The strange story of the dossier, which United States intelligence agencies, the F.B.I., Senator John McCain and many journalists have had for weeks, if not months, and which Mr. Trump presumably must have known about, appears to have had personal consequences for Mr. Steele.
According to neighbors and news reports, Mr. Steele hurriedly left his home in Surrey, a county southwest of London, on Wednesday to avoid attention or possible retribution once his identity as the author of the dossier was revealed, first by The Wall Street Journal. The Journal reported that Mr. Steele had declined its interview requests because the subject was “too hot.”
Mr. Steele, 52, was a longstanding officer with MI6, the British equivalent of the C.I.A., serving in Paris and Moscow in the 1990s before retiring. In 2009, he started a private research firm, Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., with Christopher Burrows, now 58. Mr. Burrows has refused to confirm or deny that Mr. Steele and Orbis wrote the memos that made up the dossier, initially under contract to a Washington firm paid to dig into harmful matters from Mr. Trump’s past.
Trump Received Unsubstantiated Report That Russia Had Damaging Information About Him JAN. 10, 2017
Mr. Burrows’s profile page on LinkedIn describes him as a former counselor in the Foreign Office, with postings in Brussels and New Delhi in the early 2000s. Diplomatic postings are sometimes used to provide cover for intelligence agents. Mr. Steele’s profile on LinkedIn gives no specifics about his career.
He is known in British intelligence circles for his knowledge of the intricate web of Kremlin-tied companies and associates that control Russia.
Mr. Steele, as a known former MI6 agent, was thought not to have gone to Russia in his investigations but to have used contacts inside and outside the country to prepare the dossier, which United States intelligence agencies have said they cannot substantiate. But the file was used to prepare a two-page appendix to the intelligence presentation American officials gave to Mr. Trump last Friday.
Mr. Trump has denied the allegations in the dossier in the sharpest terms, and called them “fake news.” Russia has denied that it holds any compromising material on Mr. Trump.
John Sipher, who retired from the C.I.A. in 2014 after 28 years with the agency, described Mr. Steele as having a good reputation and “some credibility.” Mr. Sipher was stationed in Moscow in the 1990s, and then ran the C.I.A.’s Russia program for three years, according to an interview he gave to PBS NewsHour. He now works at CrossLead, a Washington-based technology company.
“I have confidence that the F.B.I. is going to follow this through,” Mr. Sipher said. “My nervousness is that these kind of things are going to dribble and drabble out for the next several years and cause a real problem for this administration going forward.”
An investigator for a business research firm in London similar to Orbis, who knows the work of the company but who has met Mr. Steele only briefly, said he was not impressed by the dossier.
“I have a lot of experience in this world,” he said. “If I were the client, I would throw it back and say, ‘Where’s the evidence guys? I can’t use this.’ ”
The investigator, who asked for anonymity because he did not want to discuss publicly the work of a competitor, said that “all intel has to be caveated.”
“Maybe they went to a usually reliable source,” he added, “but there’s no explanation about the credibility of these sources.”
He continued, “Maybe sometimes sources want to tell the investigators what their clients want to hear.”
Referring to companies like Orbis and his own, he said: “Usually your job would be to stop clients from dealing with corrupt, questionable counterparts in a high-risk country like Russia, but this same network could be put to use” to compile reports like the one on Mr. Trump.
“There’s a risk that maybe the sources fed questionable intelligence, knowing that it would do more damage to Trump’s enemies than to Trump,” the investigator suggested.
Orbis’s website says that it was “founded by former British intelligence professionals.” Based in Grosvenor Gardens, near Victoria Station in London, the company says it has a “sophisticated investigative capability” and mounts “intelligence-gathering operations” and “complex, often cross-border investigations.”
According to the website, it also offers “real-time source reporting on business and politics at all levels,” and “draws on extensive experience at boardroom level in government, multilateral diplomacy and international business to develop bespoke solutions for clients.”
Mr. Steele and Orbis have previously investigated corruption at FIFA, the governing body of world soccer.
In October, David Corn of Mother Jones magazine wrote about the dossier and described his conversations with Mr. Steele, whom he did not identify by name or nationality.
According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, a friend of Mr. Steele’s said that after his name and nationality were revealed, he had become “terrified for his and his family’s safety.”
Mr. Steele’s wife and children also were not at home.
|Journalists on Thursday outside the London offices of Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., co-founded by the former MI6 agent Christopher Steele. Credit Leon Neal/Getty Images|
Lurid Donald Trump dossier casts a shadow over MI6 and Christopher Steele, the man it trusted in Moscow
To the passengers on London buses passing it at a crawl, 9-11 Grosvenor Gardens did not merit a second glance on Thursday.
The Georgian office building near Victoria railway station is like thousands of others around the capital, so few would bother to wonder what goes on inside.
They might just have turned their heads, though, if they had been aware that this is ground zero for the most explosive dirty tricks row to engulf a US president-elect for a generation.
For the past eight years it has been the headquarters of Orbis Business Intelligence, where one of the desks is occupied by Christopher Steele, the former MI6 officer who compiled a toxic dossier on Donald Trump that now threatens Mr Trump’s relationship with Britain, Russia, and the US intelligence services.
For more than a year, Mr Steele, a Cambridge-educated father-of-four, has worked in the shadows, building up intelligence from sources in Russia on Mr Trump’s dealings with the country after being hired by anti-Trump Republicans and then Democrats to find mud and make it stick.
Anonymity is a spy’s best friend, and Mr Steele managed to pass his findings on to journalists, the FBI and MI6 without his name entering the public domain – until now. With his cover blown, he faces a personal fight to salvage his reputation after Mr Trump loudly decried his dossier as “fake”.
More worryingly, he has also dragged MI6 into the growing row, with Russia claiming he is still working for his former employer. The attention has switched from Donald Trump to the man who compiled the report, and the question of whether he, or the information he supplied, can be trusted.
Murkiness is the hallmark of all spy stories, and Mr Steele’s is no different in that respect. His route to MI6 was straightforward enough; after growing up in solidly middle-class Wokingham, Berkshire, he went to Cambridge where, in 1986, he served a term as president of the Cambridge Union debating society.
Coincidentally, his opposite number at the Oxford Union in the same term was Boris Johnson, now Foreign Secretary and the minister responsible for MI6.
Mr Steele, 52, was soon recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service, and by 1990 he was in Moscow as a spy working out of the British Embassy. His contemporaries included another young recruit, Alex Younger, who rose through the ranks to become the current head of MI6.
While Mr Younger was marked for greatness, Mr Steele was described by one source as a medium-ranked officer of middling ability, who spent most of his 20-year MI6 career on the Russia desk.
At one point he ran MI6’s Intelligence Officers New Entry Course at its training establishment in Hampshire, and he was appointed as case officer to the FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko. It was in 2006, shortly after Mr Steele’s retirement, that Mr Litvinenko was assassinated in London with a lethal dose of radioactive polonium-210 added to his tea.
Nigel West, European Editor of the World Intelligence Review, suggests Litvinenko’s death inevitably coloured Mr Steele’s view of Russia, and turned him into a “man with a mission”.
By 2009 he had founded Orbis with Christopher Burrows, another MI6 retiree, offering clients access to a “high–level source network with a sophisticated investigative capability”.
So it was to Orbis that Jeb Bush, one of Mr Trump’s opponents in the Republican presidential primaries, reportedly turned when he wanted to find material that would damage the billionaire businessman.
Associates of Mr Bush hired FusionGPS, a Washington DC-based political research firm, which in turn hired Orbis in December 2015. When Mr Trump became the presumptive nominee, the Republicans ended the deal with FusionGPS, but Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton stepped in and continued funding Mr Steele’s research.
By May last year journalists in Washington were already beginning to hear rumours about the dossier, and by October its existence, and the role of a “former spy” were being written about in US publications.
The 35-page dossier, however, did not see the light of day because of questions over its veracity. Journalists from numerous media companies spent months trying to find evidence to back up the claims made in the dossier, without success.
Meanwhile, Mr Steele, believing its contents to be too important to be restricted only to Mr Trump’s political enemies, is understood to have passed copies of his findings to both the FBI, via its Rome office, and to his old colleagues at MI6.
The Daily Telegraph has been told that the FBI arranged a meeting with Mr Steele in Europe where they discussed his findings with him. Sources have told the Telegraph that the FBI’s approach was approved by the British Government.
Then, earlier this week, the existence of the dossier became public knowledge when the CNN news network reported that Mr Trump and President Obama had been given a two-page summary of its contents, suggesting the FBI regarded it as sufficiently credible to be put in front of the two men. The news website Buzzfeed then decided to publish the dossier in full.
As all hell broke loose in America, Mr Trump used a news conference in New York to attack the dossier as “phoney” and accuse US intelligence of deliberately leaking it to the media.
Mr Steele packed his bags and fled his Surrey home, leaving others to debate the questions that still remain over his reliability, and that of his report.
Intelligence experts are divided. Some have dismissed it as gossip peddled by Russian expats, while others have suggested that it is well-sourced.
Opinion is divided on Mr Steele, too. One former colleague described him as “very credible” and “an experienced and highly-regarded professional... not the sort of person who will simply pass on gossip”. Another said he was “not top-drawer”.
Former MI6 officer Harry Ferguson told the BBC: "Chris was a strong, middle-ranking SIS (MI6) officer and I don't quite agree that this was a sub-par report.
"It seems to me that Chris was careful, as to try and find as many sources as possible to back these stories up, but also to make it clear that these are stories, and that what this intelligence report has at the moment is that it lacks that killer evidence."
Meanwhile Mr Steele remains in hiding, possibly in an MI6 safe house with his wife and four children. His immediate concern is not for his reputation, but for his safety.
His father-in-law, David Hunt, said from his home near Newbury: “Of course I know what he does, some sort of consultancy, but only the broad outlines.
“Christopher never went into the details. It’s all very unfortunate because the last thing he’d want is for his name to be out there, associated with this kind of thing.”
His mother-in-law Jane Reveley said: “I didn’t know anything about this. The first I knew was when I heard it on the Today programme this morning.”
At his home in Hampshire, Mr Steele’s business partner Mr Burrows said: “I think in the light of what has happened it would not be appropriate for me to make a comment on whether Orbis was involved or not.
“This is something we will review in the next couple of days. I am not going to make any comment on the dossier.”
As Mr Steele contemplates his next move, MI6 will also be conducting a damage assessment of just how badly its reputation, and its relationship with the Trump presidency, has been dented. The fact that its boss, Mr Younger, is a former colleague and reportedly a friend of Mr Steele is unlikely to help.
Ex-MI6 officer Christopher Steele in hiding after Trump dossier
An ex-MI6 officer who is believed to have prepared memos claiming Russia has compromising material on US President-elect Donald Trump is now in hiding, the BBC understands.
Christopher Steele, who runs a London-based intelligence firm, is believed to have left his home this week.
The memos contain unsubstantiated claims that Russian security officials have compromising material on Mr Trump.
The US president-elect said the claims were "fake news" and "phoney stuff".
Mr Steele has been widely named as the author of a series of memos - which have been published as a dossier in some US media - containing extensive allegations about Mr Trump's personal life and his campaign's relationship with the Russian state.
Among the allegations are that Moscow has a video recording of Mr Trump with prostitutes and damaging information about his business activities.
BBC News correspondent Paul Wood said he understood Mr Steele left his home on either Tuesday or Wednesday, before he was publicly named, and was now "in hiding".
He said he had been told Mr Steele, a father of four, had asked his neighbour to look after his three cats.
Our correspondent said he had been shown the memos about Mr Trump in October last year, when he was told Mr Steele was "in fear of his life", having spoken out about potential Russian involvement in Mr Trump's election.
He said he had been told by members of the intelligence community that Mr Steele was "extremely highly regarded" and was thought of as "competent".
The central allegation made in the memos was that Mr Trump was "vulnerable to blackmail", he added.
Mr Steele has not responded to the BBC's request for a comment about the revelations about Mr Trump.
Claims about a Russian blackmail tape were made in one of a series of reports written by a former British intelligence agent.
As a member of MI6, he had been posted to the UK's embassy in Moscow and now runs a consultancy giving advice on doing business in Russia. He spoke to a number of his old contacts in the FSB, the successor to the KGB, paying some of them for information.
They told him that Mr Trump had been filmed with a group of prostitutes in the presidential suite of Moscow's Ritz-Carlton hotel.
I know this because the Washington political research company that commissioned his report showed it to me during the final week of the election campaign.
The BBC decided not to use it then, for the very good reason that without seeing the tape - if it exists - we could not know if the claims were true. The detail of the allegations were certainly lurid.
The entire series of reports has now been posted by BuzzFeed.
Mr Steele, who was initially named in the US, is believed to be a former member of the Secret Intelligence Service - MI6 - and is a director of Orbis Business Intelligence - which describes itself as a leading corporate intelligence consultancy.
Founded in 2009 by former British intelligence professionals, the firm - based in Grosvenor Gardens, central London - has a "global network" of experts and "prominent business figures", according to its website.
Orbis says it offers "strategic advice", as well as mounting "intelligence-gathering operations" and cross-border investigations.
Christopher Burrows, who is listed as a co-director of Orbis alongside Mr Steele, refused to confirm or deny whether the firm had produced the reports on Mr Trump.
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said Mr Steele had previously been an intelligence officer - rather than agent - in MI6, who would have run a team of agents as an intelligence gatherer.
However, as Mr Steele was now working in the private sector, our correspondent said, there was "probably a fair bit of money involved" in the commissioning of the reports.
He said there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations and it was still possible the dossier had been based on what "people had said" about Mr Trump "without any proof".
Mr Steele reportedly spent years under diplomatic cover working for MI6 in Russia and France, as well as at the Foreign Office in London.
He is reported to have supplied the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with information on allegations of corruption at Fifa, football's world governing body.
Prime Minister Theresa May's official spokeswoman said she would not comment on allegations against Mr Trump, other than to say those allegedly involved in producing the document were "former employees" of the government.
Asked whether Downing Street knew if any current British agents had any role in the dossier, she said she had seen nothing in any of the reports to suggest so.
Labour MP Mary Creagh called for Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to tell parliament what the UK government knew about the dossier.
Meanwhile, Marina Litvinenko, the widow of murdered Alexander Litvinenko, who was critical of Russia's leader Vladmir Putin, said Mr Steele had been put in danger by collecting such information.
She told the BBC: "I believe it is very dangerous, particularly after death of my husband, because when you just approach very specific information, particularly when this information very close to very powerful people, you might be in this line and you just easily might be killed."
The 35-page dossier on Mr Trump - which is believed to have been commissioned initially by Republicans opposed to Mr Trump - has been circulating in Washington for some time.
Media organisations, uncertain of its credibility, initially held back from publication. However, the entire series of reports has now been posted online, with Mr Steele named as the author.
Intelligence agencies considered the claims relevant enough to brief both Mr Trump and President Obama last week.
But the allegations have not been independently substantiated or verified and some details have been challenged as incorrect by those who are mentioned.
Mr Trump himself was briefed about the existence of the allegations by the US intelligence community last week but has since described them as fake news, accusing the US intelligence services of leaking the dossier.