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Christopher Steele

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Christopher Steele
Born (1964-06-24) 24 June 1964 (age 54)
EducationGirton College, Cambridge (BA)
OccupationSecret Intelligence Service (1987–2009)
Private intelligence consultant

Christopher David Steele (born 24 June 1964) is a British former intelligence officer with the Secret Intelligence Service MI6 from 1987 until his retirement in 2009. He ran the Russia desk at MI6 headquarters in London between 2006 and 2009. In 2009 he co-founded Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based private intelligence firm.

Steele authored a dossier that claims Russia collected a file of compromising information on U.S. President Donald Trump.[1][2]

It has been falsely claimed[3][4] by Donald Trump and his supporters that U.S. intelligence community probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election were launched due to Steele's dossier.[5] The House Intelligence Committee, then in Republican control, concluded in an April 2018 report that the probe was triggered based on information on Trump adviser George Papadopoulos; meanwhile the February 2018 Nunes memo written by staff members for that committee also reached the same conclusion.[6][7]

Early life

Christopher David Steele was born in the Yemeni city of Aden (then part of the Federation of South Arabia), on 24 June 1964.[8][9] His parents, Perris and Janet, had met while working at the Met Office, the United Kingdom's national weather service. His paternal grandfather was a coal miner from Pontypridd in Wales.[10] Steele spent time growing up in Aden, the Shetland Islands, and Cyprus, as well as at Wellington College, Berkshire.[10]

Steele matriculated at Girton College, Cambridge in 1982. While at the University of Cambridge, he wrote for the student newspaper, Varsity.[8][10][11] In the Easter term of 1986, Steele was President of The Cambridge Union debating society.[12][13] He graduated with a degree in Social and Political Sciences in 1986.[14]

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.[9] From 1990 to 1993, Steele worked under diplomatic cover as an MI6 agent in Moscow, serving at the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Moscow.[8][13][15] Steele was an "internal traveller", visiting newly-accessible cities such as Samara and Kazan.[10][16][17]

He returned to London in 1993, working again at the FCO until his posting with the British Embassy in Paris in 1998, where he served under diplomatic cover until 2002. But Steele's identity as an MI6 officer and a hundred and sixteen other British spies had their cover blown by an anonymously published list that Her Majesty's Government attempted to suppress through a DSMA-Notice in 1999.[8][15][18][19][20]

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.[15] Steele returned to London and between 2006 and 2009 he headed the Russia Desk at MI6.[8][10][13][21]

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.[21] Steele was selected as case officer for Alexander Litvinenko and participated in the investigation of the Litvinenko poisoning in 2006.[15] It was Steele who quickly realised that Litvinenko's death "was a Russian state 'hit'".[21] Twelve years later he allegedly was included himself into a hit list of the Russian Federal Security Service, along with Sergei Skripal who was poisoned in 2018 by a binary chemical weapon Novichok in Britain.[22]

Since 2009 Steele has not been to Russia, or visited any former Soviet states and in 2012, an Orbis informant quoted an FSB-agent describing him as an "enemy of Mother Russia".[8] Steele has refrained from travelling to the United States since his identity became public, citing the political and legal situation.[23]

Private sector

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.[24][13] Between 2014 and 2016, Steele created over 100 reports on Russian and Ukrainian issues, which were read within the United States Department of State, and he was viewed as credible by the United States intelligence community.[10] The business was commercially successful, grossing approximately $20,000,000 in the first nine years of operation.[8]

Steele ran an investigation dubbed "Project Charlemagne", which noted Russian interference in the domestic politics of France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.[8] Steele concluded in April 2016 that Russia was engaged in an information warfare campaign with the goal of destroying the European Union.[8]

In 2017, Steele established a new company called Chawton Holdings, again with Christopher Burrows.[25] In November 2018, Steele sued the German industrial group Bilfinger, alleging that the company owed €150,000 for an investigation into Bilfinger's activities in Nigeria and Sakhalin.[26]

FIFA research

In 2010, The Football Association (FA), England's domestic football governing body, organized a committee in hopes of hosting the 2018 or 2022 World Cups.[27] The FA hired Steele's company to investigate FIFA (International Federation of Association Football). In advance of the FBI launching its 2015 FIFA corruption case, members of the FBI's Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force met with Steele in London to discuss allegations of possible corruption in FIFA.[24][28] Steele's research indicated that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin had rigged the bidding of the 2018 World Cups by employing bribery.[8]

Trump dossier

Background and information gathering

In September 2015, the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, retained the services of Fusion GPS, a private Washington D.C. political research firm, to conduct research on several primary Republican Party candidates including candidate Trump. The research was unrelated to Russia and was ended once Trump was determined to be the presidential nominee.

The firm was subsequently hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through their shared attorney at Perkins Coie, Marc Elias. Fusion GPS then hired Steele[29] to investigate Trump's Russia-related activities.[24] According to CNN, Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee took over the financing of the inquiry into Donald Trump and produced what became known as the Trump dossier.[30]

In July 2016, Steele supplied a report he had written to an FBI agent in Rome.[31] His contact at the FBI was the same senior agent with whom he had worked when investigating the FIFA scandal.[15][8]

In September 2016, Steele held a series of off the record meetings with journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Yahoo! News, The New Yorker and CNN.[10] 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.[32] Corn's resulting 31 October article in Mother Jones was the first to publicly mention the dossier, although the article did not disclose Steele's identity.[32] The magazine did not publish the dossier itself, however, or detail its allegations, since they could not be verified.[33]

Post-election work on the dossier

Steele continued to work for Fusion GPS on the dossier without a client to pay him.[34] After the election, Steele's dossier "became one of Washington's worst-kept secrets, and journalists worked to verify the allegations.[34] 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.[35] Wood vouched for Steele's professionalism and integrity.[36] In early December, McCain obtained a copy of the dossier from David J. Kramer, a former U.S. State Department official working at Arizona State University.[34] On 9 December 2016, McCain met personally with FBI Director James Comey to pass on the information.[35]

In a second memo Steele wrote in November 2016, after the termination of his contract with Fusion, he reported that Russian officials had claimed that Russia had blocked Donald Trump from nominating Mitt Romney to be his Secretary of State, due to Romney's hawkishness on Russia.[8][37]

Revealed identity

On 11 January 2017, The Wall Street Journal revealed that Steele was the author of the dossier about Trump, citing "people familiar with the matter".[2] 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.[29]

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.[29] 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.[38]

Christopher Burrows, director of Orbis Business Intelligence, Ltd., said he would not "confirm or deny" that Orbis had produced the dossier.[39]

Steele's relationship with the FBI ended, variously associated with either the public revelation of Steele's identity, or Steele's release of information to the press, or Steele's denial to the FBI of having spoken to the press.[40][41] One source dates this event to late October 2016.[42]

On 7 March 2017, as some members of the United States Congress 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".[43]

Disclosure and reactions

In early January 2017, 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.[44]

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.[45] The UK issued a DSMA notice on 10 January 2017, requesting that the media not release Steele's identity,[46] although the BBC and other UK news media released the information in news stories the same day.[16] Trump vigorously denied the dossier's allegations, calling it fake news during a press conference.[47] Vladimir Putin also dismissed the claims.[48]

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.[49]

Former British ambassador to Russia, Sir Tony Brenton, read Steele's report. Speaking on Sky News he said, "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.[50]

On 15 March 2017, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell 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. Morell 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". Morell continues to believe that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.[51]

Role in the origins of the FBI's Russia investigation

Although the dossier later became one factor among many in the Russia investigation, it had no role in the start of the investigation. This fact has been the subject of intense discussion and controversy, largely fueled by false claims made by Trump and his supporters.[52][53][54]

In early February 2018, the Nunes memo, written by aides of Republican U.S. Representative Devin Nunes (who was at the time the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee), described that the information on George Papadopoulos "triggered the opening of" the original FBI investigation in late July 2016 into links between the Trump campaign and Russia.[55] In late February 2018, a rebuttal memo by Democrats in the House Intelligence Committee stated that "Christopher Steele's reporting ... played no role in launching the counterintelligence investigation ... In fact, Steele's reporting did not reach the counterintelligence team investigating Russia at FBI headquarters until mid-September 2016, more than seven weeks after the FBI opened its investigation, because the probe's existence was so closely held within the FBI."[56][57]

In April 2018, the House Intelligence Committee, then in Republican control, released a final report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential American election, which stated that the House Intelligence Committee found that "in late July 2016, the FBI opened an enterprise CI [counterintelligence] investigation into the Trump campaign following the receipt of derogatory information about foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos".[6][7][58]

Role in subsequent investigations

In the summer of 2017, two Republican staffers for the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence travelled to London to investigate the dossier, visiting the office of Steele's lawyer but not meeting with Steele.[59] In August 2018, Representative Devin Nunes, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, travelled to London in an attempt to meet with the heads of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ for information about Steele, but was rebuffed by the three agencies.[60][61]

Steele reportedly revealed the identities of the sources used in the dossier to the FBI.[62] Investigators from Robert Mueller's Special Counsel investigation team met with Steele in September 2017 to interview him about the dossier's claims.[63][64] The United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is in continued contact with lawyers representing Steele.[65]

Legal action

In February 2017, lawyers for Russian internet entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev filed a libel suit against Steele in London. Gubarev claimed he was defamed by allegations in the dossier.[66]

In August 2017, lawyers for Gubarev demanded Steele give a deposition regarding the dossier, as part of a libel lawsuit against BuzzFeed News[67][68][69] filed in February.[70] Steele objected to testifying but his objections were rejected by U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Mancusi Ungaro, who allowed the deposition to proceed.[71][72][70]

In April 2018, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and German Khan – the owners of Alfa Bank – filed a libel suit against Steele, who mentioned the bank in the Trump–Russia dossier. The lawsuit is filed in Washington D.C.[73] The lawsuit was dismissed by Judge Anthony C. Epstein on August 20, 2018.[74][75]

Senate Republicans' referral for a criminal investigation

On 5 January 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, joined by senior Republican member Lindsey Graham, issued a criminal referral regarding Steele to the Justice Department for it to investigate whether Steele had lied to the FBI about his interactions with the media.[76][77][78][79] Because the referral is based on classified FBI documents, the context in which the Republican senators allege Steele to have lied is limited to references that he discussed the dossier with media outlets.[79] Both Grassley and Graham declared that they were not alleging that Steele "had committed any crime. Rather, they had passed on the information for 'further investigation only'".[80]

The referral was met with skepticism from legal experts, as well as members of both parties on the Judiciary Committee.[78] Fusion GPS lawyer Joshua A. Levy said that the referral was just another effort to discredit the investigation into Russian interference in the election and that: "After a year of investigations into Donald Trump's ties to Russia, the only person Republicans seek to accuse of wrongdoing is one who reported on these matters to law enforcement in the first place".[78] Veteran prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg called the referral "nonsense" because "the FBI doesn't need any prompting from politicians to prosecute people who have lied to them."[78] Another former federal prosecutor, Justin Dillon said that "it was too early to assume the letter was simply a political attack". The senior Democrat on the Committee, Diane Feinstein, said that the referral was made without consultation of any Democrats on the committee and released a five-page rebuttal.[81] A Republican aide said that Grassley and Graham were "carrying water for the White House"; that their actions did not reflect the views of the committee as a whole; and that other members were upset with Grassley over the matter.[78]

In an opinion-editorial for Politico, former CIA official John Sipher said that the attacks on Steele, a private citizen who provided information to the FBI that alarmed him, will make future tipsters less likely to approach American law enforcement with information that bears on national security.[82]

Personal life

His first wife, Laura, with whom he had three children, died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2012; he and his second wife Katherine had one child and are raising all four children together.[8] He currently lives in Farnham, Surrey.[8]

References

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    1. "We annotated the full Nunes memo on the Russia probe". PBS. Retrieved 27 March 2019. The memo underscores the intensifying partisan debate over special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia. ... The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok.
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    3. French, David. "The Big Flaw in the Memo". National Review. Retrieved 27 March 2019. Well, if the newly released Nunes memo is correct, House Republicans and the Trump administration just confirmed the Times’ scoop ... Ironically enough, the memo in fact confirms the necessity of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
    4. Yuhas, Alex. "What is the Devin Nunes memo about and how does it affect Trump?". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2019. The four-page document released on Friday is at the heart of a firestorm over Donald Trump, Russia and special counsel Robert Mueller. What’s in it? ... the memo acknowledges that Papadopoulos, not Page, “triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016”.
    5. Easley, Jonathan. "Memo: Papadopoulos info triggered FBI's Russia investigation". The Hill. Retrieved 27 March 2019. according to the memo released Friday by House Intelligence Committee Republicans ... Russia investigation itself — and by extension, special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe — was launched from ... "information" about Papadapoulos, rather than the dossier.
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Further reading

External links