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Former MI6 officer Christopher Steele, who produced Donald Trump Russian dossier, 'terrified for his safety' and went to ground before name released

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 12/01/2017 By Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter and Patrick Sawer, Senior Reporter and Ruth Sherlock

© Rex A former MI6 officer who produced a dossier making lurid allegations about Donald Trump is “terrified for his safety” after he was unmasked by a US publication.

Christopher Steele, 52, fled from his home in Surrey on Wednesday morning after realising it was only a matter of time until his name became public knowledge.

A source close to Mr Steele said on Wednesday night that he now fears a prompt and potentially dangerous backlash against him from Moscow.

Mr Steele, the co-founder of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd, prepared a 35-page document that alleges the Kremlin colluded with Mr Trump’s presidential campaign and that the Russian security services have material that could be used to blackmail him, including an allegation that he paid prostitutes to defile a bed that had been slept in by Barack and Michelle Obama.

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His research was initially funded by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats.

Mr Trump has branded the allegations in the dossier “fake” and has said he feels as though he is living in Nazi Germany.

With his cover about to be blown, Mr Steele hurriedly packed his bags and went to ground hours before his name was published on Wednesday.

Mr Steele, who spied in Moscow for the Secret Intelligence Service in the 1990s, fled from his home in Surrey after leaving his cat with a neighbour and telling them he would be away “for a few days”.

For months, he had been playing a dangerous game; tipping off journalists about what he said he had discovered from his sources in Russia about Donald Trump’s alleged dealings with the Kremlin, as well as claims that the FSB had hugely compromising information about Mr Trump’s activities during visits to the Communist country.

Mr Steele had been hired by a Washington firm to gather information on Mr Trump’s connections to Russia, funded at first by anti-Trump Republicans and, later, by Democrats. He also shared the information with the FBI.

One of his key contacts, David Corn of the political blog Mother Jones, wrote last year about the resulting dossier and his conversations with the “former spook” who had compiled it, but did not name Mr Steele nor, crucially, did he give away his nationality.

The existence of the dossier, which ran to 35 pages in total, comprising several reports filed over the course of six months, had been common knowledge among journalists in the US for more than half a year, but it was only given credence when the US news network CNN reported that Mr Trump and President Barack Obama had been given a two-page summary of its contents by the FBI. 

CNN also reported that the dossier had been put together by a British former intelligence agent, and Mr Steele’s anonymity was fatally compromised.

A source close to Mr Steele said he was “horrified” when his nationality was published and is now "terrified for his and his family's safety".

At his large detached home in the Surrey commuter belt, a neighbour said he had left on Wednesday morning. His wife and children were not at home on Wednesday night.

"He asked me to look after his cat as he would be gone for a few days," said the neighbour. "I'm not sure where he's gone or how to contact him. I don't really know much about him except to say hello.

“We're all pretty secretive round here to be honest. All I know is he runs some sort of consultancy business."

Mr Steele is understood to have worked as an expert on Russia for 20 years during his time at MI6, and was sent to Moscow as a spy in 1990.

After leaving MI6, Mr Steele founded Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd with his business partner Christopher Burrows in 2009.

The company’s website says that it was “founded by former British intelligence professionals”. Based in Grosvenor Gardens, near Victoria railway station, Orbis says it has a “sophisticated investigative capability” and mounts “intelligence-gathering operations and conduct complex, often cross-border investigations”.

It also offers “real-time source reporting on business and politics at all levels”.

Mr Burrows describes himself on the LinkedIn website as a former counsellor in the Foreign Office, with postings in Brussels and Delhi. He was educated at Cleethorpes Grammar School and Liverpool University.Mr Burrows, 58, said he would not "confirm or deny" that Orbis had produced the report.

Giving his first question and answer session with the media since his election, Mr Trump said the eyebrow-raising reports about his activities in Russia were “phony” and “false,” and voiced his anger at his suspicions that intelligence agencies had leaked the dossier.

He said: “I think it was disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out,” he said. “I think it's a disgrace, and that's something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”

He said for the first time that he did now believe Russia was behind the hack of Democratic party emails. But he also said that the hacking had revealed valuable information, and insisted that he wanted to make friends with President Vladimir Putin, saying he believed that would be an “asset” to America, especially in its fight against Isil.

Addressing a packed lobby in Trump Tower, New York, Mr Trump hit out at the news organisations who had reported the contents of the dossier, labelling Buzzfeed “a failing pile of garbage,” the BBC “another beauty” and saying CNN dealt in “fake news”. 

One US official said investigators had so far been unable to confirm material about Mr Trump's financial and personal entanglements with Russian businessmen and others whom US intelligence analysts have concluded are Russian intelligence officers or working on behalf of Russian intelligence.

In the news conference, Mr Trump declined to answer whether anyone connected to him or the campaign had contact with Moscow during the presidential campaign, and said he had no loans or business deals with Russia.

The White House has said Mr Trump and his transition team have refused to make public information that would put to rest questions about his and his family's possible financial entanglements in Russia.

"There's ample evidence that they could marshal, to make public to refute those claims, those accusations that they say are baseless. But they refuse to do so," spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing. "That kind of secrecy only serves to sow public doubt."

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