Did Steele Really Write That Dossier?

tl;dr: There’s good reason to think that the published document didn’t come from Christopher Steele, or was perhaps deliberate disinformation.

In all the hooraw over the “dossier” recently exposed by BuzzFeed, there’s one question I haven’t seen addressed: is this really what Christopher Steele delivered to his employer(s), or has his work gone through a set of revisions, by whom and with what agenda we can only guess. (But it would be a pretty educated guess.)

For instance, from the Kansas City Star we have this:

The 35 pages aren’t sequential and are dated between June and December 2016. There are no pages dated in November. Several sentences have been redacted. Some names are misspelled, and three different fonts are used throughout the report. The page numbers are handwritten.

A look at the actual document confirms this. For instance, the 7th page is labeled “COMPANY INTELLIGENCE REPORT 2016/095”, consisting of a “summary” and the first and part of the 2nd bullet of “Detail”. The following (8th) page continues the 2nd bullet as well as the 3rd-6th. At the bottom is a notice: “CONFIDENTIAL/SENSITIVE SOURCE”, a label not (as far as anyone knows) used by either US or British Intelligence.

That report (2016/095) is not dated, and the following page (9th) is labeled “COMPANY INTELLIGENCE REPORT 2016/094”, followed by an unlabeled page (10th) with the date “19 July 2016". (The other side of that page would appear to be the 11th, bleeding through.)

Subsequent reports include many missing numbers, as well as having report “2016/136” dated “20 October” on pages 18–19 inserted between “2016/102” dated “10 August 2016” and “2016/105” dated “22 August 2016”. There are hand-written page numbers on the pages at this point, which match the page numbers shown in the PDF reader.

The “CONFIDENTIAL/SENSITIVE SOURCE” label has also disappeared, being present only on the first three reports: “2016/080” dated “20 June 2016”, “2016/086” dated “26 July 2016”, “2016/095” which is undated.

It seems incredible to me that actual reports, produced by a very high-priced private intelligence firm, would be so carelessly gathered, out of sequence, with no explanation of the missing reports, scanned in at multiple times and multiple resolutions. This was obviously a secondary gathering of reports, from whatever source, for digital offering.

Report #’s, dates, and presence of labels.

The “misspelling” is also interesting. In a highly skeptical analysis by the Daily Mail, they state:

Another blunder seized on are several references to the ‘Alpha Group’ of companies, a consortium headed by oligarch Mikhail Fridman.

The correct spelling which should have been known by a Russian expert is the ‘Alfa Group.’

‘At best that is careless and should not have been there,’ the one-time officer said, ‘it points towards that at least having been written by a Russian hand.

A bit of work with Google shows up an interesting fact: there actually is a Russian “Alpha Group”, of which Wiki starts out:

This article is about Soviet and later Russian special operations force. For the Ukrainian special operations force with the same name, see Alpha Group (Ukraine). For Russian investment group, see Alfa Group.

Spetsgruppa “A”, also known as Alpha Group (a popular English name), or Alfa, whose official name is Directorate “A” of the FSB Special Purpose Center (TsSN FSB), is an elite, stand-alone sub-unit of Russia’s special forces. It is a dedicated counter-terrorism task force of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which primarily prevents and responds to violent acts in public transportation and buildings. It was created by the Soviet KGB in 1974. Although little is known about the exact nature of its primary directives, it is speculated that the unit is authorised to act under the direct control and sanction of Russia’s top political leadership, similar to its sister unit, the Directorate “B” (Vympel), which is officially tasked with protecting Russia’s strategic installations. It is also available for extended police duties, for paramilitary operations, and for covert operations, both domestically and internationally.

It seems highly unlikely that a former MI6 agent would confuse an investment group with “a dedicated counter-terrorism task force”. At least, not accidentally. While it’s possible that Steele did this on purpose, the most reasonable explanation is that these are not the original reports, delivered by Christopher Steele.

Rather, they are modified documents, modified by person or persons unknown, but probably not very familiar with the Russian environment. Where the interception and modification took place we can only guess, but mine would be that only Steele’s initial contact actually received his reports, while what was delivered to the various political groups is the same garbage we now are seeing.

Having spent a few hours examining these documents, I can see why the FBI, and likely the CIA and other intelligence groups, dismissed them as garbage.

There is, however, an interesting alternative explanation:

In the report numbered “2016/112” dated “14 September 2016” on pages 25–26, bullet #3 (p 26) says the following:

The top level Russian government official [referenced in previous bullets] described the PUTIN-Alpha relationship as both carrot and stick. Alpha held ‘kompromat’ on PUTIN and his corrupt business activities from the 1990's 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 FREIDMAN and AVEN to make them do his political bidding.

This bullet, and the entire report, seem different in scope from most of them, although the previous “2016/111”, also dated “14 September 2016” (pp. 22–24), is very interesting. It claims that the dismissal of Sergei Ivanov, former “chief of administration” was due to his advice to Mr. Putin “that the pro-TRUMP, anti-CLINTON operation/s would be both effective and plausibly deniable with little blowback.

I should mention that I have no intelligence experience (except reading fiction of questionable verisimilitude), and am not an expert on Russia. However, this statement seems to contradict at least two accounts of Ivanov’s dismissal:

In an account from “Russia Beyond the Headlines”, Ivanov was described thus:

His colleagues in the Kremlin and people who know him say (in Russian) that Ivanov’s main quality, not so much personal as professional, is caution. He has always managed to steer clear of hypersensitive issues while at the same time not ceding his position.

Perhaps he thought that the fact that the DNC information was essentially unprotected, and had likely been accessed by a variety of actors, both state and non-state, would protect from finger-pointing. If so, it would appear he was wrong, since the anti-Trump media and Intelligence management seem to assume (erroneously, IMO) that the very fact that Russia (probably) had access to the information made them guilty of leaking it.

Much more plausible, however, is that Ivanov’s dismissal had nothing to do with the anti-Clinton campaign, if any. Another account, from the Moscow Times, has this to say:

Rumors of the move started circulating in early spring. Ivanov has been planning to resign for some time now — it was only a matter of time, says political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko.

In addition, Putin has been dissatisfied with Ivanov for some time. New legislation on the National Guard was the last straw, the Moscow-based political commentator Konstantin Gaaze says: “The expertise and the workflow involved in drafting this legislation went wrong. As a result, the version of one of the amendments signed by Putin and officially published in the press is different from what the parliament voted for. And the Kremlin managers had to deal with the scandal.”

If these accounts are accurate, then the supposed Ivanov support for the anti-Clinton campaign as reason for his dismissal is likely disinformation. Perhaps Steele’s contacts in Russia are stale, and provided him with deceptive nonsense. Or perhaps, this entire set of “reports” is intended as disinformation.

It would make sense that the key item above, regarding how “Alpha held ‘kompromat’ on PUTIN and his corrupt business activities from the 1990's”, if true, would likely expose a valuable source, either humint (human intelligence) or perhaps a bugged office or other venue.

If that item had already leaked, a garbage “dossier” wrapping it in disinformation and other nonsense might well persuade the Russians to dismiss it as a guess. It certainly is a plausible guess, and it’s possible that if there’s real evidence for it, its inclusion in this “dossier” might reduce it to the status of “guesswork” in the minds of Russian counter-intelligence.

But that’s just a low-probability alternative. Really, the most likely conclusion is that the reports that have been exposed aren’t the real thing: they’re something put together by a “man in the middle”, loosely based on the original Steele reports, but fluffed up to make the political customers happy.

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