Lies, damned lies and the Steele dossier
Last week, Russian-born analyst Igor Danchenko, who lives in Washington DC, was arrested for making false statements to the FBI. While this may sound like another innocuous headline in these days of deceit, Danchenko’s arrest is the latest chapter in a breathtaking political scandal that renders Watergate child’s play.
All the way back in January 2017, BuzzFeedNews broke a bombshell story titled, “These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties To Russia”. It was the first time the public gained access to the now infamous “Steele dossier” — a 35-page intelligence report alleging that Trump planned his rise to presidential power with secret interference from Russia.
A media feeding frenzy began. For the next two years, America’s corporate press gave unending airtime to the Trump-Russia collusion story. It rose above every cheap shot about Trump’s diet, small hands or latest mean tweet to become the principal proof that Trump was an imposter: an illegitimate president and an existential threat to the global order.
It wasn’t just America’s national media that ran with the narrative. It quickly became a worldwide sensation. Australian taxpayers funded and endured thousands of articles on the ABC website, including a Four Corners special that claimed, “It’s the story of the century: The US President and his connections to Russia.”
The New York Times and the Washington Post were jointly decorated with the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting on the story. Still today, the Pullitzer Prize website recounts of their heroic feats:
For deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.
There was only one problem: the Steele dossier was almost entirely fictional. Danchenko was the “source” for many of its false claims — and justice finally caught up with him last week.
That the dossier was bunk was already known. The two-year, US$32 million Mueller Report that probed the dossier and other sources found no evidence that Trump had colluded with Russia, even if the Kremlin did interfere in the election for its own ends.
By the time the Mueller Report was released, the damage to Trump’s reputation had already been done. But this was only the beginning of the scandal’s unravelling.
During Trump’s first year in office, it came to light that the Steele dossier had actually been funded by Trump’s rivals. The year previous, its author — former British spy Christopher Steele — had been paid to produce the bunk document by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Both Clinton and the DNC lied about their role in the scandal until it could be lied about no longer.
Other sinister events were taking place behind the scenes. The Obama-era FBI launched “Crossfire Hurricane”, a secret investigation giving the FBI powers to spy on Donald Trump’s election campaign.
In an exposé, the editorial board of the New York Post noted that “the Obama-Comey FBI and Justice Department never had anything more substantial than the laughable fiction of the Steele dossier to justify the “counterintelligence” investigation of the Trump campaign.” They continued:
President Barack Obama, in his final days in office, played a key role in fanning the flames of the phony scandal. Fully briefed on the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation, he knew the FBI had come up with nothing despite months of work starting in July 2016.
Indeed, the Obama administration went on a full-scale leak offensive — handing the Washington Post, New York Times and others a nonstop torrent of “anonymous” allegations of Trumpite ties to Moscow. It suggested that the investigations were finding a ton of treasonous dirt on Team Trump — when in fact the investigators had come up dry.
The dishonesty ran deep. Subsequent investigations revealed that an FBI lawyer deceptively altered an email which was then used to persuade a federal judge to extend a surveillance warrant, allowing the spying on Trump’s campaign to continue. The shady lawyer avoided jail time, apparently because that’s how things are done these days in DC.
We often think of postmodernism in its impact on literature, the arts and popular culture. But the link between postmodernism and politics couldn’t be more apparent than in the Steele dossier saga. To borrow the words of postmodernism’s precursor, Friedrich Nietzsche:
What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down?
America’s intelligence agencies were weaponised against innocent civilians for partisan political gain. Reputations and careers are in tatters. The global media has been willingly used in a relentless assault on truth and common sense. And now that the truth comes out, the guilty are silent.
Destroy a culture’s meta-narrative and you end up with any narrative at all.
Be careful, little ears, what you hear.
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