US intelligence agencies have briefed both President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump that the Russians may well have information that compromises Trump. They don’t have anything they know directly, but they have information from a credible intelligence source which says that the Russians have information about his finances and about himself personally which would compromise him if released.
This may be why they wanted Trump rather than Hillary Clinton. Perhaps they didn’t have anything really damaging on her. They wanted what they call a “useful idiot” to win.
- suggests that Moscow has assembled damaging information – known in espionage circles by the Russian term “kompromat” – that conceivably could be used to coerce the next occupant of the White House.
That’s how they work.
Those quotes were from a report in the AFR linked above which goes on:
US officials said the claims about Russian possession of compromising material were based not on information through traditional intelligence channels but research done by an outside entity engaged in political consulting work and led by a former high-ranking British intelligence official. The material was first mentioned in a Mother Jones report in October.
US officials said that while the FBI had so far not confirmed the accuracy of the claims, US officials had evaluated the sources relied upon by the private firm, considered them credible, and determined that it was plausible that they would have first-hand knowledge of Russia’s alleged dossier on Trump.(Emphasis added)
Trump and Obama were given a two-page summary of the report, a fact that was reported on by CNN. Then Buzzfeed blew the thing wide open by publishing the full 35-page document, with caveats that the information was unverified and contained some clear errors, albeit fairly trivial things like mis-spelling a Russian company.
Buzzfeed was then dumped on by The Washington Post, by by The Guardian and presumably by others who considered it unethical to publish unverified material. Apparently quite a few media organisations had the material and did not publish.
However, a point had been reached where the full document was known to be in the hands of senior congressional leaders, who were passing it around, and the existence of the two-page summary in the presidential briefings gave it credibility.
Will Oremus at Slate discusses why Buzzfeed published at this juncture. Given the knowledge of its existence and how it was being treated he suggests that it was fair enough, but in doing so Buzzfeed was operating in the tradition of a blogger rather that a mainstream media organisation, which it claims to be. However, when Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith says he published the document “so that Americans can make up their own minds” about the allegations, Oremus thinks he’s being disingenuous. How can Americans make up their minds when media organisations and intelligence agencies can’t?
The blog Lawfare has useful commentary, and ends up suggesting that people:
- slow down, and take a deep breath. We shouldn’t assume either that this is simply a “fake news” episode directed at discrediting Trump or that the dam has now broken and the truth is coming out at last. We don’t know what the reality is here, and the better part of valor is not to get ahead ahead of the facts—a matter on which, incidentally, the press deserves a lot of credit.
Trump asserts that it is just more fake news. We may never know, but we should be able to judge by Trump and Putin’s actions as to whether Putin has a grip on Trump’s short and curlies. I’m sure he would if he could.
Meanwhile, there is more interest in how Trump is going to act in relation to the intelligence agencies. Gideon Rachman writing for the Financial Times says that if there is a battle with the spooks, Trump will win.
Zygmunt Bauman, in the last piece he wrote before he sadly died recently said:
- Shortly before his death, the great Umberto Eco drew in his brilliant essay Making an Enemy the following sad conclusion from his numerous studies of the matter: “Having an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth”. In other words: we need an enemy to know who we are and who we are not; knowing this is indispensable for our self-approval and self-esteem. And he adds: “So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one”. A codicil: “Enemies are different from us and observe customs that are not our own. The epitome of difference is the foreigner”.
Problem is, foreigners are foreign, insufficiently known, not controllable and not here. A “decisionist” leader (basically an autocrat) like Trump needs an enemy within. Trump did say he was going to drain the swamp, so he has chosen the current establishment as his enemy, which Bauman describes as:
- un-packable as a foggy and (felicitously for their choosers and would-be foot soldiers) under-defined collection of have-beens who outlived their time and are grossly overdue to be relegated to history and recorded there in its annals as an aggregate of selfish hypocrites and inept failures. In a simplified rendition: establishment stands for the repulsive, off-putting and unprepossessing past, and the strong (wo)men, ready to send it to the rubbish tip where it belongs, stand for the guides to a new beginning, after which (s)he who has been naught shall be all.
Can’t wait, but if Putin really is the puppet-master, it should be fun – and very noticeable.