Peter van Buren shows the path to RussiaGate

Summary: Here Peter van Buren gives the best summary I’ve seen of RussiaGate ‘s origins – by who, how, and why. RussiaGate has revealed much about the backstage operations of the US government (that is, revealed to those who look behind the news stories). Those insights are even more useful to us than details about RussiaGate itself.

Path in dark mysterious forest.
ID 77462338 © Pkanchana | Dreamstime.

Russiagate: “Why did this ever start in the first place?”

By Peter van Buren at his website, 30 March 2019.
Posted with his generous permission.
Some of the supporting links go to partisan sources, not news media.

The end of the Special Counsel’s investigation into the non-existent conspiracy between Trump and the Russians has created an army of “Mueller Truthers,” demanding additional investigations. But Republicans are also demanding to know more, specifically how the FBI came to look into collusion, and what that tells us about the tension between America’s political and intelligence worlds. In Rudy Giuliani’s words “Why did this ever start in the first place?”

The primordial ooze for all things Russia began in spring 2016 when the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee, through a company called Fusion GPS, hired former MI6 intelligence agent Christopher Steele to compile a report (“the dossier”) on whatever ties to Russia he could find for Donald Trump.

Steele’s assignment was not to investigate impartially, but to gather dirt aggressively – opposition research, or oppo. He assembled second and third hand stories, then used anonymous sources and Internet chum to purported reveal Trump people roaming about Europe asking various Russians for help, promising sanctions relief, and trading influence for financial deals. Steele also claimed the existence of a “pee tape,” kompromat Putin used to control Trump.

Creating the dossier was only half of Steele’s assignment. The real work was to insert the dossier into American media and intelligence organizations to prevent Trump from winning the election. While only a so-so fiction writer, Steele proved to be a master at running his information op against America.

In July 2016 Steele met with over a dozen reporters to promote his dossier, with little success. It could not be corroborated. Steele succeeded mightily, however, in pushing his information deep into the FBI via three simultaneous channels, including the State Department, and via Senator John McCain, who was pitched by a former British ambassador retired to work now for Christopher Steele’s own firm.

Hopes of the RussiaGaters!

Trump impeachment clock: tck, tck

But the most productive channel into the FBI was Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr. Ohr’s wife Nellie worked for Fusion GPS, the front company for Steele, having previously done contract work for the CIA. Nellie passed the dossier to her husband, along with her own paid oppo research, so that he could use his credibility at DOJ to hand-carry the work into the FBI. Bruce Ohr, despite acknowledging it broke all rules of protocol and evidence handling, did just that on July 30, 2016. He stressed to then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe the material was uncorroborated and had been compiled by Christopher Steele, who wanted it used to stop Trump.

The dossier landed in welcoming hands. The FBI immediately opened an unprecedented investigation called Crossfire Hurricane into the Trump campaign. It sent agents to London to meet Australian ambassador Alexander Downer, who claimed to have evidence George Papadopoulos, one of Trump’s junior-level advisers, was talking to Russians about Hillary’s emails. The FBI’s timing of the new investigation into Trump – only days after they closed their investigation into Clinton’s email server – can be considered a coincidence by those of good heart.

Peter Strzok, the senior FBI agent managing the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, and Lisa Page, a lawyer on his team (the two were also lovers), purposefully kept investigation details from political appointees at DOJ to the extent that only five people actually knew the full measure of what was going on, ostensibly to prevent leaks.

In fact, the point seems to have been to avoid oversight, given how weak the evidence was supporting something as grave as the Republican nominee committing treason. If you are looking behind the headlines for why Trump fired Andrew McCabe, besides his personal sympathies for Hillary, look there. Strzok and Page appear to have had an agenda of their own. In a text they wrote “Page: ‘[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Strzok: ‘No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.’”

With a wave of a hand the dossier the FBI was warned was partisan bunk was transformed into evidence. Steele himself morphed from paid opposition researcher to paid clandestine source for the FBI, with the fact that he had recently retired from a foreign intelligence service, British or not, ignored. It was all just an excuse anyway to unleash the vast intelligence machine against Trump, the imagined Manchurian Candidate.

Papadopoulos, the man in London, as a linchpin was also preposterous. He was a kid on the edges of the campaign, who “bumped into” a shady Russian professor who just happened to dangle the most explosive thing ever, Hillary’s emails. Papadopoulos then met the Aussie ambassador to Britain, Alex Downer. Papadopoulos gets drunk, tells the tale, which then falls whole into the FBI’s lap. Ambassador Downer, by the way, had previously arranged a $25 million donation to the Clinton Foundation. Papadopoulos was introduced to Downer by an Australian intelligence agent who knew him through her boyfriend, stationed at the Israeli embassy as a “political officer.”

Carter Page’s case was more of the same. Page, as a key actor in the Steele dossier, wold serve as an early excuse to get FISA surveillance eyes and ears on the Trump campaign. The FBI had a paid CIA asset, University of Cambridge professor and American citizen Stefan A. Halper, contact Page and dangle questions about access to Clinton emails.

Halper had earlier been trying separately to entrap Papadopoulos (the professor offered the inexperienced campaign aide $3,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to London to write a white paper about energy), and also met with Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis in late August, offering his services as an adviser. Clovis declined. Ultimately both Papadopoulos and Page also rebuffed Halper, though both would later encounter a young woman in London claiming to be Halper’s assistant who tried to reinterest the boys.

Though to obtain multiple FISA warrants the FBI characterized him as an “agent of a foreign power,” Carter Page was never charged with anything. Halper dropped off the media’s radar, but is almost certainly a U.S. intelligence asset. He had earlier worked with British intelligence to pay for Michael Flynn to visit the UK. Halper’s main U.S.-based funding source is an internal Pentagon think tank. The Washington Post reported Halper had in the past worked for CIA directly. Halper was implicated in a 1980s spying scandal in which CIA officials gave inside information on the Carter administration to the GOP. Halper also married into a senior CIA official’s family.

It is clear the FBI was desperately trying to infiltrate Halper into the Trump campaign as part of a full-blown intel op, recruiting against Trump’s vulnerable junior staff. Even though the recruitment failed, the bits and pieces learned in the process were good enough for government work. At issue was that Steele’s dossier formed a key argument in favor of a FISA warrant to spy on Trump personnel. The dossier was corroborated in part in the warrant application by citing news reports that later turned out to be themselves based on the Steele dossier. In intelligence work, this is known as cross-contamination, a risky amateur error the FBI seems to have taken a chance on hoping the FISA judge would not know enough to question it. The gamble worked.

The FBI needed something as backup, so their investigation into Trump, now focused on the FISA surveillance, could be said not to have rested entirely on the dubious Steele dossier. Surveillance, intended and incidental, would eventually include Jeff SessionsSteve BannonCarter PagePaul ManafortRichard GatesMichael Cohen, and likely Trump himself.

Had Hillary won the story would have ended there, in fact, likely would never have come to light. But with Trump’s victory, the dossier had one more job to do: prep the public for all to come.

There has been no discussion as to why, in possession of information the FBI seemed to believe showed the Russians were running a global full-court press to themselves recruit inside Trump’s inner circle, Trump was never offered a defensive briefing. Such a warning – hey, you are in danger – is common inside government. But in Trump’s case it never happened. Instead, in echo of the dark Hoover years, the FBI used its information to try and take down Trump, not protect him.

Though the dossier had already been widely shared inside the media, the State Department, and the intelligence community, it was only on January 6, 2017 Comey briefed it to president-elect Trump. No one really knows what was said in that meeting, but we do know after holding the dossier since summer 2016, only four days after the Trump-Comey meeting Buzzfeed published the document and the world learned about the pee tape. Many believe someone in the intel community “gave permission” to the media, signaling Brennan, Clapper, Hayden, et al, would begin making public statements the dossier “could be true.”

John Brennan was a regular on television and other media claiming over two years there was evidence of contacts between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, pimping off his time as CIA director to suggest he had inside information. He went as far as testifying before Congress in May 2017 that there was evidence of contacts between Russian officials and Trump campaign figures, though now says he might have been given “bad information.”

After that, no item that could link the words Trump and Russia was too small to add to the pile of pseudo-evidence.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as a wacky conspiracy theory if it wasn’t in fact the counter-explanation to the even wackier, disproved theory Donald Trump was a Russian asset. It is possible to see Russiagate as a political assassination attempt, using law enforcement as the weapon. Someone might do well to double-check if Christopher Steele was in Dealey Plaza during the Kennedy assassination.

————————-

Editor’s note

Van Buren’s summary obscures what is, imo, the most important part of the RussiaGate: the fantastic implausibility of the Steele dossier. He describes the greatest intel coup, ever – Russia had a leading candidate for President of the United States in the bag. How did Steele get this info from Russian officials? What could he offer in exchange? Nobody seems to have asked if they were executed quickly – or slowly. Or promoted (for inserting divisive agitprop into US politics).

The details of this story has received little criticism. The obvious reason why is that it was too useful to question. It met the needs of power elements of the Democratic Party, their journalist supporters, and the Deep State. So it was accepted despite its weirdness and near-total lack of confirming evidence. That alone reveals much about how America is governed: they rely on our apathy.

Peter Van Buren

About the author

Peter Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq as team leader for two State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams. See his Wikipedia entry. He is permanently banned from Twitter (for thoughtcrime!), a badge of honor in these darkening days (see this sad story here – sad for America).

He blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction, described in We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (2011). He has also written two novels: Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent and Hooper’s War: A Novel of Japan. He now writes about Iraq and the Middle East at TomDispatch , The American Conservative, and at his blog – We Meant Well. Especially see these posts …

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

Important! This failure of the news media and our political system is an example of the broad institution failure I discuss in A new, dark picture of America’s future.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see all posts about RussiaGateabout propaganda, about ways to reform America’s politics, and especially these …

  1. A review of Russiagate, its propaganda and hysteria.
  2. Secrets untold about the DNC hack, the core of RussiaGate.
  3. Debunking RussiaGate, attempts to stop the new Cold War.
  4. RussiaGate: fragments of a story large beyond imagining.
  5. Hot fake news about RussiaGate! Read all about it!
  6. News from the Left: Russiagate & the Democratic’s Defeat.
  7. The next chapter of RussiaGate: more hysteria!
  8. The RussiaGate story implodes. The Left burns with it – by Glen Ford at the Black Agenda Report.

His book about our expedition to Iraq, a tragedy for them and us

We Meant Well:
How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People
.

“One diplomat’s darkly humorous and ultimately scathing assault on just about everything the military and State Department have done – or tried to do – since the invasion of Iraq. The title says it all.”
Review by Steven Lee Myers at The New York Times.

"We Meant Well" by Peter Van Buren
Available at Amazon.

From the publisher (I wonder if the last sentence is intended seriously, or as bleak humor) …

“Charged with rebuilding Iraq, would you spend taxpayer money on a sports mural in Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhood to promote reconciliation through art? How about an isolated milk factory that cannot get its milk to market? Or a pastry class training women to open cafés on bombed-out streets that lack water and electricity?

“As Peter Van Buren shows, we bought all these projects and more in the most expensive hearts-and-minds campaign since the Marshall Plan. We Meant Well is his eyewitness account of the civilian side of the surge – that surreal and bollixed attempt to defeat terrorism and win over Iraqis by reconstructing the world we had just destroyed. Leading a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team on its quixotic mission, Van Buren details, with laser-like irony, his yearlong encounter with pointless projects, bureaucratic fumbling, overwhelmed soldiers, and oblivious administrators secluded in the world’s largest embassy, who fail to realize that you can’t rebuild a country without first picking up the trash.

“A work of “scathing, gallows humor” (The Boston Globe), We Meant Well is a tragicomic voyage of ineptitude and corruption that leaves its writer – and readers – appalled and disillusioned, but wiser.”

6 thoughts on “Peter van Buren shows the path to RussiaGate”

  1. The first paragraph in Editor’s Note:
    “…Nobody seems to have asked if they were executed quickly – or slowly.”
    Or were they promoted?

  2. The Man Who Laughs

    I think I saw this elsewhere, and I agree that as a short factual summary it’s hard to beat. It’s not complete, but that would take a book that hasn’t been written, and I’m not convinced that we’ll ever know the whole truth about why this started in the first place anyway.

    “The details of this story has received little criticism. The obvious reason why is that it was too useful to question. It met the needs of power elements of the Democratic Party, their journalist supporters, and the Deep State. So it was accepted despite its weirdness and near-total lack of confirming evidence. That alone reveals much about how America is governed: they rely on our apathy.”

    No argument, although John Brennan’s statement that he “Might have got some bad information” is comedy gold. Hey John, I hope if our enemies are Up To No Good that you can get better information than this. I’m starting to wonder if those words “I might have got some bad information” might stand as the CIA’s epitaph. Probably not, but I do wonder if anyone at the CIA understands that Brennan has dragged their reputation (Or whatever is left of it) through the mud like nothing since Aldrich Ames.

    Russiagate says a lot about the media and how America is governed, but I’m still partly stuck on this as an intelligence failure. if they believed it they were fools and incompetents, and if this was all a regime change operation that went south (which is what I tend to believe), well…they still don’t exactly come off looking good.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      the man,

      “I’m not convinced that we’ll ever know the whole truth about why this started in the first place anyway.”

      I agree. After all, we still do not know the full story – or, imo, the key story – of JFK’s assassination.

      “I’m still partly stuck on this as an intelligence failure.”

      I see no evidence of that.

      “if they believed it they were fools and incompetents”

      That’s almost always false, usually an indicator of serious missing information.

      “if this was all a regime change operation that went south (which is what I tend to believe), well…they still don’t exactly come off looking good.”

      You assume they had maximum goals. There’s no evidence for that. RussiaGate crippled Trump’s administration. A leadership team has only finite time and political capital. RussiaGate burned away much of both. And it, imo, pushed Trump to be tougher on Russia than he implied during the campaign. Tougher than a rational analysis (i.e., by someone not benefiting from the Cold War) would suggest.

  3. The Man Who Laughs

    “You assume they had maximum goals. There’s no evidence for that. RussiaGate crippled Trump’s administration. A leadership team has only finite time and political capital. RussiaGate burned away much of both. And it, imo, pushed Trump to be tougher on Russia than he implied during the campaign. Tougher than a rational analysis (i.e., by someone not benefiting from the Cold War) would suggest.”

    You’re not wrong, especially about the damage this did to the Trump Administration. I can’t prove that they had “maximal goals”, but Rosenstein was at one point talking about wearing a wire and ginning up support for invoking the 25th. That sounds pretty maximal to me. At its inception of course, it’s a different story, because they never thought Trump would be elected. But trying to nail Trump on obstruction is basically an attempt at impeachment and removal from office. Since this wasn’t all set up at once, the goals and objectives evolved over time, but however it started, I believe it mutated into an attempted coup. If you don’t agree, well, you don’t agree, and neither of us can prove a thing.

    Obviously there’s a lot of unknowns here, and I agree with you that we aren’t likely to get anything close to the truth anytime soon, if ever. My opinion, for whatever it’s worth, is that every single person who ever approached anyone in the Trump campaign or anyone associated with Trump offering Russian dirt on Hill was either FBI, CIA or British Intelligence.There was never any hard or even good evidence against Trump. They made it all up. If I’m wrong, it won’t be the first time. But that’s what I believe at this point.

    Anyway, good post

  4. Larry,

    “if they believed it they were fools and incompetents”

    I would say the way that these people handled themselves and the leaks before and after the event strongly negates the possibility that they were fools and incompetents, especially the questions that were asked the Trump people, and not Hillary.

    The difference between the two approaches, by many of the same people, and the fact that the difference was always one sided to Hillary and crew, but against Trump and crew, does not indicate foolishness nor incompetency.

    One item I think should be in the article, in more detail, is that checking cross contamination would be required by for any warrant involving a senior political person, much less opposition research on a Presidential candidate. When I watched testimony and this lack of activity was questioned, the persons responded by arguing from authority. i.e. The FBI, DOJ, CIA were too good and professional. Then stated that the questioner was insulting the brave and hard working professionals.

    Somewhere around here, there is a list on how to spot a charlatan. I think that at least 3 of the items on the list were used by those of the FBI, CIA, and DOJ that testified.

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