Documents declassified on Tuesday detail an intense debate between the CIA and FBI in late 2016 over the handling of information from Christopher Steele, with one CIA official telling the Senate Intelligence Committee that the former British spy’s allegations about Trump-Russia collusion were “very unvetted.”
Despite the CIA’s concerns about Steele’s allegations, the FBI successfully lobbied to include his information in an Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. The bureau also continued using information from Steele to conduct surveillance against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Investigators have since debunked several of Steele’s allegations.
According to the Senate report, FBI investigators informed CIA analysts on Dec. 20, 2016 that the bureau wanted to include information from Steele in the ICA.
James Comey and Andrew McCabe, the FBI director and deputy director, respectively, negotiated with their counterparts at the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to include Steele’s information, saying that it was relevant to the question of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
But CIA officials and analysts told the Senate panel that they had deep reservations about the dossier, according to the newly declassified materials.
“We would have never included that report in a CIA-only assessment because the source was so indirect. And we made sure we indicated we didn’t use it in our analysis, and if it had been a CIA-only product we wouldn’t have included it at all,” the CIA’s deputy director of analysis told the Senate panel.
Steele’s information wound up being included as a two-page annex to the ICA.
According to the Senate report, an assistant director for an intelligence agency said that while she concurred with parts of the annex that dealt with Russia’s election-related efforts, allegations regarding collusion involving members of the Trump campaign was uncorroborated.
“I can tell you that there is no information coming from [redacted] sources that would corroborate any of that,” the official told the Senate panel, adding that Steele’s Trump-related information was “very unvetted.”
A CIA analyst told the committee on July 18, 2017, that the agency had “a bitter argument” with the FBI over whether to put the information in the annex.
John Brennan, the CIA director at the time, said that the CIA “pushed back” against Comey’s requests to include Steele’s information in the body of the ICA. The CIA eventually agreed with Comey to include the information in the annex.
Brennan said that a deputy director of analysis “was very concerned about polluting the ICA with this material.”
According to the Senate report, Brennan told the committee that he received an unsolicited phone call from someone in the British government saying they were not involved in creating the dossier.
“He wanted to make sure that I understood and that others in the senior officialdom of the U.S. government understood that that officer, Steele, had been a former [redacted] but had no current relationship with [redacted] and that dossier was not put together in any way with [redacted] support,” Brennan said. “So he wanted to make sure there was a separation there.”
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