The former British spy at the heart of the sensational story about Russia holding compromising details of Donald Trump’s private life is now in hiding after his name was made public.
Christopher Steele, 52, is said to be the ex-MI6 officer who produced - at least in part - the 32-page dossier that makes lurid claims about the President-elect’s private life and business interests. The property tycoon damned the allegations as “fake news” during a dramatic news conference in New York.
British newspapers, broadcasters and websites were prevented from making public his details after a government-issued “D-notice” was published. The ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the state and the media was lifted at 10pm GMT.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Steele, 52, fled from his gated home in Surrey on Wednesday morning fearing his name would soon be made public.
He is said to have left his cat with neighbours telling them he would be away “for a few days”, and left in such a hurry that he left most of the lights on.
A source close to Steele told the newspaper that he was “horrified” when his nationality was published and is now “terrified for his and his family’s safety”.
It quoted a source close to Steele saying that he now fears “a prompt and potentially dangerous backlash against him from Moscow”.
The Telegraph said Steele’s wife and children were not at home on Wednesday night and quoted a neighbour as saying: “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.”
Steele served MI6 for nearly two decades in Moscow and security sources say he once worked with murdered Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.
Litvinenko’s wife Marina told The Times she did not recognise the name Steele but added that MI6 agents often have a number of different identities.
Details were first published earlier in the day by the Wall Street Journal, which said Steele was the co-founder of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd - a private security and investigations firm founded in 2009 by former British intelligence professionals. The company is said to be employed by corporations to carry out research on business partners, and according to its website, Orbis has a “global network” of experts and “prominent business figures”.
The Journal suggested he has a good reputation in the intelligence community and spent years stationed in Russia.
During an ill-tempered press conference earlier, Trump lashed out at CNN - which broke the original story claiming the documents were being circulating in Washington - as a “fake news” organisation. He also labelled BuzzFeed News, which published the full unverified dossier, as a “failing pile of garbage”.
The President-elect dismissed suggestions he had engaged in a graphic sex act detailed in the dossier by quipping he was a “germaphobe”. He also suggested US intelligence services “may” have been involved in leaking the documents, and likening the situation to Nazi Germany.