Ben Smith Still Doesn’t Understand He Peddled Likely Russian Disinformation

I’m not sure whether it was just chance or whether Ben Smith knew in advance that BuzzFeed would announce the closure of its news division on the same day that he posted an account of publishing the Steele dossier. His account doesn’t explain whether the cost of defending against serial Russian lawfare for publishing the dossier made it harder, in the aftermath, to pay journalists’ salaries, but it’s a question that deserves an answer.

But Ben’s account — which focuses, as most of Ben’s writing does, on insider news media stuff — makes two grave errors.

The first is that — even though he quotes Pete Strzok describing how the dossier framed the Russian investigation, thereby inoculating Trump against accountability for the very real scandalous behavior he had with Russia — Ben falsely suggests that the dossier was the genesis of the public concern about Trump’s ties to Russia.

We had embedded it as a PDF, which meant that it could travel context-free, without our article’s careful disclaimers, and that’s exactly what happened. I watched uneasily as educated Democrats who abhorred Trump supporters’ crude rants about child sex rings in Washington pizza joints were led by the dossier into similar patterns of thought. They read screenshots of Steele’s report; they connected the dots. They retweeted threads about how the plane of a Russian oligarch—previously unknown to them, now sinister—had made a mysterious stop in North Carolina.


It had blown wide open a Russia investigation and forced voters to ask just why Trump seemed so friendly with Vladimir Putin.


An FBI agent who investigated Trump, Peter Strzok, later said the dossier “framed the debate” in a way that ultimately helped Trump: “Here’s what’s alleged to have happened, and if it happened, boy, it’s horrible—we’ve got a traitor in the White House. But if it isn’t true, well, then everything is fine.”

The notion that Democrats and national security hawks weren’t concerned about Trump’s Russian ties until January 10, 2017 is ludicrous. The effort to understand Trump’s Russian ties went into high gear on July 27, 2016, when he encouraged Russia to attack his opponent and floated recognizing the annexation of Crimea. It never stopped thereafter.

And, as I had to explain patiently to Columbia Journalism Review, even the intense press reporting on Trump’s real ties to Russia started before January 10, because the WaPo was already onto Mike Flynn’s lies about his outreach to Sergey Kislyak by then. Strzok’s point, I think, is that publishing the dossier made it easier for Trump to get away with attempting to undermine sanctions on Russia and all the rest because at least undermining sanctions wasn’t a pee tape.

No one needed the dossier to heighten concerns about Trump’s fondness for Russia. That’s a myth created by Russiagate [sic] peddlers trying to distract from the very real scandal of Trump’s ties to Russia.

Ben’s other silence, though, is irresponsible.

As I have noted, as the Carter Page IG Report makes clear, and as Republicans in Congress have come to agree, there’s abundant reason to believe that Russians started feeding Igor Danchenko with disinformation from the start. Lawyers for Oleg Deripaska were likely the client for a Steele collection effort targeting Paul Manafort in March 2016. According to declassified footnotes in the IG Report, Deripaska likely learned of the dossier project before the second report. And he demonstrably played a double game throughout 2016, getting Steele to feed Bruce Ohr damaging claims about Manafort at the same time as his aide, Konstantin Kilimnik, was exploiting Manafort’s legal and financial vulnerability to get information on the Trump campaign and a commitment to help carve up Ukraine.

This dynamic is utterly central to understanding the dossier. Someone who played a central role in the 2016 Russian operation knew about the dossier project, and had means to know of Danchenko’s collection network, almost from the start. And that makes it likely that at least some of the content of the dossier was tailored to be wrong in ways that benefitted the Russian operation.

Ben’s silence about the likelihood that he unwittingly peddled Russian disinformation is all the more embarrassing given how his post transitions directly from suggesting that John Durham had “poked holes in Steele’s sourcing” to noting that there was something that Trump actually was lying to cover up: the impossibly lucrative Trump Tower deal in Moscow.

Simpson then told Ken something he didn’t know: Steele had been working the case of the president-elect, Donald Trump, and he’d assembled evidence that Trump had close ties to the Kremlin—including claims that Michael Cohen, one of his lawyers, had held secret meetings with Russian officials in Prague, and that the Kremlin had a lurid video of Trump cavorting with prostitutes in the Ritz-Carlton Moscow that would come to be known as the “pee tape.”


But although the biggest-picture claim—that the Russian government had worked to help Trump—was clearly true, the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in April 2019 did not support Steele’s report. Indeed, it knocked down crucial elements of the dossier, including Cohen’s supposed visit to Prague. Internet sleuths—followed by a federal prosecutor—had poked holes in Steele’s sourcing, suggesting that he’d overstated the quality of his information.

And there had always been a more mundane version of the Trump-Russia story. Trump was the sort of destabilizing right-wing figure that Putin had covertly supported across Europe. Trump’s value to Putin was related not to a secret deal, but to the overt damage he could do to America. And Trump, BuzzFeed News’s Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold discovered, had a more mundane interest in Russia as well: He had drawn up plans to build the biggest apartment building in Europe on the banks of the Moskva River. The Trump Organization planned to offer the $50 million penthouse to Putin as a sweetener.

That real-estate project wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the dossier. Yet it seemed to explain the same pattern of behavior, without the lurid sexual allegations or hints of devious espionage.

The man responsible for publishing both the Steele dossier and the best reporting on the Trump Tower Moscow deal seems not to understand that false claims about Michael Cohen in the dossier were likely there because of the Trump Tower deal.

Ben invokes what Durham’s failed prosecution revealed about (what Ben mistakenly claims to be) Danchenko’s sourcing, without laying out the import of Danchenko’s ties to Charles Dolan: Dolan gave the source of the Cohen claims in the dossier, Olga Galkina, direct access to Dmitri Peskov, the one man in Russia with proof that when Trump falsely claimed in July 2016 that he wasn’t pursuing real estate deals in Russia, he was lying. Even Durham implied this was the import of Dolan’s relationship with Galkina! Dolan was important because he put Galkina, who was sending dirt on Trump to her childhood buddy, Igor Danchenko, in close touch with Peskov.

The source of the claims that Cohen had secret communications with the Kremlin in the dossier had direct ties to the one guy in Russia, Peskov, who provably knew that Cohen really did have secret communications directly with the Kremlin that he and Trump were lying to hide.

Once Trump publicly lied about chasing real estate deals in Russia in July 2016, it made the notes Peskov’s aide took, showing that Cohen had agreed to work with sanctioned banks and a retired GRU officer as fixer in order to chase one such deal, far more valuable to Russia, particularly after it became clear in the US that the GRU was behind the hack of Hillary. So it is likely not random at all that someone with direct access to Peskov told Danchenko that Cohen — who was lying to hide his real direct contact with the Kremlin during the election — had other, more damning direct contact with the Kremlin. It raised the stakes of Trump’s and Cohen’s lies. It raised the value of Russia’s silence about the earlier conversation with Peskov. To the extent that everyone kept their shared secret — and they did for the entire first year of the Trump Administration — it provided cover for the lies that Cohen would tell to Congress.

From the start, the FBI had warnings that the Cohen in Prague story was disinformation. And it just so happens that the story, which came from someone with ties to Peskov, repeated a true fact that Peskov knew: that Cohen really did have secret communications with the Kremlin, communications that had already compromised Trump and Cohen with Russia before the hacking even started. If the Cohen in Prague story was disinformation (and, again, FBI got warnings it was the day after Ben published the dossier), it was disinformation that made that earlier compromise more powerful.

And Ben Smith, who played a key role in disseminating that likely disinformation, appears to not even understand that, much less want to reflect on his role in being an unwitting mule for Russian disinformation.

49 replies
  1. joel fisher says:

    It’s really discouraging to know that there are people–and a lot of them–who think: “No pee tape; Trump must be innocent”.

    • CaliLawyer says:

      The pee allegation likely covers for the fact that DJT almost certainly did enjoy prostitutes in Moscow- he’s got a documented history of paying for sex.

      • Franktoo says:

        As best I can tell, RUMORS about a pee-tape were real in 2016, though that doesn’t mean such a tape exists. IIRC, Cohen heard those rumors from potential business partners (who claimed they were trying to suppress them) and warned Hope Hawkins. According to Durham, Dolan heard those rumors. In his NYT interview, Danchenko described his personal efforts to confirm those rumors at the hotel. IMO.

  2. JVO says:

    Ben’s writings and positions belie him being an “unwitting mule,” imho; he appears to be an active participant, contributor, and champion of RU dis/mis-info, tbh.

  3. OnWatch says:

    I think that interest in theT rump-Russia bond was earlier than July 2016. At the RNConvention when Paul Manafort made Ukraine an enemy rather than ‘a friend’ and also when Eric Trump stated to the world that the Trumps had no money problems, they got their money from Russia were big clues. I was kicked off Twitter in Oct ’16 for sending public messages to Trump about the Alpha Bank connection at his ‘TrumpTower’.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. SECOND REQUEST: Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. This is fourth or fifth username as “OnWatch” is not the same as “onwatch”, and the change in email address also makes it look like sockpuppeting or identity spoofing. You’re also going to need to update to the site’s 8-letter minimum standard. /~Rayne]

    • bmaz says:

      I’m sorry, who is “theT rump”? You think that shit is cute? Let us talk in real words about real people. Please.

      • ExRacerX says:

        Might just be a spacing error—the poster typed “Trump” in 3 other places, and they are referring to the “Trump-Russia bond” rather than “theT rump.”

      • David_28FEB2023_0917hET says:

        How about addressing the substance of his post instead of spelling? Please.

        [Welcome back to emptywheel. THIRD AND FINAL REQUEST: Please choose and use a unique username with a minimum of 8 letters. We are moving to a new minimum standard to support community security. In addition to publishing this comment as “David” you’ve also commented under a different usernames, “D.” and “DAVID MARQUETTE LEDOUX,” this past month. Your username on this comment will be temporarily edited to reflect the date/time of your first known comment until you have chosen a permanent compliant username. /~Rayne]

  4. 24ROUGHING says:

    Um…not sure any of you people are really paying attention…but the Steele Dossier was testified in court, that it was a complete hoax and literally paid for. Go research Michael Sussman, Perkins-Coie…the Durham trial. It’s all there on actual record. Sussman testified that the funds came from the Clinton campaign. This clown published it. It was a fake. FISA warrants were issued on order to obtain known fake information. Wake up.

    [Welcome to emptywheel. It’s apparent from your comment you did NOT read this post nor have you been reading material at this site. Please also note that we don’t just delete comments unless there’s evidence of trolling; comments do take time to clear from auto-moderation which may have been triggered by a keyword or some other attribute in a comment. Your second comment complaining about your comment being deleted has itself been deleted. Now sit back and try actually reading content before spouting off. /~Rayne]

    • N.E. Brigand says:

      As Rayne’s embedded comment implies, there has in fact been extensive coverage of all those issues at this site. Marcy Wheeler, this site’s founder and the author of the article to which you’re responding, was among the earliest skeptics of the Steele Dossier when it was published, and has written multiple articles about its flaws. This site can be searched, so with minimal effort, you can quickly find, for example, a reference to Perkins Coie as early as October 2017 in this piece:

      Note how Wheeler’s opening sentence alone pretty much covered all your concerns nearly six years ago:

      “Let me start this post by reposting in full my explanation of why Trump opponents are idiots for clinging to the Steele dossier, so I can add to that with an explanation of why the disclosure that Marc Elias paid for the dossier on behalf of Hillary and the DNC makes it far, far worse.”

      And there’s nearly another 2,500 words on the subject in that column alone! But as she notes in today’s piece, just because Steele’s work apparently was the unfortunate result of Russian disinformation doesn’t undermine the fact that Donald Trump actually was colluding (but not necessarily criminally conspiring) with Russia.

    • emptywheel says:


      I laid out the problems with your little Durham masturbation as soon as the indictments came out. I was proven correct when he got two embarrassing acquittals.

      I would suggest you take your masturbation elsewhere, where people are stupid enough to think you’re anything but a drooling moron.


  5. N.E. Brigand says:

    I appreciate this passage: “The notion that Democrats and national security hawks weren’t concerned about Trump’s Russian ties until January 10, 2017 is ludicrous. The effort to understand Trump’s Russian ties went into high gear on July 27, 2016, when he encouraged Russia to attack his opponent and floated recognizing the annexation of Crimea. It never stopped thereafter.”

    It perhaps started even a little earlier. Josh Marshall at “Talking Points Memo” wrote a column titled “Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing” on July 23, 2016 that included these lines: “There is also something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support for Trump or a non-tacit alliance between the two men. … To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump’s direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin’s policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore.”

    That reminds me of something that people said a few years later about Paul Manafort sharing Trump campaign information with Konstantin Kilimnik: if Manafort had shared that information with a PAC, he would be violating campaign laws.


    • Ruthie2the says:

      I had time and motivation in 2016, and followed political news more closely than average. My spouse, on the other hand, while largely aligned with me politically, was consumed by work concerns, and rolled his eyes when I described what I’d read about Trump’s ties to Russia. The problem is that you had to be paying close attention, and reading non-MSM sources.

      Same as it ever was.

      Also, with regard to my expanded username, I will eliminate the number if so advised.

      [Welcome back to emptywheel. The number in your username is just fine. /~Rayne]

    • Rayne says:

      There were concerns earlier. Much earlier. Much, much earlier. Much, much, much earlier. They just weren’t well organized into a cogent statement of concern presented to the public *early* in the 2016 campaign season though you can bet Hillary Clinton had a bead on this as former Secretary of State and NY’s senator. Media did a spectacularly shitty job of pulling together all the details and explaining there could be concerns just as they continue to do a la Ben Smith’s BuzzFeed swan song.

      • fidservant says:

        I will admit that I’m jaded, but in 2016 I was neither paying close attention nor looking beyond MSM: Trump was the kind of person I’d been taught throughout my childhood to give no credence to, any more than I gave a thought to the drunks sleeping on the sidewalk on West 41st Street as I stepped over them en route to/from the Port Authority.

        I was shocked speechless that anyone paid attention to the blowhard clown, much less voted for him in large numbers. I didn’t think so many of my fellow countrymen were, to put it bluntly, gullible, ignorant, and stupid enough to fall for his bluster. That includes my former best friend.

        • Rayne says:

          In hindsight it was easy for folks in NY/NJ/PA to disregard the threat Trump posed in 2016. Their well-earned skepticism about him served them well, but across the rest of the US Trump had been invited one night a week into their living rooms for more than a decade. He was offered up as an example of a successful business person though in truth he was a highly-polished spray-painted turd; Americans who watched The Apprentice, though, couldn’t smell his bullshit through NBC’s and Mark Burnett’s production values.

          The Russians played a long game by investing money in Trump for the purposes of constructing his golf courses. It wasn’t just a method of compromise, or access to money laundering through each course, or obtaining Trump’s favor. Russia helped create the image of success that Mark Burnett propped up further and NBC’s Jeff Zucker (later at CNN during 2016 campaign season) helped promulgate — one season of The Apprentice was focused on the LA area course in particular. Again, from NY/NJ/PA, the buffed turd didn’t look like a Trojan Horse but it was. And NBC nor CNN certainly wouldn’t shed any light on their profit center.

          • RipNoLonger says:

            Among many memorable comments on this site, I will frame this for re-reading. Along with MW’s riposte on masturbation.

          • Greg Hunter says:

            I think a lot about the first time I saw Trump and immediately discounted him, but I surely missed that many of my cohorts exposure to him was from The Apprentice, until he won.

            Now I look at many of our television shows and lament what conclusions people are drawing from them. For instance one of my favorite shows is the First 48, and while I think I have the right perspective to see the underlying causes of many of the murders they portray; I am dead certain most of America does not.

            Democrats have an opportunity to harness messaging from shows to explain why their ideas solve the issues presented on TV. I would love to work on those stories, especially the First 48.

            I could also opine on masturbation but I will save that for another time.

            • Ginevra diBenci says:

              I prefer supine on masturbation, but my real reason for responding here is that for several years I’ve been studying reality TV (true crime in particular) as both nudge and barometer of culture, including political culture. The Apprentice played a huge role in priming America for Trump, but so in less obvious ways did Dateline. The closer you look, the scarier it gets.

            • Rayne says:

              The one good thing to come from the explosion of streaming with access to programming from around the world is that some platforms have been considerably weakened by market dilution. I don’t know if The Apprentice would have the same impact on US viewers if launched today. Would it reach your cohort now?

              You’re right that many Americans will come away from US television with the wrong conclusions, even among fairly well-informed viewers. My BFF had been watching CBS’s Blue Bloods series; I caught an episode and thought what a bunch of bullshit, loaded to the gills with factually wrong crap about the way crime is handled. It literally treats NYC as if it is its own independent sovereign nation and NYPD is its standing army. What is this doing to Americans’ heads after 13 years of distorted reality even as the GOP-led House sends subpoenas about criminal investigations in NYC and New York state? And what of the intersection of understanding between +10 years of pro-Trump Apprentice and 13 years of Blue Bloods?

              Democrats have an opportunity, but they don’t have the mechanism to organize themselves to produce and distribute a tight and uniform message. Big Tents are messy places. One opportunity they shouldn’t miss, though, is the existential battle Disney faces against DeSantis. We should be working this ref hard because Disney’s diverse audience and equally diverse creator base mirrors the left — and DeSantis wants to destroy it. I hope Disney’s board of directors takes the leash off ABC News and encourages them to do what it takes to protect democracy through the First Amendment.

              • Ginevra diBenci says:

                Blue Bloods is mindless pro-cop claptrap. It enjoys high production values and the fictional-drama series version of the “Tucker Carlson defense”: no reasonable viewer would take it seriously. Over time, however, it does complement an insidious version of reality. A friend (and former student) of mine had a stint as a recurring character on the show; his genuine earnestness and stalwart nature made him perfect for the part, but the show itself…well, you said it, Rayne.

                I find so-called journalistic ventures more pernicious. Dateline is shamelessly pro-law enforcement; their producers curry favor with police and prosecutors in order to get interviews. And there’s a burgeoning industry among certain victims’ families, who market their stories to the big shows (DL, 48 Hours, 20/20) to put pressure on those working cases.

                Hence we get travesties like the same blond teen’s abduction being covered by all three networks, often more than once, which feeds into the “predators everywhere” paranoia fueling gun consumption nationwide.

  6. Upisdown says:

    I hope someday, years from now, the legit media will find time to expose the fake reporting about Hunter Biden’s laptop like they are finally doing about the bogus narratives about the Steele Dossier. On this day following the big news that Weiss, after nearly four years, has no charges pending for influence pedaling, money laundering, or any financial corruption, I expected to see headlines calling out the right’s laptop reporting as a hoax. All I see, though, are more RW media articles still claiming that the NY Post’s laptop report was suppressed under orders of then candidate Joe Biden, and that now POTUS Biden is illegally obstructing the investigation from uncovering real crimes. I wish the media would start pushing back by demanding evidence that some crime had been committed.

  7. vigetnovus says:

    Basically, Peskov et al. were doing to Trump what Deripaska did to Manafort: use their points of leverage to get the person to do something to benefit Putin and Russia.

    Putin had Trump on the hook for so much kompromat, no wonder he never said a bad thing about him.

  8. Lysander says:

    I read the piece and found it interesting, and I’m glad you responded with some of its shortcomings. (I’m afraid that I’m the middle-brow target audience for pieces like Smith’s.)

    What do people think about Smith’s regret that he had published them complete, as a pdf, without any context? I find it interesting that the Steele dossier dump is similar to the Wikileaks DNC dump as they both got quickly decontexualized and turned into political totems, rather than critically read by the average American. If *both* of these dumps are ultimately the product of Russian disinformation one way or another, I wonder what the correct line of action is to combatting dumps like these in the future.

      • Dave_MB says:

        Netflix just came out with an 8 episode show ‘the Diplomat’, where Keri Russell plays a State Department employee experienced in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but amid an international crisis gets appointed to be the Ambassador to the UK and has to juggle the job, expectations and her somewhat estranged marriage to her husband who is a political star, who’s meddling ‘help’ can hurt just as much as help. It’s a good show and a good watch.

        The reason I bring it up is that a number of times they have raw intelligence from a very trusted source and are are *very* wary of acting on it until it’s confirmed.

        In fact, they even flat out say passing raw intelligence up the chain and acting like it’s true is a good way to get fired or at least look like an idiot.

        Christopher Steele used to head up the MI6 Russian bureau, but everything in the Dossier was raw intelligence. Even if he used trusted sources, there’s no telling where the information ultimately came from and this case, it was disinformation.

        In addition to Keri Russell being fabulous and making diplomacy look interesting, that the show treated raw intelligence like possibly the truth and possibly a venomous snake, was interesting to me.

        • bmaz says:

          That show looks fantastic, and Keri Russell is always great (she came from the Valley here!). Going to have to watch that.

            • bmaz says:

              The Americans was soooo good. Was time for it to end, but holy crap, what a great show. If The Diplomat is even close, will be incredible.

              • Dave_MB says:

                It’s good. Stylistically different, but I loved it.

                The main reason I brought it up was its treatment of raw intelligence, which frequently is disinformation. Raw intelligence is never ready for prime time.

  9. Scott Maggelet says:

    I think it’s a mistake to dismiss the Michael Cohen in Prague story as disinformation. McClatchy still stands behind its reporting that his phone pinged off cell towers in or near Prague, a report that was confirmed with four separate sources. Steele still stands by it as well. The only reason to disbelieve it is Michael Cohen’s worthless protestation in the face of treason charges. Personally, I find it much more likely that Cohen is lying than that a respected news agency and an MI6 counter-intelligence expert with decades of experience were tricked by the Kremlin clown car.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      You need to get out more.

      MI-6 agents, for example, are trained, expert liars. But that skill is not what’s in play here. Steele seems to have been worked by his sources.

    • Rayne says:

      Jesus, I don’t have the patience tonight for this. None of that matters, or it only does as a means of redirecting attention through spreading disinformation — which, let’s face it, this being your first comment here on the heels of this particular post by Marcy you may well be here to do just that.

      We already know Cohen was a dirtbag and he’s been prosecuted for some of his dirtbaggery, some of which like taxi medallions had little to do with Trump. You tip your hand when you throw treason in as well because Cohen was never going to be charged with that.

      I don’t know how many goddamned times we have to explain s l o w l y that treason has a specific legal meaning (see 18 USC 2381) and is pertinent to traditional kinetic warfare in which war has been formally declared and an enemy identified. Has there been a declaration of war against Russia in the last decade? An authorization of military force against Russia? No? Then 18 USC 2381 is inapplicable.

      Welcome to emptywheel. We expect better of our commenting community members — bring a better game.

  10. Ginevra diBenci says:

    Ben Smith uses the word “mundane” to effectively dismiss the real story, as if retrofitting recent history weren’t enough (by making the ridiculous claim that the dossier ignited suspicions of a Trump-Russia link). This is, I’ve noticed, the NYT way: insert a seemingly indisputable claim into an innocuous adjective that displays your Olympian perspective–that is, the Times and the Times alone gets to designate the relative significance of events.

    Those of us who were paying attention at the time remember how invested Trump was in insisting he had no business ties with Russia. The truth, obviously, was the opposite. And the truth still matters. “Mundane” as Ben Smith thinks it is.

  11. Franktoo says:

    Marcy wrote: “As I have noted, as the Carter Page IG Report makes clear, and as Republicans in Congress have come to agree, there’s abundant reason to believe that Russians started feeding Igor Danchenko with disinformation from the start.” “Noted” is linked to: Sensitive source reporting from June 2017 indicated that a [person affiliated] to Russian Oligarch 1 was [possibly aware] of Steele’s election investigation as of early July 2016.

    What confuses me it that Steele’s first reports are dated JUNE 20, before this report. Steele wasn’t hired by Fusion until mid-May and Fusion by Perkins-Coie until late April. Even if Russian intelligence learned about Steele’s engagement the day he was hired, it seems improbable to me that they – in the month before Danchenko’s first trip – could have identified Danchenko, his sub-sources AND MOST IMPORTANTLY gained approval (presumably all the way up to Putin) to mount a disinformation operation in an area where the Russian government was already deeply invested (hacking the DNC and other measures to help Trump). Furthermore, given their deep investment in helping Trump, it doesn’t make sense their disinformation would include planting negative information about Trump that might become public before the 2016 election.

    So, I’ve always felt that it would have been impossible for Steele’s June reports to have been corrupted by Russian disinformation and improbable that his July reports had been corrupted. The now-obviously false reports about Cohen’s meetings Prague strongly suggest that at least one of Danchenko’s sub-sources had been compromised before the reports dated October 19&20 (and also December). Once news of Steele’s reports started spreading, the odds of his operation being compromised began increasing.

    Now, Steele had also been collecting intelligence about Russia (Simpson’s book mentions a Project Charlamange) and for Deripasha. I don’t know when he began using Danchenko. It is possible that Steele’s operation was somewhat compromised before he was even approached by Fusion. That still leaves the difficulty of quickly approving and mounting a disinformation campaign and the unlikelihood that such a campaign would involve phony information that could hurt Trump before the election.

    Respectfully, what is my analysis missing?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Intelligence agencies don’t start corrupting sources only when they need them. They are typically identified well beforehand, as Trump might have been more than a decade before he ran in 2015.

      In Steele’s case, his specialty in MI-6 was Russia, something he kept on working on once he left government for the private sector. Corrupting his network of sources would have been high on Russia’s list for quite some time.

      • Franktoo says:

        earlofhuntingdon: Thanks for the thought provoking reply. Normally the investigative business of a man whose career had peaked as head of MI6’s Russia desk for three years would be beneath the notice of Russian Intelligence. There must have be hundreds of former intelligences officers around the world with similar qualifications to monitor. According to Wikipedia, Orbis Business Intelligence only grossed about $2M a year, so its financial resources were pathetic compared to any government operation.

        Nevertheless, Wikipedia does show Orbis investigations in six years of existence (before 2016) had an enormous impact: Russian corruption of FIFA, Project Charlemagne investigated Russian interference in elections in five European countries, a report on Chinese influence and penetration of British politics and business, more than 100 reports on Ukraine and Russia for the US DoS. His extraordinary success in a short period of time certainly could have brought Orbis to the attention of Russian Intelligence. Durham disclosed that Fiona Hill had introduced Danchenko to Steele and they secretly began working together in 2011, so [I now see] Danchenko could have been an important player in Steele’s success. Now we also know that he was an important asset for the FBI until he was outted in 2020. Although I didn’t think so when I began my reply, I now see that Russian intelligence could have learned about Danchenko and his sub-sources could have been identified before Fusion hired Steele. However, I still doubt that Russian intelligence could have approved and launched – in less than one month – an extremely sensitive disinformation operation against Steele and Danchenko involving information damaging to Trump.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          The head of MI-6’s Russia desk would be beneath Russia’s radar? Improbable. If Steele was an important asset for the FBI, even more improbable.

          • Franktoo says:

            The head of MI-6 Russia desk was a serious opponent when backed by the power and finances of MI-6. The roughly one hundred intelligence agents who have retired from similar positions and are now working alone without the financial backing of a well-funded organization would be beneath the notice of Russian Intelligence. However, Orbitz’s successes in a few short years – something I hadn’t fully grasped – would certainly have returned attention to him. And I hadn’t fully realized that Danchenko probably played an important role in those successes. He wasn’t an “amateur” recruited only for the project with Simpson.

    • bmaz says:

      Not much. But the “Dossier” remains the most overhyped, over reported on, red herring nothingburger in human history.

      • Franktoo says:

        Bmaz: The Steele Dossier remained what it always was and few understood: typical raw intelligence composed of unconfirmed “gossip and bar talk” that is worthless in the absence of confirmation and knowledge of how well informed and trustworthy the source is. Americans don’t understand uncertainty of this magnitude. Traditionally, US reporters needed two sources for important stories and survive scrutiny by a skeptical editor and fact checkers. (Today, some investigative reporters are moving to Substack where they are free from the tyranny of editors, fact-checker and have an enormous financial incentive to sensationalize.)

        In the case of the pee tape, Isikoff alleges that Trump had taken Agalarov to an extremely raunchy show (now shut down) at a club owned by Sheldon Adelson featuring the same subject. Cohen and Dolan heard the same rumors about a sex tape as Danchenko did.

        The Steele Dossier has proven to be Trump’s greatest weapon because it’s Democrat funding demanded that Republicans unite against Trump’s persecution.

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