Christopher Steele: the ex-MI6 spy behind Trump’s dirty dossier

Former British officer accused of leaking research to the FBI and media

The Lioness and Lesser Kudu statue outside the London HQ of Orbis Business Intelligence
(Image credit: Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Former MI6 officer Christopher Steele is the author of the explosive “dirty dossier” alleging ties between Russia and Donald Trump - accusations that have prompted Trump to question the ex-Moscow agents political leanings.

Steele has said little since apparently fleeing his Surrey home in January 2017 after the 35-page briefing, and his identity, came to light. A source close to him told The Daily Telegraph at the time that Steele was “horrified” that even his nationality had been published, and was “terrified for his and his family’s safety”.

Steele's memos contained unverified claims that Russia has compromising material on Trump - claims that the US president has blasted as “fake news” and an “absolute disgrace”.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Members of the intelligence community told BBC news correspondent Paul Wood in 2017 that Steele was “extremely, highly regarded” and “competent”. Steele had spoken to several contacts in the FSB, the successor to the KGB, and paid some of them for the information, according to Wood.

With Steele’s name once again headline news, as a result of a memo released by Trump on Friday, The Week looks at what is known so far about the 53-year-old Cold War operator.

The early years

After graduating from the University of Cambridge, where he was president of the Union, Steele joined MI6, working as a Moscow field agent, then as head of MI6’s Russia desk, and as an adviser to British Special Forces on capture-or-kill ops in Afghanistan, Vanity Fair reported last April.

According to The Daily Telegraph, he also worked in London as the case officer for FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko, who was assassinated by polonium poisoning in 2006.

Steele retired from intelligence work in 2009, shortly before the death of his first wife. The former agent, who has since remarried, then founded London-based private investigations firm Orbis Business Intelligence, which went on to investigate corruption at Fifa, football’s governing body, leading to the resignation of former Fifa president Sepp Blatter.

The Trump dossier was reportedly prepared under contract to both Republican and Democratic adversaries of the president. Steele’s business partner Christopher Burrows, who has refused to either confirm or deny that Orbis produced the report, told The Wall Street Journal: “We [Orbis] have no political axe to grind; the objective is to respond to the requirements set out by our clients.”

In April 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired research firm Fusion GPS - who, in turn, reportedly hired Steele - to examine Trump’s ties to Russia. Steele was “sufficiently alarmed” by his discoveries to seek out an FBI contact in Rome, to supply the memo and other information, The Washington Post reports.

‘Serious concerns’

By September 2016, Steele was allegedly briefing reporters from The New York Times, The New Yorker, CNN and other media outlets about possible Russian interference in the US election, according to a London court filing linked to a Buzzfeed publication of the dossier and seen by The Washington Post.

Last month, Republican US Sen. Lindsey O. Graham told NBC’s Meet the Press that Steele was on the payroll of Fusion GPS and allegedly working as an FBI “informant” who was “shopping this dossier all over the world”. Graham and another Republican senator have referred their concerns to the Department of Justice (DOJ), asking for a “criminal probe”, Bloomberg reports.

The memo released by Donald Trump last week says Steele’s Russia dossier “formed an essential part” of applications by the FBI and DOJ to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The White House says the latest memo raises “serious concerns” about the integrity of the Russia investigation. However, the FBI claims the memo is inaccurate and omits key facts.

As for Steele? He is still keeping a low profile - though perhaps not for long.

The FBI is apparently aware of a second dossier alleging Trump has been compromised by Russia - a dossier that The Guardian says was also passed to the authorities by Steele.

Image removed.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.