Footnotes don’t normally make for compelling reading. They are typically dry, dusty references of interest only to students of the obscure. Still, sometimes, they are extremely important. Such is the case with the footnotes from Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse recently declassified by Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell. These footnotes, read and interpreted, carefully tell us at least two very important things.
First, the footnotes reveal that Christopher Steele, the man who created the infamous and salacious “dossier” that purported to show collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, cooperated with the Horowitz IG investigation with the knowledge and approval of his government. This is to be expected. Steele is a former British intelligence officer and he would not and likely could not participate in the investigation without the blessing of his former employers.
What was true of Steele’s participation in the Horowitz investigation, however, must have been equally true when Steele was working as a confidential informant for the FBI as part of Crossfire Hurricane. And, that’s where this gets interesting.
Steele was a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) commonly referred to in the United States as MI6. This is the British equivalent of the CIA. Liaison with SIS is handled by the CIA, and coordination with SIS is conducted via the CIA Station in London.
In order for Steele to have been part of the FBI “investigation” in Crossfire Hurricane, therefore, coordination would have taken place in London. Given that Steele was involved in an operation directed at a man, Donald Trump, who was the GOP nominee for President and then, after November 2016, President-elect, one can fairly assume that this coordination was not done by some junior desk officer. It would have been done at a minimum with the full knowledge and assistance of the Chief of Station and quite possibly by the Chief personally. In short, whoever the Chief of Station was at that time, they almost certainly would have been fully briefed on Crossfire Hurricane – CIA Director Brennan’s “task force” that he had formed – and the scope of the efforts directed at Donald Trump.
According to press reporting, Gina Haspel was Chief of Station London at the time in question. Assuming that to be true, that ought to concern the White House greatly. Ms. Haspel is still in government and is currently the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The second matter of interest in the recently released footnotes concerns at least two physical searches of locations associated with Carter Page – the Trump associate falsely branded as colluding with Russia. The footnotes are focused on the improper handling of evidence, specifically photographs, which were taken during two separate physical searches of unspecified locations in July of 2017.
We don’t know from the footnotes what these locations were nor do we know how many such physical searches took place. These searches are mentioned only because of errors in the processing of the evidence collected. There may, in fact, have been many other such searches where no such errors occurred.
Mr. Page has stated, in response to the dates provided in the footnotes, that they correspond to dates on which he was staying in hotels to escape the harassment generated by the false accusations against him. That might mean his hotel rooms were targeted. It could also mean that while he was away from home the FBI took the opportunity to enter his residence.
Either way, this new information fundamentally alters our understanding of the investigation focused on Mr. Page. Prior to this, the effort was characterized as essentially a “wiretap.” Mr. Page’s communications were monitored. That is potentially a passive effort involving comparatively few resources and capable of being handled by a handful of individuals.
Now we are beginning to see something that looks very different. In the movies, a “surreptitious entry” is a simple matter. Somebody picks a lock, enters a home, conducts a search and hopes not to get caught. That’s not the way this works in the real world.
Before a law-enforcement or intelligence service enters a target location, extensive surveillance is conducted. If you are going into a home and don’t want to be detected, you first need to know a great many things. How many people live there? What are their routines? Do they have dogs? Do they have an alarm system? What kinds of locks are on their doors and how long will it take to defeat them?
The entry itself requires extensive resources. Locks must be picked. Alarms must be bypassed. The search of the target must be conducted so as to leave no trace. And, of course, when it is all done the alarm has to be reset and the doors relocked.
If that all sounds very resource-intensive, it is. It means a lot of people and a lot of time. Even for the FBI such resources are finite and desperately needed for other operations.
Making these entries and physical searches happen, therefore, required a great deal of coordination with a number of components. This was not something handled by the relatively small number of individuals mentioned in the press as having run Crossfire Hurricane. This was something requiring coordination across multiple field offices and multiple desks at FBI Headquarters.
Does that mean all of those people were part of a plot against the President? It does not. Most of them likely thought they were part of a legitimate counterintelligence effort directed at Russian activities inside the United States. Most of them were probably as shocked as other Americans to discover much later what was really going on.
Combined with the insight into the coordination required to secure Steele’s participation in Crossfire Hurricane, though, this information begins to paint a picture of a plot that involved a great many more people and a much broader operation than is popularly assumed. Turns out these footnotes were worth reading after all.