British spy at centre of Trump allegations 'very competent'

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Associated Press

Christopher Steele, the one-time British spy who has compiled an explosive dossier on President-elect Donald Trump, is a well-regarded operative who wouldn't make up stories to satisfy his clients, according to diplomatic and intelligence experts who know him.

The President-elect came out against the intelligence community, but had some words of praise for the media.
Source: Associated Press

Steele, 52, worked for MI6, Britain's overseas intelligence agency, and served in Moscow in the early 1990s.

After leaving the agency, he and a partner started Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd. in 2009.

The firm provides strategic advice, gathers intelligence and conducts cross-border investigations, according to its website.

"I know him as a very competent, professional operator who left the secret service and is now operating his own private company," Andrew Wood, Britain's ambassador to Russia from 1995 to 2000, told the BBC on Friday.

"I do not think he would make things up. I don't think he would, necessarily, always draw correct judgment, but that's not the same thing."

The dossier was reportedly produced as opposition research for the 2016 US presidential campaign and was being discussed in Washington as early as October, even though its details weren't widely reported until this week.

The report contains unproven information on close coordination between Trump's inner circle and the Russians about hacking into Democratic accounts - as well as unproven claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump attributed to anonymous sources.

The claims have not been authenticated.

Wood said US Senator John McCain asked him about the document during a security conference in November because of Wood's relationship with Steele.

After their conversation, McCain made arrangements to get a copy of the report, Wood told the BBC.

Wood is now an associate fellow at the think tank Chatham House and is a consultant for companies with interests in Russia.

Three British intelligence officers interviewed by The Associated Press described Steele as well regarded in the intelligence community, with excellent Russian skills and high-level sources.

Although Steele wasn't a senior figure in MI6, one of the officials said because of Steele's experience on the Russia desk and the high-level contacts he had during his time in Moscow, he was brought in to help with the case of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian secret service officer and Kremlin critic who was poisoned in 2006 in London by polonium-210, a radioactive substance.

The official, who worked primarily on Eastern Europe, said he had no other details of Steele's involvement in the case.

James Nixey, the head of Chatham House's Russia and Eurasia program, told the Associated Press that parts of the document created by Steele "read exactly as reports from the secret services that we have been allowed to see before."

"Some of the practices which we know and which are confirmed to have happened during Soviet and post-Soviet times are reported in this dossier," Nixey said, adding that Russia's denials were also part of a Cold War pattern in which the Kremlin "would outright deny something which is quite plainly true".

All three of the former intelligence officials, however, cast doubt on whether the material in the report and its level of detail would have come from active sources within Russia.

The material, they said, was more likely to have come from conversations with third parties.

Wood said it seems unlikely that Russian operatives intentionally lied to Steele. He added that it is not surprising that he has gone into hiding.

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