A number of commentators have perhaps been overly fastidious with reference to the 'Trump Dossier'. Max Boot, for one, suggested "It is worrisome that this material was published by BuzzFeed when major news organizations, which are not particularly friendly to Mr. Trump, declined to do so because they could not verify its claims. BuzzFeed made a serious mistake in simply posting all of this unverified information online, ignoring the journalistic practice of checking and corroboration."
The journalistic canon is predicated on reporting only that which has been directly verified by the journalist; surely a useful and honorable standard. But this is just as surely not the only standard by which a text might be judged. No sensible person would impose this standard on poetry, lyrics, or scripture.
During the Cold War, the US Defense Department published great heaps of translated Soviet military literature. This vast corpus of primary material was entirely devoid of commentary or interpretive apparatus, yet no one faulted the Pentagon for making all of this material available.
Journalism [and kindred practices] requires editorial choices about what is reported and not reported. As a result, the general public is mercifully spared the more horrific particulars of the suffering and disfiguration of the casualties of war, even if this practice has frayed in recent years.
Bucking this trend, South Korean television routinely obscures the faces of anyone caught on camera, other than the public figure who is the focus of the story. Other personally identifying details such as logos and name tags are also blurred. At times, this practice results in so much of the scene being blurred that the result looks like the camera was simply out of focus.
In the case of the Trump Dossier, it is by now well established that former MI-6 officer Christopher Steele was the author of this collection of opposition research memos [known in American political circles as OPPO], termed "Kompromat" - compromising material - in Moscow. Within the intelligence community, Steele was "extremely highly regarded" and was thought of as "competent". So one might stipulate that the dossier consists of reports of actual conversations with Moscow sources that were compiled in good faith, rather than the product of some overly imaginative creative writing exercise.
The Kompromat dossier has some flaws, but these are common to HUMINT generally. The author is not claiming these reports are factual, only that they were reports from plausible sources. Reporters are prisoners of their sources, as are HUMINT collectors.
The identities and motives of the dossier's sources are un-explained, though some are briefly described. The sources of the dossier are not "anti-TRUMP" per se, but the apex of Russia is a congeries of competing clans, and presumably the sources are motivated by these rivalries. In the intelligence business, the caveat on some HUMINT sources is that they "may seek to influence rather than inform" [One need only look at CURVEBALL and Chalabi for recent examples]
HUMINT sources have a tendency to mix fact and fantasy, and to tart up the facts with spicy details they know will interest their interlocutor [The offered ownership share of Rosneft is implausibly high, there is a bit too much inside baseball on who is in and who is out within the Kremlin, etc., etc.]
The tradecraft behind the Dossier appears a bit odd. Each of the dozen or so reports seems to have been written on a different word processor, with formatting progressively changing from having dissemination caveats to having none, while the format for identifying sources also evolves as one goes through the dossier.
However, one core refutation of the dossier doesn't hold together. TRUMP's lawyer Michael COHEN [The family name is always capitalized in such intelligence reports] published the cover of his passport, and only the cover, to refute claims he had never been to Prague. We must take his word that the interior of the passport is innocent of visa stamps. But even devoid of any visa stamps, the passport would not preclude the possibility of any foreign meetings while transiting and never leaving the airport. Furthermore, while COHEN provides specific dates on which he has an alibi for not being in Prague, the dossier is itself vague as to when the purported meetings took place.
Even applying the normal fudge factor for HUMINT, the dossier seems to hang together. The essential claim, that the Russkis have Kompromat on TRUMP, would just ring true if only because they would not do business with him without such protection. TRUMP has denied ever having done business with Russians, but a couple of years back, one of his sons stated publicly that most of their money came from Russia. All of which makes for another conflicting non-answer.
But even if TRUMP is not implicated in sex tapes and other financial improprieties, the main strength of the dossier lies not in what it describes within its pages, but in that it is a record of the Moscow gossip and rumors that there is a body of kompromat on TRUMP.
As Max Boot writes: "Trump continues to exhibit paranoia about American intelligence agencies, he displays a trust verging on gullibility in the mendacious and murderous government of Mr. Putin.... The fact that Mr. Trump seems to give greater credence to the Kremlin than to United States intelligence agencies is precisely what has set off so much speculation about his real motives in cozying up to Mr. Putin.... Trump's slavish devotion to the Russian strongman will continue to raise questions about the exact nature of their relationship."
The crux of the problem is not that TRUMP is being blackmailed. Rather it is that TRUMP acts as though he is being blackmailed, serving to confirm what seems to be the conventional wisdom in Kremlin circles that he is vulnerable to blackmail.
For a recent historical precedent, one only needs to go back to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. After the first Gulf War, Saddam acted as though he retained weapons of mass destruction, and the ruling circles around him and in other foreign capitals believed that had Iraq retained WMD. With still-felt disastrous consequences all-around.