The now famous Steele Dossier has always been controversial. News editors early on affixed the terms “unverified” and “unsubstantiated.” Reknowned Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward even called it “garbage.” Be that as it may, former CIA station chief John Sipher put the dossier in greater context in a lengthy article which he published on Just Security:
One large portion of the dossier is crystal clear, certain, consistent and corroborated. Russia’s goal all along has been to do damage to America and our leadership role in the world. Also, the methods described in the report fit the Russians to a tee. If the remainder of the report is largely true, Russia has a powerful weapon to help achieve its goal.
First Sipher defined the difference between what journalists do in information gathering and what intelligence operatives do. [Emphasis Sipher’s]
I spent almost thirty years producing what CIA calls “raw reporting” from human agents. At heart, this is what Orbis did. They were not producing finished analysis, but were passing on to a client distilled reporting that they had obtained in response to specific questions. The difference is crucial, for it is the one that American journalists routinely fail to understand. When disseminating a raw intelligence report, an intelligence agency is not vouching for the accuracy of the information provided by the report’s sources and/or subsources. Rather it is claiming that it has made strenuous efforts to validate that it is reporting accurately what the sources/subsources claim has happened. The onus for sorting out the veracity and for putting the reporting in context against other reporting – which may confirm or deny the new report – rests with the intelligence community’s professional analytic cadre. In the case of the dossier, Orbis was not saying that everything that it reported was accurate, but that it had made a good-faith effort to pass along faithfully what its identified insiders said was accurate. This is routine in the intelligence business. And this form of reporting is often a critical product in putting together more final intelligence assessments.
Then Sipher distills down the 35 page document to its essentials:
The report also alleged that the internal Russian intelligence service (FSB) had developed potentially compromising material on Trump, to include details of “perverted sexual acts” which were arranged and monitored by the FSB. Specifically, the compromising material, according to this entry in the report, included an occasion when Trump hired the presidential suite at a top Moscow hotel which had hosted President and Mrs. Obama, and employed prostitutes to defile the bed where the President had slept. Four separate sources also described “unorthodox” and embarrassing behavior by Trump over the years that the FSB believed could be used to blackmail the then presidential candidate.
The report stated that Russian President Putin was supportive of the effort to cultivate Trump, and the primary aim was to sow discord and disunity within the U.S. and the West. The dossier of FSB-collected information on Hillary Clinton was managed by Kremlin chief spokesman Dimitry Peskov.
Subsequent reports provide additional detail about the conspiracy, which includes information about cyber-attacks against the U.S. They allege that Paul Manafort managed the conspiracy to exploit political information on Hillary Clinton in return for information on Russian oligarchs outside Russia, and an agreement to “sideline” Ukraine as a campaign issue. Trump campaign operative Carter Page is also said to have played a role in shuttling information to Moscow, while Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, reportedly took over efforts after Manafort left the campaign, personally providing cash payments for Russian hackers. In one account, Putin and his aides expressed concern over kick-backs of cash to Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which they feared might be discoverable by U.S. authorities. The Kremlin also feared that the U.S. might stumble onto the conspiracy through the actions of a Russian diplomat in Washington, Mikhail Kalugin, and therefore had him withdrawn, according to the reports. [Emphasis mine]
What follows is lengthy discussion on the methodology used in gathering the information and an illumination and expansion of the substantive content of the Steele Dossier. This is a novella in length and well worth the read for anybody who would seek to understand this topic.