Hookers and Spies, Politics and Lies: Logic, ethics and corporate intelligence in the campaign to discredit the President-Elect.
Confucius is credited for the saying “When a finger points at the moon, the imbecile looks at the finger” but there are situations where the moon is only an illusion, when an examination of the finger is sometimes appropriate.
Mr. Trump’s detractors are lathering themselves into a frenzy over the lurid claims contained in something being described as an “intelligence dossier” – accepting it as fact and not asking any questions that might cast doubts on their prejudice.
Not least of these include asking if, in fact, the Presidential Suite in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow was fitted with covert video cameras, and the President of the United States stayed there: (1) was the US Secret Service not aware of this? and if so (2) why was President Obama allowed to stay in such conditions? and (3) should we not be more concerned with what President Obama may have said when relaxing in that suite?
That is somehow not a national security issue, whereas unfounded salacious allegations are. How does that make sense?
Much has been made about the author of the report being “former British spy Christopher Steele” – so much so that it is necessary to point out that “former British spy” is a label that the media like to apply; it is not his first name!
Steele has been left carrying the can for the affair, but his company – ‘Orbis Business Intelligence’ was not instructed by the ultimate client. The client retained another investigation firm, Fusion GPS in Washington DC, and they sub-contracted the work to Orbis.
The attention is all on the sleaze but it is worth pausing to consider the evidence here, because there is absolutely none. Instead, these two firms demonstrate an appalling lack of judgement and an inexcusable lack of professional ethics.
The underlying problem with all business intelligence investigations is that the ‘deliverable’ is a document – on your firm’s stationary – concluding X or Y or Z – based on something told to us in confidence, by a source we cannot identify for security reasons.
On page 1 of this dossier, Steele’s ‘Source A’ is described as “a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure” and ‘Source B’ as “a former top level Russian Intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin.”
This sounds impressive, but we only have Steele’s assurance that it is true. Both could just as easily be a complete fabrication. The skeptic, however, asks whether any senior government official would be likely to speak about such a sensitive and strategically important target as a possible US President, especially if the information was accurate!
That is before considering the “need to know” complication. If the “former top level Russian Intelligence officer” worked on the African desk, for example; what would he know about the activities of the American desk?
The only irrefutable comment that can really be made about the information that has been leaked is that under the Admiralty Grading System; it is ‘F-6’; the reliability of the source “cannot be evaluated” and the accuracy of the information itself similarly “cannot be assessed.”
The credibility of the information could be improved – if someone were to produce some independent corroboration or if Orbis were to identify Sources “A” and “B”, but that would – at best – earn them very long prison sentences for their indiscretion.
We are left with something that is no more reliable than a story in the National Enquirer about Jimmy Hoffa having been abducted by extra-terrestrials. It sheds no light on whether or not there was Russian interference in the election. We only kow that the allegations in the Orbis report cannot be assessed.
For litigation purposes, intelligence reports of this nature are of no value because they are not supported by admissible evidence. For corporate decision-making purposes on the other hand, the same report might be invaluable – provided the client accepts it as credible.
To that end, it is imperative they have absolute trust in the reputation of the firm supplying the information. In the world of corporate intelligence, if a firms reputation is damaged, their work product is devalued and their information loses any value.
Steele’s friends and associates may rally to support him, but they have no option. He is a former MI6 officer, to describe him as a damned fool would reflect badly on his former department and undermine the credibility of the work he did there.
In the final analysis, investigation companies have one asset that is irreplaceable, and that is their reputation – but clients are not concerned with how many investigations they conducted successfully, an investigator will be judged by the one he made a mess of.
With this one assignment, Mr. Steele has successfully flushed his business down the professional toilet from which it will never recover, but it was not his ability to collect sensitive information that was his undoing as much as his poor judgement.
Mr. Steele is free to accept whatever clients he wishes, but I ran a similar business in Asia for many years and have therefore been in his position; I would not have touched that assignment with a disinfected barge pole.
The reason for that is very simple; the subject of the investigation was a candidate for political office.
One would not require the brains of a rocket scientist to see that the report was not just going to be used for internal purposes; it was very likely it would be used offensively, and be made public. If the report was made public, the sources of the information would come under scrutiny – and that is precisely what happened.
Mr. Steele is now reported to be concerned for his own safety and that of his family. He may be, but that risk was apparent from the outset and something he ought to have considered before accepting instructions from Fusion.
Worse still, it was a risk he may himself have magnified. The New York Times reported that Orbis continued to supply Fusion with information as late as December, by which time the election was over, and neither Orbis nor Fusion was being paid.
If that is so, Mr. Steele was no longer acting in a strictly professional capacity, but was providing the information pro bono for some personal political motive, it is a strong indication that he had lost his objectivity – which further devalues any information he was passing on, and raises the possibility that the Russian intelligence service was deliberately feeding him ‘disinformation’ for reasons of their own….
Fusion’s original client was reported to be someone from within the Republican party who subsequently lost interest in the matter. If it is true that Fusion GPS then actively solicited instructions from the Democrat side in the campaign, that sealed Mr. Steele’s fate, as well as their own.
If Orbis are guilty of a lack of judgement here, Fusion GPS is guilty of much worse; a breach of trust.
Fusion clients now have to consider whether they are comfortable instructing an investigation company that “recycles” reports prepared for them, and sells the same information to their competitors. Simply put; if company ‘A’ instructed Fusion to obtain information on company ‘B’ – would they be happy about that information then being sold to company ‘C’ without their knowledge? What if company ‘C’ only wanted the information to hand it over to ‘B’?
The critical lesson here is not so much to do with access to sensitive information, espionage, blackmail or the dirty tricks of major political parties, it is a case study in the ethics of the investigation business.
Whether a lowly individual or a Fortune 500 corporation, clients of companies like Orbis or Fusion must realise that glitzy offices, impressive resumes and awe-inspiring backgrounds are worth nothing when weighed against an investigator’s integrity – because integrity, like virginity, is never easily regained.
Probably the worst professional mistake any investigator or intelligence officer can make is to lose their objectivity. If they do, they are no longer reporting information but trying to justify a decision they want to see made, and to pursue an investigation for an ulterior motive – whether political or financial – is not only unethical but a liability. To take a partisan position and do so consciously may be a commercial choice, but any information reported under such circumstances is not ‘intelligence’ – it is propaganda.
Mt. Trump describes it as “fake news” and it amounts to much the same thing.
Now Mr. Steele appears to have run away, and is currently doing his best to hide from the media, or indeed from anyone capable of asking an incisive question. This is hardly surprising. If I was in his position I would probably do the same – to hide my embarrassment.