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How a Former CIA Officer Reads the Trump Dossier

Yesterday, BuzzFeed published a 35-page dossier [1] containing allegations that Russian operatives worked to identify and develop compromising personal and financial information about Donald Trump. Allegedly, this is the full document from which a two-page synopsis was drawn and provided to Trump and President Obama [2] as an appendix to a report about Russian interference in the election.

I have read through the published document, which is actually a collection of short reports containing considerable redundancy. Reportedly, these are memos to the client of an unnamed private security firm in London headed by a former British MI-6 officer who served in Russia and is considered to be a credible source by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement. The investigation was commissioned by a group of anti-Trump Republicans and was subsequently supported by anti-Trump Democrats.

Much of the report has been in the hands of the United States government since the summer. The information is apparently being fact-checked by the FBI, but reportedly, it has not been easy to confirm specific details referred to in the document.

The document is somewhat odd in appearance, as it includes no headings or other information identifying who prepared it. That information has evidently been deleted, possibly out of a desire on the part of those who drafted it to remain anonymous. The Wall Street Journal has identified [3] the ex-MI-6 officer as Christopher Steele of the Orbis security company.


I have worked for private international investigative firms, and the first thing I noted was that the language sounds right. The individual reports are exactly what one would expect in terms of tone and content on updates sent to a client to inform him or her what is happening in an investigation.

The next thing I noted was that sources are protected and described by alphabet letters, but are described by position to reveal their access to desired information. That is also what I would have expected from an intelligence officer or a good investigator. But I also noted that quite a lot of the most significant information comes from a single source, Source E. This source’s credibility or lack thereof has to be considered an important issue. With the information publicly available, it is impossible to determine if he really knows what he claims.

Having done intelligence-based investigations for clients, I would have to observe that the initiators of this work were not looking for information to exonerate Trump. That means that the investigation was looking for negatives, which also implies that the investigative firm and the sources that it acquired were not interested in learning what a nice guy Trump is. No reputable security investigative firm would out-and-out lie to a client (though there are plenty of non-reputable companies that would), but anybody who wants to stay in business would collect any and all information and present it in the most negative light possible, because that is what the client wants. That determination would also hold true for the local sources for the report, all of whom would want to stay on the gravy train as long as possible. That means that they might fabricate if they considered it to be doable without getting caught.

What I am saying is that there is a tendency to report speculation and rumors as fact, or at least something approaching that, with the whole product being put together in such a fashion as to appear credible. That is precisely what I felt when I read through the 35 pages. There is considerable detail, and some proper names are cited, including those of two close associates of Trump and one of Putin. Including proper names provides credibility, though in this case, it appears that the FBI has not been able to confirm the dates and places regarding travel and meetings, so the drafters of the document might have gotten some details wrong or might have assumed that discrepancies would not be detected by the client.

And as for Trump and Team Trump’s connection with the Russians, you can bank on the fact that the KGB successor FSB would know who is coming and going in Moscow. They would target prominent Americans and Europeans as potential sources of information and also as possible elements in influence operations, so the assumption that Trump was being monitored is quite credible. But that doesn’t mean he took the bait to do “deals” with the Russians, as the report even notes, and it does not mean that he is an agent. I would also note in passing that U.S. intelligence agencies similarly prey on foreigners passing through or being educated in this country. CIA has an entire division dedicated to spotting, assessing, and recruiting foreigners who are here for business or study, so it is very much an intelligence-agency operational imperative that is not limited to Russia.

My suspicion would be that the report is a composite of some fact, a lot of speculation, and even some fiction. It is very similar to the types of media-focused disinformation produced by both CIA and KGB in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, where a little bit of factual information would be used to provide credibility for a lot of speculation and false stories that were intended to sow doubt and confusion. In this case, the original intent might well have been to discredit Trump personally; its release at this time is likely intended to delegitimize his presidency, or to narrow his options on recalibrating with Russia.

I expect, however, that much of the possibly tall tale being told will unravel as the FBI continues and expands its investigation. Trump has predictably denounced the entire matter as “fake news.” He may be right.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

32 Comments (Open | Close)

32 Comments To "How a Former CIA Officer Reads the Trump Dossier"

#1 Comment By Kurt Gayle On January 11, 2017 @ 4:49 pm

The fact that this anti-Trump document was not released during the primaries by its original anti-Trump Republican sponsors – nor released during the election campaign by the anti-Trump Democrats who took it over – would tend to support Mr. Giraldi’s expectation “that much of the possibly tall tale being told will unravel as the FBI continues and expands its investigation.”

#2 Comment By Néstor Castiglione On January 11, 2017 @ 5:05 pm

First off, I didn’t vote for Trump. I find him to be a particularly loathsome and stupid (if somewhat shrewd) man.

That being said, I hate the sanctimonious, phony impartiality in the disclaimer that preceded the disclosure of these documents. Would that this media outlet simply have been honest and stated forthrightly that they hate Donald Trump ipso facto and are looking to generate ad revenue at all costs, even at the expense of journalistic integrity. (Which, of course, is a joke anyway — especially with the media organization in question, whose name intimates that primacy is given first and foremost to click-generating noise.)

Let’s be clear: There would be no such actions occurring with a President Clinton in the Oval Office — even if some bizarre and hitherto unknown personal detail that could potentially be damaging to the nation were to be disclosed and proven.

After all, where were all these heroes when Obama reneged on his promises to end the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars — and actually expanded US military intervention (e.g. Libya, Syria, and Yemen)? Where was their bravery when Snowden disclosed massive CIA surveillance of US-aligned nations and their leaders, to the extent of interfering in their domestic affairs? (R. Murphy Taggart’s Japan and the Shackles of the Past, for example, explains how the Obama administration helped topple the DPJ-led government in 2012.) Will these same people who decry Trump’s calls to deport illegal immigrants also nobly denounce the fact that Obama has actually deported more of them than Bush II or Clinton?

Whether all these new Trump allegations prove to be true remains to be seen. But it’s telling that the press would prefer to muck around in the sordid, if ultimately innocuous details of the President-to-be’s personal life than take the sitting President to task for the blood on his hands.

#3 Comment By Lars On January 11, 2017 @ 9:11 pm

“Trump has predictably denounced the entire matter as ‘fake news.’ He may be right.” Trump would know one way or the other, don’t ya think?

#4 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On January 11, 2017 @ 11:44 pm

Thanks to Phil Giraldi for providing an expert and dispassionate summary of this matter at face value.

Who marketed this “report” and commissioned it may never be known. What is significant to me is that whoever wants to see it hit the wires on the eve of Trump’s inauguration takes no account of the potential harm to American governance.

I have more than a little experience in opposition research. The purpose of such is to sway an election, not crash an administration after the election. This material has only one purpose, to delegitamise the head of the entire Executive branch of the USA.

My guess is that two things are going on here.

a. The American left is studiously building a legend to which they c an al,ways resort. Just like the legend that Reagan was a dunce or that the CIA smuggled drugs into LA in the Eight’s, they don’t have to be true or even plausible, just a comfortable tale among friends.

b. The left establishment intends to to achieve through the courts what they couldn’t at the ballot box. My guess is that a series of concocted or semi-real scandals are in the offing. This may be only the first. Eventually something must stick. Donald Trump’s style alone gives them hope.

In the realm of politics it is only necessary to affix a name next to a noxious stimuli to achieve one’s goal.

#5 Comment By Mont D. Law On January 12, 2017 @ 1:32 am

(I hate the sanctimonious, phony impartiality in the disclaimer that preceded the disclosure of these documents. Would that this media outlet simply have been honest and stated forthrightly that they hate Donald Trump ipso facto and are looking to generate ad revenue at all costs, even at the expense of journalistic integrity.)

Buzzfeed was very clear they released it as a source document. With the CNN report about the mysterious 2 page summary, why was that a bad call? How is it not a good thing to know how flimsy the source document is? How is that a loss for the God-Emperor Ascendant If they hadn’t released it, the contents of the summary would be the subject of endless speculation. Instead we get this thoughtful and quite convincing article.

#6 Comment By Ryan On January 12, 2017 @ 2:19 am

Could it be an incomplete report that, due to timing, simply had to be forced out into the open now or lose all value forever?

And if the only true “evidence” is held by Russia (audio/video), then it really does seem like an absolute last-ditch effort before inauguration.

#7 Comment By Skeptic On January 12, 2017 @ 6:37 am

With all respect to Mr. Giraldi, the background and expertise he invokes were entirely unnecessary to come to the obvious conclusion he offers: The report was commissioned as a hit piece by Trump’s enemies and hasn’t been corroborated even though it’s been circulating for quite a while, so most or all of it is probably baloney.

You don’t need an intelligence or investigative background to figure that out. Just common sense.

#8 Comment By connecticut farmer On January 12, 2017 @ 8:40 am

But for the reality that it was Trump who was elected and not the Candidate of The Ruling Class, this bird would have never flown. They are pissed that they were dissed, hence the unrelenting efforts on the part of their acolytes in the MSM to undermine the Candidate of The Deplorables.

#9 Comment By ed j parolini On January 12, 2017 @ 10:24 am

“Mr. Trump Sir, explain the difference between this “fake news” and the “fake news” of Obama’s foreign birth which you promulgated for five years? Sir, did you really think fake news would not follow you into the White House?”

Trump has criticized just about everybody on earth over these past 18 months with one conspicuous exception, Vladimir Putin.

#10 Comment By Richard On January 12, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

As in the Watergate case, there are tapes. Those tapes should substantiate or repudiate the claims.

Bring on the tapes!

#11 Comment By Marko On January 12, 2017 @ 12:06 pm

Thomas O. Meehan says:
“Who marketed this “report” and commissioned it may never be known. What is significant to me is that whoever wants to see it hit the wires on the eve of Trump’s inauguration takes no account of the potential harm to American governance.

a. The American left is studiously building a legend to which they c an al,ways resort. Just like the legend that Reagan was a dunce or that the CIA smuggled drugs into LA in the Eight’s, they don’t have to be true or even plausible, just a comfortable tale among friends.

b. The left establishment intends to to achieve through the courts what they couldn’t at the ballot box. My guess is that a series of concocted or semi-real scandals are in the offing. This may be only the first. Eventually something must stick. Donald Trump’s style alone gives them hope.”

Sure, it is all a leftist hatchet-job, except for this minor detail Giraldi has in the second paragraph:
“The investigation was commissioned by a group of anti-Trump Republicans and was subsequently supported by anti-Trump Democrats.”

#12 Comment By Skeptic On January 12, 2017 @ 12:07 pm

I would very much like to see some essays here (in The American Conservative) reflecting on Senator Chuck Schumer’s declaration to Rachel Maddow that the president-elect is “really dumb” to take on the CIA given that “they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

I wonder how our founding fathers would respond to that amazing statement regarding where political power now lies in the democratic republic they meant to found.

It would amaze me that the US Congress did not rise up in horrified reaction to Schumer’s statement, and what it implies, if I had not already grown accustomed, these past 20 years, to that branch’s abdication of honesty and honor.

#13 Comment By KennethF On January 12, 2017 @ 1:38 pm

Donald Trump has sunk to deplorable levels when attacking his opponents: Barack Obama is not an American, Hillary and Barack “literally founded ISIS”, etc. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but there is no reason to shed any tears for poor little Donald even if the report is utterly false. If the report is true, then no one should be surprised. Trump is a vulgar child — any thinking, civilized adult who pays attention (meaning those who read more than just Breitbart and National Enquirer) must acknowledge this. OK fine, you voted for him anyway “because SCOTUS”, but stop trying to whitewash him as someone qualified to be POTUS. It’s clear enough that his goal is to Make Donald Rich Again — let’s all pray that he doesn’t destroy America in the process.

#14 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On January 12, 2017 @ 3:18 pm

It really doesn’t matter if the dossier is more ‘fake’ than ‘real’. What is not in question is the nature of geopolitics, and the role intelligence operations play in this arena. Theoretically speaking, of course, let’s assume Russia/Putin want to advance its interests in Europe and elsewhere. Let’s also assume, this objective is easier to accomplish with Donald Trump in office, as opposed to Hillary Clinton. This is the goal. So, the Russian intelligence agencies need a plan. Hillary withstood some pretty outrageous attacks, and still became the Dems nominee (and we all know about the 2.8 million more popular votes). You don’t think the Russians know this? As such, they targeted Trump. It was not an ideological move, it was a practical move. A path of least resistance. Trump was the easier mark (as evidenced by his ‘love’ of Twitter and WikiLeaks, etc.). Obviously, if the allegations are proved true, he can be leveraged (in intel speak, ‘turned’ or recruited as an ‘asset’ and assets do not have know/think they are an asset). But as we have seen time and time again, be it Gold Star Families, Hollywood types, Judges, etc.,) Trump is also easily “turned” (assisting the Russian goal of destabilizing, attacking American interests), by ‘fake news’ (also worth noting, this is a “target” who made his bones as “reality TV star” and member of the Pro Wrestling HoF). This cannot be overlooked, as his refusal to release his tax returns, removes the “successful businessman” tool from his toolbox. I’ve never drafted or executed an intelligence operation, but this one appears to be the in the proverbial “shooting fish in a barrel” class. Again, Americans (and the Trump camp) would do well to stop saying this is sour grapes from the Left, trying to delegitimize this significant, historical moment in America – scratch that, this is a significant historical moment, but we’re back to the real news/fake news debate (significant/historical in what context?). And let’s not think the good folks who occupy the “right side” of the DC ‘establishment’ have not been running a parallel operation of their own. Let’s not forget, it was the anti-Trump folks within the GOP/right, who initiated this in the first place. Again, no ‘conspiracies’ – just very powerful entities (Russia, DC establishment, etc.) behaving in a manner, which suits their interests. And THIS is why Trump is going to end up being remember as a patsy, as opposed to President. To return to the author’s previous reference to the proverbial ‘smoking gun’, when the crime is a computer hack, as opposed to homicide; the ‘smoking gun’ is moot. Not much for prognostications, but my guess is impeached or resigns within a year. Russia – 1 USA -0. To paraphrase Tom Hagen (Robert Duval) in Godfather II, when commenting on Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), he (Putin) played this one beautifully.

#15 Comment By Joshua Chamberlain On January 12, 2017 @ 4:29 pm

He “may” be right?

#16 Comment By Terry On January 12, 2017 @ 6:12 pm

I don’t understand the condemnations of CNN and Buzzfeed for publishing what may well be a false dossier. If thousands of people went to a field to await the arrival of a spaceship and people from outer space, and the “guests” didn’t show, wouldn’t it still be news? The news is not that there are people landing from outer space, but that a significant number of people went to the field to see them. Likewise, the press reported constantly on Trump’s accusations that Obama wasn’t born in the USA. It wasn’t true, and most news agencies reported that Trump had no evidence, but they reported it. It was news.

#17 Comment By Geogman On January 12, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Given the fact that this information had been widely circulated in media outlets since the summer I think it is entirely possible that Trump’s people leaked it to the media so he could attack it during his press conference. I wouldn’t put anything past this group of liars.

#18 Comment By Chris On January 12, 2017 @ 9:10 pm

The Russia hotel story, which is the hook of the document, is too fantastic to be believed. Trump is prone to being outrageous, but if he really was so over the top that he would pay prostitutes to urinate in a bed because Obama had been in that bed he would be doing things like hanging from trees like a monkey in broad daylight, Caligula stuff.

the other entries in the dossier are much more dry, literally and figuratively. The guy was clearly punching it up with something someone who he probably perceived as a fellow traveler/ spook/ anti russia type person cooked up.

#19 Comment By Jed Clapper On January 12, 2017 @ 10:34 pm

It’s been debunked. It originated on 4chan as an effort to troll Rick Wilson. It then got passed around and deranged NeverTrumpers foolishly bought it. I knew it was fake after just the first page. Only a geezer with no internet experience would buy something like this. It’s a common internet practice to pass something crazy (but with an air of truth to it) off to a fanatic or incompetent in the hopes that they will embarrass themselves by publicly promoting it. See the Oprah Winfrey “nine thousand pen**es” incident as a example.

#20 Comment By eugen raduca On January 13, 2017 @ 1:50 am

why are americans traitors to their people ? I am talking the leaders and politicians like mc cain , graham , neocons to Israel and saudi arabia….they stage atacs against their people military and civilians , uss liberty and the world trade center in 2001 to play the victim card to start war. don t forget pearl harbor…..I have been in us for 30 years …americans have no clue what world thy live in and who are their leaders

#21 Comment By George D On January 13, 2017 @ 9:14 am

Everyone seems to know that the bomb was planted. We now only need to see who lit the match. Buzzfeed didn’t and CNN didn’t; they were just pawns. It was the decision by the IC to add this to the briefing, knowing someone out there would release the dossier and knowing that the briefing add credibility, that got this thing going.

Clapper has no good answer as to why that summary was put in the briefing and he never will.

#22 Comment By Billy On January 13, 2017 @ 10:14 am

The disclosure of this dodgy document and Trump’s seizure of it as proof of a sinister conspiracy against him has me thinking that the source may not be the democrats, but Trump’s organization. A classic misdirection ploy, where he gets tons of media attention and plays the victim, while misdirecting public attention away from weightier matters that should instead be making headlines.

#23 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 13, 2017 @ 11:06 am

“[like] that the CIA smuggled drugs into LA in the Eighties, they don’t have to be true or even plausible”

The CIA has been involved in over 80 coups against foreign governments, and the replacement regimes it installed weren’t paragons of virtue, since the object wasn’t to make them democratically accountable to their own people, but congenial to foreign business interests as U.S. satrapies.

Noriega was overthrown then prosecuted for drug dealing (and convicted) but he had been all during that time a CIA asset. It may have been that reporter Gary Webb overstated his case that the CIA introduced crack to South Central L.A., but the unassailable fact is that they were aware their Contra allies were financing themselves through drug trafficking to the United States and at least passively acquiesced. Look at Afghanistan – when the Taliban were the rulers there, the drug trade was at a low ebb because of their low tolerance for the drug and their draconian penalties. In contrast, under the client government propped by U.S. agencies, Afghanistan now supplies the major portion of the world’s heroin, complete with all the attendant corruption and collusion of the U.S. Our warlord allies are basically the drug cartel there. CIA even supplied the Afghan president with a personal slush fund of $1 million a month, delivered in cash, in a bag.

Plenty is plausible – and true, a CIA Director’s own testimony to congress:


#24 Comment By cameyer On January 13, 2017 @ 11:55 am

Thomas Meehen: Why do you blame the Left instead of the intelligence agencies? Trump hates them. They have the means, motivation and skill to play many ‘dirty tricts’. The last thing the CIA and FBI want is a pre-president who can rally political forces against them.

#25 Comment By Michael Doliner On January 13, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

Why would Donald Trump become a Russian agent? Just what would he hope to gain?

#26 Comment By Jeff Davis On January 13, 2017 @ 12:32 pm

I think the political assassins have misjudged, and gone after the wrong guy. He’s not a “go along to get along” kind of guy. Trump is a take-no-prisoners bad boy, schooled by Roy Cohn in the art of utterly destroying one’s adversary. The Republican leftovers in particular think ***THEY*** won the election and that they, the old leadership are still in charge, and still playing the same old game of politics as usual, with Trump “the politician” co-opted, and set to go along with the old boys rule book: you know, kabuki without effectiveness, blaming the other side for nothing getting done, and a get-out-of-jail-free card for DC club members.

But that’s not how it is. Trump is boss now, and the swamp will be drained, and the swamp creatures tamed or turned into high end leather goods.

I think Trump is biding his time until he gets into the big chair with all the power that goes long with it, and that he will then descend on these transgressors like the wrath of god:indictments and orange jumpsuits for all those who have gotten it into their heads that they are above the law and won’t learn how to say “How high?”. He will drain the swamp, upgrading his signature declaration from “You’re fired!” to “You’re busted!”

And it will be wonderful to watch.

#27 Comment By Russ B On January 13, 2017 @ 3:32 pm

A well written unemotional analysis of the document. We’ll probably never know what parts are true and what parts are false. Lacking supporting evidence, the entire document is of no use to anyone other than click-baiting web-sites.

But one thing the document’s release does point out is how we can expect Trump to respond to future accusations and scandals (which will surely come). The POTUS needs to learn to be above the fray of such things. His Tweet early this morning, putting forth the Kremlins PR as proof of his innocence, shows both a lack of logic (of course any blackmailer, if guilty, would publicly deny having blackmail material) and an immaturity that must be overcome if he is to become a good POTUS.

#28 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 15, 2017 @ 3:30 am

“This may be only the first.”

I keep thinking if I ignore his nonsense, the next outrage will appear on the horizon to be dispensed with. No. This is clearly not the last of is most likely a boiler plate of issues.


“How is it not a good thing to know how flimsy the source document is?”

Because they don’t acknowledge the lack of evidence or the the thin source material. They suggest the,

“it’s up the reader to decide.”

Because before it gets to me, I would have expected a news outlet to have done their own homework and acknowledged that this is just another is a series of unconfirmed speculative rumor and accusation.

#29 Comment By mulga On January 15, 2017 @ 7:26 am

Trump will ride this out. Will he ride out his switch in policies? He has his son-in-law as chief adviser. Son-in-law supports the west bank settlements. At least Obama’s first choice, Rahm Emmanuel, had military experience – well the IDF? When does it end with these people?

#30 Comment By Doris B. Early On January 15, 2017 @ 8:41 am

We know Trump’s lawyer Cohen was not in Prague he proved that fact to Trump in 15 mins. The “Rogue Arm of the CIA could have done the same thing.
The voting machines are not online . The Democrats even admit the voting machines were not compromised and the votes were not compromise.
This is just proof that Trump has all the Correct enemies. I believe like Cyrus in Ish. 45 God has used of all people Donald Trump to give a reprieve to America. The question to the so Christians in this country is, WHAT WILL WE DO with the TIME GRANTED??

#31 Comment By shin On January 16, 2017 @ 12:40 am

The dossier was not marketed, it was part of opposition research from a man that the republicans and democratics had hired at one time. This man is someone who’s highly respected by those in the intelligence community. Many articles on line stating that fact. He’s also someone whom both Republicans and Democrats felt was trustworthy and credible enough to do an investigation

-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 reports were initially commissioned as opposition research during the presidential campaign, but its author was sufficiently alarmed by what he discovered to send a copy to the FBI. It is unclear who within the organisation they reached and what action the bureau took.

-The Guardian can confirm that the documents reached the top of the FBI by December. Senator John McCain, who was informed about the existence of the documents separately by an intermediary from a western allied state, dispatched an emissary overseas to meet the source and then decided to present the material to Comey in a one-on-one meeting on 9 December, according to a source aware of the meeting. The documents, which were first reported on last year by Mother Jones, are also in the hands of officials in the White House.
James Comey refuses to tell Senate if FBI is investigating Trump-Russia links

McCain is not thought to have made a judgment on the reliability of the documents but was sufficiently impressed by the source’s credentials to feel obliged to pass them to the FBI.
read remainder of article at:

1. What does Christopher Steele have to gain? He is now in hiding because his name has been made public. There’s no reason for him to have made any of this up.

2. If this were really nothing more than a “fake/phony” story meant to undermine Donald Trump, it would have come out before the election:

3.The way Donald Trump has reacted to all of this: Donald Trump is a pathological liar who has a well-documented history of lashing out at those who call him out. He’s also notorious for citing ridiculous conspiracies whenever he’s desperate and doesn’t know how else to defend himself. Nearly every single time Trump is afraid of people finding out the truth about him, he takes to Twitter to bash anyone who’s criticized him and to claim there’s some sort of conspiracy against him.

#32 Comment By Aaron On January 17, 2017 @ 8:51 am

If you ask me, Buzzfeed did us all a huge favor by giving up that document. We’re able to see how fake it is for ourselves now.