British media report that the former MI6 officer responsible for producing a dossier making lurid allegations about Donald Trump is “terrified for his safety” after he was publicly named in the US.
Christopher Steele, 52, fled from his home in Surrey on Wednesday morning after finding out his name was about to become public knowledge, UK newspaper The Telegraph reports.
The newspaper quoted a source close to Mr Steele as saying on Thursday AEST 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, was named as the man who prepared a 35-page dossier that alleges Russia colluded with Mr Trump’s presidential campaign and that the country’s security services have material that could be used to blackmail him.
Among the unsubstantiated intelligence reports are claims of irregular sexual acts perpetrated by the President-elect in Moscow.
The Telegraph quoted a source close to Mr Steele as saying the former spy was “horrified” when his nationality was published and is now “terrified for his and his family’s safety”.
Mr Trump earlier used his first official media conference since the US election to blasted the release of the report, calling it “nonsense maybe released by US intelligence agencies”.
“I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out there,” Mr Trump told a chaotic news conference only days before he takes office.
“It was a group of opponents who got together, sick people, who put that out.”
Orbis describes itself as being able to “provide strategic advice, mount intelligence-gathering operations and conduct complex, often cross-border investigations”.
According to its website, the company was founded in 2009 by former British intelligence professionals and utilises a “global network” of experts and “prominent business figures”.
Mr Steele’s fellow director at Orbis, Christopher Burrows, refused to “confirm or deny” to media that his company had produced the report.
The Wall Street Journal claims that Mr Steele repeatedly declined requests for interviews in recent weeks, with an intermediary telling the newspaper the subject was “too hot”.
A neighbour of Mr Steele told the Wall Street Journal he was away for a few days.
The Telegraph reported that Mr Steele hurriedly packed his bags and went to ground “hours before his name was published on Wednesday”.
It said Mr Steele spied in Moscow for the Secret Intelligence Service in the 1990s.
“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,” The Telegraph reported.
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 reportedly shared the information with the Russian security service, the KGB.
The existence of the dossier is thought to have been common knowledge among journalists in the US for more than six months, but was only given credence when CNN reported that Mr Trump and President Barack Obama had been given a two-page summary of its contents by the FBI.
Mr Steele worked as an expert on Russia for 20 years during his time at MI6, and was sent to Moscow as a spy in 1990, The Telegraph reported.
The New York Times quoted US intelligence as saying Mr Steele is “considered a competent and reliable operative with extensive experience in Russia”.