, and Steele would task him, at least in part, via email. He described discussing [Carter] Page’s trip to Russia with Source 3 on some kind of voice call, possibly a phone, while he was at a public swimming pool, though he also described talking in an opaque way about election interference. Likewise, the most problematic December 13 report was based on a conversation with the same source, which was also a phone call.

In short, while Steele and PSS and PSS’ sources made some efforts to protect their communications from the Russians that surely considered Steele a target, those efforts were inconsistent.

PSS described making three trips to Russia for his election year reporting. On the second trip, he got grilled suspiciously at the border. On his third, “nothing bad happened,” which made PSS suspicious about how perfectly everything had gone.

PSS repeatedly described being uncomfortable with the election year tasking, and he seems to have had suspicions in real time that Russia had taken note of it.

I also noted that two of Danchenko’s sources — to whom he admitted he worked in business intelligence — attempted to task him to collect information (indeed, Olga Galkina, described as S3 here, had done so just days before this interview, after the publication of the dossier by BuzzFeed, which she subsequently admitted to reading in detail when it came out). A third — someone Danchenko believed had close ties to an FSB officer — had gotten Danchenko to help him get a scholarship to study in the UK with help from Orbis.

And both Source 2 and Source 3 — the sources for some of the more problematic information in the Steele dossier — knew PSS brokered intelligence. Both also discussed brokering information in Russia.

[S3] is one of the individuals who knows that [PSS] works for due diligence and business intelligence. [As an aside at this point, [PSS] insisted that [S2] probably has a better idea about this than does [S3] because [S2] is always trying to monetize his relationship with [PSS]. [PSS] reiterated again to interviewers that [S2] will often pitch money-making ideas or projects — “Let’s work together. I [S2] can try and get [redacted] to answer a question, but I’ll need some money to do it.”] [S3] has an understanding that [PSS] is “connected.” In fact, either [redacted] morning or [redacted] morning, [S3] reached out to [PSS] and asked him for help in [redacted] on how [redacted] living in the United States are viewing the Trump administration. She is asking him [redacted] by the weekend, probably so she can sell it to a friend in Moscow.

And because PSS asked Orbis to help S1 — the guy with close ties to an FSB officer — get a scholarship for language study in the UK, S1 presumably knows what Orbis and who Steele is.

In other words, in the interview where (Durham claims) Danchenko lied to hide how indiscreet he was, he provided substantive reason to believe he hadn’t been at all discreet with three of his claimed dossier sources.

On top of that, the analyst who wrote up the report noted several times when Danchenko’s answers contradicted his early assertion that he himself had no known ties to Russian intelligence (there’s far more evidence that Danchenko knowingly lied about ties to Russian spooks than any of the charges laid out here, but that doesn’t serve Durham’s narrative and so instead he’s charging more random lies).

Thanks to Bruce Ohr’s help vetting Steele (for which he got fired), the FBI also learned that Steele was working for Oleg Deripaska, a central player in the election-year operation and one of the several obvious ways that Russia would have learned of this project.

If anyone at the FBI came away from these early interviews believing that Steele and Danchenko were exercising adequate operational security for this project (even ignoring Steele’s blabbing to the press), they had no business working in counterintelligence. Then again, Peter Strzok attempted to carry out an extramarital affair on an FBI device that (DOJ IG investigations would later disclose) happened to have a serious vulnerability built into it by a vendor. And in my own very limited experience, the FBI had uncomfortably shoddy operational security. So maybe there’s something to that.

Danchenko candidly told the FBI a number of things that should have given them ample reason to believe the project had been compromised. Importantly, that includes a warning that Galkina knew he was in business intelligence, the single most important detail as laid out in the Danchenko indictment. For Durham to suggest that Danchenko was withholding such details when, in that first interview, he carried out a debate with himself about which of two sources, including Galkina, knew more about his intelligence gathering is, frankly, batshit insane.

Worse still, Durham misrepresents what Danchenko was asked and how he answered.

As noted above (in bold) Durham claimed that Danchenko lied by saying that he, “never mentioned that he worked for Steele or Orbis to his friends or associates.” Durham, as is his sloppy habit, doesn’t quote either the question or Danchenko’s response. As a result, Durham hid the material fact that Danchenko was not asked whether he revealed that he worked for Orbis, but whether he told people he collected intelligence for them. And he didn’t answer, “no;” he answered, “yes and no.”

Here’s the question and the response that Durham didn’t bother to quote in the indictment.

[Danchenko] was asked how he “covers” his queries with his sources. He typically tells his sources that he is working on a research project or an analytical product. He was also asked if there were friends, associates, and/or sources who knew that he was collecting information for Orbis. He said, “yes and no,” and explained that some of his closer friends understand that he works in the area of due diligence and business intelligence. Many of the think that he is doing projects for entities like [redacted], the [redacted], or think tanks [redacted. They don’t know that he works for Orbis, as he signed a non-disclosure agreement and told not to talk about the company. He has never mentioned Chris Steele or Orbis to his friends and associates. He emphasized that “you [the FBI] are the first people he’s told.” [my emphasis]

Danchenko was not asked, generally, whether he talked about Orbis, which is what Durham claims he was asked. Danchenko was asked about how he covers his queries. He was specifically asked if his associates knew “that he was collecting information for Orbis.”

His answer was not “no,” but instead, “yes and no,” because people knew he was collecting intelligence. And (as noted above) he would refer back to the follow-on answer — that his friends understood that he works in business intelligence — by explaining that two of his claimed dossier sources, including Olga Galkina, not only knew that he collected intelligence, but had attempted to task him to collect it themselves. The context of whether he mentioned Steele or Orbis was explicitly a reference to him being paid (through a cut-out arrangement he had just described to the FBI) for intelligence collection by Orbis, not whether he ever networked using Steele’s name.

This is important because some of the “proof” that Durham provides that Danchenko was affirmatively lying that he had told people “he was collecting information for Orbis,” includes stuff that doesn’t mention intelligence collection. There’s nothing about two April 2016 communications with Charles Dolan, for example, that suggest Danchenko appeared to be more than an analyst, which is what he was on paper.

For example, on or about April 29, 2016, DANCHENKO sent an email to PR Executive-I indicating that DANCHENKO had passed a letter to U.K. Person-I on behalf of PR Executive-I. Specifically, the email stated that DANCHENKO had “forwarded your letter” to [U.K. Person-I] and his business partner. “I’ll make sure you gentlemen meet when they are in Washington or when you are in London.”

That same day, DANCHENKO sent an email to PR Executive-1 outlining certain work that DANCHENKO was conducting with U.K. Investigative Firm-1. The email attached a U.K Investigative Firm-1 report titled “Intelligence Briefing Note, ‘Kompromat’ and ‘Nadzor’ in the Russian Banking Sector.”

Indeed, a later reference to these exchanges describes it as “broker[ing] business,” not discussing collecting intelligence.

For example, and as alleged above, DANCHENKO attempted to broker business between PR Executive-1 and U .K. Person-1 as early as in or about April 2016. See Paragraphs 23-25, supra.

Nor does a later email Dolan sent definitively describe Danchenko as collecting intelligence.

Monday night I fly to Moscow and will meet with a Russian guy who is working with me on a couple of projects. He also works for a group of former [allied foreign intelligence service] guys in London who do intelligence for business …. [H]e owes me as his Visa is being held up and I am having a word with the Ambassador.

Durham makes much of the fact that, by the time the dossier was published, Dolan knew that Danchenko was behind it. But Durham provides no evidence about how Dolan learned that (even though Dolan was interviewed by the FBI somewhere along the way). It’s possible, for example, that Dolan put two and two together on his own and/or asked Galkina. And — as Danchenko freely offered up in his first interview! — Galkina knew he was in the intelligence business, so it’s likely she figured it out and told Dolan, not least because the two had shared business interests harmed by the dossier’s allegations, in the last report, about Webzilla.

To be clear, after having obtained warrants on (presumably) all three — Danchenko, Dolan, and Galkina — Durham did find one person with whom Danchenko was clearly discussing the topic he was asked about, collecting intelligence for Steele (as opposed to doing analysis, brokering business, or otherwise networking).

For example, on or about July 28, 2016, DANCHENKO sent a message to an acquaintance and stated “Thanks to my reporting in the past 36 hours, [U .K. Person-I] and [U.K. Investigative Firm-I Employee] are flying in tomorrow for a few days so I might be busy . . . . ” In addition, on or about September 18, 2016, DANCHENKO sent a message to the same acquaintance stating that DANCHENKO had “[w]ork to do for [U.K. Person-I] who’s probably coming to DC on Wednesday.” U.K. Person-I did, in fact, travel to Washington. D.C. on or about September 21, 2016.

That person is either not central to Durham’s narrative, or has reason to have known, because Durham doesn’t explain who it is. But if this person were not, for some reason, read into Danchenko’s cover story, or if the person is sufficiently memorable that Danchenko should have remembered these exchanges, then it does amount to proof that Danchenko answered incorrectly to that January 2017 question.

But all the things that Durham presents to suggest this answer was intentional — perhaps to insinuate that Danchenko didn’t hide the project because it made it more likely Galkina and Dolan would feed him bullshit — are, in fact, related to a different question, a question the FBI did not ask.

There’s one more thing that’s truly bizarre about Durham’s decision to include this allegation (again, it is not charged), particularly given that Danchenko freely offered up information making it clear Galkina knew a fair bit about Danchenko’s intelligence collection. According to the indictment, after that initial interview, the FBI interviewed Danchenko on — at a minimum — March 16, May 18, June 15, October 24, and November 16, 2017. Along the way, the FBI identified Galkina as a subject of particular interest and collected her communications under Section 702 which (among other things) identified precisely the relationships at the core of this indictment, presumably a response to the candid comments Danchenko made in that January 2017 (as well as the fact that she was his claimed source for the dodgiest claims).

But seemingly the FBI never revisited the question about how well Danchenko hid his intelligence collection and his relationship with Christopher Steele.

Perhaps that’s because Danchenko said enough in that first interview to make it clear that neither he nor Steele did adequately protect that relationship. The FBI didn’t return to that question — or the one Durham falsely claims he was asked — because he had already provided the answer with his other descriptions.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

15 replies
  1. greenbird says:

    shortly i shall receive my pfizer booster. in case of reaction, i’m posting this tiny bit of forms comparison, left over from yesterday.

    the FD-1057 combining three dates of Danchenko interviews is titled an ‘Electronic Communication,’ similar to a cover page summary.
    [the comparison form i used, re Baltimore 2015, has a 3-page 1057, followed by FD-1087 “Evidence Log” pages which describe various media formats received.] wonder where the Danchenko-interview-continuation-302a pages could be …? can we see ?

    comparing to many of the FBI’s form 302s from interviews, there is a title-redacted 302 which begins an interview, followed by a title-redacted “302a” indicating it’s a continuation. (some of jason leopold’s releases do not include the first 302, but do indicate ‘page 2.’)

    all this is to say the pattern isn’t clear regarding the FD-1057/1087 forms, except that when used as a ‘stand-alone’ interview summary, the 1057 doesn’t have following pages with a different number, and as i haven’t located a complete list of current FBI forms, i don’t know if that summary-and-evidence-log coupling has been replaced.

    FD-1057 (Rev. 5-8-10) “Electronic Communication” – FD-1087 (Rev. 5-8-10) “Evidence Log”
    FD-302 (Rev. 05-08-10) “Title Unknown” (redacted) – FD-302a (Rev. 05-08-10) “Continuation of FD-302 of (first page)”

    when i get back from my booster, i get to read Dr. Wheeler’s newest installation of the Durham brain snare!

  2. Peterr says:

    “John Durham apparently believes li’l ol’ emptywheel is smarter than an entire team of seasoned FBI counterintelligence professionals.”

    He would not be the first one to come to that conclusion.

    On top of that, the analyst who wrote up the report noted several times when Danchenko’s answers contradicted his early assertion that he himself had no known ties to Russian intelligence (there’s far more evidence that Danchenko knowingly lied about ties to Russian spooks than any of the charges laid out here, but that doesn’t serve Durham’s narrative and so instead he’s charging more random lies).

    Based on this, one might come to the conclusion that the analysts are actually fairly good, but Durham is not. He certainly seems to want to avoid any discussion of actual Russian intelligence agents, which would undermine the whole “Russia Hoax” story he’s trying to peddle.

  3. Thomas says:

    Durham is juggling live hand grenades in this indictment and the last one.
    He wants to win convictions on narrow interpretations of contradictory evidence to try to prop up a fraudulent narrative that will fall apart under scrutiny.
    There is no longer any doubt that Trump and Manafort and others were criminally conspiring with Russian agents and the Russian government.
    The mystery is why they aren’t being prosecuted.

  4. civil says:

    Dr. Wheeler,

    I don’t know if you’d ever be inclined to take apart Jonathan Turley’s willfully ignorant and sometimes dishonest discussions of this indictment and the Durham investigation (in an analogous fashion to your periodic responses to the Area Substacker), but if you are, I’d love to see it. I sometimes post comments on his blog and have recommended your analyses to other commenters there (for example: https://jonathanturley.org/2021/11/08/strzok-in-denial-fired-fbi-agent-denounces-durham-indictments-for-dog-whistles/comment-page-1/#comment-2135097), but I don’t have the command of the details that you do, and I doubt that Turley reads the comments. He posted yet more garbage in another column about the indictment today. His ego might be large enough that it would be hard for him to look away if you critiqued one of his columns.

    Thanks for all of your analyses. I really appreciate your attention to detail and intellectual integrity (backing up your claims with evidence, being willing to express uncertainty when evidence is unclear or to change your mind in light of new evidence, …). It disgusts me that Turley is a professor when he lacks that integrity.

    • bmaz says:

      Turley is a firehose of stupid, he is not worth the effort. And to bother would amplify his firehose of stupid.

      • civil says:

        I agree that he posts a lot of garbage. But he is lauded by those on the right who want to pretend that reasonable liberals agree with them. (Of course, he’s not a reasonable liberal.) He panders to them because they give him the attention that he desires, and in order to pander to them, he cannot present a truthful or detailed analysis, since that would only tick them off. My opinion about whether it’s worth it is different than yours. In terms of whether Dr. Wheeler might choose to take one of his garbage columns apart, hers is the opinion that really matters.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          You’re barking up the wrong fire hydrant.

          As for Turley, I find your cause-and-effect argument suspect. Like Bobo and Eastman, Turley is who he is. His status as an elite member of his radically conservative in-group is probably more important to him than the adulation of the crowd. He and his peers tailor their arguments to those desired by that elite structure.

          What seems most important for them now is that his deceitful arguments lower the value of factual and honest argument. That’s not a playing field on which his side can win, so he and they want to change the game without appearing to do so.

        • MB says:

          I forget who “Bobo” is – David Brooks?

          Here’s a rhetorical question for anybody: which is better – a firehose of lies or a rainshower of lies?

          If the dog-whistle approach provides fertile ground for nurturing propaganda and the bullhorn approach eventually incites violence, then…

          Something something truth to power etc.

        • civil says:

          It’s certainly possible that my cause-and-effect beliefs about Turley are wrong, and you’re correct. I’ll think about that some more.

          I agree that Turley’s columns are intellectually dishonest but presented in a way that gives cover to those who want pretend otherwise. I’m not sure that I agree that “deceitful arguments lower the value of factual and honest argument,” but do think that deceitful arguments can prompt some people to (further) devalue factual and honest argumentation, as long as the deceitful arguments serve ends that those people do value. It may depend on how one assesses the value of factual and honest argumentation. For example, is the value (of factual and honest argumentation) simply the average of everyone’s opinions about its value, in which case the value changes as people’s opinions about the importance of facts and honesty shift? Or is the value instead determined only by honest people with relevant expertise, in which case the value is more constant and not really affected by deceitful arguments? Choosing how to “measure” the value of something is not a purely objective issue. (I’ve thought a lot about how aspects of the world are mathematized by people. Assigning value is one way of mathematizing.) Both Turley and most of the conservative commenters on his blog choose deceitful arguments over factual and honest arguments, while trying to pretend otherwise. Some of the liberals who comment there do as well.

        • Rayne says:

          This is all really cute fluffery until you realize an op-ed Turley wrote in February 2019 was part of a character assassination on a U.S. Ambassador and could have been used as a justification by the wrong elements to hurt or kill her.

          This isn’t just intellectual dishonesty and elevating/deprecating speech we’re talking about when Turley gives cover for people who want to defraud the U.S., attack another sovereign nation, and hurt or kill a loyal federal employee.

        • civil says:

          I’m not familiar with the op-ed you’re referring to. Was it about Yovanovitch?

          I haven’t ever considered this stuff cute fluffery. I agree about the seriousness of the kind of people Turley is giving cover for, but even if if that weren’t the case, I’d still consider it serious whether people are committed to good faith discussion and all that that entails. I think society is harmed when people are unwilling to deal honestly with evidence and counterevidence, when people treat their own opinions as facts and contrary opinions as lies — and are quick to demonize those with other opinions (though I also believe some opinions *are* odious), when people can’t actually hear views that are different than their own and instead distort what they’re hearing to make it easier to dismiss, …

          But your comment makes me think more about what I do/don’t comment on when I post comments on Turley’s blog. I’m more likely to comment on his or commenters’ intellectual dishonesty, and not as likely to comment on who Turley is giving cover to. So thanks for pushing me to think further about what I do/don’t say in my own comments there.

          Your comment also helps me clarify why I disagree with bmaz re: whether it’s worth the effort to give a detailed critique of some of his columns.

    • Tom says:

      This post from Dr. Wheeler is another example of how, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “The quality of Marcy is not strained …”

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