Jane Mayer’s 15,000-word New Yorker profile of Christopher Steele is a sort of mash note to the man Mayer views as an intergalactic hero. One doesn’t need to be a sophisticated reader to see that she has fallen for the guy big time or that she reveals herself to be an unreliable narrator.
For reasons I suggested yesterday in part 3, I think Steele made himself a willing dupe of Russian disinformation. I think it highly unlikely that the Steele Dossier constitutes good intelligence on Vladimir Putin’s intentions, operations, and the related matters taken up in the dossier. One would have to be something of a sap to believe that it does. From the evidence of the Mayer’s text, Mayer is such a sap. In this installment of my series I would like only to pluck a few quotes illustrating the peculiar qualities of Mayer’s profile.
Mayer seeks to build up Steele based on his past service as an agent of Britain’s MI-6. Mayer turns to a former CIA guy to vouch for MI-6: “Steve Hall, a former chief of the C.I.A.’s Central Eurasia Division, which includes Russia, the former Soviet states, and the Balkans, told me, ‘M.I.6 is second only perhaps to the U.S. in its ability to collect intelligence from Russia.’ He added, ‘We’ve always coördinated closely with them because they did such a great job. We’re playing in the Yankee Stadium of espionage here. This isn’t Guatemala.’” Impressive, no?
But Steele left MI-6 in 2008. Mayer tells us that Steele left on good terms with the service, but Mayer cites no source for the proposition. I take it Steele told her that. Other than Mayer’s boundless love for the man, why should we believe him? I can tell you that we shouldn’t believe her because of her obvious investment in him.
The question is whether Steele’s purported Sources A, B, C, D, E, F, and G provided him bona fide intelligence, unverified gossip, or Russian disinformation. Mayer isn’t much help in sorting it out. In the story recounted by Mayer, however, no reasonable reader would conclude the stuff bona fide intelligence.
And to reiterate a point, Mayer asserts that Steele didn’t know the identity of his ultimate client when he went to work on Trump. Super spy that he is, however, he figured it out “several months” into his work (“[s]everal months after Steele signed the deal” with GPS Fusion, as Mayer puts it). One might reasonably observe that in “the Yankee Stadium of espionage,” the players know what team they’re playing for. If one takes Mayer’s account at face value, Steele and Orbis are playing in “Guatemala” — not in the major league of espionage.
Mayer’s treatment of the referral of Steele for possible criminal prosecution by Senators Grassley and Graham is full of indignation. According to Mayer, the referral derives from Graham and Grassley’s rank partisanship. I hear the clock beginning to strike 13.
One would never get from Mayer’s profile any sense of the substance of the referral. In the world according to Mayer, the referral itself is evidence of Grassley’s and Graham’s partisanship. To prove this point, Mayer cites — the Democrats! Why, the referral enraged Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein said that Grassley’s and Graham’s goals were “undermining the F.B.I. and Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation” and “deflecting attention” from it. Mayer also notes that Feinstein said that the referral provided no evidence that Steele had lied and, according to Feinstein, “not a single revelation in the Steele dossier has been refuted.”
Mayer treats the sayings of Democrats like Feinstein as gospel. It is sufficient for her purposes that Feinstein said something to prove the point. But this is yet another matter with respect to which the interested reader must review the relevant documents with his eyes. I am reposting the less redacted version of the referral at the bottom of this post.
The referral is based on Steele’s misrepresentations to the FBI. Steele told the FBI he was not meeting with the press about his dossier and the related FBI investigation. In reality, Steele was meeting with Michael Isikoff, David Corn, Jane Mayer and others. It has been widely reported that the FBI terminated its relationship with Steele as a result of his misrepresentations.
Mayer (again) channels Steele and quibbles on his behalf. Mayer writes: “The F.B.I., which had hoped to protect its ongoing probe from public view, was furious. Nunes, in his memo, claimed that Steele was ‘suspended and then terminated’ as a source. In reality, the break was mutual, precipitated by Steele’s act of conscience” (i.e., going to the press).
Mayer turns the scene into classic comedy. Her Steele tells the FBI at the climactic moment: You can’t fire me, I quit! As I say, you don’t have to be a sophisticated reader to see that Mayer is an unreliable narrator. It’s what Steele told her and that’s good enough for her. She turns it into another sign and token of his heroism (an “act of conscience”). This is enough to make me question Mayer’s (i.e., Steele’s) account of Steele’s voluntary departure from MI-6.