Christopher Steele: Putin's unwitting puppet in the campaign to shake America

Christopher Steele: Putin's unwitting puppet in the campaign to shake America
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Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer at the center of the Trump dossier scandal, isn’t the first British spook to take one too many missions to Moscow.

Steele’s forerunner in that regard is Sidney Reilly, the "Ace of Spies," an agent of Britain’s Secret Service Bureau, the predecessor of the today’s Secret Intelligence Service (“MI6”). In 1925, Reilly was lured to Russia by Stalin’s secret police, who had created a fake resistance organization, “The Trust,” as part of a counterintelligence operation to identify anti-Bolshevik groups. Reilly was captured, interrogated, and killed.

Christopher Steele avoided Reilly’s fate, but his reputation is moldering just like Reilly’s remains.

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In 2016, the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report A question for Robert Mueller MORE campaign paid the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE. Fusion GPS, in turn, reached out to the “Man of Steele.”

 

Now Steele hadn’t visited Russian since 1992, and his intelligence background was known to Moscow since at least 1999, so the Russians probably couldn’t believe their luck when Steele rang up looking for kompromat on Donald Trump: they could make a fool of an MI6 adversary while they confused the American election. What was not to like?

In what must have resembled a group of students playing Mad Libs, the Russian security services assembled and fed the credulous MI6 veteran the information that became known as the “Steele dossier.” Steele, who was more vexed about Donald Trump’s candidacy than the Americans who elected him, shopped the information to a contact at the Obama Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and, against the bureau’s direction, the media. It was the latter action that caused the FBI to terminate discussions with Steele about being their paid source.

Kimberley Strassel marveled that the frenetic Steele “didn’t know his own client,” but he also didn’t know his own sources. It may have been one thing for a Russian to cooperate with a Western official in the early 1990s when most Russians thought the U.S. and Europe wanted to help them, but the Russian public has had strongly negative views of the West for some time. Of course, that information isn’t classified, so it may not have come to the attention of someone with intelligence connections.

Did Steele not understand that yesterday’s source — if he was still in a position with access after 20 years — might be today’s Russian patriot who would say “No problem, Christopher, my friend. I’ll see what I can do.” then call his pals at Lubyanka Square?

Steele should have had an inkling what his real role was when long-time Clinton capo Sidney Blumenthal provided him information that also may have made its way into the dossier.

It’s been said, “If you don’t know who the mark is, the mark is you.” In this case, the mark was Steele was who used by the Clinton campaign (to collect Kremlin disinformation about candidate Trump), the Russians (to confuse the American election), and Justice Department/FBI partisans (to secure surveillance warrants against Trump associate Carter Page).

And Steele’s earlier confidence in the veracity of his dossier has conveniently faded now that he is the defendant in a London libel lawsuit brought by Aleksej Gubarev, who he claimed worked with the Russian government to hack the Democratic National Committee computers.

Vladimir Putin said, “There is no such thing as a former KGB man.” There’s also no such thing as a former MI6 man. It’s a stretch to think Steele involved himself in the American presidential election, and started to negotiate a paid relationship with the FBI (a foreign intelligence service if you are British), without the approval of Her Majesty’s Government.

Moscow and London, and most everyone else, thought Hillary Clinton had it in the bag. Russia’s goal was to cast a pall over the incoming Clinton administration and, in ensuing disruption, maximize their gains in places like Syria and Ukraine. The Brits had a more definite goal in mind — Madame President — and all they had to was stand by and let Mr. Steele discretely peddle his Russian wares, because having the American president owe her job to you is the gift that keeps on giving.

The Russians wanted chaos; the Brits wanted Hillary.

James D. Durso is the managing director at consultancy firm Corsair LLC. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years specializing in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He served afloat as supply officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).