Recently, private intelligence companies have started to play a more important role in pollical and economical life, and their founders, as a rule, are former officers of special services. By contrast with investigative journalists, for employees of such companies it’s much easier to hide sources of their information referring to secret character of data used by them.
Private intelligence firms work in close contact with state officers, and it’s possible to say that the main task of their work is not only collection of information beneficial for their clients, but also publishing of it which may exert certain influence on governmental and corporate decision making, as well as on society as a whole.
The most characteristic example of activities of private intelligence companies can be the history of the so-called Steele Dossier. The question is about materials (memoranda) compromising then still a candidate for the Unites States presidency Donald Trump, collected by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
Yet, earlier, a similar scheme was used in order to force the U.S. Congress to adopt the so-called Magnitsky Act. The idea pertaining to proposing such an act belonged to the former officer of the U.U. State Department Jonathan Winer, and the most active role in its preparation and promotion was played by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and William Browder, as well as by the already mentioned former British spy Christopher Steele. It’s obvious that the main purpose of adopting this Act was to inflict the most possible damage to Russia.
Even American journalists note that the same persons, i.e. Winer, Browder, and, possibly, Khodorkovsky took part in the preparation of the Steele Dossier and its implantation into American press.
With regard to Winer and Browder, there is no doubt at all, however, there are no direct indications that Mikhail Khodorkovsky took part in the preparation of this dossier as one of its author or as one of its sources. Still, it’s impossible to exclude this, and this is the position of some observers in Great Britain and in the United States.
(See, for instance: “The Questionable Ties Between Russian Oligarchs, Magnitsky Act, and Steele Dossier” And also: Institute «Unipolarism vs. Multipolarism - The Real Russian Interference in US Politics»)
Jonathan Winer, whom, not without cause, they call “the fixer in chief” in Washington, for many years already has been working together with Christopher Steele, and, moreover, he regards him as his friend. His also regards as his friend William Browder. Apart from that, Winer, working in the biggest and most influential in the world PR and lobbyist company APCO Worldwide, represented interests of Khodorkovsky and his company Corbiere Trust, and Steele also defended interests on some Russian oligarchs.
In his op-ed, published on February 8, 2018, in “Washington Post” Jonathan Winer told about how he had got acquainted with Steele in 2009, at the moment when Steele had been dismissed from the British intelligence service MI6 and had organized his own intelligence firm Orbis Business Intelligence.
The company Corbiere Trust, belonging to Khodorkovsky, is one of the biggest clients of the firm APCO Worldwide, as well as the Clinton family. It’s worth noting that Margery Kraus, the president and executive chairman of the company, is also a member of the Institute of Modern Russia** headed by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
CHRISTOPHER STEELE AND PECULIARITIES OF THE “INVESTIGATION” OF THE CASES OF LITVINENKO AND THE SKRIPALS
Christopher Steele, being still an officer of the intelligence service MI6, headed the investigation of the death in London of Alexander Litvinenko. It was Steele who suspiciously quickly came to the conclusion that the responsibility of the death of the former Russian agent allegedly lied with Russia. As the result of the conducted in 2015 – 2015 “investigation”, British experts, led by Christopher Steele, said that Vladimir Putin, probably, had “approved” the murder which, according to the British authorities, had been carried out by two Russian agents.
Christopher Steele not only dealt with the investigation of the Litvinenko’s case, but also was in contact with the former Russian FSB officer till his death, and Litvinenko himself admitted that he had been receiving money from MI6.
Sergey Skripal was also “in close contact” with Christopher Steele. According to some British journalists, Sergey Skripal could be one of the sources of information for Christopher Steele, and, perhaps, his main source of information during his work on his notorious dossier. Some observers, including the famous British journalist Mary Dejevsky, thinkthat, perhaps, Skripal didn’t like something in his work with Steele, so he decided to tell about it to the press, and, as the result, was “put off the scene” by his new musters.
PUBLO MILLER, A SUSPICIOUS NEIGHBOR OF SERGEY SKRIPAL
By the way, the British journalist Michael Antony has paid attention to the fact that after Sergey Skripal’s “moving” to Great Britain, MI6 proposed to the former Russian double agent to settle in the town Saulsberry, where, as is known, is located the notorious laboratory “Porton Down”. At that time, in the same town lived a certain Pablo Miller, former officer of MI6 or of the Foreign Office, who had been decorated with the Orden of the British Empire (OBE).
In 2018, Miller worked for Christopher Steele, for his former head in MI6 and for his company Orbis Business Intelligence. It’s not excluded, i.e. highly likely, that it was Miller who had assigned his neighbor to make up a corresponding “story” for the Steele Dossier. Sergey Skripal, as say people who know him well, is more a businessman than an ideological fighter, decided, for the right price, to share the information with the Russians, and this, probably, was the reason of his alleged poisoning. Sone observer also say that British special agencies wanted first to liquidate Sergey Skripal with the help a flask of perfume, but something went wrong, and, as the result, other people suffered. Right after the incident with the Skripals, the British authorities, on the basis of a special instruction (Defense and Security Media Advisory Notice – DSMA) banned to mention in the press the name of Pablo Miller.
Apart from that, in 2010, Christopher Steele took part in the investigation of corruption in FIFA, and, consequently, the leadership of this organization was forced to step down. Steele and his company were engaged by the British Football Association, trying to get the right to carry out the next World Soccer Cup in Britain. Steele was telling to his colleagues that FIFA was “the most corrupt organization in the world”. He even managed to get a photo of Sepp Blatter in a Moscow restaurant in company of a notorious criminal leader “Taivanchik (Olimzhan Tokhtokhounov).
After such a success “in the fight against corruption” Steele and his colleague Burrows became a lot of clients, including Russian ones. Steele continued to provide information to the American government and the FBI about the situation in the business world of Ukraine and Russia. He transferred it to his friend (Winer), who, at that time, worked in the State Department as a deputy assistant secretary under Victoria Nuland.
Nuland liked memos of Steele, and she told Winer to asked his friend to continue sending his reports to the State Department, but only to the special and well protected server. On the whole, from 2014 to 2016, Steele sent to the State Department 120 messages about economic and political situation in Ukraine and Russia. According to Nuland, the materials of the company Orbis Business Intelligence sent to the State Department were by 75% to 80% accurate.
Steele’s methods of work connected with the Litvinenko case, completely match those of his work on his Russian Dossier – this time about Trump’s connections with Russia and his alleged frolicking with Moscow prostitutes at the Ritz Carlton hotel in the same room and on the same bed that had been used by Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. president Barak Obama with his spouse.
A MEMO FOR VICTORIA NULAND
According to the American journalist David Corn, Steele was considered and, perhaps, is still considered as the main specialist on Russia in Britain. He was the first to inform the British government that Litvinenko had been poisoned by the Russians.
The first of his 17 memos, which comprised his Russia Dossier, Steele wrote on June 20, 2016, in which he maintained that he had at his disposal compromising materials on Trump.
In September 2016, Winer met with Steele in Washington and read his memos, and then, on the basis of them, compiled his own report of two pages, and showed it to the leadership of the State Department, in the first place, to the state secretary John Kerry and to his assistant Victoria Nuland.
The American company Fusion GPS, headed by Glen Simpson, a former investigative journalist of the newspaper “The Wall Street Journal”, received from the Democratic Party election team and the Democratic National Committee through the law firm Perkins Coie 1 million dollars for collecting compromising information (“dirt”) on Trump and its ensuing dissemination to the press.
Nuland herself, during the session of the Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. Senate, said that in October 2016 a meeting had been organized between Steele and senior executives of the State Department.
Through the company Fusion GPS, Steele got acquainted with Michael Isikoff, a correspondent of the media outlet “Yahoo News”, as well as with journalists of “The New York Times”, “The Washington Post”, CNN and “New Yorker”.
Sidney Blumentahl, a man closely connected with the Clintons, handed over to Winer another Trump Dossier prepared by Cody Shearer, also from the inner circle of the Clintons.
Steele and his business companion Christopher Burrows approached their former boss, the former head of the British intelligence agency MI6 sir Richard Dearlove. Their meeting took place at the prestigious London Garrick Club under portraits of British playwrights in expensive frames. Dearlove advised them to cooperate secretly with the British government and to channel information to the FBI. Apart from that, Steele asked for advise the former British ambassador in Russia Andrew Wood. Evidently, these meeting were organized in order to give him more political clout as a specialist on Russia.
The attitude to Steele and his dossier was different in Great Britain, as well as in the United States. Steele, together with Simpson, for two hours tried to convince of reliability of his sources in Moscow employees of “The Washington Post”, but to no avail, and the newspaper, after having examined the authenticity of his sources, refused to publish materials from his dossier.
Steele also met with representative of other prestigious publications, including “The New York Times”. Yet, only Michael Isikoff, main investigative journalist of “Yahoo News”, published the materials provided by Steele.
Steele also met in Washington with associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr, whom he had known during his work connected with FIFA, and told him that he was very much against Donald Trump becoming president. By the way, the wife of this official as an expert on Russia and at that moment cooperated with the company Fusion GPS.
HOW “RED HERRING” WAS WRAPPED IN STEELE DOSSIER
According to Steele, he worked with a “collector” of information who used as a source a high ranking officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, as well as a former high ranking employee of the Russian intelligence service. In all appearances, while collecting materials of his Dossier, he used services of Igor Danchenko whom he calls his “collector”.
Someone from Dunchenko’s buddies introduced him in 2012 to Steele, who then paid for his first trip to Moscow to collect information pertaining to ties of one of Russian businessman with Russian mafia. Supposedly, it was Danchenko who reported that Trump had been a participant of salacious scenes at the Moscow hotel “Ritz Carlton”.
It’s not improbable that Danchenko was only a deceptive maneuver, sort of “red hearing”. Danchenko was acquitted be an American court, and, most likely, he had been used only to hide names of real sources and authors of the Steele Dossier.
The veracity of the Steele Dossier was defended by numerous influential officials and politicians. The Former CIA director John Brennan had the following to say about Steel Dossier: “The fact that these information is not corroborated doesn’t mean that it’s false”. Some facts from the Steele Dossier were even confirmed by the FBI director James Comey, as well as by the head of the National Intelligence James Clapper and senator Dianne Feinstein.
The FBI regarded Steele as the source No1 during the investigation of Trump’s connections with Russia. The leadership of the FBI, as a source if its information, mentioned also a piece of Michael Isikoff from “Yahoo News”, who, in his turn, had referred directly to Steele. The leaders of the FBI not only used materials provided by Steele, but also shared information with him.
Christopher Steele refused to expose names of his whistleblowers, as, according to his words, this could be dangerous for his sources, as well as to the security of Great Britain itself. Thus the materials that were either invented by him or were correspondingly processed, are, actually, under guard of the state, and this is very convenient for private spies and their clients.
HOW THE “LEAK” OF THE STEELE DOSSIER WAS ORGANIZED
In order to come into possession of the Steele Dossier, the senator John McCain sent David Kramer, an employee of the McCain Institute, to London for meeting with Steele. Steele met Kramer at the airport and drove him to his home, where the American became a possibility to get acquainted with the dossier in the drawing room of the British. Having read the memo, Kramer said he needed to hand over the dossier to McCain so that he then would be able to channel it to the director of the FBI, as it would be an additional influence on leaders of the agency and would force them to be more serious about the materials collected by Steele.
After his return to Washington, Kramer received two versions of the memo (Steele had refused to give the dossier to Kramer directly in London) from the former investigative journalist and founder of Fusion GPS Glenn Simpson. Simpson whom many of his colleagues regard as “obsessed” with the fight with Russian mafia and Russian oligarchs, had been engaged by the election team of the Democratic Party with an assignment to conduct a so called “opposition research”. His task was to collect compromising Trump materials for the National Committee of the Democratic Party, as well as for the law firms working for Hillary Clinton, Trump’s contender in the presidential elections.
By the way, payments of services of such firms dealing with “opposition research”, are usually conducted not directly, but through law firms, and that gives a possibility to use privileges connected with keeping secret relations and communications between lawyers with their clients.
The irony is that Simpson for a certain period of time even was gathering compromising materials on William Browder at the request of a commercial organization, but it was only an insignificant episode in his work. On the whole, as was already mentioned, he is simply “obsessed”, as Steele himself, with the fight against kleptocracy in Russia and against Russian mafia.
Steele asked Kramer to pass over these materials to the following media outlets: BuzzFeed, McClatchy news service, “The Washington Post, “The Wall Street Journal” and radio station “National Public Radio (NPR). Steele particularly asked to give his memo to Carl Bernstein, the veteran of the American journalism who had become known because of his role of the “Watergate” affair, hoping, so it seemed, to use his political clout. Cramer successfully fulfilled his assignment.
Senator McCain, having received a copy of the Steele Dossier, handed it over to the director of the FBI James Comey who, in such a situation, could not not to react to the memo due to political considerations. It means that in such a method of promoting materials are used not only by journalists but also by influential and high ranking politicians.
A RECIPE OF INVESTIGATION: 70% TRUTH, 30% LIES
Nowadays, private intelligence companies are flourishing, and the question here is about a business allotting billions of profit, and the used methods – interference in private life, false data, fake news and manipulation of news – represent a big threat even for common citizens. Big law firms in the United States and Great Britain are actively cooperating with private intelligence companies. In recent years, so-called “spies for rent” had considerable widened and intensified their work, acting in many respects on the lines of Christopher Steele.
Private spies use journalists so that obtained by them materials come to the press, while their clients remain in the shadow. Often it turns out that it is not possible at all to check information they provide. But, perhaps, that is what their calculus is based on. It’s not incidental that Steele himself says that his data are correct by 70%. And this is only his own evaluation (other experts believe the balance may be 50 x 50).
But even so, it means that 30% of materials will be false, yet they will be used in the interest of clients and will be published in newspapers and journals. At present, private spies are setting rules of the game in the West, and all others, in the first place journalists interested in receiving “hot news”, are forced to to play by their rules. Reference to confidential information is very convenient – hence the favorite phrase of some British politicians – “highly likely”.
The Center “Dossier” of Mikhail Khodorkovsky started its work in November 2018, i.e. after the history with the Steele Dossier. Furthermore, one should bear in mind that in English language the word “dossier” relates directly to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
According to the admission by Khodorkovsky himself, the Centre “Dossier” “was created because of his despair that journalistic investigations do not lead to changes in Putin’s Russia”. Therefore, he indents to use other working methods – in all appearances, specifically those used by private intelligence companies, including not only gathering and publishing of collected data, but also conducting so-called active measures from the toolkit of intelligence agencies.
“Our ambition is not simply to expose information in general, but to use material relating to Putin’s circle and his allies so that they can be put on trial in Russia”, pointed out Khodorkovsky.
The American expert Mark Episkopos pays attention to the fact that all organizations submitted to Khodorkovsky – Free Russia Foundation**, Institute of Modern Russia** and Center “Dossier” – are closely connected with each other and coordinate their work, including on personal level, and use the same patterns. According to Mark Episcopos, Khodorkovsky, in fact, coordinates work of considerably more organizations – think tanks, media outlets and NGOs – the purpose of which is the regime change in Russia.
Khodorkovsky’s Center “Dossier” is ready to work also with anonymous sources of information, which means that its own employees in London are to check up the veracity of received data. In other words, the Center “Dossier”, as well as the spy firm of Christopher Steele Orbis Business international, will be using anonymity to protect their real or alleged whistleblowers.
It would be naïve to presume that six or ten employees of the Center “Dossier” whose task is to analyze obtained materials, would successfully cope with any checking at all. But they are perfectly capable to cope with dissecting of received information and even with inventing it in order to fulfill the tasks assigned to them by those who manage the Center for propaganda purposes. It’s evident that their activities are not so different from activities of private intelligence companies and their employees, these spies for rent.
PRIVATE SPIES CREATE AN INSTITUTIONAL PROBLEM
In spite of the influence from above, some British and American journalists express concern that, in publishing materials from anonymous sources, they often do not take into account motives of those people or organization that are proposing them. Excessive influence on the society of private intelligence companies and their employees is an “institutional” problem which, as of today, does not have any solution as the system itself should be changed for that. Private spies without effort pursue their goals, they are actively supported engaged, influential politicians and journalists who are themselves not averse to receiving hot materials.
One should also bear in mind that, in accordance with new schemes, private intelligence companies do not limit themselves to acquiring corresponding information and publishing it in media outlets with the help of influential politicians and journalists. In fact, their efforts are aimed at reaching a certain economic or political effect, i.e. their operations and creation of “dossiers”, in a larger degree, are becoming similar to active measures from the toolkit of intelligence agencies.
Russian version at: «Кристофер Стил, Михаил Ходорковский* и другие «сборщики грязи»
* Khodorkovsky Mikhail Borisovich – 20.05.2022 was put on the register of foreign agents with No 289;
* William Browder – in 2005 he was denied the right to enter the territory of the Russian Federation;
** Free Russia Foundation – 28.06.2019 acknowledged by the Russia Ministry of Justice as undesirable organization on the territory of the Russian Federation;
** The Institute of Modern Russian – 26.04.2017 was acknowledged by the Russian Ministry of Justice as undesirable organization on the territory of the Russian Federation.