FBI Approved Igor Danchenko as a Source before It Stopped Doing Back-Door FISA Searches to Vet Informants

Last Thursday, Judge Anthony Trenga denied Igor Danchenko’s motion to dismiss, while making it clear the government’s case was really shoddy.

Judge Anthony J. Trenga ruled that Danchenko’s case must be weighed by a jury, clearing the way for his trial next month. But it was “an extremely close call,” Trenga said from the bench.

(This AP piece has more detail but it also makes really obvious errors.) While there’s no ruling on the docket, Trenga must have approved any remaining CIPA issues.

The frothers, of course, remain obsessed with the news that the FBI formally made Danchenko a confidential human source in 2017. Most prominently, for example, Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson wrote a pissy letter to Merrick Garland and Christopher Wray demanding information about why he was made an informant by October 22.

In December 2016, the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane team identified Danchenko as Steele’s primary sub-source and, according to the FBI, “became familiar with the 2009 investigation.”[8] The FBI, even in light of the extensive derogatory information attached to Danchenko, proceeded to pay him as a confidential human source three months later from March 2017 to October 2020 as part of Crossfire Hurricane. Therefore, while we were investigating the Justice Department’s and FBI’s misconduct with respect to Crossfire Hurricane, you maintained him on the government’s payroll.

This extraordinary fact pattern requires additional information from the Justice Department and FBI relating to why Danchenko was placed on the payroll and paid by the taxpayer to assist in the federal government’s flawed investigation into President Trump.

I hope to finish a post explaining why all the frothers are painfully stupid in their response to this news before Danchenko’s trial starts next week.

I’m not surprised that Grassley and Johnson are just as clueless on this point as the rest of the frothers.

But I am somewhat surprised that Grassley, the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, doesn’t know something about how FBI vetted informants until 2018, after they formalized Danchenko as one: They queried the person against all the FBI’s databases, including their FISA databases.

For example, we were told disputes occurred related to queries conducted for vetting purposes.52 Specifically, according to the FBI, it was concerned that as a result of the change to the query standard it could no longer perform vetting queries on raw FISA information before developing a confidential human source (CHS). FBI officials told us that it was important for agents to be able to query all of its databases, including FISA data, to determine whether the FBI has any derogatory or nefarious information about a potential CHS. However, because of the implementation of the 2018 standard, the FBI is no longer able to conduct these queries because they would violate the standard (unless the FBI has a basis to believe the subject has criminal intent or is a threat to national security). According to the FBI, because its goal is to uncover any derogatory information about a potential CHS prior to establishing a relationship, many agents continue to believe that it is irresponsible to engage in a CHS relationship without conducting a complete query of the FBI’s records as “smoking gun” information on a potential CHS could exist only in FISA systems. Nevertheless, these FBI officials told us that they recognize that they have been unsuccessful when presenting these arguments to NSD and the FISC and, as noted below, they follow NSD’s latest revision of query standard guidance.

Particularly given the past investigation into Danchenko and concerns about his past ties to Russian spooks, it is highly likely the FBI would have done such a back door search with Danchenko. They would have done it for precisely the concern Grassley and Johnson raised: to chase down some of the derogatory information on Danchenko from the earlier investigation. They would have done it to see the content of conversations he had with anyone of particular interest. Indeed, for a variety of reasons, the FBI likely could have done a backdoor search on Danchenko even after the querying standard changed in 2018.

The FBI likely made Danchenko a CHS not only for very good reasons, but for reasons that the frothers, if endless saturation inside a disinformation bubble hadn’t rotted their brains, might even approve of.

And before they did so, they likely did some very thorough vetting of him first.

7 replies
  1. Rugger9 says:

    The frothers think tactically rather than strategically on things like this, starting with a reflexive rejection of anything not approved by the RWNM. Individual-1 figures that way as well, and one can succeed for a long time that wat eventually the lack of strategy means that a dilemma results.

    Grassley knew (at one time, I think he’s senile) about the CHS vetting process, but dadgummit, the GQP needs political cover now to bash the Biden administration and that’s what Grassley acts on. RoJo is and always was hopeless to the point where even Louis Gohmert almost has competition for the stupidest in Congress.

    The days where such about-faces could be buried are gone with the Internet and the Wayback Machine. However, the courtier press still needs to do its damn job.

    • Pedro P says:

      You are so right. The frothers need to start thinking more strategically, like some in the FBI do when they realize they totally screwed up an investigation with a shaky informant so they put him on the payroll so now everything associated with this informant will be classified and when questions are asked over the years the sources and methods excuse will continue
      to keep us in the dark.

  2. Pedro P says:

    Am I done here Rayne?

    [You’ve been in auto-moderation twice inside four months for different forms of trollish behavior which disrupt discussions. This is your last chance. Participate cooperatively and collaboratively in discussion here or you’ll be perma-moderated. /~Rayne]

  3. Pedro P says:

    Thanks Rayne, appreciate the second chances.

    I know I don’t fit in here and I know I’ll be bad again so I’m going to save you the trouble and ban myself.

    Thanks again for letting me in Marcy’s digital living room and all the best to you and even Bmaz.

    Pedro P

    • Jeffrey Gallup says:

      1. My guess as to why the FBI took on Danchenko as a paid confidential informant is that they had to do so to get his cooperation – they had no means to compel his testimony at the time. Though why they kept him on till 2020 mystifies me.

      2. I once had an anonymous call like Danchenko’s. As a junior government officer, I received a call at my desk from an apparent American who asked for background information on NATO and ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States). He never identified himself, but asked that I send the information to USNIX at a post office box in New York City. As I spoke to him, I thought this guy sounds a lot like (disgraced former President) Richard Nixon. But I could hardly believe he would call a junior government employee personally.

      If it was Nixon, he was perhaps not terribly happy with the material I sent him (stuff I would send to any American). For a subsequent foreign trip by Nixon, L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer was contacted (he of later Iraq proconsul fame and a former close aide to Kissinger), and Jerry informally tasked various offices to produce a formal briefing book for Nixon – in 24 hours if I recall correctly. Normally tasking was done by memo. I was rebuked for putting a photocopy of a briefing paper into the book , rather than an original copy, which would have had to be retyped entirely in those days.

      Now, I never knew for sure whether it was Nixon who called me, but had I told the FBI later on that Nixon had not called me, that would have been a lie. Like Danchenko, I thought it was person X, but wasn’t sure.

  4. Silly but True says:

    I don’t fully fault the collective case agents who facilitated the pre-2018 exploitation of FISA tools for purposes other than those allowed by FISA law, but like always with these kinds of abuses it’s always the guys on front line taking path of least resistance to still try to do what they think they need to do.

    The solution would be for FBI agents to value fundamental civil rights, accept that strong protections of those rights are necessary for our democracy to exist, and not seek to wrongfully exploit and circumvent those strong protections on misguided goals.

    The solution is obvious: _IF_ they need a FISA-like database, then lobby the FBI Dir. who can work with the Attorney General to fill any gaps within the national security arena to get them access to necessary foreign intelligence information which allows a full background picture to be made of prospective confidential human sources. Alternately, if the source is itself a national security risk, then initiate a legitimate FISA case to legally allow normal FISA surveillance of them.

    The problem is there was insufficient protections covering the bridge from FISA arena over to more mundane FBI work, and it’s good the 2018 change happened. But more fundamentally what is needed is change in mindset of FBI agents to not trample laws and oversight mechanisms in belief they’re doing the job they are supposed to be doing.

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