Take Vladimir Putin's Scandalous Russian Intel with a Grain of Salt (For Now)

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An opposition protest participant wears a sticker with the word "Obey!" on Revolution square in central Moscow, February 26, 2012. Reuters

Gaining intelligence from hostile foreign networks is much like playing the schoolyard telephone game: one source passes information to the next in quiet whispers, the message sometimes being tweaked or transformed entirely as it passes to the next and the next. The truth lies somewhere underneath all of the confusion and disorder, though it's often impossible to immediately predict whether what's been heard by the end of the game is fact-based.

The United States intelligence community regularly intercepts channels used by the Kremlin and other foreign networks to extract top-secret information. So, when CNN reported Tuesday that Russian officials were chatting openly about financial information they could use against then-Republican candidate Donald Trump's campaign staffers, a level of healthy skepticism should have come with breaking news headlines such as, "Russians discussed potentially 'derogatory' information about Trump and associates during campaign" and "New Intercepted Intelligence Shows the Russians Have Damaging Information on Donald Trump."

Related: Will Trump fire Jared Kushner? His ties to Russia may plague POTUS' return to White House

A popular method of confusion and disorder for the Kremlin is to divulge sometimes fictional information in channels it knows are being intercepted by international networks. It's not alone in this warped reality of information: Plenty of international intelligence services leak fake intelligence to either advance their nations' agendas or divert attention from other specific issues.

"With the brief exception of the early to late 1990s, Russia has had a non-transparent system of rule that deliberately reveals little about itself," Paul Roderick Gregory, an expert on Russian government and business operations, wrote in Forbes after a 35-page dossier, written by former U.S. spy Christopher Steele, claimed the Kremlin had salacious and damning information on Trump. "We have reached a sad state of affairs where an anonymous report, full of bizarre statements, captures the attention of the world media because it casts a shadow over the legitimacy of a President-elect, who has not even taken the oath of office."

Then again, if it's in the Kremlin's interests to divulge factual, top-secret information, it also has a proven track-record of doing just that.

The Russian government under President Vladimir Putin collects "kompromat" for a range of international and domestic politicians and world leaders, as well as its own enemies and even allies. The controversial and widely reported dossier purporting to contain sensitive information on Trump is a prime example of the difficulties behind extracting information from the Kremlin. The document has reportedly been found to contain some information that is more likely truthful than other more salacious material within its 35 pages, though it's unclear exactly what components of the intelligence may be fact-based.

"As someone who has worked for more than a decade with the microfilm collection of Soviet documents in the Hoover Institution Archives, I can say that the dossier itself was compiled by a Russian, whose command of English is far from perfect and who follows the KGB (now FSB) practice of writing intelligence reports," Gregory continued. "The anonymous author claims to have "trusted compatriots" who knew the roles that each Kremlin insider, including Putin himself, played in the Trump election saga and were prepared to tell him."

When it comes to Trump's ties to Russia, whether it be from the 2016 presidential election or beyond, the most verifiable information on any alleged collusion will be reported by the newly created special counsel, led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, tasked with investigating the matter in an impartial and comprehensive order. Still, the damage dealt by misleading or entirely false narratives spewed forth by the Russian Kremlin and other networks may already be felt. New reports suggest former FBI Director James Comey acted last year on information received from Russian intelligence he allegedly knew could have been falsely created in order to move forward on a federal investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails.

Take Vladimir Putin's Scandalous Russian Intel with a Grain of Salt (For Now) | World
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