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---- via this intermediate figment of the imagination
rlange - 8:29 pm on Dec 21, 2011 (gmt 0)You administer Site A.
I'm not sure if I'm following that, either. Let me see...
Within Site A, you've mirrored pages from Site B. The original pages on Site B are noindex'ed and nofollow'ed, but otherwise publicly accessible.
Google Webmaster Tools began showing new links from Site C to one of these mirrored pages on Site A.
Google Webmaster Tools is reporting that these links from Site C are "via this intermediate link" and that "intermediate link" is actually from Site B.
Google Webmaster Tools is also reporting links from Site B to Site A.
Is that about it?
If so, that does seem to indicate that Site C is actually linking to a page on Site B and Site B is redirecting to the mirrored pages on Site A (your site). At least that's what my limited experience with "via this intermediate link" suggests.
This would be easy enough to test by visiting the "intermediate link" on Site B and seeing if it redirects you to Site A.
However, I think there may be an assumption in the second point that, just because the pages are noindex'ed and nofollow'ed, Google is completely unaware of those pages. That's probably not the case.
Warning: Full-blown fantasizing ahead. My starting assumptions:
Google is aware of the contents of pages, even if they're noindex'ed.
Site C is actually linking to the page on Site B.
I wonder if Google is doing some sort of automatic canonicalization. That is, I wonder if Google is detecting the duplication and assuming that your mirrored versions of the pages are the original. Because of this, Google Webmaster Tools sees the links on Site C to Site B and reports them as links to Site A via Site B, even if that's not reality.
That's a lot of assumptions on my part so don't take it as truth. Hopefully, if I've correctly laid out the scenario you're describing, someone more knowledgeable can offer a better explanation.
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