‘At the heart of this game of betrayal is trust’


Bridge of Spies, 20th Century Fox, 2015

From London Review of Books:

A former MI6 agent is commissioned, by the opposition, to investigate an American presidential campaign that most people regard as a joke. He uncovers an international conspiracy led by the Russian secret services to put their man in the White House. He tells the British government about it, but they ignore him, believing the ‘Russian’ candidate will never be elected. He turns to the FBI, which takes his dossier more seriously. Then, two weeks before the election, the FBI’s director announces an investigation into the other candidate, the ‘Russian’ candidate’s rival. The Russians’ man wins and the British agent goes into hiding … Oh, and there’s a great sex scene in the Presidential Suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow.

The events that came to light last week – when a dossier of intelligence reports surfaced online alleging Donald Trump’s eccentric sexual exploits, a long-running conspiracy between Trump and the Russian regime, and inappropriate financial deals over sanctions against Russian companies – read like the plot of a spy novel. None of the claims made in the dossier has yet been verified, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously. Intelligence is information, from a privileged source, that supports decision-making. It is seldom verifiable because that information is rarely in the public domain.

At the heart of this game of betrayal is trust: the source of the intelligence must be trusted by his or her handler. The reader of the intelligence report has to trust the provider of the intelligence while remaining critical. Intelligence is about degrees of credibility, and reading it is not the same as reading reportage, or a piece of political analysis. In order to make an assessment of its reliability, a reader needs to examine how it’s been sourced, insofar as that’s possible.

“How to Read the Trump Dossier”, Arthur Snell, London Review of Books