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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Allegations of Trump's Cooperation With The Kremlin

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
The FBI Is Under Investigation For Its Handling Of Clinton Email Scandal; New Questions Emerge About FBI Investigations

Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz is investigating "broad allegations of misconduct " concerning how the FBI handled the Hillary Clinton email scandal. 

The Associated Press reports:

Inspector General Michael Horowitz says the investigation will look at whether department or FBI policies were followed in relation to Comey’s actions in the case, whether the FBI deputy director should have been recused from the investigation, and allegations that department officials improperly disclosed nonpublic information to the Clinton campaign.

The Washington Post adds more detail:

The FBI’s probe into whether Clinton mishandled classified information by using a private email server when she was secretary of state has long been controversial and politically charged.

Perhaps most notably, Comey on Oct. 28 — after previously announcing publicly that he was recommending no charges in the case — sent a letter to congressional leaders telling them that agents had resumed the Clinton probe after finding potentially relevant information in an unrelated case.

The day before, senior Justice Department leaders had warned Comey not to send the letter, because it violated two long-standing department policies — discussing an ongoing investigation and taking any overt action on an investigation so close to an election. At the time, it was less than two weeks before the election, and early voting had already begun.

Comey sent a second letter to Congress, just days before the election, saying that the investigation was complete and he was not changing the decision he had made in July to bring no charges against Clinton. But the damage — in the minds of Clinton supporters, at least — had been done. Clinton has blamed the renewed FBI inquiry for blunting her momentum in the last weeks of the presidential election.

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Justice Department Inspector General to investigate pre-election actions by department and FBI

The Department of Justice Inspector General will review broad allegations of misconduct involving the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's email practices and the bureau's controversial decision shortly before the election to announce the probe had resumed, the Inspector General announced Thursday.

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Jan 13, 2017 01:13 (GMT)
A good overview of what this investigation may entail:

The Russian government's hack of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta are relevant to all of this because the hacking attacks kept the Clinton email scandal in the news throughout the summer and fall. Once FBI Director James Comey made his various controversial announcements, they fueled the fire that was already raging due to the ongoing conversations surrounding what was revealed by those hacking attacks.

As we reported last night, new and serious questions have come to light about whether the FBI botched its investigations of alleged ties between members of Donald Trump's staff and the Russian government.  Did the FBI fail to investigate these allegations before the election, and if Trump's staff was communicating or meeting with Russian officials, could the FBI have stopped them in time? New questions have also been raised as to whether or not the FBI adequately pursued the reports given to them by various Congressional leaders on both sides of the isle. 

-- James Miller
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Intelligence Experts Believe Author Of Trump Dossier Is Highly Credible

On the evening of January 10, CNN published an article saying that President Barack Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump had been briefed by US intelligence agencies about the existence of a document that contains unverified allegations that Trump was being blackmailed by the Russian government and Trump and his team were collaborating with the Russians. CNN noted that the briefing was based off of a 35 page dossier that was compiled by a former British intelligence operative. The source, according to US officials who spoke to CNN, was considered "credible."

We now know that the source of this dossier is a man named Christopher Steele, director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., who runs the firm with the other director, Christopher Burrows.

Steele has "gone to ground," leaving his home to escape the publicity -- and possible retribution -- for compiling the document. 

The Telegraph reports:

Christopher Steele, 52, fled from his home in Surrey on Wednesday morning after realising it was only a matter of time until his name became public knowledge.

A source close to Mr Steele said on Wednesday night that he now fears a prompt and potentially dangerous backlash against him from Moscow. 

Mr Steele, the co-founder of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd, prepared a 35-page document that alleges the Kremlin colluded with Mr Trump’s presidential campaign and that the Russian security services have material that could be used to blackmail him, including an allegation that he paid prostitutes to defile a bed that had been slept in by Barack and Michelle Obama.

His research was initially funded by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats. 

Steele's peers have told various news outlets that they have a high opinion of Steele and his work.

The New York Times reports:

He is known in British intelligence circles for his knowledge of the intricate web of Kremlin-tied companies and associates that control Russia.

Mr. Steele, as a known former MI6 agent, was thought not to have gone to Russia in his investigations but to have used contacts inside and outside the country to prepare the dossier, which United States intelligence agencies have said they cannot substantiate. But the file was used to prepare a two-page appendix to the intelligence presentation American officials gave to Mr. Trump last Friday.


John Sipher, who retired from the C.I.A. in 2014 after 28 years with the agency, described Mr. Steele as having a good reputation and “some credibility.” Mr. Sipher was stationed in Moscow in the 1990s, and then ran the C.I.A.’s Russia program for three years, according to an interview he gave to PBS NewsHour. He now works at CrossLead, a Washington-based technology company.

The Guardian also interviewed intelligence and security experts who agreed that Steele has a good reputation:

Former colleagues of Steele describe him as “very credible” – a sober, cautious and meticulous professional with a formidable track record. 

That report went on to describe Steele's resume, and to evaluate how Steele would have compiled such a document in order to present it to his client, " Fusion GPS, a Washington-based political research firm."

The foreign office official who spoke to the Guardian on Thursday acknowledged that the Steele dossier isn’t perfect. But he pointed out that intelligence reports always come with “gradations of veracity” and include phrases such as “a high degree of probability”. “You aren’t dealing with a binary world where you can say this is true and this isn’t,” the official said.

He added: “The strongest reason for giving this report credence is that intelligence professionals in the US take it seriously. They were sufficiently persuaded by the author’s track record to find the contents worth passing to the president and president-elect.”

The CIA and FBI will have taken various factors into consideration before deciding it had credibility. They include Trump’s public comments during the campaign, when he urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. The agencies may also have classified intercept material provided by the National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ.

They must, equally, have considered whether some of the claims in the report might have been part of an elaborate Russian disinformation exercise.

“This is unlikely. The dossier is multi-dimensional, involving many different people, and many moving parts,” the official suggested.

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Intelligence sources vouch for credibility of Russia dossier author

His denials - at least some of them - were emphatic, even by the standards that Donald Trump has come to be judged by. The dossier, he said, was a confection of lies; he compared it to Nazi propaganda; it was fake news spread by sick people.

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Jan 13, 2017 00:34 (GMT)

We know that the US intelligence community did take the dossier seriously. Though they have not yet confirmed all of the details, they considered Steele credible enough to present the information to Obama and Trump.

It's clear that such a raw document was never designed for wide release. The dossier does not site its sources or provide proof, nor does it assess the credibility of all of the claims made within. What the document does do, however, is provide a long list of allegations which should be investigated by both journalists and law enforcement.

-- James Miller

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Trump's Misleading And Explosive Allegations Against The Intelligence Community And The Media Meet Pushback

Yesterday at his press conference in his eponymous tower, US President Elect Donald Trump said that he believed that the "intelligence community" planted the "fake" news alleging that he was being blackmailed by the Russian government and his team was coordinating with the Kremlin. He threw insults at "the media," particularly CNN which broke the news that such allegations exist and Buzzfeed which published the unverified allegations in their entirety.

Those allegations are conflating multiple issues, and Trump's claims yesterday featured multiple inconsistencies mixed with some truth and some misinformation.

For instance, we noted that there was no evidence that US government intelligence agencies leaked this information to the press.

Also it's worth noting that what CNN and Buzzfeed did was two very different things. CNN published a report that Trump and President Obama had been given a two-page synopsis and were briefed about these allegations. That was true. In fact we are not aware of any aspect of CNN's reporting which has been debunked. Buzzfeed published the entire 35 page dossier which was summarized in the brief that CNN reported. Buzzfeed also noted that the documents were unverified, and there was reason to doubt certain aspects of the story, but they were publishing the information so that Americans and the world could make their own decisions.

The investigations into the story has cast doubt on certain claims made within those documents, the entirety of the documents have not been debunked, nor have they been verified. Certainly, many questions remain as to both the connections between Trump and his campaign and the Russian government, as well as surrounding the evidence that Russia interfered with the US election. 

Last night, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), James Clapper, clarified several points in an official statement

This evening, I had the opportunity to speak with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss recent media reports about our briefing last Friday. I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.

We also discussed the private security company document, which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.

President-elect Trump again affirmed his appreciation for all the men and women serving in the Intelligence Community, and I assured him that the IC stands ready to serve his Administration and the American people.   

James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence 

A quick analysis of that statement: 

Clapper believes that publishing uncorroborated raw intelligence is "damaging to our national security." This lines up with the opinion of many experts that Trump and Obama were briefed about the allegations in order to inform them of a possible narrative that might emerge.

Clapper is also clarifying that the US intelligence agencies have not yet concluded whether the evidence in these documents is real or not. This is important because Trump's claim that these documents are "fake news" is just as unverified as the claims that these allegations are true. At the moment, Clapper doesn't know if these allegations are true or not, and neither does the public.

Clapper is also clearly pushing back on Trump's unfounded allegations that the US intelligence community deliberately leaked this information to the press. As we reported yesterday, none of the news agencies that have admitted that they had access to these documents ever said that the intelligence community was the source of the 35 page dossier.

None of this, however, has stopped Donald Trump from spinning his meeting with Clapper:  

First, nothing in Clapper's readout suggests that these allegations are "false and fictitious" or "phony facts." Furthermore, since the documents were compiled by a private citizen who runs a private intelligence organization, and Clapper was in fact confirming that he does not believe the documents were "leaked" by the government, so what crime was committed?

More importantly, though, is Trump threatening the media by saying that it was "illegal" to "circulate" these documents?  

This morning, Trump continues to attack the media organizations that were involved in this story: 

According to CNN's Jake Tapper, CNN's ratings spiked last night:
Tapper also commented on Trump's allegations and Clapper's statement: 
-- James Miller
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Did The FBI Drop The Ball In Investigating Trump's Ties To Russia?

As we have been reporting, NPR and other news agencies have confirmed that Republican Senator John McCain was briefed on possible connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and in December he forwarded his information to the FBI. ABC News has confirmed that the FBI opened an investigation into this unverified piece of intelligence. 

John McCain has confirmed this report in an official statement published on his website:

“Late last year, I received sensitive information that has since been made public. Upon examination of the contents, and unable to make a judgment about their accuracy, I delivered the information to the Director of the FBI. That has been the extent of my contact with the FBI or any other government agency regarding this issue.” 

Multiple news agencies, including The Guardian, have also reported that the FBI sought a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant to gather intelligence on four members of Trump's staff over the summer. But those applications were denied because they were too vague, and it took the FBI months to get them approved. Once they were approved, in October, it's not clear that the FBI had time to investigate Trump's team before the November 8 election.

The Guardian reported on the connections between Trump's campaign staffers and Russia. Many of the incidents described also appear to have taken place between the time the FBI's FISA request was rejected and the time their request was ultimately granted:

A month after Trump’s surprise election victory, [Carter Page] was back in Moscow saying he was meeting with “business leaders and thought leaders”, dismissing the FBI investigation as a “witch-hunt” and suggesting the Russian hacking of the Democratic Party alleged by US intelligence agencies, could be a false flag operation to incriminate Moscow.

Another of the reports compiled by the former western counter-intelligence official in July said that members of Trump’s team, which was led by campaign manager Paul Manafort (a former consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine), had knowledge of the DNC hacking operation, and in return “had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/Nato defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine”.

A few days later, Trump raised the possibility that his administration might recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea and openly called on Moscow to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

In August, officials from the Trump campaign intervened in the drafting of the Republican party platform, specifically to remove a call for lethal assistance to Ukraine for its battle against Moscow-backed eastern rebels.

All of the incidents above took place before the FBI was granted a FISA warrant, except for Carter Page's visit to Moscow, but by that time he had already been disavowed by the Trump campaign.

In other words, the FBI may have lost their chance to investigate these connections. 

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John McCain passes dossier alleging secret Trump-Russia contacts to FBI

Senator John McCain passed documents to the FBI director, James Comey, last month alleging secret contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow and that Russian intelligence had personally compromising material on the president-elect himself. The material, which has been seen by the Guardian, is a series of reports on Trump's relationship with Moscow.

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Jan 12, 2017 19:03 (GMT)

Even more worrying is the implication that John McCain and others alerted the FBI to the document that is being discussed today, but certain aspects of the document appear to have not been investigated at all. 

On page 34 of the 35 page dossier, in a section dated October 19, 2016, the report says that "a company called XBT/Webzilla and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct "altering operations" against the Democratic Party leadership. Entities linked to one Aleksei GUBAROV were involved and he and another hacking expert, both recruited under duress by the FSA, Seva KAPSUGOVICH, were significant players in the operation."

The McClatchy news agency caught up with and interviewed Gubarev who said that not only had he played no part in the hacking efforts, but he also never spoke to any US officials about the allegations:

In a phone interview from Cyprus, where he said he’d lived since 2002, Gubarev said he was surprised to see his name in the report.

“I don’t know why I was there,” Gubarev said, adding that perhaps a competitor sought to discredit him. “I still don’t understand the true reason for this report.”


Gubarev said he operated 75,000 servers across the globe and got real-time information if there had been hacking or illicit activity tied to his businesses. There is no evidence of that, he said, adding that no one has contacted him.

“I have a physical office in Dallas. Nobody contacted me,” said Gubarev, adding that 40 percent of his business is handled over the servers it runs in Dallas and the United States accounts for about 27 percent of his global business.

How could the FBI or US intelligence agencies have properly investigated this case if no one interviewed Gubarev, who appears to have been eager to talk to the press and clear his name?

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Russian tech expert named in report says no one asked him about hacking accusations

A Russian venture capitalist and tech expert, Aleksej Gubarev, whose name and company, Webzilla, are mentioned in the now-notorious document alleging connections between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian hackers, says no intelligence officers have ever contacted him about the accusations, which he says are false.

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Jan 12, 2017 05:45 (GMT)

FBI Director James Comey is also under attack for refusing to comment on an ongoing investigation -- the Russian hacking case, and the allegations of Trump's connections to Russia -- while he was more than willing to comment on the Clinton case during an election season. He's still under scrutiny for initially giving lawmakers the impression that the FBI disagreed with the CIA assessment that Russia interfered or had an impact on the US election. And he's still getting heat, including in the form of statistical arguments, over the allegation that his behavior may have changed the outcome of the US election. 

So major questions remain unanswered. Did the FBI investigate Gubarev, and if so did they interview him, and if not why not? Did the FBI blow their application for a FISA warrant? What does the FBI know, when did the FBI know it, and when are they going to tell the American people? Most of all many want to know, while journalists are under attack by the soon-to-be-president for even discussing some of the details, whether the US government is doing its job to ensure that the Commander-In-Chief is not being blackmailed by a foreign power. 

-- James Miller

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Wall Street Journal Reportedly Identifies Source Of New Trump Dossier

The 35-page dossier detailing allegations that Donald Trump is being blackmailed by the Russians was, according to the news agencies that broke the story, compiled by a former British intelligence officer whom US intelligence agencies believe is "credible."

Now The Wall Street Journal has reportedly identified the author as Christopher Steele, director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., who runs the firm with the other director, Christopher Burrows.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Orbis Business Intelligence was formed in 2009 by former British intelligence professionals, it says on its website. U.K. corporate records say Orbis is owned by another company that in turn is jointly owned by Messrs. Steele and Burrows. It occupies offices in an ornate building overlooking Grosvenor Gardens in London’s high-end Belgravia neighborhood.

The firm relies on a “global network” of experts and business leaders, provides clients with strategic advice, mounts “intelligence-gathering operations” and conducts “complex, often cross-border investigations,” its website says. 


Speaking about corporate-intelligence work in general terms, Mr. Burrows said “the objective is to respond to the requirements set out by our clients. We have no political ax to grind.”

Christopher Steele, Ex-British intelligence Officer, Said to Have Prepared Dossier on Trump

A former British intelligence officer now working for a private security-and-investigations firm produced the dossier of unverified allegations about President-elect Donald Trump's activities and connections in Russia, people familiar with the matter say. Christopher Steele, a director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., prepared the dossier, the people said.

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Jan 12, 2017 00:51 (GMT)
-- James Miller