Christopher Steele

Christopher David Steele (born 24 June 1964) is a former British intelligence officer, and a founding director of Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based private intelligence firm. He is the author of a controversial 2016 report that claims Russia collected a file of compromising information on U.S. president Donald Trump.

Early life and education

Christopher David Steele was born in Aden, Federation of South Arabia, on 24 June 1964. He attended Girton College, Cambridge and wrote for the oldest of Cambridge University's main student newspapers, Varsity. In the Easter term of 1986, Steele was President of The Cambridge Union. He was known as a "confirmed Socialist", and graduated with a degree in Social and Political Sciences in 1986.

Career

Steele was recruited by MI6 directly following his graduation from Cambridge, working in London at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) from 1987 to 1989. From 1990 to 1992, Steele worked under diplomatic cover as an MI6 agent in Moscow, serving at the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Moscow. Steele's identity as an MI6 officer was one of 115 names Her Majesty's Government attempted to suppress through a DSMA-Notice in 1999. He returned to London in 1993, working again at the FCO until his posting to Paris in 1998, where he served under diplomatic cover until 2002. In 2003, Steele was sent to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan as part of an MI6 team, briefing Special Forces on "kill or capture" missions for Taliban targets, and also spent time teaching new MI6 recruits. Between 2004 and 2009 Steele headed the Russia Desk at MI6.

Steele's expertise on Russia remained valued, and he served as a senior officer under John Scarlett, Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), from 2004 to 2009. Steele was selected as case officer for Alexander Litvinenko and participated in the investigation of the Litvinenko poisoning in 2006. It was Steele who quickly realised that Litvinenko's death "was a Russian state 'hit'".

In March 2009, Steele with his fellow MI6-retiree Chris Burrows co-founded the private intelligence agency Orbis Business Intelligence, Ltd., based in Grosvenor Square Gardens near Buckingham Palace.

FIFA research

In 2010, The Football Association, England's domestic football governing body, organized a committee in hopes of hosting the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. In advance of the FBI launching its 2015 FIFA corruption case, members of the FBI's "Eurasian Organized Crime" squad met with Steele in London to discuss allegations of possible corruption in the FIFA.

2017 Trump dossier

Background and information gathering

In September 2015, Republicans who were concerned about the possibility of Donald Trump winning the Republican presidential nomination retained the services of Fusion GPS, a private Washington D.C. opposition research firm, to investigate Trump's Russia-related activities. By early June 2016, it was clear that Trump had secured the GOP nomination for the 2016 general election. According to David Corn of Mother Jones, Democrats then took over from the Republicans in financing the inquiry into Donald Trump's activity in Russia and Europe. It was at this time that Steele's services were retained by Fusion GPS.

In July 2016, Steele, on his own initiative, supplied a report he had written to an FBI agent in Rome. His contact at the FBI was the same senior agent with whom he had worked when investigating the FIFA scandal. By early October 2016, he had grown frustrated at the slow rate of progress by the FBI investigation, and cut off further contact with the FBI.

In October 2016, Steele spoke about his discoveries to David Corn of the progressive American political magazine Mother Jones. Steele said he decided to pass his dossier to both British and American intelligence officials after concluding that the material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Trump, but was a matter of national security for both countries. Corn's resulting October 31 article was the first to publicly mention the dossier, although the article did not disclose Steele's identity. The magazine did not publish the dossier itself, however, or detail its allegations, since they could not be verified.

Post-election work on the dossier

The project was no longer of interest to the Democrats, following Trump’s victory in November 2016. Steele continued to work for Fusion GPS on the dossier without a client to pay him. After the election, Steele's memos "became one of Washington’s worst-kept secrets, as reporters — including from The New York Times — scrambled to confirm or disprove them."

On 18 November 2016, Sir Andrew Wood, British ambassador to Moscow from 1995 to 2000, met with U.S. Senator John McCain at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada, and told McCain about the existence of the collected materials about Trump. Wood vouched for Steele’s professionalism and integrity. In early December, McCain obtained a copy of the dossier from David J. Kramer, a former U.S. State Department official who now works at Arizona State University. On 9 December 2016 McCain met personally with FBI Director James Comey to pass on the information.

Disclosure and reactions

A two-page summary of the Trump dossier was presented to President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump in meetings with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers.

On 10 January 2017, BuzzFeed was the first media outlet to publish the full 35-page dossier. In publishing the Trump dossier, BuzzFeed stated that it had been unable to verify or corroborate the allegations. The UK issued a DSMA notice on 10 January 2017, requesting that the media not release Steele's identity, although the BBC and other UK news media released the information in news stories the same day. Trump vigorously denied the dossier’s allegations, calling it fake news during a press conference. Russia has also dismissed the claims.

Ynet, an Israeli online news site, reported that American intelligence advised Israeli intelligence officers to be cautious about sharing information with the incoming Trump administration, until the possibility of Russian influence over Trump, suggested by Steele's report, has been fully investigated.

Another, more recent, former British ambassador to Russia, Sir Tony Brenton, read Steele's report. He told Sky News that "I've seen quite a lot of intelligence on Russia, and there are some things in it which look pretty shaky." Brenton expressed some doubts due to discrepancies in how the dossier described aspects of the hacking activities, as well as Steele's ability to penetrate the Kremlin and Russian security agencies, given that he is an outsider.

On 15 March 2017, former CIA Director Michael Morrell raised questions about the dossier. He was concerned about the accuracy of the information, due to the approach taken by Steele to gather it. Steele gave money to intermediaries and the intermediaries paid the sources. Morrell said, "Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can't judge the information — you just can't." Morrell continues to believe that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 U.S.presidential election.

Compromised identity

On 11 January 2017, The Wall Street Journal revealed that Steele was the author of the controversial dossier about Trump, citing "people familiar with the matter." Although the dossier's existence had been "common knowledge" among journalists for months at that point and had become public knowledge during the previous week, Steele's name had not been revealed. The Telegraph asserted that Steele's anonymity had been "fatally compromised" after CNN published his nationality.

The Independent reported that Steele left his home in England several hours before his name was published as the author of the dossier, as he was fearful of retaliation by Russian authorities. In contrast, The Washington Post reported that he left after he had been identified earlier in the day by the initial Wall Street Journal report.

Christopher Burrows, director of Orbis Business Intelligence, Ltd., said he would not "confirm or deny" that Orbis had produced the dossier.

On 7 March 2017, as some members of Congress in the US were expressing interest in meeting with or hearing testimony from Steele, he reemerged after weeks in hiding, appearing publicly on camera and stating, "I'm really pleased to be back here working again at the Orbis's offices in London today."

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