The ‘Trump Dossier’ and the Making of Intelligence – The Atlantic

So what does that lead you to? That leads you to low-level people who know about it but are not involved substantively and just get a kick out of seeing shitstorms in the paper and being able to say to their buddies over a beer, “You know that big story? I did that.” That does happen. You do have cipher clerks who handle it, and secretaries who set up meetings and so on, and I’ve found over time that there are some who just get a kick out of reading awful stuff in the press, as long as it was they who provided it. And that could’ve been on the intelligence side or on the [side of] President-elect Trump’s [transition team]. The way you do leak investigations is you go through the real police detective work of “Okay, let’s get a copy of every document, let’s trace every time it was sent, who was on the distribution list, every meeting in which it was discussed—what was the attendance list? Let’s go out and talk to all of them.”

Gilsinan: But [the document itself] could also have come from the private company itself or from the campaigns it was working for—not necessarily a leak from the intel community. What to make of the fact that the allegations were taken seriously enough that officials felt they had to brief the president and the president-elect?

Blair: There is no more powerful force in Washington than, “What if this comes out somehow and I was found not to have done my utmost?” Just think of the position that the intelligence leadership has been in for the last couple of weeks. I’m sure they sat around and thought, “What if we sat on this [and] it comes out somehow that we were sitting on it, [and] the president-elect said, ‘You knew about this and you didn’t tell me that it was out there?’” Those were the Scylla and a Charybdis that they were caught between, and I can very much understand a decision to provide it to the president-elect. They clearly, based on what they’ve said, made all of the qualifications of, “We haven’t investigated this; this is not verified; but boss, you need to know this is out there.” I think they made that call, rather than saying, “Let’s bury this.” Because then I think the chances within the intelligence community of a leak would be much greater, especially in the FBI which has this sort of sense of entitlement among a lot of its agents that they know more than their director does. They’re happy to tell you news people how they do; it happens all the time.

Gilsinan: Anything else?

Blair: I would just give you one of Blair’s Laws developed over the years: If there is a choice in explaining a government action between a Machiavellian, clever, ingenious plot to achieve that result and sort of blind, bumbling, well-meant incompetence, choose number two all the time.


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