Much has been said and written about Christopher Steele’s authorship of the notorious document that alleges Russia-Trump collusion. According to Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, Steele was hired by them in June 2016 to gather information about “links between Russia and [then-presidential candidate] Donald Trump.” Pursuant to that business arrangement, Steele prepared a series of reports styled as intelligence briefings, some of which were later compiled into a collection of documents and published by a number of media outlets and later become known as the “Trump dossier.”
On the face of the dossier, it appears that Steele gathered his data from multiple sources in Russia/FSU countries and the US. He then edited the raw intelligence—which seems to be a combination of conversations and notes—organized it in a summarized brief format, and published/leaked it in parts or in its entirety on a rotating schedule (see image 1).
My initial impression reading the dossier was that the writing was sloppy and that it did not resemble an intelligence report. It exhibited multiple writing styles and writers, both English and non-English speakers, and it was assembled in haste. I also thought that in many ways, it paralleled the plot line of the Dreyfus Affair. Just like in the case of the “dossier” and the Bordereau from the Dreyfus case, the Trump dossier was presented as undeniable proof of collusion. Yet, it’s uncertain who composed it, how it was collected, or even if the document is genuine.
As you can see from the table below, not much has changed by way of ‘secret dossiers’ for the past 120 years.
The Dreyfus Affair
The Trump Dossier
Secret Court and Hearings
All hearings and key prosecution testimonies take place behind closed doors and in complete secrecy.
Multiple FISA applications and special hearings are done behind closed doors in secrecy.
From the outset, the case is driven by political objectives. All charges and sentencing decisions are done by political figures. The army, government, and judiciary hold regular coordination meetings.
The FBI and DOJ leadership have a stated political agenda and are routinely sharing the status of their investigation with the White House. Fusion GPS’s King’s wife is Obama’s senior political advisor. Fusion GPS’s Simpson’s wife briefs Obama.
The secret files of the Dreyfus Affair are never made public nor shared with the defense. Some content is leaked opportunistically to the media.
Dreyfus is convicted multiple time based on secret letters, note, and fraudulent testimonies.
The files the DOJ and FBI collected from Fusion GPS and Steele form significant part of their applications for the FISA warrants. They are never made public and even today despite congressional and FOIA requests, they have not been released. Glenn Simpson lies/hides many dossier related details in his testimony.
Unknown Evidence and Sources
Sources, methods of acquisition, and most of the evidence against Dreyfus are withheld from the defense during all trials. Some of the case documents are not even available today.
The “secret dossier” from the Italian & German sources is entered into evidence but is withheld from the defense because of national security reasons. After the documents release, they are quickly flagged as forgeries.
Sources, methods of acquisition, and most of the evidence is withheld from congress and public due to national security reasons. When content is shared, it’s heavily redacted.
The dossier is key evidence in the FISA court application. The FBI and DOJ do not disclose to the court that the Clinton Campaign and DNC are funding the document and that its content has not been confirmed or verified.
Leaks and Friendly Media
The case is managed via steady leaks throughout the entire affair using Edouard Drumont, the publisher of La Libre Parole, and other friendly newspapers like Le Soir and Le Rire that maintained a constant virulent campaign against Dreyfus.
Many editorials, pamphlets, and newspaper articles knowingly use forged documents and false information in articles.
Steady leaks through the entire dossier project by Fusion GPS and Steele to Evan Perez from CNN, Michael Isikoff-Yahoo News, David Corn-Mother Jones, Ben Smith-NYT, Amber Phillips-WAPO, Luke Harding-The Guardian, and Jane Mayer-New Yorker. Mayer writes a paid 15K word article defending Steele.
Fusion GPS pays reporters to publish Op eds, editorials, and investigative pieces. Reports are fully aware that the dossier contains some outright false information.
The military appoints a special prosecutor that focuses all of his effort on Dreyfus. The decision to court-martial him is done despite knowing that he is innocent and could not be linked to the alleged crime.
In each subsequent trial and hearing the military appoints anti-Dreyfus prosecutors and judges. The judges selectively refuse exonerating evidence such as Esterhazy’s own confession and other evidence.
FBI officials leading the dossier investigation on the special counsel team send messages like: “I’m afraid we can’t take that risk of Trump becoming president” or “We do not want this election stolen from us.”
The DOJ and FBI know that Steele has a political agenda and “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” Bruce Ohr hides his wife’s employment with Fusion GPS.
Alphonse Bertillon who testifies in the trial is not a handwriting expert. Instead of proving how the Bordereau matched Dreyfus’s writing he focuses on the techniques Dreyfus allegedly used to evade hand writing detection.
The French military’s high command vouches for Bertillon’s and other bogus witness credibility and rubber stamps their testimony.
FBI utilizes Steele’s briefs in the FISA application and in the subsequent collusion investigation citing Steele’s expertise. The DOJ and State Department vouches for Steele’s credentials.
Brannan, McCabe, Steele, Bruce Ohr, Winer, Kramer, Talbot, and the two Fusion GPS Russia experts, Baumgartner and Nellie Ohr vouch for the validity of the dossier and its sources.
Manipulation, Forgery, and Tampering with Evidence
The L’Eclair, publishes the letter from the secret file only seen by the judges during the 1894 trial but deliberately misquotes the line: “this scoundrel of D [Esterhazy]…” with “this scoundrel of Dreyfus“.
Strzok, who leads the Trump investigation from its start in July 2016, destroys texts on his FBI issued phone to his mistress Lisa Page (another FBI attorney) that shows fierce hostility to Trump.
Strzok is removed from Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation after the Inspector General forensic team recovers Strzok’s and Page’s deleted texts.
FBI director Comey doesn’t disclose that Strzok found emails on Weiner’s laptop that contained classified Huma Abedin communications with Clinton. Deputy director McCabe lies under oath about his leaks to the media.
The anti-Dreyfus media is ridiculing all proofs of his innocence. They maintain that the Dreyfus supporters are bribed by a Jewish interest lobby known as “le Syndicat”. A common theme in anti-Dreyfus newspaper is that of Jewish ‘collusion’ against France.
The pro-Dreyfus camp claims a government conspiracy involving the army, government, and judiciary. The anti-Dreyfus camp claims that a government conspiracy of such proportion is not feasible.
Media reports are referring to the “Trump Syndicate” and his links and support from the “New York and other wealthy Jews”. There is a coordinated social media campaign that constantly repeats the dossier allegation of Russian ‘collusion’ against the US and the ‘DNC hacking’.
The anti-dossier camp claims “deep state” conspiracy involving the DOJ, FBI, Intelligence, and White House. The pro-dossier camp claims that a government conspiracy of such proportion is not feasible.
Collusion Between Officials
Esterhazy receives warning messages from Armand du Paty de Clam and letters from Hubert-Joseph Henry signed “Espérance” warning him to be more careful.
Trials do not follow any rules of evidence or discovery. The Army’s high command and judiciary forge papers and coordinate trial strategy and guilty verdicts. Picquart, a whistleblower on the case is fir silenced and then jailed on charges of forgery.
FBI and DOJ internal communications discuss “insurance policies” and the need to be careful. DOJ and FBI are coordinating their activity with Fusion GPS and Steele utilizing secret channels.
Extensive family, personal, and business relationships between key figures in the FBI, DOJ, State Department, and Fusion GPS. State Department’s Winer, Jacoby, and Nuland promote Steele and the dossier in the US and abroad. Trial Judge is a friend of Strzok.
Esterhazy meets Schwartzkoppen (his controller) on a regular basis. French counter intelligence is fully aware of these meetings.
Esterhazy meets Armond du Paty de Clam in secret at Parc Montsouris to coordinate their stories. de Clam promises to protect him as long as he doesn’t admit that he is the author of the Bordereau and a spy.
Esterhazy has multiple coordination meetings with the senior army officers that are designed to shield him from persecution.
Steele meets with Bruce Ohr from the DOJ to coordinate the dossier search topics. White House, FBI, and State Department are kept in the loop.
Steele meets secretly with the FBI in Rome to go over the dossier details prior to the FISA court application. He also discusses it with senior officials at the US State Department and UK government.
Peter Storzk the lead FBI dossier investigator privately discusses the case with U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras, who presides over Flynn’s hearings.
Nationalist author Charles Maurras writes a eulogy for Hubert-Joseph Henry, the man who produced most of the forgeries used to convict Dreyfus. He describes him posthumously as a “man of honor” who wrote a “patriotic forgery”.
Pro-dossier media like the Washington Post and New York Times are referring to Steele as an “American patriot” who deserves our thanks for trying to save the Republic. His motives are explained as attempts to protect US and UK national security.
Esterhazy is found not guilty by French court of any impropriety. He and his co-conspirator officers retire from the Army with full pensions and honors.
After 3 guilty verdicts and 12 years in prison Dreyfus gets a presidential pardon. Esterhazy is quietly relocated to England were he assumes the identity of “Count Jean de Voilemont”.
He works as a translator and a writer publishing pro German articles. in one of them, he confesses to being the author of the bordereau. Esterhazy travels once a month to the French embassy in London and collects his stipend until his death in 1923.
Steele receives over $200K in payment for the dossier and other unknown amounts for other FBI work. British court protects him from disclosing any details about his unverified sources on the grounds of the Official Secrets Act.
Despite criminal conduct, Bruce Ohr from the DOJ and Peter Strzok from the FBI keep their jobs and are merely reassigned. McCabe is let go after committing perjury. He collects over $567K in crowd sourced contributions.
Nellie Ohr, Bruce’s wife, lands a job with Accenture as a Principal in their Cyber Security division where she uses some dossier materials in her presentations.
Just like it’s nineteen century French predecessor, the Trump dossier too had a powerful social and political impact in the US. Its content has dominated the news and has raised substantial questions about the rule of law, the political impartiality of senior federal career bureaucrats, and the true extent of the separation of powers in government.
Considering all of the dossier’s unusual aspects, I decided to take a little time and do a deeper dive on its structure and makeup. In this post, I’ll demonstrate how by using several readily available OSINT, network graphing, entity analytics, and writing style analysis tools, we can pinpoint the likely sources, methods, and the individuals involved in its creation.
When Simpson testified on November 8th and 14th in front of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he was vague about the makeup of the dossier team and said that he hired Steele, who then:
“Use his old contacts and farmed out other research to native Russian speakers who made phone calls on his behalf“.
Two of these “native Russian speakers” were subsequently identified as Nellie Ohr and Edward Baumgartner. But even after this revelation, there are still many unanswered questions about the makeup of the dossier team. For example, what was the organizational structure of this network? Or how was Steele, a British citizen, able to so quickly and effectively reach the top echelons of the US government, State Department, DOJ, and FBI?
Before jumping in, we first need to take a closer look at the dossier team. Our Dramatis Personæ are:
|Glenn Simpson||Co-founder of Fusion GPS.|
|May Jacoby||Contractor at Fusion GPS and wife of Co-founder Glenn Simpson.|
|Peter Fritsch||Co-founder of Fusion GPS.|
|Neil King Jr.||Principal at Fusion GPS.|
|Shailagh Murray||Wife of Neil King and President Obama’s Senior Policy Adviser|
|Thomas Benjamin Catan||Co-funder at Fusion GPS.|
|Begoña Cortina Segurola||Reporter and wife of Tom Catan.|
|Christopher Steele||Co-founder Orbis Business Intelligence.|
|Chris Burrows||Co-founder Orbis Business Intelligence.|
|Sir Andrew Wood||Former British Ambassador to Russia and an Orbis contractor.|
|Luke Harding||A Guardian Reporter and an Orbis contractor.|
|Edward Baumgartner||Co-founder of Edward Austin. Employee of Orbis.|
|Nellie Hauke Ohr||Russian Intelligence specialist and wife of Bruce Ohr.|
|Bruce Genesoke Ohr||Associate Deputy Attorney General at the DOJ.|
|Jonathan Winer||State Department special diplomatic envoy.|
|David Kramer||State Department Assistant Secretary at . Director at McCain Inst.|
|Strobe Talbott||Former Deputy Secretary of State.|
|Cody Shearer||Clinton Campaign Executive.|
|Lisa Holtyn||Intelligence Adviser, DOJ Organized Crime Unit.|
|Scott Dworkin||Co-Founder at The Democratic Coalition.|
|Perkins-Coie||US Law firm representing the DNC and funding Fusion GPS.|
|Natalia Veselnitskya||Russian attorney and a customer of Fusion GPS.|
Steele is allegedly the primary author of the dossier. He graduated from Cambridge University in 1986 with a degree in Social and Political Sciences. While at college, he wrote for the student newspaper Varsity. Steele was recruited by MI6 directly following his graduation. From 1987 to 1989 he worked in London at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), then from 1990 to 1993 at the UK Embassy in Moscow. Steele returned to London in 1993 and was posted to Paris in 1998. In 1999 his cover was blown when a media leak disclosed the identity of 116 MI6 agents. In 2009, Steele, with his fellow MI6-retiree Chris Burrows, co-founded the private intelligence agency Orbis Business Intelligence.
Orbis is an notable company, because its associates include many semi-active British foreign office individuals like Sir Andrew Wood, the former British Ambassador to Russia. Steele’s and Burrows’s social network also includes multiple active and retired intelligence officers and several notable dossier writers in residence such as Edward Baumgartner and Luke Harding from The Guardian.
According to the Orbis website, the company draws on extensive experience at the boardroom level, in government, multilateral diplomacy, and international business to develop bespoke solutions for clients.
It also refers to their sources of a “global network of senior associates” which is made up of regional, industry and academic experts, as well as prominent business figures, their expertise and a closed network of contacts worldwide.
The Orbis mission statement is:
“Our core strength is our ability to meld a high–level source network with a sophisticated investigative capability. We provide strategic advice, mount intelligence–gathering operations and conduct complex, often cross–border investigations.”
Nellie Hauke Ohr
Ohr was the second contributor to the dossier. She earned a degree in history and Russian literature at Harvard and Radcliff, followed by an MA and PhD in history from Stanford. She taught history at Vassar College and after leaving that position in 1998, free-lanced and contracted for among others these government and commercial organizations:
- Accenture – Principal Security Division
- Fusion GPS – Analyst content Creator
- Miklos Systems – Senior Analyst
- Plessas Experts Network – Analyst content Creator
- Open-Source-Works – Senior Analyst
- Mitre Corporation – Linguist analyst
- Vassar College – Assistant Professor, History Department 1990-1998
She worked in Russia during the 1990s and according to at least one source, had powerful political connections there. In her book Adventures in Russian Historical Research, Cathy Frierson writes: “Nellie encouraged me to call the Smolensk archive [the home of Russia’s historical state secrets] director, assuring me that he would welcome me.”
In 2017, after her position with Fusion GPS ended, Ohr landed a new gig not in Russian translation or analysis work but rather as a cybersecurity expert. Her new title was Principal at Accenture Security. In this capacity, she delivered a presentation during the ISO-ISAC Fall 2017 session entitled: “Ties Between Government Intelligence Services and Cyber Criminals – Closer Than You Think?”
Ohr’s presentation focused on enforcement activity in 2016-2017 and provided examples of how cyber threat actors were arrested, indicted, or identified in intelligence reports by US and European governments. She pointed out connections and ties between government intelligence services (such as the FSB) and cybercrime actors. She discussed the drivers and mechanisms between state and criminal cooperation and offered a case study that explored how seemingly ordinary cybercrime combined with strategic espionage.
Shortly after the news broke out about her role Fusion GPS and the fact that she was married to Bruce Ohr from the DOJ, Accenture scrubbed their web content and removed all references to her name. As of March 2018, she was no longer listed as a member of the Accenture Security team.
Baumgartner was the third contributor to the dossier, he has a BA in history from Vassar College and an MA in Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian Studies from Harvard.
Baumgartner’s university track (source LinkedIn profile)
Baumgartner specializes in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). He started as an independent consultant in the FSU, focusing on research and business intelligence. From 2002 to 2005, he was the head of the Russia business at a London-based public relations consultancy. His clients included Russian and Ukrainian government-owned and private companies.
In 2010, Baumgartner cofounded the UK-based intelligence consulting firm Edward Austin.
The firm’s mission statement:
“With an established network spanning the FSU and beyond, Edward Austin serves clients in the private and public sectors worldwide. We are pan-FSU. Alongside extensive work in Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine – the region’s three main economies – we have completed numerous projects on the ground in the wider Central Asia region (Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan), the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia), the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Belarus and Moldova. Reinforcing this is a global network of trusted partners, enabling us to undertake work across jurisdictions worldwide.”
The Analysis: Methods, Tools, and Sources
In the analysis of the dossier, I’ve used following tools:
- OSINT Tools and Platform – Buscador, The FOCA, Maltego, and Metagoofil
- Orchestration – Metasploit Framework
- Web Crawler – RCrawler: with an R package for parallel web crawling and scraping
- Network link analysis and Graph – Open Sementic Search with a Neo4J plugin
- Writing style analysis – JStylo-Anonymouth, stylo R package, and JGAAP
- Reporting – Microsoft Access 2016
- EXIF data viewer – Opanda PowerExif
- IP Address and Port Verification – You Get Signal
- Face, License Plate (FR/LPR), and image recognition and indexing – XRVision IOP2
- Network device scanner – Shodan
- Network Mapper – Nmap
To build the network I’ve used an the following publically available and accessible data sources:
- Server and computer logs
- Network scanning and mapping
- Federal, state, media, and news archives
- Email, forum, websites, blog, and message archives and backups
- Car make, model, and LP reconstructed from commercially available satellite imagery
- Public traffic and toll cams
- Other publically accessible IoT devices and cams
- On-line Image and file depositaries
- Social media postings by friends, neighbors, and family
- LinkedIn profiles
- Twitter Profiles
- FB profiles
- Corporate and court filings
- Commercial BR sources
The total loading and processing time for the data was about 6 hours. I also spent about 2 hours writing scripts to FR, LPR, and OCR some of the PDFs and images before they could be loaded into the database.
To determine the network graph of people, companies, and content (Image 8), I’ve used these entity relationships rules:
- Place and time affiliation
- Share the same professional, educational, family, or recreational circles
- Have a marital, teacher-student, parent-child, or employee-employer relationship
- Demonstrate a known public association
- Communicate with each other via email, phone, text, blog comments, etc.
- Work for the same company or organization
- Confirm a relationship via a statement or testimony
I’ve limited the input/output to two degrees of separation between entities and organizations. However, I did use a three degrees of separation linkage several times in order to trace an indirect relations between what on the surface appeared to be random grouping of individuals (e.g. the five person party listed with the same UID U99520 accompanying Mary Jacoby during her April 19 White House visit).
The Dossier Network
The network graph analysis indicates that the fellowship of the dossier is a close-knit group; everyone knew each other long before embarking on the quest to find the alleged collusion. Some of the key players are related through marriage or other family relations. As can be seen in Images 9-10 and Steele’s timeline (Image 38), the dossier team collaborated in various member configurations on many other projects and utilized the same collection methods, resources, political links, and publication channels. Some of these affiliations go back more than 20 years.
These continuous relationships between the team members transcended their changing places of employment and job titles. For example, Christopher Steele knew Sir Andrew Wood from his days at the British Diplomatic Service since 1986. In 2013 Wood had a paid consulting gig with Orbis. Steele knew and worked with Luke Harding from The Guardian since 1996, Harding also became an Orbis contractor after its establishment in 2009. Edward Baumgartner has been working with Orbis since 2012.
Baumgartner, Nellie Ohr, Bruce Ohr, and David Kramer are all Harvard alumni.
Peter Fritsch, Nellie Ohr, and Baumgartner all attended Vassar College. Nellie Ohr and Baumgartner were together at the History department at Vassar in 1991-1995, where Baumgartner was Nellie Ohr’s student.
Tom Catan, knew and worked with Steele, Harding, Burrows, and Baumgartner since 2011.
Glenn Simpson and his wife Mary Jacoby knew Bruce and Nellie Ohr from their days at the International Assessment and Strategy Center as early as 2004. Simpson and Jacoby also knew Steele from their days at the WSJ, going back to 2009.
Glenn Simpson’s wife, Mary Jaboby, is a Chief Executive at Fusion GPS since it’s establishment in 2011. She founded Main Justice in 2009, a company specializing in paid corruption research and reporting. Jacoby also worked as a reporter for the WSJ and several other newspapers and media organizations such as GIR, and Law Business Research (who purchased Main Justice in 2015). While at Main Justice, she worked with Bruce Ohr and in fact nominated his FIFA investigation for the GIR Anti-Corruption award.
As can be gleaned from Main Justice’s mission statement below, Mary and her merry band of paid corruption fighters were assembling and selling opposition dossiers as early as 2009.
Main Justice and our subscription-only site, Just Anti-Corruption, services top law firms and corporate counsel, business leaders of Fortune 500 companies, U.S. Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund. It offers on-demand research tools, published analysis from leading practitioners, access to a preparatory searchable FCPA (The Foreign Corrupt Practice) database with links to public documents and associated news stories. We also provide profile guides, high powered VIP networking events, and the highest insight and intelligence reports.
While working in Main Justice, GIR, Law Business Research, and the WSJ, Jacoby cultivated a network of dozens of key Federal (FBI, SEC, and DOJ) executives that included notables such as Adam Hickey, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the DOJ who was familiar with the dossier and the FISA application and Andrew Weissmann, the Chief of the DOJ’s criminal fraud section, who is now working for Mueller on the investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election.
Jacoby also knew and worked with Christopher Steele, Nellie Ohr, Peter Strzok and his wife Melissa Hodgman the Associate Director in SEC Enforcement Division, Peter Fritsch, Neil King and his wife Shailagh Murray, David Kramer, and Jonathan Winer as early as 2009.
On April 19, 2016, two months before the content of the dossier was leaked to the media, Jacoby spent a few hours in the White House in the company of the following five seemingly non related individuals:
Scott C. Auerbach
|Wife – Former Miami New Times Editor|
|2||Ian G. Bregg||Researcher||Wife – An Attorney|
|Husband – Co founder of Fusion GPS|
|Laura K. Kwedar (Minch)||
|Husband – An Attorney with Koch Institute|
A second degree linkage analysis reveled that despite what appears to be random group of tourists, these six individuals were in fact related to the dossier team through:
- Involvement in the Clinton Campaign
- Direct contact with the core and auxiliary Fusion GPS team via email communications
- Work at the State Department
- Participation in news production and reporting
- Various types of legal services
It is noteworthy that all of the six members of this group’s home and office address are clustered within 4 miles of each other (see below) and that most attempted to scrub (not always successfully) their online presence and 2016 SM activity. Another interesting observation is that in two cases it is the spouse of the individual on the list that was the link to the dossier team.
In 2007, Simpson and his wife Mary authored an article titled “How Lobbyists Help Ex-Soviets Woo Washington”. The piece alleged that prominent Republican politicians provided US business access to Kremlin-affiliated oligarchs and other friends of Putin. One such friend was Viktor Yanukovich, who become president of Ukraine in 2010. According to the article, Yanukovich’s facilitator in the US was Paul Manafort. Manafort figures prominently throughout the article and later in the dossier.
Jonathan Winer from the State Department knew Steele going back to the mid-2000s.
Neil King Jr. from Fusion GPS is married to Shailagh Murray who was President Obama’s Senior Policy Adviser. She was also Joe Biden’s Deputy-Chief-of-Staff. King and Murray knew Steele, Kramer, Winer, and the Ohrs going back to the mid-2000s.
In 2010, several of the members of the future dossier team participated in a workshop dedicated to “Racketeering in Russia”. The event was hosted by the National Institute of Justice and featured among others:
Glenn Simpson – Senior Fellow International Assessment and Strategy Center
Nellie Ohr – Researcher Open Source Works
Bruce Ohr – Chief Organized Crime and Racketeering Section Criminal Division DOJ
Lisa Holtyn – Intelligence Advisor Organized Crime and Racketeering (who hosted Bruce Ohr multiple times at the White House)
In 2012, Steele did some work for the US state department and was in constant communication with Winer and the Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. This was done directly and through Sir Andrew Wood, who was the former British Ambassador to Russia and an employee of Orbis. The work included the production of over 100 reports on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. These reports were based on information from Ukrainian government sources and contained political and financial data about Russian companies that was shared with other agencies like the DOJ. Nuland was also the facilitator of Steele’s meetings with the FBI.
When questioned about Steele’s relationship with Winer, Nuland said:
“During the Ukraine crisis in 2014-15, Chris Steele had a number of commercial clients who were asking him for reports on what was going on in Russia, what was going on in Ukraine, what was going on between them. Chris had a friend [Jonathan Winer] at the State Department and he offered us that reporting free so that we could also benefit from it.”
Steele’s information didn’t only flow in one direction. In 2016, before the dossier project kick-into-gear, Winer and Strobe Talbott were sharing with Steele via Orbis’s US hosted servers and secure email system documents authored by Cody Shearer, who was working on a ‘second Trump-Russia dossier’.
Strobe Talbott, is Cody Shearer’s brother in law, and a Russia expert who served as Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration. Talbott knew and worked with Steele as early as 2006.
Nellie Ohr’s relationship with Steele goes back to the early-2000s or even earlier. Bruce Ohr’s relationship with Steele began long before Trump’s presidential bid. It goes back to Steele’s 2009 FIFA corruption investigation. Bruce was then chief of the Organized Crime and Racketeering section in the DOJ, which had a keen interest in the early stages of the case.
So is it reasonable to assume that all of these relationships are irrelevant? I think not, Ian Fleming, a naval intelligence officer and the creator of James Bond, contemplated the problem of coincidental relationships and came up with the answer in his maxim: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”
The Great Dossier Authorship Debate
The House Intelligence Committee’s hearings on November 2017 attempted among other things to answer the dossier authorship question. Simpson testified that Steele used his old contacts and farmed out other research to native Russian speakers who made phone calls on his behalf. In the hearing transcripts, Simpson comes through as being evasive, and ambiguous; he hemmed and hawed a lot, and had problems remembering and recalling details. Despite his fogginess, however, he was crystal clear about Steele being the author of the documents.
From Simpson’s testimony, we also know that while contracting for Fusion GPS in mid-2016 Edward Baumgartner was working on these two projects:
During the Prevezon and Magniseky contracts which ran through October 2016, Baumgartner was the lead writer and researcher working closely in Moscow with Natalia Veselnitskaya. Veselnitskaya and Baumgartner’s Ukrainian connections were the main sources for the research and discovery materials for all three Fusion GPS projects.
In his testimony, Simpson identified Baumgartner as a contributor to the dossier:
Foster: And what type of work did Mr. Baumgartner undertake for Fusion?
Simpson: Discovery mostly, helping locate witnesses. He speaks Russian. So he would work with the lawyers on gathering Russian language documents, gathering Russian language media reports, talking to witnesses who speak Russian, that sort of thing. He may have dealt with the press. I just don’t remember.
Foster: So was Mr. Baumgartner also working on opposition research for Candidate Trump?
Simpson: At some point, I think probably after the end of the Prevezon case we asked him to help with I think — my specific recollection is he worked on specific issues involving Paul Manafort and Ukraine.
Somewhat surprising is Baumgartner’s denial of Simpson’s statement that he did work on the dossier. Specifically:
“I was helping them [Fusion GPS] on this other project, which was unrelated, and they mentioned it to me in July 2016, I was never made aware of Chris Steele’s work or the dossier, and it was kept that way deliberately. I would have had nothing to add, anyway. I produce memos based on information that is in the public record that can be given to the feds or shared with journalists.“
But then in a contradictory statement, Baumgartner said that he produced memos that could be given to the Feds. We now know that the only memos given to the Feds (DOJ and FBI) by Steele and Fusion GPS were the dossier documents.
The third contributor, Nellie Ohr, was another Russian intelligence analyst working for Fusion GPS and Steele. She has not been deposed nor has voluntarily offered any insight into her role in the writing process so it’s difficult to ascertain the exact part she played. Not surprisingly, when questioned, Simpson didn’t mention her. However, from a recent House Intelligence Committee memo, it’s clear that Nellie Ohr was in fact “employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump”. The memo adds that Bruce Ohr “later provided the FBI with all of his wife’s opposition research.”
Asked by intelligence panel staff if he verified Steele’s “sources in Russia” or corroborated their information, Simpson said he’d never been to Russia himself and couldn’t “evaluate the credibility of someone on the other side of the [Atlantic]”, nor could he confirm that Steele actually spoke directly with any of his Russian sources.
A private company like Orbis (unless they are a front for SIS) lacks the means to properly vet foreign intelligence sources let alone vet the source’s information. But that didn’t create any doubt in Simpson’s and Jacoby’s mind—both former investigative reporters for the WSJ. Simpsons said that he completely deferred to Steele’s expertise and did not question his findings because of his “sterling reputation”.
The sterling reputation he was referring to was Steele’s work on the FIFA corruption case. According to Steele, he provided investigative services and intelligence to the Interpol and FBI which resulted in the arrest and prosecution of a number of FIFA officials. The problem with this case’s sources and methods is the same as with the dossier initiative.
The whole FIFA case revolved around England’s hope to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, but FIFA awarded those tournaments to Russia and Qatar. Steele was then ‘hired’ in 2009 by England’s Football Association to investigate allegations of corruption by FIFA. In 2015, the DOJ indicted a number FIFA affiliated individuals. Interestingly, the DOJ did not charge anyone at FIFA with bribery because US federal bribery laws cover only payments to government officials. Bruce Ohr’s team, instead alleged racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracies.
Steele didn’t perform any hands-on investigative work on the FIFA case himself. Just from the surface evidence, it looks like some of his contacts in MI5, MI6, or Scotland Yard shared with him the SIGINT, HUMINT, and FININT intercepts. He then repackaged the data and passed the file to the DOJ, FBI, and Interpol all the while collecting a lot in service fees. The dossier initiative was also no altruistic act. Steele received over $160K for his 35-page report.
The Dossier Structure
The dossier is 35 pages long and has the following layout and structure (see the sample from page 13 below):
- Company intelligence report number date/running total
- Report subheading “Russia/USA Growing Backlash in Kremlin…”
- Summary of report usually in bullet point format (the raw intelligence)
- Detailed discussion of summary points with citation of sources
The dossier reports are not sequential and are spaced unevenly. It is also unclear if the report numbering applies to the dossier or if it’s a running total of all the reports produced by Orbis for that time frame. As can be seen from the table below, the reports also contain formatting problems and data entry errors which suggests some haste and carelessness in their preparation.
|Report #||Report Title||Report Date|
||US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE DONALD TRUMP’S ACTIVITIES IN RUSSIA AND COMPROMISING RELATIONSHIP WITH THE KREMLIN||
|86||USSIA/CYBER CRIME: A SYNOPSIS OF RUSSIAN STATE SPONSORED AND OTHER CYBER OFFENSIVE (CRIMINAL) OPERATIONS||
|95||RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: FURTHER INDICATIONS OF EXTENSIVE CONSPIRACY BETWEEN TRUMP’S CAMPAIGN TEAM AND THE KREMLIN||Missing|
|94||RUSSIA: SECRET KREMLIN MEETINGS ATTENDED BY TRUMP ADVISOR, CARTER PAGE IN MOSCOW (JULY 2016)||19-Jul-16|
|97||USSIA-US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: KREMLIN CONCERN THAT POLITICAL FALLOUT FROM DNC E-MAIL HACKING AFFAIR SPIRALLING OUT OF CONTROL||30-Jul-16|
|100||USSIA/USA: GROWING BACKLASH IN KREMLIN TO DNC HACKING AND RUMP SUPPORT OPERATIONS||5-Aug-16|
|101||RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: SENIOR KREMLIN FIGURE OUTLINES PRO-TRUMP, ANTI-CLINTON OPERATIONEVOLVING RUSSIAN TACTICS IN||10-Aug-16|
|102||RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: REACTION IN TRUMP CAMP TO RECENT NEGATIVE PUBLICITY ABOUT RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE AND LIKELY RESULTING TACTICS GOING FORWARD||20-Oct-16|
|105||RUSSIA/UKRAINE: THE DEMISE OF TRUMP’S CAMPAIGN MANAGER PAUL MANAFORT||22-Aug-16|
|111||RUSSIA/US: KREMLIN FALLOUT FROM MEDIA EXPOSURE OF MOSCOW’S INTERFERENCE IN THE US PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN||14-Sep-16|
|112||RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: KREMLIN-ALPHA GROUP CO-OPERATION||14-Sep-16|
|113||RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION-REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE TRUMP’S PRIOR ACTIVITIES IN ST PETERSBURG||14-Sep-16|
|130||RUSSIA: KREMUN ASSESSMENT OF TRUMP AND RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE. IN US PRESIDENTLAL ELECTION||12-Oct-16|
|134||RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: FURTHER DETAILS OF KREMLIN LIAISON WITH TRUMP CAMPAIGN||18-Oct-16|
|135||RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: THE IMPORTANT ROLE OF TRUMP LAWYER, COHEN IN CAMPAIGN’S SECRET LIAISON WITH THE KREMLIN||19-Oct-16|
|166||US/RUSSIA: FURTHER DETAILS OF SECRET DIALOGUE BETWEEN TRUMP CAMPAIGN TEAM, KREMLIN AND ASSOCIATED HACKERS IN PRAGUE||13-Dec-16|
For example, the first company intelligence report # 80 is dated 20-June-2016; then the dossier jumps to report # 86. There are data entry mistakes in some of the dates, for example, report # 86 is dated 2015, report # 95 has a missing date. There are also logical sequence problems with report numbers vs. dates. For example, report # 86 is dated 20-Jul-15 even if we assume that 2105 is a typo and it should have been 2016, report # 94 comes two reports after it but its dated 19-Jul-2016.
The reports production schedule and volume is also problematic. As can gleaned from the above graph, the report numbers between Oct-16th to Dec-16th 2016 spike from 135 to 166. This is an anomaly (red trend line) and could indicate that Steele is gaming the numbers in order to show high production volumes.
A Vast Shadow Army of Sources
Simpson pimped Steele as a real-life James Bond with deep connections inside the Kremlin and because of this, he didn’t have to corroborate any of his reports. But Steele—his previous contacts in Russia now long gone—had to rely on others like British intelligence, Ohr, Baumgartner, Ukrainian sources, and Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer (who doesn’t speak or read English) to generate his so-called ‘raw intelligence’.
When Simpson was asked how Steele procured the intelligence he said:
I don’t know. I think there’s been a little bit of confusion I would like to clear up. Some people were saying that he was paying people for information. I don’t know whether he does or not, but that’s not basically how I understand field operations to work. You commission people to gather information for you rather than sort of paying someone for a document or to sit for an interview or something like that. That’s not how I understand it works.
Considering the fact the Simpson paid Steele over $160K for the information it is a somewhat puzzling why he didn’t’ bother getting the specifics. But luckily for us, Steele was kind enough to share his methods with The New Yorker. It consisted of the following process:
Orbis employs dozens of confidential “collectors” around the world whom it pays as contractors. Some of these collectors are private investigators; others are investigative reporters or highly placed experts in strategic positions. Depending on the task and the length of project, the fee for a collector can be as high as two thousand dollars per day. The collectors harvest intelligence from a larger network of unpaid sources, some of whom don’t even realize they are being treated as informants. These sources occasionally receive favors—such as help in getting their children into Western schools—but money doesn’t change hands because it could violate laws against bribing government officials or insider trading.
So in other words, Orbis has a “large network” of highly placed government informants in Russia, that don’t know that they are informants—and none of them gets paid for the classified information. This begs the question of what is the incentive of all for these FSB, Kremlin, and Russian Foreign Ministry personal to share deep state secrets with Steele.
This business model also raises some serious questions. Assuming that by “Western schools” Steele means Ivy League and not your average local community collage and that his secret compensation formula is:
‘High value intelligence’ = ‘Getting the source’s child into a Western school’
Than how is Steele able to perform this magic with the university admissions office? Is it plausible that Orbis is bribing admission committee members in Cambridge University? and who pays for these students tuition, room, and board? The cost of attending a school like Cambridge university for an international student is over $60k per year. How can an FSB source who draws a $20K per year salary possibly afford it? And what about the FSB’s counter intelligence team? Wouldn’t they have a few questions for their fellow employees regarding their children attendance at western Ivy League schools.
According to the dossier, it is sourced from about 35 valuable, trusted, and highly placed assets, such as:
- A senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure
- A former top Russian intelligence officer
- Several knowledgeable FSB sources
- A trusted compatriot (there are references to at least 5 of these)
- A former top level Russian intelligence officer who is still active inside the Kremlin
- A senior Russian financial official
- A close associate of Trump
- Source E (redacted)
- A female staffer at the Ritz Carlton hotel
- An ethnic Russian operative connected to the Ritz Carlton hotel
- A senior Kremlin official
- A Russian IT specialist with direct knowledge of FSB operations
- A senior Russian government figure
- An ethnic Russian who is a close associate of Trump
- A separate source with direct knowledge of Trump’s investment in Russia
- A Russian source close to Rosneft President
- An official close to Presidential Administration Head Sergei Ivanov
- A Kremlin official close to Sergei IVANOV
- A trusted associate of a Russian émigré
- Two well-placed and established Kremlin sources
- A source close to premier Dmitriy Medvedev
- A close colleague (of Steele)
- A Kremlin official involved in US relations
- A Kremlin insider
- A Kremlin advisor
- A well-placed Russian figure
- An American political figure associated with TRUMP
- A senior member of the Russian Presidential Administration (PA)
- A senior Russian MFA official
- Top level Russian official
- Two knowledgeable St Petersburg sources
- A senior Russian leadership figure
- A Russian Foreign Ministry official
- Igor Sechin’s close associate
If this list of assets is genuine and so is the chain of acquisition, than Steele somehow succeeded in building a collection network in Russia that rivals any national intelligence agency. This is a pretty impressive feat for someone who left Russia in 1993 and had his cover blown in 1999.
Steele’s claims of access to top political and security resources in Russia also makes one wonder why would MI5 and MI6 tolerate a private firm like Orbis actively engaging in espionage against Russia from British soil. Is it plausible that the British security services just didn’t know that smack dab in the middle of London and just a skip and a jump 300 feet from Buckingham Palace, Dr. Evil and his mini-me’s were in a castle at Grosvenor Gardens remotely controlling legions of deep Russian assets and aggressively plotting against a US presidential candidate?
Simpson, Steele’s handler, was asked by Congressman Trey Gowdy during the House Intelligence Committee’s November 14 Hearing (see excerpt below), if Steele had gone “to Russia as part of this project,” to which Simpson replied, “No, sir.” Steele, at the time he compiled the dossier, hadn’t been back to Russia in 17 years. Gowdy then asked him:
Gowdy: “How was he able to accumulate information in Russia if he didn’t go?”
Simpson: “… and generally, you have a network of sources who live in or came from the place that you’re interested in. So, you know, generally speaking, you would have –you would run a network of sub-sources or subcontractors who travel around and gather information for you. And so without getting into who his sources are, I can say generally, he hires people who can travel and talk to people and find out what’s going on”.
On the possibility that he was just fed a steady diet of dezinformatsiya, according to Steele’s own words that was unlikely because:
“Disinformation is an issue in my profession, it is a central concern, and we are trained to spot disinformation, and if I believed this [the dossier] was disinformation, or I had concerns about that, I would tell you [Fusion GPS] that. And I’m not telling you that. I’m telling you that I don’t believe this [the dossier] is disinformation.”
So what Steele is saying here is: ‘I am a wise old British gentleman spy, I was trained at the Hogwarts School of spy Wizardry and you can trust everything I’m telling you.’
This is laughable! Vetting sources is a critical part of the evaluation and reliability of intelligence. It’s such an essential part of the craft that no decisions about the information can be made without it. Given the poor quality of his raw intelligence, Steele’s lack of concern for the possibility that he was being fed disinformation is alarming.
The Media Blitz and the Tradecraft
While still in the early stages of his clandestine dossier project, Steele and Fusion GPS launched a coordinated media blitz to publish the briefs. Steele was sharing the details with a handful of DOJ, FBI, State Department, and other political figures such as Kramer and his friend Winer, who even endorsed him on LinkedIn.
Steele and Simpson were also regularly briefing reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Yahoo! News, The New Yorker, and CNN.
Many of the reports betray source information. For example:
“a close associate of TRUMP who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow”.
“Speaking in July 2016, a Russian source close to Rosneft President confided the details of a recent secret meeting between him and…Carter PAGE”.
Assuming that Steele didn’t intentionally plan to burn his sources, leaking such details to the media shows total lack of craft.
In December 2016, when the story about the mysterious death of Oleg Erovinkin came out, Simpson attempted to leverage it to shut down questions about Steele’s sources and methods. He was hinting that Erovinkin, a former general in the FSB, was one of Steele’s deep sources. A number of other individuals within Steele’s and Fusion GPS’s circles were also promoting this narrative. In one example, Scott Dworkin, the head of DNC’s opposition research group the ‘Democratic Coalition’ tweeted:
In another example, Luke Harding, who worked for Orbis and was one of Steele’s collectors in Russia until he was expelled from there in 2011, in his book, Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win wrote:
A person close to Steele admitted that in the wake of the dossier the Kremlin did appear to be wiping out some kind of American or Western espionage network.
So, if this was the unlikely case that the Russians were now eliminating Steele’s assets then the death of these people can be entirely blamed on his ongoing whirlwind dossier media tour and his criminal negligence.
Typos and Errors
The report contains a number of errors and inaccuracies that should have been caught and corrected at the final copyedit before publication, after all, Simpson, Jacoby, Steele, Ohr, and Baumgartner earn their living writing. You would certainly expect that one of them would read and clean up the document before it was distributed.
The errors in the briefs include the consistent misspelling of names like the “Alfa Group” with “Alpha Group” which betrays the fact that the writer is not versed in the material he is writing about. This could alternatively be written off as gangsta Ali-G style spelling, but it’s odd that someone like Steele who was raised on the Queens’s English is going to adopt this style of writing in an official correspondence. It may also be of some relevance that Dworkin uses the same Alpha/Alfa alternate spelling in his publications.
What Language was the Report Written in?
It’s clear from the grammar, punctuation, spelling, idioms, and sentence structure that the report is suffering from some series English language deficiencies. It is filled with sentences like:
“Russians meanwhile keen to cool situation”, or “Educated US youth to be targeted as protest…”
Many dossier apologists point out that this is because the raw intelligence came from some ‘Vlad’ who ‘don’t speaka de English’. This is also one of the leading arguments in favor of the authenticity of the intelligence. After all, would you expect perfectly written British English prose from an FSB source? It’s hard to buy this argument. It has the hallmarks of a false flag operation written all over it. Steele doesn’t speak fluent Russian, nor for that matter even reads or writes Russian. So, these notes could not have been the transcribed recordings or the transcripts of his conversations/communications with his sources.
According to Simpson, Steele: “… farmed out other research to native Russian speakers who made phone calls on his behalf“. So he wasn’t personally conducting the debriefings of his assets; some other Russian speaker conducted the interviews and or translated the written intel into English. The only other plausible members of the dossier team to be able to do this were Ohr and Baumgartner. Simpson confirmed that Baumgartner’s job for Fusion GPS was the translation of Russian language documents, writing reports, and interviewing assets who speak Russian. He said:
“So we retained Ed to—originally in the Prevezon case—to do some interviews in Moscow, I think, and retrieve some records from Russia. And other Russian language-related tasks.”
Baumgartner and Ohr are native English speakers with advanced degrees from ivy league schools. So if they wrote down the bulk of the raw intelligence, then why did they dumb down their writing style and forget how to properly form English sentences? After all, Baumgartner prides himself on his flawless spoken Russian and touts his firm’s translation services:
“Several blue-chip corporate names in the region retain Edward Austin to write, translate and edit their press releases, presentations and other corporate material.”
Ohr also practically lived in the Lenin Library and the Smolensk archive for several years reading and translating documents in Russian. She also made a name for herself as a book reviewer writing in perfect English.
Also, assuming that the ‘raw intelligence’ came from some Slavic sources, was it received in Ukrainian or Russian? We can’t determine this with certainty because the translation into English destroyed the fine nuances of these two similar languages. Or perhaps, it was written in British English in the first place and then rewritten in a ‘Russian style’ to make it look more authentic?
VC Funding and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
It is interesting that the dossier contains a significant amount of non-political and business-related activity. There is also a generous amount of emphasis on cyber warfare and cyber crime. Neither of these subjects has much to do with the stated objectives of the original research of gathering information about “links between Russia and [then-presidential candidate] Donald Trump”.
Russian involvement in cyber-related crime is also old news. Russian, Ukrainian, and other FSU based botnets that distribute malware have been operating at full capacity since the mid-2000s. With some of the more significant players having known government affiliations.
Why than the sudden increase in Russian cyber warfare related chatter in the dossier? The reason could be that someone asked Steele to include this material in order to address the DNC internal email leak which was published in June-July 2016.
An illustration for this somewhat irrelevant cyber crime-related material can be found in report 86 dated 26 July 2016, under item 3 we find the following paragraph:
In terms of the FSB’s recruitment of capable cyber operatives to carry out its, ideally deniable, offensive cyber operations, a Russian IT specialist with direct knowledge reported in June 2016 that this was often done using coercion and blackmail. In terms of ‘foreign’ agents, the FSB was approaching US citizens of Russian (Jewish) origin on business trips to Russia. In one case a US citizen of Russian ethnicity had been visiting Moscow to attract investors in his new information technology program. The FSB clearly knew this and had offered to provide seed capital to this person in return for them being able to access and modify his IP, with a view to targeting priority foreign targets by planting a Trojan virus in the software. The US visitor was told this was common practice. The FSB also had implied significant operational success as a result of installing cheap Russian IT games containing their own malware unwittingly by targets on their PCs and other platforms.
I don’t know what the term “IT Specialist” means in Steele’s world of rent-a-spy, but for most of us in the field, it describes individuals who use their technical expertise to implement, monitor, or maintain IT systems. Even if this IT Specialist was working for the FSB, IT staff in any intelligence organization is usually not privy to case files and sources and methods used to recruit agents. It doesn’t take much imagination to cross-reference Steele’s fictitious “IT Specialist” to Snowden and his exploits. In fact, Snowden describes an almost identical story where allegedly coercion and blackmail were used to turn a banker into an informant.
As for the term “with direct knowledge”, does he mean that this IT Specialist claimed to have participated in one of these offensive cyber operations and willingly shared this information with one of Steele interviewers?
The same goes for the proposition that an “IT Specialist” would have firsthand knowledge of the FSB’s playbook for recruitment of US citizens of (Jewish) Russian origin. The whole premise that the FSB is targeting US Jews because they are greedy and would flip for a price sounds like it was taken from Borat in the nest of the Jews or the protocols. It reeks of institutionalized anti-Semitism which could have been planted in the report deliberately to generate outrage.
Another noteworthy observation is the general vagueness of the cyber section and the writer’s poor understanding of computer and software terminology in frequently confusing terms like IP (intellectual property) with a code base and Trojans with Viruses.
Besides, whoever wrote this section needs to make up his/her mind about which attack vector is it, a Trojan? A virus? Or cheap Russian IT games (probably meant to say ‘IT Utilities’ like rogue anti-virus) infected with malware.
To illustrate the FSB’s ’recruitment’ method, Steele tells us about a US citizen who travels to Russian hoping to attract investors in his “information technology program”. What does that even mean? Is he talking about an executive of a US startup that is looking for seed money in Russia? If so, the proposition is ridiculous; anyone that has ever tried to raise capital in a startup knows that because of IP and regulatory constraints, the funding source is always country specific. Also, the idea that a US executive running a US-based software company would willingly allow the FSB to plant a virus in his software is laughable. You don’t have to be a genius to know that when he is caught—the question is when, not if—the company would be destroyed and he would be looking at massive personal civil penalties and a very long jail sentence.
In 2013, Bruce Ohr as the Assistant Deputy Director at DOJ, participated in the third St. Petersburg International Legal Forum. He was a speaker at a session titled “Criminal Matters and Allegations of Crimes in International Arbitration”, a topic connected to the Magnitsky Act. It’s interesting that his lecture included many of the components of the yet-to-be dossier’s: “money laundering operations”, “payment of large bribes and kickbacks”, “forged documents”, and “collusive schemes”.
It may also be of interest that many of the dossier’s cybersecurity allegations such as the ties between the Russian government intelligence services and cybercrime actors and the drivers and mechanisms between state and criminal cooperation are repeated almost verbatim in Nellie Ohr’s Accenture Security presentation that she delivered almost a year after the dossier came out in the FS-ISAC 2017 Summit.
The case study in her presentation explored how seemingly for profit Romanian and Bulgarian hackers combined with strategic Russian espionage initiatives. Her case study mirrors dossier report #166.
Nellie’s 2017 presentation was itself recycled almost verbatim from the 2010 symposium hosted by the National Institute of Justice in Russia. The subject of that event was: Legal Racketeering in Russia and National Security Issues. The talk covered these topics:
How are international criminal organizations attempting to co-opt the state to suit its interests? How are states attempting to use international criminal organizations to advance their interests? How does international organized crime present itself as a national security threat to different types of countries? How do links to other malevolent actors, like terrorist or insurgent groups, manifest themselves and factor into the previous questions?
So it seems that the Ohrs have been cannibalizing and presenting this “raw intelligence” for several years from DOJ, FBI, and other agency sources long before it made it into the dossier.
Source Credibility and Verifiability
The context of a source is an important part of all intelligence reports. It describes in greater detail the circumstances under which the source acquired the intelligence, the source’s reporting history, and other pertinent details such as sources credibility (i.e. his past success and failure). None of Steele’s briefs contain this information. It seems that all of his sources have the same monolithic credibility and the method of obtaining the intelligence is always shrouded in obscurity.
Every source has credibility ranging from a ‘Pathological Liar’ to the ‘Word of God’. All intelligence organizations have grading systems for source credibility. Credibility is also a subtle thing that depends on many constantly changing factors. The Key tradecraft for any case officer is the ability to constantly evaluate and determine the credibility of his sources. One of the glaring problems with Steele’s reports is that his source credibility indicator uses vague fluffy terms like “well-placed”, “trusted”, “knowledgeable, etc. Steele is not assigning sufficient granularity of trust to his sources.
None of the briefs show any doubts about the intelligence. The general impression is that Steele’s assets are one hundred percent reliable and are the cream of the crop of Russian politics, security services, and the Kremlin. They read like a cast of characters from a corny John le Carré novel. What is ostensibly missing from his stellar list of informants are common everyday sources like:
- Low level bureaucrats
- Western intelligence sources
- Political opposition figures
- Other FSU sources like Ukrainian intelligence
- Business figures
- Black-hat hackers (working as contractors for Steele)
- Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
- The legions of the disgruntled and the ax-grinders
Steele also seems to be enamored with the titles of his sources and doesn’t provide any indication that he cross-verified their intelligence. In the instance of the alleged sexual acts in the Ritz-Carlton Moscow, he cites the following triple-source:
- A senior staff employee at the hotel
- An active FSB officer
- A senior security officer at the hotel (who would likely be a former FSB or GRU officer)
With assets like this he could have easily confirmed the story by checking out the hotel’s video surveillance footage from the hallway in question. The Ritz-Carlton Moscow has been using CCTV cameras from the mid-2000’s and have in fact switched to a VMS based system in 2012. Steele could have asked his “active FSB officer” for the specific day and time of the alleged November 2013 event and then used his “senior security officer” asset at the hotel to get a screenshot of the video frame showing the individuals in the hallway entering and leaving the room.
In a recent court testimony Steele has acknowledged that his final December 2016 report (# 166), contained information he never vetted. He stated that:
“The contents of the report did not represent (and did not purport to represent) verified facts, but were raw intelligence which had identified a range of allegations that warranted investigation given their potential national security implications”.
It’s easy to get lost in all of these weasel words but the common term for “raw intelligence” that does not represent nor purport to represent credible or verified facts is called a rumor.
On the question of chain of transmission, we have the same problem as with the verifiability. When asked about his collection methods, Steele said:
“Such intelligence was not actively sought; it was merely received.”
This is a dream come true for every collection officer—a gift of priceless information with no strings attached, no risk, no clandestine work. High-value actionable intelligence just tossed over the transom.
In late 2016, the FBI finally honed-in on the problem that they had when they used the dossier for the FISA applications and Steele’s lack of source credibility and verifiability. They allegedly offered him about $50K to corroborate the dossier. For reasons unknown, he didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t do it.
The House of Cards
In intelligence analysis there is a concept of a runaway feedback loop that occurs when information becomes re-iterated and rewarded in perpetual cycles. For example, “Analyst A” releases a bit of dubious intel. “Analyst B” reads the claim and puts it in his report. “Analyst A” reads the intel in Analyst B’s report and decides that his intel may actually be true. “analyst C” picks up “Analyst A’s” and “Analyst B’s” reports and expands on it creatively. “Analyst A” and “Analyst B” now are certain that their original piece was accurate. Actually, none of it is accurate. The same applies to many of Steele’s briefs; they progressively build upon previous dubious intel using terms like “Continuing on this theme”.
Information or Disinformation
The general impression of the reports is that they contain threads of truth, but also spurious content. For example, report #080 describes the Miss Universe 2013 event, but then it provides a dubious account of sexual activity that even the author claims can’t be verified (“all direct witnesses to this recently had been “silenced”). Almost all of the ‘valuable’ intelligence in the repots exhibits some hints of disinformation such as:
- Fabricated content−Creating content that is completely false
- Imposter content−Impersonating a genuine sources with some made-up details
- Misleading content−Misattributing valid information to a wrong topic or a person
- Manipulated content−Doctoring genuine information
Syntax and Formulation
The briefs are inconsistent with Trump’s name. In some, they use the moniker “TRUMP”, in others, they uses lengthy titles like: “Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP”. Clearly, the target audience of the reports knows who Trump is, so why is it necessary to use a 4-5 word qualifiers to identify him? One possible explanation is that the information came from some foreign intelligence repository where the details on each target were stored in a structured format like:
[First Name] & [Last name]
The briefs also contain many poorly formed sentences. For example, the subheading of Company Intelligence Report 2016/080 title is: “Republican candidate Donald Trump’s activities in Russia and compromising relationship with the Kremlin.” The phrase is missing the word ‘his’ and should read: “Republican candidate Donald Trump’s activities in Russia and his compromising relationship with the Kremlin.”
One “Summary” phrase says: “…So far TRUMP has declined various sweetener real estate business deals…” The word that the author is looking for here is sweetheart.
Another sentence begins with “Speaking to a trusted compatriot.” After trying to make sense of the sentence, it’s clear that the writer meant “according to a trusted compatriot.” The “speaking to” jumbles the meaning.
It is difficult to explain how Steele actually wrote this. “Chris Steele,” as he is known in his early days as a reporter for the Versity Cambridge University student publication, also served as president of the Cambridge Union Society, a debating club. So the riddle is, how could a Cambridge university journalist and master English debater form such phrases and confuse a common figure of speech like sweetener with sweetheart?
Run-on Sentences and Poor Punctuation
Paragraphs like the following need no further discussion:
“Alpha held ‘kompromat’ on Putin and his corrupt business activities from the 1990s whilst although not personally overly bothered by Alpha’s failure to reinvest the proceeds of its TNK oil company sale into the Russian economy since, the Russian president was able to use pressure on this count from senior Kremlin colleagues as a lever on Fridman and AVEN to make them do his political bidding.”
Gilded and Sensational Language
There are many gilded passages that have no other purpose beyond creating indignation and outrage. For example, one paragraph states:
“Trump’s previous efforts had included exploring the real estate sector in St. Petersburg as well as Moscow but in the end Trump had had to settle for the use of extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success.”
The writer could have simply noted that while in St. Petersburg on business, Trump allegedly engaged the services of prostitutes.
Besides the obvious contextual problem with this paragraph, it is difficult to logically balance “sexual services” and “business success”. So in lieu of business success, Trump settled for extensive sex? What is the significance of qualifier “extensive”? Does the writer meant to say ‘frequent’? And what is the significance of the term “local” in the context of prostitutes? Does the source knows these prostitutes personally and is vouching for the fact that they are from St. Petersburg?
It also appears that some of the report headers were written in the style of sensational newspaper headlines like in: “Further evidence of extensive conspiracy between TRUMP’s campaign team and Kremlin”. This style doesn’t fit the succinct and factual standards expected in an intelligence report.
In writing about sex, the author is particularly byzantine. He says that Russian authorities had compromised Trump by catching him in his “personal obsessions and sexual perversion.“
In another instance, Trump was alleged to have gotten revenge on the Obamas by: “defiling the bed where they had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ urination show.“
These archaic terms hint that the writer had some classical training because it sounds like he/she is using phraseology from Suetonius’s The Twelve Caesars (see reference to Tiberius and his ‘licentious indulgences and sexual perversion’ and Nero’s ‘defiling’ acts).
The usage of “a number” with the plural form “prostitutes” seems forced and is designed to emphasize the ‘largeness’ of the event. As far as shower go, the phrase is “golden shower,” singular. And what is the purpose of the explanatory ‘AKA’ term “urination show”? It’s redundant and suggests that the writer himself didn’t understand the original term.
One expects to find definite and indefinite articles that are often omitted. For example, the phrase “to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance” is missing “the” before “western alliance.” The phrase “anchored upon countries’ interest” should read: “anchored upon the country’s interest“. The author frequently misuses the possessive form as well.
Sentences that begin with the word “however” without a comma as in: “However it has not as yet been distributed abroad.” In other instances, “however” is followed by a comma: “However, there were other aspects …“. There is no consistency in the use of serial commas before or after conjunctions like ‘and’ and ‘but”.
The briefs suggest that there were multiple authors, one perhaps Russian/Ukrainian and British\American. At one point, the reader is told that the Trump campaign leaked the DNC documents to WikiLeaks “to swing supporters of Bernie SANDERS away from Hillary CLINTON and across to TRUMP.” The “Summary” section cleans up the language. Now the goal is to switch voters “away from CLINTON and over to TRUMP.” This stenographic sleight of hand is forced and artificial. Whoever was conducting the original interview or data collection would/should have corrected this at the moment of transcription.
British English and Meaning
Steele is a Brit educated in British English. The document contains distinctly British spellings such as “programme,” “defence,” “authorised,” and “manoeuvre.” So, are we to assume that Steele’s deep intelligence assets in the FSB and Kremlin also attended Cambridge? Or perhaps these intelligence sources did attend Cambridge like Steele and were working for MI6.
There are other little details that bog the mind like when the author writes: “Things had become even ‘hotter’ since August on the TRUMP-RUSSIA track.” What does the term “hotter” means? Does he mean bossier? More complex? And what is the significance of the quotes?
Talking Points vs. Raw Intelligence
One point that repeats itself toward the end of the document is the notion of “Moscow’s interference in the US Presidential election campaign.” Another is Trump’s perceived “unfitness” for office. These statements read less like raw intelligence and more like Steele has gone native and is now working on some political talking points for a speech.
The dossier’s content and network graph are interesting, but what about the writing style? Can we find the author’s fingerprints? To perform this analysis, I needed writing samples of a few hundred words from each potential author.
I’ve managed to get writing samples for all three dossier musketeers. Ohr has a significant amount of book reviews and articles online, and I also managed to get a copy of her PhD dissertation. Baumgartner was little more challenging. Most of his writings are not on-line—which is quite an achievement for a person who claims to have been a reporter for several years. I found a depository with some of his commercial work and academic pieces. Steele’s was by far the most difficult to locate. Despite him working as a reporter for the Cambridge Varsity student newspaper, all of the digitized copies of his prose have disappeared without a trace from the Cambridge library. I was fortunate enough to be able to pull a few copies of his articles from another source (see sample below).
Writer Baseline Profile
As can be seen from the analysis below, Steele, Ohr, and Baumgartner demonstrate a distinct writing style (images 16-18).
The textual analysis of the reports comprising the dossier shows some interesting results. First, I created a ground truth baseline for each of the dossier team members. The ground truth seen in images 19-21 was based on writings they published prior to 2016.
Once I had a good baseline and a stylistic fingerprint, I proceeded to analyze the individual reports. From the sample below, we can see that despite Steele’s claim that he wrote the document, (images 22-25), it is almost certain that it was written by another person(s), likely a foreign source, Baumgartner, or Ohr. The writing style fits their writer profile in multiple categories.
There are, however, a few anomalies in the data (image 26) that indicate that some of the content—especially the latter reports that are written in an American English and have ‘talking point’ style—have been written by another unidentified author(s).
Baumgartner and Social Media
In addition to the writing style analyses, I’ve also correlated the content of the dossier briefs with various social media sources like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. The results reinforce the conclusion of the writing style results. As you can see below, Baumgartner’s tweets touch on many of the topics and phrases in the dossier such as: Mikhail (Misha) Fridman, The Alfa group, Rigging the elections, Divisive campaigning, US citizens of Russian (Jewish) origin, Kremlin Buyer’s remorse, and others. They also closely match the dossier composition dates.
Baumgartner social media posting history is also noteworthy because it correlates directly with his work in Fusion GPS. For example, he is re-posting information about the dossier utilizing media sources like Mother Jones. He’s essentially betraying prior knowledge of the dossier by including these specific buzzwords in his tweets.
On October 31, 2016, Baumgartner was already retweeting the “dossier”. Of interest are the dates. According to the date stamp on the last dossier, report # 186, it was written on 13 December 2016. So if we to accept this chronology, then we must conclude that individual reports were leaked out as soon as they were written, indicating that the dossier was not released in a single final batch form.
After his initial retweet of the dossier, he embarks on a regular publication schedule further discussing some of the core talking points in the document. This includes topic like “Trump is a Russian agent”. He also makes a sheepish reference to “Christopher Steele, ex-British Intelligence officer, said to have repared [prepared] dossier on Trump…”, and the rationale for why a private security firm (i.e. Fusion GPS and Orbis) had to do Clapper’s job.
As time goes on and the dossier story fails to create a groundswell, Baumgartner starts exhibiting signs of outrage. In addition to a lot of profanity, his posts also include calls for a coup against the “scumbag” elected president.
Fusion GPS’s Role
We know that Simpson and Jacoby played a significant role in both the ‘editorial’ and ‘creative’ processes. In his testimony, he confirmed sharing his investigative research with Steele. Obviously, he also directly supervised Ohr and Baumgartner. Fusion GPS’s involvement certainly went beyond just coordinating SMEs and acting as the general contractor for the law firm Perkins Coie who had commissioned the report and paid them over $1.2 million for it.
Simpson and Jacoby also acted as the intakes for some of the US political sources found in the dossier that shows up in phrases like “an American political figure” and “TRUMP’s associate”. This included communications from the likes of: Shailagh Murray, Lisa Holtyn, Cody Shearer (who was working on a ‘second Trump-Russia dossier’), Sidney Blumenthal, Jonathan Winer, and Scott Dworkin who managed the Democratic Coalition’s opposition research and publication (see samples below).
Winer himself sheds light on this information pipeline. According to his own account, he and Steele met and became friends in 2009 when both were in the business of intelligence involving Russia. Winer went back to work at the State Department in 2013 but stayed in touch with Steele. He regularly shared Steele’s work with the State Department’s Russia desk.
“Over the next two years, I shared more than 100 of Steele’s reports with the Russia experts at the State Department, who continued to find them useful.”
Contrary to Simpson’s claim that Steele leaked the dossier content on his own initiative, Fusion GPS took a leading role in the publication process. In addition to coordinating a regular stream of social media postings, they also worked the ‘friendly’ commercial media outlets like CNN, MSNBC, NYT, WAPO, and Yahoo News, and published Op-eds and expert reviews that supported the dossier’s credibility.
One thing worth noting is that just like in the case of the core dossier network, many of these ‘receptive’ reporters such as Scott Dworkin and Evan Perez (images 32-33) had a long incestuous relationship with Fusion GPS and it’s team members.
In a similar fashion to Baumgartner’s Twitter activity, Perez’s tweets (see below) strongly suggest that he too had direct access to dossier content and was actively distributing it as it was being written.
As far as the journalist’s motivation to publish content favorable to the dossier, its clear from the congressional records that this was certainly not due to guardianship of democracy concerns. In at least 3 cases, Fusion GPS paid reporters five digit figures for these publications. This can be deduced from Image 34, where the length of redacted payment fields for transactions 198 and 205 are the same length as a visible $91K payment in transaction 171.
What’s with the Ham?
There is a lot of buzz on-line about Nellie Ohr’s Ham radio license and her possible uses for it. In May 23rd, 2016, just as the dossier project was kicking into gear in (Steele was only hired in June), Nellie Ohr, at the ripe old age of give or take 55 got a Technician radio license.
Her registration information was:
Nellie H. Ohr,
Call sign: KM4UDZ
6435 Tucker Ave
McLean, VA 22101
License Class: Technician
License Issue Date: May 23 2016
License Expiration Date: May 23 2026
FCC Last Transaction: LIISS
FCC Licensee ID: L02028239
FCC FRN Number: 0025607250
Latitude: 38.94, 38d 56m 24s N
Longitude: -77.19, 77d 11m 24s W
There are a number of curious things about Ohr getting an amateur radio license so late in her career.
- Her professional profile does not show her to be the techie type. She doesn’t possess any hacker, computer, or EE engineering skills (which is what typically propels individuals to get an Amateur Radio license).
- She does not belong to any ARRL radio club in the Fairfax area
- The radio clubs in her registration area have no records of administering the exam (Ham Radio exams are typically administered by the local ARRL club).
- Her call sign, KM4UDZ, shows no public activity which is odd, because new hams are typically very chatty and can’t stay off the air when they first get their license.
As can be seen in Image 35, her technician rating is the lowest class of amateur radio license and has limited privileges with regard to the available frequencies and transmitter power output.
So for all of the conspiracy theorists out there that believe that Ohr was engaged in OSS style night transmissions from a secret compartment in the barn to her controller in Moscow: she wasn’t. The radio class limits would only give her a line of sight range of 5-10 miles. In a repeater mode, she could push the range to 20-200 miles. If you don’t think that a 10-mile range is sufficient, think again. It is likely that Ohr’s rationale for using a Ham radio was a substitution for a cell and landline phones in order to communicate with person(s) nearby. As you can see from the map below, even with a 3-7.5 radius she was well within the range of the entire downtown Washington D.C. area.
We know that Nellie Ohr was the dossier’s liaison to some other agencies. It’s not unlikely that someone versed in SIGINT told her that she had to use a Ham radio because if the project went south, the first line of investigation would have been to subpoena all of her cell and phone records and analyze them to completely re-construct her operational network.
We know that Nellie Ohr’s husband, Bruce Ohr, was the Department of Justice’s official contact for Steele and Fusion GPS and in fact held meetings with both about the dossier. We also know that Ohr headed a task force code named Cassandra and Operation Fast and Furious that among other things utilized cell phone tracking technology to identify money laundering, drugs, and weapon smuggling. So it makes sense that he was aware of the need for electronic surveillance countermeasures.
But what about tracing her Ham call sign during transmission, wouldn’t that eliminate her radio anonymity?
In theory, yes, but in practice, it can be circumvented. If Ohr was careful, this problem could have been solved with devices like the Harris XG-75P/100P. Encrypted radio transmissions can also be used to obscure the identity of the sender/receiver of the message. For example, unencrypted HSMM uses a ping packet containing the station call sign to identify the station, similar to how a 2-meter repeater periodically announces its call sign. But if HSMM is operated using WEP encryption (available as a plug-in), those packets would be obscured, and the call sign of the station licensee could not be received by anyone without the keys. So, in addition to the message itself which can be any digital data such as audio and documents, the identity of the sender call signs would also be hidden.
So who investigated and wrote the core parts of the dossier? It looks like it was a team effort. Most of the evidence points to Glenn Simpson and his wife Mary Jacoby as the architects of the dossier framework. This can also be gleaned from Jacoby’s June 24, 2017 Facebook posting (which was deleted promptly with most of her SM activity after the project derailed) where she brags about her husband’s leading role in its composition and vents her frustration about Steele monopolizing the limelight.
Ohr and Baumgartner roles were likely to research specific Russian content and re-write the narrative in a ‘Russian style’ in order to make it appear authentic. The ‘hard’ intelligence probably came from British and Ukrainian sources who may have also provided some of the juicy gossip. Nellie Ohr utilized DOJ and State Department documents that pertain to Russian organized crime, cybersecurity, corruption, and opportunistically incorporated them into the dossier briefs.
This careful mixture of partial truth and fiction explains all of the tidbits of information in the report that are marginally plausible and give the dossier a first person witness quality and a thin veneer of creditability. Simpson alludes to this when he said in the testimony:
We –you know, they [Steeles network of resources] identified -one memo identified a Russian guy who worked for an NGO called Rossotrudnichestvo, which is –you know, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was able to learn from looking at it that the FBI considers that to be a front for the SVR. So, you know, either the people were extremely knowledgeable about a lot of obscure intelligence stuff or, you know, they –what they’re saying had some credibility.
When it comes to the bulk of the literary work, Simpson, Jacoby, Baumgartner and Ohr likely authored it and Steele—if he did any actual writing—just formatted the reports in order to tag them with his scent and make them look spyish.
Nellie Ohr’s, Shailagh Murray, and Mary Jacoby also played a secondary organizational role and acted as the liaisons between the Fusion GPS team, DOJ, and the White House, and possibly as a cut-outs to other agencies.
Anyone who has ever worked in intelligence knows that a good debriefing and a report must answer the questions of: who, what, when, where, how, and why. Very little of the dossier does that. It is mostly based on platitudes, generalizations, and truisms. The writer of the dossier anticipated this criticism and countered it by building-in plausible deniability for most of his allegations through statements like:
“but key witnesses silenced and evidence hard to obtain” or “all direct witnesses to this recently had been “silenced”…”
It seems that the real dossier story is not the scandalous insinuations that it makes, but rather, it’s the dossier team and its compilation process. Simpson and Steele did far more than simply conducted sordid opposition research for the Clinton campaign. By various machinations, they successfully reached the most influential people in US politics, the media, government agencies, and shaped/influenced the narrative of the 2016 presidential elections. There is little doubt that Simpson/Jacoby and their political/media network and Steele with his enablers in the SIS, the British media, and the Foreign Office successfully waged a full-spectrum influence operation campaign against the US and are continuing to do so now.
In the end, Fusion GPS and Steele failed to deliver the goods and as the Elections of 2016 came to an end, Baumgartner posted this Tweet:
It is just this sort of Machiavellian comment that you might expect from a sleazy literary hitman. In response, I must point out that after you Mr. Baumgartner—indeed—did come the flood! And on the topic of French proverbs, I will defer to La Fontaine’s concluding line in the Cock and the Fox: “C’est double plaisir de tromper le trompeur”.
As far as the rest of the dossier cabal, they can be summed up in a quote from Antony Johnston’s Atomic Blonde:
To win, first, you have to know whose side you’re on. In our line of work, that’s right up there with black holes or “to be or not to be.” You fight the good fight, and then one day you wake up, and you realize that all you were was Satan’s little helper.
© Copyright 2018 Yaacov Apelbaum, All Rights Reserved.