RUSSIAGATE: Luke Harding’s Hard Sell

The only interests this leak serves — if it was a leak — are those of Harding and U.S. intelligence, who were hung out to dry by the collapse of the Russiagate narrative, writes Joe Lauria.

Moscow River, 2015. (Joe Lauria)

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By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Luke Harding of The Guardian on Thursday came out with a new story that looks at first glance like an attempt to rescue the Russiagate story and the reputations of Harding and U.S. intelligence.

The headline reads, “Kremlin papers appear to show Putin’s plot to put Trump in White House” with the subhead: “Exclusive: Documents suggest Russia launched secret multi-agency effort to interfere in US democracy.”

Harding’s report says that during a Jan. 22, 2016 closed session of the Russian national security council, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian spies to back a “mentally unstable” Donald Trump for the White House to “help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them ‘social turmoil’ in the US.”

“Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature,” Harding writes. “A report prepared by Putin’s expert department recommended Moscow use ‘all possible force’ to ensure a Trump victory.”

The article, starting with the headline, is littered with the use of qualifiers such as “appears,” “suggests,” “apparent,” and “seems.” Such qualifiers tell the reader that even the newspaper is not sure whether to believe its own story.

Quoting from what he says is an authentic document marked “secret,” Harding writes that there is “apparent confirmation” that the Kremlin had dirt on Trump it could use to blackmail him, gathered during earlier Trump “‘non-official visits to Russian Federation territory.’”

This would seem to confirm a central part of the so-called Steele dossier, which Harding hawked in his bestselling book Collusion.

Harding’s newest story though says nothing about the involvement of Trump operatives with this Kremlin plot, as that was unfounded by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Harding also suggests that the documents that came into his possession provides evidence of a Russian hack of Democratic National Committee computers.

Harding at the Nordic Media Festival, 2018. (Thor Brødreskift / Nordiske Mediedager/ Wikimedia Commons)

He writes:

“After the meeting, according to a separate leaked document, Putin issued a decree setting up a new and secret interdepartmental commission. Its urgent task was to realise the goals set out in the ‘special part’ of document No 32-04 \ vd. …

The defence minister was instructed to coordinate the work of subdivisions and services. [Sergei] Shoigu was also responsible for collecting and systematising necessary information and for “preparing measures to act on the information environment of the object” – a command, it seems, to hack sensitive American cyber-targets identified by the SVR. …

The papers appear to set out a route map for what actually happened in 2016.

A matter of weeks after the security council meeting, GRU hackers raided the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and subsequently released thousands of private emails in an attempt to hurt Clinton’s election campaign.”

These documents would perfectly confirm the story put out by U.S. intelligence and an eager Democratic media: that Russia’s defense intelligence agency GRU hacked the DNC and Russia leaked DNC emails to damage Hillary Clinton.

Except that Shawn Henry, the head of the company CrowdStrike hired by the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign (while keeping the FBI away) to examine the DNC servers declared under oath to the House Intelligence Committee that no evidence of a hack was discovered. “It appears it was set up to be exfiltrated, but we just don’t have the evidence that says it actually left,” Henry told the committee.

WikiLeaks, which Harding doesn’t mention, has also denied getting the DNC material from Russia that Harding says was released by Moscow. And Harding ignores the true contents of the emails.

Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told The Guardian the story was “great pulp fiction.”

Let’s look at the motives of the players involved in this story.

The Kremlin, Moscow. (Pavel Kazachkov/Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Harding’s Motives

Henry’s denial of a hack and Mueller’s inability to prove Collusion, embarrassed Harding after he staked his reputation on his bestseller of that name. The book is essentially the story of Christopher Steele, the ex-MI6 agent, who was paid by the DNC and the Clinton campaign to come up with opposition research against Trump.

Harding, like the Democratic media establishment, mistook opposition research, a mix of fact and fiction to smear a political opponent, for an intelligence document paid for by taxpayers, presumably in the interests of protecting the country rather than a political candidate. Of course, the FBI and the CIA sold it to the media as such to undermine the other candidate.

Harding has had a major omelet on his face after the Russiagate tale was ultimately exposed as opposition research paid for by the Democrats, who elevated it to a new Pearl Harbor.

Now I will engage in qualifiers here but it seems Harding is desperate to find anything that might rescue the story and his reputation. That’s a vulnerable position to be in, easily exploited by intelligence operatives, the way he was exploited with the original story.

An earlier attempt by Harding at rescuing himself was the disastrous piece he wrote for The Guardian that Paul Manafort, briefly Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, had visited Julian Assange at the Ecuador Embassy in London. It blew up in Harding’s face though his paper has never pulled the story.

U.S. Intelligence Motives

Members of the U.S. intelligence community were staring at possible prosecution in the investigation run by U.S. Attorney John Durham for their role in pushing the opposition research as truth, leading, among other things, to a doctored FBI report to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor a Trump campaign worker.

The Steele dossier became the basis for other shenanigans by U.S. intelligence. Though in the end there were no indictments, the reputation of especially the FBI took a hit.

Leaking a story now that it was all true, after all, might do wonders to restore its standing among wide sections of the U.S. public who lost faith in the bureau over Russiagate.

A Kremlin Leakers’ Motives

A military parade on Red Square. May 9, 2016 Moscow. (Kremlin) 

Harding writes in a cryptic way about how he got hold of these materials. He says the story is based on “what are assessed to be leaked Kremlin documents.” As they were marked “secret,” and supposedly came from Putin’s innermost circle, as Harding says, it stands to reason that few people in the Russian government would have had access to them outside of that circle.

We are being asked to believe that someone closest to Putin leaked these documents either directly to Harding or to U.S. or British intelligence who then passed it on to Harding. (Harding calling it a leak would rule out that they were obtained through a Western intelligence hack.)

It can’t be dismissed that U.S. intelligence may have an active mole inside the Kremlin. But one must ask would that mole — if he or she exists — risk their freedom by leaking documents that have absolutely no current strategic or even political significance, rather than, say, classified information about Russian troop movements and military intentions?

The only interests this leak serves — if it was a leak — are those of Harding and U.S. intelligence, who were hung out to dry by the collapse of the Russiagate narrative.

Evaluating the Story

Harding is clearly reporting from Russian-language documents, snapshots of which are reproduced in The Guardian article. He writes that these documents were shown to “independent experts” who said they “appear” to be “genuine.” Harding does not reveal who these experts are.

To evaluate the credibility of Harding’s story would require knowing how he got the documents, not the names of the person or persons who gave them to him, but the interests they represent. He is especially vague about this.

Harding writes:

“Western intelligence agencies are understood to have been aware of the documents for some months and to have carefully examined them. The papers, seen by the Guardian, seem to represent a serious and highly unusual leak from within the Kremlin.”

If they were handed to Harding by U.S. or British intelligence who had them for months, the idea that these are the products of spycraft cannot be dismissed. Crafting what looks like classified evidence from an adversarial power and then leaking it to friendly press has long been in the arsenal of intelligence agencies the world over. 

It is unlikely we will ever know how Harding came into possession of these documents or who the experts are who said they “seem” genuine.

But the purpose of this piece may have already been achieved.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former UN correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional career as a stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe  

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48 comments for “RUSSIAGATE: Luke Harding’s Hard Sell

  1. rick
    July 20, 2021 at 06:31

    It’s problematic that infamous M16/CIA hacks like Luke Harding can survive and prosper in a UK media environment which the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).and its propaganda organs (BBC Media Action) extols as promoting the most inclusive balanced and objective journalism in the world!

  2. exiled off mainstreet
    July 19, 2021 at 07:32

    The guardian lost its cojones in 2013 when MI5 agents went in and smashed their hard drive as a warning similar to the horsehead in the movie producer’s bed in the Godfather saga. Luke Harding, as the article proves, is a mere shill for the multi-national regime.

  3. Groucho
    July 18, 2021 at 21:58

    Poor Luke. One last swing at trying to recoup some credibility. Perhaps Aaron Mate could interview him again.

  4. robert e williamson jr
    July 18, 2021 at 15:37

    It is interesting to me that Luke Harding is not compared to Fareed Zakaria, the card carrying member of the Council On Foreign Relations, who poses on Sunday mornings as an investigative reporter. One who this AM hosted the soiled Gen. David Patreaus to mine David’s knowledge of Afghanistan.

    Fake news from a fake reporter using a publicly shamed General to smear Bidens attempt to get the hell out of fraudulent war.

    Give them hell Joe!

    Thanks CN

  5. captain spam
    July 18, 2021 at 12:07

    Poor Luke has never been the same since the KGB broke into his Moscow flat, took a crap in his toilet then tampere with his central heating.

  6. Zhu
    July 17, 2021 at 18:53

    I never understood why anyone believed Russiagate for 5 minutes. But it raged on for 4 years and has undoubtedly inspired another 4 years of claims that Biden stole the 2020 election. Of course, it’s probably done harm to Russian-Americans. I’m surprised borscht hasn’t been renamed “Librty Soup” and Russian authors removed from library shelves!

    • pedro
      July 18, 2021 at 13:42

      couldn’t agree more. “russiagate” was ludicrous from the first moments of blather about it.
      in the horrible years of the orange freak that followed no one in the big media has ever presented the glaring structural defects in the “impaired democracy” of the US. why not?

  7. Realist
    July 17, 2021 at 18:32

    Just a cursory glance at this latest tripe shows us a man ever on the make along with his vast gumshoe conspiracy (whether left or right wing, if that even makes a difference these days) that will never give up trying to fool most of the people most of the time.

    Come on, man, are you suggesting that the enormous wealth and influence, conferring essentially dictatorial power to a corporate America which has a stone cold monopoly on most of electronic communications throughout the civilised world and was given carte blanche by the US Supreme Court to basically bribe whomever they choose in any political campaign, does not have the ability to pick whatever politician for whatever office they please?

    Do you actually expect anyone to believe that a foreign government 5,000 miles removed from the North American continent, widely reviled by both the American public and the spinners of the false narratives broadcast by every modality of mass communication to keep that public brainwashed, without a fraction of the resources or influence that the insiders who pull all the levers of power in this country in business, industry, the law, banking, communications, even religion for chrisake and certainly government–i.e., the complete enchilada–were able to make any difference whatsoever in the election at issue, and without any good reason for even trying to do so? If you think you have even the most tenuous shred of evidence that V.V. Putin and the Russian state stole the presidency from Hillary Clinton to install “their man” Donald J. Trump somebody ought to award you a Pulitzer Prize for best fantasy fiction. Please, stop embarrassing yourself by repeatedly doubling down on your long since vanished credibility.

  8. July 17, 2021 at 17:27

    And if Putin did all that is claimed, what effect would it have had on the election? Just what could Russia do to influence an American when Americans have been conditioned not to belief anything coming out of Russia, in fact to believe the opposite. We, on the other hand, have a history of meddling in Russia’s elections, even managing Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. While this guy claims to have information that proves the Russians meddled in our election, it will serve only those who never stopped believing the Russians did it in 2016 and continue to do it, whatever the “it” is. We seem to have never got beyond the 1919 Red Scare, interrupted only when we needed them to defeat Hitler.

  9. Thomas Scherrer
    July 17, 2021 at 05:42

    A freshman student in college taking a Logic class would be able to accurately see that Harding’s multiple qualifiers prevent his own work from being truthful. Instead, it looks like a set of loosely connected events, coupled with our country’s continuing Russo phobia, that allows his story to achieve its desired goal.

  10. M. Le Docteur Ralph
    July 17, 2021 at 03:06

    Luke Harding’s article is potential support for a FISA warrant application, playing the same role as the Yahoo News story in the Carter Page warrant.

  11. rosemerry
    July 16, 2021 at 16:29

    As if any sentient being has not noticed, Luke Harding’s continued presence as a reporter for the “Sycophant”, (formerly Guardian) shows the depth to which this paper has fallen. I hope that every CN reader has seen the interview with Aaron Maté on the Real News years ago,making quite clear Harding’s incompetence and insufferable arrogance. As for “Harding’s bestselling book Collusion” n this indicates the number of gullible people who cannot detect fallacies in every page, including the nasty “biography” of Julian Assange which the Sycophant sold to the public.

    • Gordon Hastie
      July 17, 2021 at 07:48

      I saw that headline and thought “uh huh, the Guardian’s up to their dirty tricks yet again”. What a rag. Aaron Maté made Harding look very stupid on YouTube.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      July 17, 2021 at 17:46

      Thank you. I have seen that interview with Aaron Mate and Aaron exploded Harding, who walked out of the interview in a hissy fit. The Guardian has the gall to publish more Harding excrement after it threw Julian Assange under the bus. Pathetic.

      • Theo
        July 18, 2021 at 10:43

        Spot on. I saw that interview too.

      • Realist
        July 18, 2021 at 16:04

        One can never trust the Western media. After giving the Guardian its biggest scoop ever in the “Collateral Murder by Droning” story out of Iraq, Assange was indeed appreciatively backed over several times by a double-deck Routemaster bus chartered by the newspaper. Manning was also imprisoned and tortured. I’ll bet the Guardian did not even send a “get well soon” sympathy card. Meanwhile, the Guardian is now sure to hound you for cash whenever you inadvertently visit their shameless website.

  12. Kauai
    July 16, 2021 at 14:32

    I would like to invite readers here to contrast and compare Lauria’s version of the story with the one published on Op-Ed News:


    • richard baker
      July 17, 2021 at 05:31

      “Version of the story”? Lauria actually breaks things down a bit, while the article you linked is like a hundred others that take the Guardian article assertions at face value. It’s nothing but a waste of time.

      • Kauai
        July 17, 2021 at 13:25

        You’ve missed my point. Homans’ version is obviously from someone who isn’t paying attention.

  13. Maricata
    July 16, 2021 at 12:15

    Joe is right: look at the language.

    All language of assumptions:

    could be

    etc. etc.

    This is not journalism it is hucksterism of the worst sort.

    Harding continually appears on liberal podcasts. No one questions him.

    Only critical thinking can cut through the morass of lies and conealment.

  14. Antiwar7
    July 16, 2021 at 11:35

    Luke Harding doesn’t have zero credibility: he has negative credibility, thanks to all the falsehoods he’s written.

    If Harding can’t prove that his document is authentic, then we can assume it’s a fake. Period.

    On top of it, the document is ridiculously implausible. How could Russia know Trump even had a chance to win? And we know that Wikileaks did not get the DNC emails from Russia.

  15. Tedder
    July 16, 2021 at 11:11

    I am convinced that Vladimir Putin, faced with the warmongering Hillary Clinton would have preferred the buffoonish Donald Trump, just as the American spooks would prefer Añez in Bolivia over Morales. I doubt, however, that Putin would have devoted much resources towards aiding ‘colorful’ Trump’s election. Still, at the heart of any good propaganda is a kernel of truth.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      July 17, 2021 at 17:48

      I expect you will find many “kernels of truth” regarding the world’s hatred of the United States, including here within the U.S. and including mine.

      July 20, 2021 at 11:58

      The kernel of truth is that Russians wanted Obama to win as they later wanted Trump to win. Because as candidates they both claimed they wanted better relations. Once in office both of them made the situation worse. Russians are now totally disillusioned with Americans and American politics.

  16. July 16, 2021 at 10:46

    It appears, Harding is a loser.

    • Piotr Berman
      July 19, 2021 at 10:13

      It is not like he lost a war or a girlfriend. At rare occasion someone spits in his face, literally or figuratively. Still, it hurts — people of his sort often have fragile self-esteem.

  17. torture this
    July 16, 2021 at 10:12

    Nobody with a brain would give secret information to Harding because it would immediately be classified as bullshit based solely on the fact that Harding is a fool and a liar.

    • Gordon Hastie
      July 17, 2021 at 08:18

      No whistleblower with a brain would leak anything to the Guardian, given the way they’ve thrown previous whistleblowers under the bus.

  18. grayslady
    July 16, 2021 at 10:07

    It’s my understanding that Putin doesn’t even own a cell phone. We’re talking about an ultra-cautious individual here. The idea that he would sign his name to anything other than an official Russian document strikes me as laughable. He’s been too well trained.

    • Skeptic
      July 17, 2021 at 04:44

      Very good point.

    • Theo
      July 18, 2021 at 11:03

      Good point. Where as the Nazis and East German communists signed every order, documented and put into archives where it later could be used as irrefutable evidence,Saddam and Milosevic never signed any compromising orders. Saddam is told to have never even used telecommunications facilities to give high profile orders. They were sent by persons of trust.That made it very difficult for democratic courts to prove that they gave the orders. They certainly learned their lessons from German mistakes.

  19. Hans Suter
    July 16, 2021 at 09:53

    So Mr. Putin decided this before Iowa, he should have told Carly Fiorina.

  20. Cara MariAnna
    July 16, 2021 at 09:43

    If I may add some qualifiers of my own: Harding’s obsessive (mis)reporting on Russiagate appears to suggest that he may be an intelligence asset himself. Not unknown in the compromised profession of journalism

    • Maricata
      July 16, 2021 at 12:18

      He appears on @Lincolnsbible a lot. And on Prevail another stenographic attempt at journalism, this time by Greg Olear.

      They give him a great deal of credibility .

      But, as you say, he is likely, notice the word ‘likely’ an informant

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      July 17, 2021 at 17:50

      I had thought of that, too. But judging by the scorn being heaped on Harding from all directions, I’d say that if he were, he was doing a bad job. People are too smart to believe him any more.

    • Rob
      July 18, 2021 at 14:48

      Harding is clearly aligned with Western intelligence services, but whether he is an asset or a liability is open to question. That said, his constant harping on the Russiagate nonsense serves to keep the narrative alive in public consciousness and, hence, feeds the never ending Russophobia that is so useful to our political and military elites.

  21. Andrew Thomas
    July 16, 2021 at 09:37

    It is difficult to even remember those halcyon days when The Guardian was a real newspaper. Thank you, CN, Mr. Lauria, and your Russian-speaking commentariat for blowing up this fraud so quickly and thoroughly.

  22. susan mullen
    July 16, 2021 at 06:09

    The War Industry goes broke if it doesn’t have an imaginary Russian bad guy to sell to US taxpayers. Also, maybe the Guardian is one of those media outlets facing financial difficulty now that Trump is out of office. Trump as a news item provided them with a 5 year respite from bankruptcy.

  23. Donny Matter
    July 16, 2021 at 05:21

    Operation Mockingbird in flight.

  24. Yuliy Nesterenko
    July 16, 2021 at 04:01

    Reading the Russian media I found an article that cites numerous stylistic, punctuation errors and typos in just one paragraph, which are highly unlikely to be found in this level of documents. There are some very well educated editors and proofreaders in Kremlin who would probably catch these things before these documents would be made available for leaking. I, as a native Russian language speaker, can say that I agree with this assessment of linguistic inconsistencies , as long as the provided in the article excerpt is authentic. Here is the link: hxxps://

  25. Sergey
    July 16, 2021 at 03:35

    I read two half pages in Russian presented in the Harding article. First, there is no official classification, “secret” to not on them. Second, style seems to be familiar, I am ready to bet 1:5 that it was written by one or another Ukrainian SBU experts asked to concoct yet another “Zinoviev letter”. Sentences are too long and overcomplicated, for comparison look at Putin’s recent opinion about Ukraine. Think it could be safely assumed that Putin’s underlings would imitate his style of communication.
    So, unless the document is released in full and investigated, I think we should treat it as a fake.

    • Maricata
      July 16, 2021 at 12:20

      Anyone who makes ‘claims’ has the ethical and intellectual responsibility to back them up with evidence. If Harding cannot do this, then yes, we must treat this as an unfounded claim and thus false until proven guilty.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      July 17, 2021 at 17:51

      Thank you for your insight into this aspect.

  26. James Simpson
    July 16, 2021 at 03:03

    Luke Harding, of course, has history with The Guardian which has never admitted its part in ensuring Julian Assange ended up in HMP Belmarsh.

    “Award-winning Australian journalist Mark Davis shows how Guardian journalists appear to neglect any responsibility for redaction of the Afghan war logs. Instead, they left that task to Assange, who, according to Davis, spent several days and nights seeing to that… In 2011 Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding published a book, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. The book provided a passphrase to the unredacted US cables.

    The passphrase Leigh and Harding disclosed featured prominently in a chapter heading of the book. It’s worth mentioning that Harding was also co-author of a Guardian article that claimed Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, met with Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In an exclusive, The Canary went on to report the claim that the story was false.”


      July 16, 2021 at 06:16

      Consortium News extensively covered that story and we broke the Mark Davis story.

      CORRECTION: At a Politics in the Pub event in Sydney two years ago Australian journalist Mark Davis spoke publicly about Assange working through the night to redact names of informants from WikiLeaks releases, ahead of their publication. Consortium News filmed those remarks and published them. However, we have now learned that John Pilger reported those remarks from Davis back in 2013:


  27. John A
    July 16, 2021 at 01:54

    Several native Russian speaking language analysts say the Russian text shown in the article contain numerous elementary mistakes, throwing further doubt on the authenticity of Harding’s allegations. Harding also throws in a handful of Russian words in the English text with a helpful explanation of the English translation. Harding is a useful fool and a tool for US intelligence. The Guardian sinks even further into the gutter.

  28. Piotr Berman
    July 15, 2021 at 21:41

    The details of the “Putin’s decree” would be known to Russian government, so the vague quotes do not hide “methods” or whatever from them. But they prevent the evaluation of authenticity for the rest of us.

    For example, a document proving that Saddam Hussein made an inquiry to Niger government to purchase uranium ore was found to be “obviously inauthentic” the moment it was shown to international nuclear inspectors, “little things” like a minister who was not a minister at the time the document was dated and other “details” like the lack of control of Niger government over the ore from the company owned by the French.

    Here I would be interested how the documents were “marked”. Given the sensitive nature, they should not have a classification like “top secret” — and surely not lowly “secret”, but strictly compartmentalized by listing people who are allowed to see them.

  29. Jeff Harrison
    July 15, 2021 at 19:41

    Let’s hope not. Harding is a fraud and our alphabet soup of spy agencies have turned into the Praetorian Guard. Harding needs to be cashiered as a serious journalist and a number of agency personnel need to be thrown in the can for breaking the law.

    Buuuut, that’s very unlikely to happen and that is why we fail.

Comments are closed.