My thoughts on that memo

So, the long anticipated ‘memo’ detailing how the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) managed to get the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to endorse secret surveillance of one-time, very marginal, Trump foreign affairs advisor Carter Page, has been released. The key allegations are:

  • The DOJ and FBI based their application to the court on the so-called ‘dossier’ of salacious allegations about Trump assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele.
  • The dossier was commissioned by the Trump’s opponents in the Democratic party, and the person who put it together, Steele, admitted to being ‘passionate’ about preventing Trump being elected.
  • The DOJ and FBI failed to tell the court about the political motivations of those who commissioned and wrote the dossier.
  • The DOJ and FBI provided evidence which they said corroborated the dossier, but that evidence in fact also came from Steele – so, it wasn’t corroborating evidence at all.
  • Steele was in contact with the DOJ through a senior official, Bruce Ohr. Ohr’s wife worked for the company which commissioned Steele and which was engaged in the ‘cultivation of opposition research on Trump’.
  • The FBI eventually assessed the Steele dossier as ‘only minimally corroborated’.

What should we make of all this?

First, complaints by Democratic politicians and the FBI that releasing the memo somehow threatens national security have been shown to be entirely wrong. There is nothing in this which does anything other than threaten the reputation of the DOJ and FBI and indicate that the Trump collusion story originates in a decidedly dubious document.

Second, Republican hopes that this would be the big thing that brought the Russia investigation to an end have not been justified. There’s nothing here which is so enormously outrageous and so totally discredits the investigation that Trump will be able to stop it.

Third, the justification for spying on Page provided to the court by the DOJ and FBI appears to be the result of sloppy intelligence work. The fourth point above is a clear example of what is called ‘circular reporting’ – i.e. corroborating information by citing evidence which in fact comes from the same source as the supposed information.

Fourth, the credence given to the dossier was also poor intelligence work. A lot of the claims in it were quite extraordinary and in any case implied that Steele, a man who hadn’t even been to Russia for 20 years, somehow had access to the innermost secrets of the Kremlin. A greater degree of scepticism was warranted. The fact that such scepticism was lacking suggests either a) once again, sloppiness, or b) bias. Neither is good, though the first is probably preferable since the latter would imply that a decision to spy on what appears to be an entirely innocent American citizen was founded on political motives.

Fifth, the connections between Ohr, his wife, Steele, and opposition research suggest a rather too cozy relationship between DOJ and those seeking to undermine Trump. At the very least, there was what could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

Sixth, in the end I don’t think that any of the above will matter. Peddlers of the collusion story will no doubt shake this off, pointing out that the memo is the work of Republican politicians and claiming that it is therefore biased and misleading. They will say that it leaves out important information, such as other reasons why the court may have given permission to spy on Page (I’m guessing that the so-called ‘Australian connection’ will be raised in this regard – i.e. information supposedly provided  by Trump aide George Papadopoulos to an Australian diplomat, even though as the memo says, there was no connection between Page and Papadopoulos)

Given all that, I imagine that i) those believing that the Trump collusion story is made-up nonsense, and the President is a victim of a conspiracy of Democrats and their allies in the ‘deep state’ will feel vindicated; while ii) supporters of the collusion theory will see the release as further evidence that Republicans are just trying to divert attention because they have something to hide. The primary result, therefore, will simply be a hardening of positions on both sides and an accentuation of the already sharp divisions in American politics. In short, the show will go on.

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28 thoughts on “My thoughts on that memo”

  1. A very nice piece of analysis, Paul, and I very much agree – in the United States, it will serve only to harden positions already taken.

    In the international milieu, however, it will contribute to the cascade of events which feed a crumbling of faith in Washington’s sanity, and increasing concern at its dubious methods. America started this off with a full-court blitz against Russia, attacking it in every international venue – military affairs, economics, politics, sport and culture. All have, to varying degrees, been failures. The recent court decisions at CAS and in Paris have come down fairly dramatically against WADA as an agent of American policy in sport, while the economic onslaught has failed to crash the Russian economy, has hurt trade with Europe and resulted in large-scale import substitution in Russia. America increasingly looks like a rogue nutcase with a severe Russia obsession. Its traditional allies are holding the line as best they can, but the Russian strategy of minimal reaction to American prodding is paying dividends as the legal decisions begin to pile up.

    The USA can only reframe events up to a point, and claim victories where there are none and take credit for others’ work. The success of this vendetta rode on establishing unstoppable momentum, and rolling right over Russia despite its feeble protestations. It’s true that the victors get to write history, but it looks increasingly like the USA is not going to be victorious. Still early days, though, and there was never any wiggle room built in for giving up. America has no choice but to press on, because it can’t back up; but the bill is mounting.

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  2. The primary result, therefore, will simply be a hardening of positions on both sides and an accentuation of the already sharp divisions in American politics.

    Yeah, but it’s also seems possible (even likely) that one of these sides (led by Mrs Pelosi) is going to shrink, turning into a bunch of babbling lunatics.

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  3. Further damage to fundamental institutions of the United States, which I suspect will be deep, long lasting and only likely to get worse.

    Sure, it won’t change the converted’s mind, but what of the middle? If they loose faith or belief in the system that supposedly governs them fairly, then maybe the real risk is that they will stay passive and not actively come out and support those institutions when they come under attack, leading to their collapse.

    Once one goes under, the risk of others following increases.

    Maybe not the Untied States of America, but something is rotten in Denmark… Or is it “A pox on all your houses”?

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    1. For sure, the Trump electorate will find in this further corroboration of their already existing suspicions that the institutions of their state are rotten. How that will play out, we can only speculate.

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      1. It’s not only the Trump electorate that sense America’s institutions of state are rotten. Citizens United, for example, sanctified legalized corruption…and that is just one self-created problem of many facing the United States and its institutions.

        The fanatical project by hardline American Exceptionalists to demonize Putin and Russia and launch Cold War 2.0 is in itself a remarkable event that suggests all is not well in the land of the fee.

        As for Trump, he is a symptom rather than a cause but nobody in mainstream America wants to admit that because it would mean honestly considering some very uncomfortable facts. Namely that American capitalism has not been delivering

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      2. Sorry, posted that prematurely.

        The last part should read:

        American capitalism hasn’t been delivering the jobs and incomes to sustain a robust middle class and on the geopolitical front America’s days as unchallenged superpower are over. Something tells me the United States will not easily accept this reality and, unlike Great Britain after 1945, will not sensibly manage its inevitable decline.

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  4. Over the last two days I listened to the radio to get a sampling of commentary about this memo, before it was released. The talking point on the Democratic side was that releasing this memo was tantamount to treason, because it meant suggesting to the minds of American citizens that they should not have complete faith in the FBI and Justice Dept. — in effect, faith at all times and in every respect. That just strikes me as very odd. I mean, in a democracy.

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    1. It is indeed remarkable how members of the American left have turned into fervent believers in the goodness and trustworthiness of the security and intelligence services.

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    2. If of course the shoe had been on the other foot (as the saying goes), then the Democrats would have been in high dudgeon about the Republicans spying on their election campaign.

      Wait, the shoe had been on the other foot, over 40 years ago in the Watergate scandal.

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    3. > That just strikes me as very odd.
      Even more odd, for Democrats, considering the personnel of security agencies such as the FBI generally lean conservative and therefore Republican.

      But of course you have Democrats like Chuck Schumer, one of the leaders calling for the special prosecutor in the first place, who recently voted to give the Trump Administration a renewed blank check to use the NSA’s surveillance capabilities to as it wishes…

      Consistency and logic are not the most important things here, that much is certain.

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  5. Looking from a distance, from Africa in fact, the whole American “thing” looks very African – at least to me. I suggest the Democrats and/or the fellow travellers should look to Kenya and Rail Odinga for some guidance.

    Regards,

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  6. Well, if my little pet theory about the whole Steele dossier having been actually Russian trolling (as in, oh, some MI6 dude we have a beef with is trying to dig up dirt on Trump in Russia! Lets feed him an enormous pile of effing bullshit on purpose, he will humiliate himself if he publishes any of this!) did gradually become “more successfull” then anticipated.

    First from “haha, the sucker believed that bullshit!” to “Bwahaha, a bunch of media outlets hostile to Russia are damaging their credibility and sanity by believing and publishing this bullshit” to eventually “Wait what, the FBI was moronic enough to use this bullshit as a formal excuse for spying on Trump aides, meaning by extension him, and was dumb enough to not cover their tracks?”

    For the record, I bet Rubles to Euros that the crafting of the bullshit involved copious amounts of Vodka, Cocaine and binge watching Southpark.

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    1. “For the record, I bet Rubles to Euros that the crafting of the bullshit involved copious amounts of Vodka, Cocaine and binge watching Southpark

      The last thing might even be true.:

      “While Cartman attempts to accost Bahir while running away from Butters’ house, a group of Russian neo-soviets abduct both Cartman and Bahir, the former for alerting the CIA to the attempted terrorist attack. While they threaten their prisoners, their conversation reveals that the Russians who placed the snuke are merely pawns in service of America’s oldest rival: the British. The Russians are a distraction while an 18th-century style fleet of British wooden sailing vessels make a surprise attack to “put an end to the American Revolution”… The various American federal agents open fire on the Russian terrorists and free Cartman and Bahir. Meanwhile, the United States Air Force attacks and effortlessly destroys the British fleet. Upon hearing the news of the attack’s failure from the fleet’s leader, the Queen commits suicide by shooting herself in the head with a handgun.”

      Oh, and why vodka?! The guys who – possibly – were responsible for that surely had more class than that! My bets are on the Armenian cognac as their drink of choice.

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      1. “These days it’s globalism vs sovereignism.”

        I disagree. That would presume that in essence both globalist supra-national capitalism and socialistic class based internationalism are the same.

        I’d say, with a certain pretention of, eh, “highbrowness”, that there is an existential fight between pre-, post- and supramodern nations. “Left” in the West is just post-modernistic liberalism, taken to its final logical conclusion. “Right” is not actually conservatism, but paleo-liberalism, something from the modern era. Both are liberalism in essence.

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      2. I agree that both sides espouse liberalism, in the most general sense, as the first part of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité‘.

        Liberté has won, end of story. The struggle these days is over fraternité. And the égalité piece (aside from the ‘identity politics’ perversion) is completely off the radar. Gone and forgotten. Which brings me to your “socialistic class based internationalism”. Where do you find it?

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      3. “Liberté has won, end of story. The struggle these days is over fraternité. And the égalité piece (aside from the ‘identity politics’ perversion) is completely off the radar. Gone and forgotten.”

        Great (and much maligned by the Anglos) French Bourgeois Revolution, indeed, gave the world these three mega-memetic terms, that, in years since, have won the West. It’s the content of these words that the people often get wrong, and even assume that the October Revolution put the same meaning in them

        – “Liberty”. For the liberal Order (a shorthand for the “Post Great French Revolution Western Secular worldview”) it means “unrestricted freedom of the economic enterprise and expression” (for capitalists and kreakls serving the capitalist). For the socialists “Liberty” means “freedom the class struggle” – not by denying it, but by winning.

        – “Brotherhood” had been understood as the nationalism – i.e. that despite class distinctions, all are citizens of the same nation. So – don’t rock the boat. Socialism understands “brotherhood” in the international class solidarity.

        – “Equality” in the liberal worldview means just equality before the law. The same law, which is tailored like a Procrustean bed by the people with the means to get the people elected and pass “much needed” laws. Socialism understand “equality” literally as the liquidation of the material inequality, nothing more.

        Both bourgeois values of the Great French Revolution and socialist values of the October Revolution were the product of the modern society. What the West is going after is some weird shit post-modernism, which bases its “values” not on human society but on overhyped individualism. For it:

        Liberté is impossible. *You* and *your* (actually, no – not even yours) views and desires for expression must be allowed. All others – stifled.

        Fraternité is also impossible. What happened to these “Pussy Hats” anti-Trump femists is a telling example of factionalism, conflicting egos and “holier than thou” attitude reigning supreme. Cuz individualism and everyone is a precious snowflake.

        Égalité – post modernists oppose it instinctively. They don’t want equality – they want superiority.

        Complete denial of these three “conquests of the Revolution” inevitably lead to the annihilation of the modern state and society. And there is absolutely no gurantee that there would be any such institutions in the post-modern world.

        “…“socialistic class based internationalism”. Where do you find it?”

        Sadly – in a very few places, away from the MSM lenses. Well, the real one, not some Third Worldist loons and fedora tippin’ socialists-ridden western “left” parties. You would be right saying that right now it is not strong enough to be considered a major factor in the international relations. But as for “how”, “why” and “what now then?” – that’s a long discussion, not for here and now.

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      4. I think the current interpretation of “liberty”, does connote individualism: the pursuit of personal fulfillment in the context of capitalist rat-race.

        “Freedom the class struggle” doesn’t sound convincing. To redefine the meaning, one would need to suggest a different context, and these days it’s simply unthinkable. Not in the Zeitgeist. And it’s the same story with the other parts of the slogan.

        I’m not saying this is forever, but in these times it’s like that. It is what it is.

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      5. “I think the current interpretation of “liberty”, does connote individualism: the pursuit of personal fulfillment in the context of capitalist rat-race.”

        To a certain degree. Liberalism – as intended – did recognize some limits and criterions. Post-modernism says that eating your own feces is just “another narrative” (c) – not better or worse than any other”. Liberal capitalism lies when it claims to support individualism – it actually supports diversity, limited to such innocuous things as flavors, colors basic shapes. You are given extremely narrow tunnel to “express your individuality”. Just because there are no overseer with the whip as an obvious symbol of your restriction doesn’t really mean you are free.

        Even if you have many 2×4, 2×3 and 2×2 Lego bricks coming in different colours and from different sets (I always liked their “Pirates” and “Space” sets…) doesn’t change the fact, that they are all Lego bricks. The trick here is keeping your “faithful” and preventing even from thinking, that you might do something else – like buying constructor sets from other companies (“brotherhood” in the form of the nationalism), or trying to making your own constructor (“international law” and “West dominated world order” don’t like irredentists and revisionists), or trying to actually sculpt things from the scratch.

        ““Freedom [from] the class struggle” doesn’t sound convincing.”

        Your employer can fire you for the smallest of things – and thanks to the elimination of the meaningful worker movement, you gonna suck it up. I think, that’s as good reason for fighting and winning a class struggle as any. The trouble here is twofold – first, make the people understand that they are fucked as individuals, second – convince them to unite based on their common goals as a class, forgetting for a sec that they are all precious and unique snowflakes, forgetting to struggle independently only as a sliver of this, that or other identitarian group.

        Keeping you job, getting paid means to survive. How is that for a slogan?

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      6. I don’t disagree with any of this, and I like your way of describing these things. But all I’m saying is that the left-right dichotomy doesn’t fit what we see on the ground, the actual world today. Labeling populists (a-la Trump, Zeman, etc) as ‘right’ and their Soros-y opponents as ‘left’ confuses more than enlightens. And I don’t see any real, anti-capitalist left anywhere. It’s a different epoch, imo.

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      7. “Labeling populists (a-la Trump, Zeman, etc) as ‘right’ and their Soros-y opponents as ‘left’ confuses more than enlightens.”

        With that I agree completely. Liberals have their own ideological Civil War. The only reason they have it because Reptoids “Progressors” decided to rush things too much.

        Yet, because the general “Enlightened” Western public, being a victim of the bening education and nearly universally subscribing to the positivistic worldview, this promitive narrative of “Right vs Left” is benegicial for its propagators. E.g., the opponents throw at each other such phrases as: “Should the degenerate Leftists win, you will have gulags manned by [Different categories of Adorables]!” or “Reeeeeeee! Our opponents are LITERALLY Nazis… cuz they are! Reeeeee!”.

        “Left” and “Right” are like boxes with chocolates 😉 They are loaded with lots of meanings in relative small package. You kinda already expect what to taste even without opening the box. The trick here was – these ain’t no chocolates inside. Not anymore. Ignore the smell!

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  7. Your analysis is weak. You presume to know the underlying facts and information in the FISA application. Further you omit that Page was under surveillance for being a Russian tool for a long time before he even joined Trump’s campaign and there was no dossier. Finally this was an application. Not an approval. So third parties – the FISA Court, determined further surveillance warranted.

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  8. For the record, I regard Armenian Cognac as overrated and never understood why Soviet/Russian culture makes such a big fuss about it.

    But then I am half German, so what do I know?

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