The Washington-based Russian national who supplied former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele with most of the unverified claims in the infamous Russia dossier was himself investigated by the FBI on suspicions of being a spy for the Kremlin, according to documents released by Attorney General William Barr.
Though he isn’t identified by name in the documents released on Sept. 24, Igor Danchenko was identified in July as the primary source for the Steele dossier. The FBI investigated Danchenko from 2009 to 2011 because he “may be a threat to national security,” according to an unclassified summary (pdf) of the probe provided to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) by Barr.
While aware of the counterintelligence concerns about Danchenko, the FBI failed to disclose that to the secret surveillance court as part of an application to surveil former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
“To me, failure of the FBI to inform the court that the Primary Sub-source was suspected of being a Russian agent is a breach of every duty owed by law enforcement to the judicial system,” Graham said in a statement.
The FBI opened a full investigation into Danchenko after it learned he was an associate of two known FBI counterintelligence subjects. In 2006, he was in contact with the Russian Embassy and a known Russian intelligence officer, according to the summary. During the interactions, Danchenko told the officer that he wanted to one day enter into the Russian diplomatic service. He also contacted the officer seeking a reply, “so the documents can be placed in tomorrow’s diplomatic mail pouch.”
One associate interviewed by the bureau noted that Danchenko “persistently asked about the interviewee’s knowledge of a particular military vessel.”
The FBI began the process of seeking a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Danchenko, but cut the process short and closed the investigation in late 2010, after learning that Danchenko had left the country and hadn’t renewed his visa. The closing documents noted that the FBI would consider reopening the probe if Danchenko returned.
“This is the most stunning and damning revelation the committee has uncovered,” Graham said.
The investigation of the Trump campaign, codenamed “Crossfire Hurricane,” identified Danchenko in December 2016, two months after securing a warrant to spy on Page. The Steele dossier played a crucial role in the bureau’s decision to seek the spy warrant.
Steele claimed that he based the vast majority of his dossier on reports from Danchenko, who, in turn, had a network of sub-sources.
The Department of Justice’s inspector general determined that the FBI’s FISA applications were riddled with errors, some of the most egregious of which had to do with Steele falsifying and overhyping what he had learned from Danchenko. Steele also presented rumors from Danchenko as credible claims.
The FBI interviewed Danchenko for three days in late January 2017. During the interview, Danchenko disputed some of the claims attributed to him in the dossier and told agents that the allegations Steele had presented as credible were merely “bar talk.”
Despite learning of the issues with the dossier, the FBI—and subsequently, special counsel Robert Mueller—went on to renew the spy warrants on Page. Instead of telling the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) about the major issues with the dossier exposed during the Danchenko interview, the bureau repeated the claims Danchenko had disputed and simply said that he was “truthful and cooperative.”
After the release of the inspector general’s report and a severe rebuke from the FISC, the FBI conceded that it shouldn’t have sought to renew the warrants.
In addition to playing a central role in the spying on Page, the dossier appears to have featured in the FBI’s decision to investigate the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump, a mounting body of circumstantial evidence suggests. The campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton ultimately paid for the dossier, a fact the bureau also omitted in its FISA applications.
The Department of Justice released a heavily redacted copy of the electronic communication summarizing the January 2017 interviews with Danchenko (pdf) on July 17. Despite the extensive blacking out of personal details, the length of the redactions, as well as other details in the document, made it possible to triangulate on Danchenko.
A Twitter user who goes by the pseudonym “Hmmm…” was the first to identify Danchenko as the source after locating the man’s resume, the details of which match exactly with both the redacted and unredacted portions of the declassified document. Danchenko locked down his social media profiles shortly after internet sleuths mentioned his name.
Danchenko’s identification is the latest of many severe blows to the credibility of the Steele dossier. While the inspector general’s report described Danchenko as a Russia-based source, Danchenko, in fact, lived in Washington for more than a decade, including at the time when he provided information for Steele’s dossier.
Danchenko’s resume, LinkedIn profile, and FBI interview paint a picture of an ordinary business analyst who connected with Steele when he was eager to earn an income.
None of what Danchenko told the FBI or what is in the public realm suggests he had access to the inner workings of the Kremlin. Danchenko told the bureau that he relied on conversations with childhood friends and other acquaintances for the information he passed to Steele.
The leadership of the FBI, including then-Director James Comey, believed the dossier was so significant that they pushed to include it in a classified annex of the seminal January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian interference in the U.S. election. Three intelligence agencies assessed at the time that Russia interfered in the election to hurt Clinton and help Trump.
The FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign evolved into the special counsel probe led by Mueller. After a large-scale, 22-month inquiry, Mueller found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.