Monday, March 05, 2018
Steele told friends that Trump supporters were using him as a "battering ram" to "take down the whole intelligence community."
Steele had spent more than twenty years in M.I.6, most of it focussing on Russia. For three years, in the nineties, he spied in Moscow under diplomatic cover.
Between 2006 and 2009, he ran the service's Russia desk, at its headquarters, in London. He was fluent in Russian, and widely considered to be an expert on the country. He'd also advised on nation-building in Iraq.
As a British citizen, however, he was not especially knowledgeable about American politics.
Peter Fritsch, a co-founder at Fusion who has worked closely with Steele, said of him, "He's a career public-service officer, and in England civil servants haven't been drawn into politics in quite the same way they have here. He's a little naïve about the public square."
Steele's already dim view of the Kremlin darkened in November, 2006, when Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian K.G.B. officer and a Putin critic who had been recruited by M.I.6, suffered an agonizing death in a London hospital, after drinking a cup of tea poisoned with radioactive polonium-210. Moscow had evidently sanctioned a brazen murder in his own country.
Steele was put in charge of M.I.6's investigation.
Authorities initially planned to indict one suspect in the murder, but Steele's investigative work persuaded them to indict a second suspect as well. Nine years later, the U.K.'s official inquiry report was finally released, and it confirmed Steele's view: the murder was an operation by the F.S.B., and it was "probably approved" by Vladimir Putin.
Steele has never commented on the case, or on any other aspect of his intelligence work, but Richard Dearlove, who led M.I.6 from 1999 to 2004, has described his reputation as "superb." A former senior officer recalls him as "a Russia-area expert whose knowledge I and others respected -- he was very careful, and very savvy."
Another former M.I.6 officer described him as having a "Marmite" personality -- a reference to the salty British spread, which people either love or hate. He suggested that Steele didn't appear to be "going places in the service," noting that, after the Cold War, Russia had become a backwater at M.I.6.
But he acknowledged that Steele "knew Russia well," and that running the Russia desk was "a proper job that you don't give to an idiot."
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