Obviously, different rules apply to retired intelligence officers who are working on a private contract basis than apply to active officers of our clandestine services. And, of course, there’s a difference between blowing the cover of an American intelligence officer and that of a British intelligence officer. But the concerns are the same when it comes to the possible harm that will come to that officer or his or her sources.
By revealing the identity of Christopher Steele, the Wall Street Journal has sent him scurrying for a bolt hole. He’s left his cat with a neighbor, sent his family somewhere, and gone to ground. The Telegraph reports that he’s terrified that the Russians will come after him.
But that’s not the only problem. Armed with his identity, it should be a fairly simple matter for the Russians to deconstruct his investigation, figure out who was talking to him, and bring the hammer down on the individuals who were providing him with information.
Marcy Wheeler recently went through his dossier and identified (in rough terms) who these sources were. They included a “senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure with knowledge of intelligence the Kremlin was feeding Trump,” a “former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” an “official close to (former) Presidential Admin Head Sergei Ivanov,” and a “Kremlin source close to Dmitri Medvedev.”
Those individuals must now hope that they can’t be retroactively connected to Steele or his investigators.
Perhaps the public deserves to know who Christopher Steele is so they can better assess the credibility of his report and, as I said, it is not a crime to reveal his identity. The decision does carry a moral load, however, as the reporters could easily get people killed, including innocent people who are wrongly identified or swept up in an aggressive dragnet.
Steele freely took the risk that this would happen and so did the people who talked to him. It’s important to know, though, that he was apparently one of the driving forces in revealing the extensive corruption at FIFA that resulted in more than a dozen indictments here in the United States for “wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering.” That corruption was related to Moscow’s successful effort to land the 2018 World Cup.
This record is why Steele was hired (possibly by Jeb Bush) to investigate Trump’s Russian connections in the first place, and also why the FBI found him to be a credible reporter of intelligence from high up in the Kremlin.
Even yesterday, our Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wouldn’t disavow Steele’s reporting, telling Trump only that “The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.”
Intelligence of the type provided in the dossier can’t truly be considered “reliable” until further investigation is done. It’s not a final product and was never intended to be a final product. In one sense, it was compiled as opposition research rather than as dispassionate analysis, so it was looking for incriminating evidence and is not much concerned with anything exculpatory. What it provided were leads, including on the role of Carter Page in serving as some kind of liaison with the Russians. That lead obviously led somewhere, as Page’s role blew up in September and the Trump team went scurrying to distance themselves from him.
That didn’t keep Page (and former congressman Jack Kingston) from traveling to Moscow in mid-December to recommend that the sanctions on Russia be lifted and to praise the nomination of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State.
“Trump can look at sanctions. They’ve been in place long enough,” Kingston told NPR in Moscow. “Has the desired result been reached? He doesn’t have to abide by the Obama foreign policy. That gives him a fresh start.”
…By chance, Kingston’s Moscow trip coincided with the visit of another Trump disciple, Carter Page, who once claimed to advise the Republican candidate on energy and Russia policy. The Trump campaign later distanced itself from Page after he came under scrutiny for his ties to Russia.
On Monday, Page held a news conference at the headquarters of Sputnik, a Russian state-run news agency, where he complained about the proliferation of fake news.
Page lamented the “Cold War mindset” in the U.S. and sang the praises of Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil CEO who expanded his company’s footprint in Russia and whom Trump now wants to be his secretary of state.
There’s no question that Tillerson’s Exxon/Mobil would like to see the sanctions lifted, as Rachel Maddow ably demonstrated on her show last night (go to minute 12:30 of the video). Exxon has the right to drill on more acres of Russia than the rest of the world combined, but they are precluded from doing so by the post-Crimea sanctions.
Is it any wonder that Russia would seek to influence the presidential campaign or that they would seek to cultivate a candidate who would end the sanctions? Is it in the least hard to understand how Tillerson’s appointment represents a staggering success in this regard from the Kremlin?
So, by all means, criticize BuzzFeed for publishing Steele’s intelligence reporting and do all you can to discredit him, but have your freaking eyes open about what is happening here. Trump won. Exxon/Mobil won. Putin won.
Steele and Jeb and Clinton lost. And now the payback is going to be severe and possibly deadly.