Christopher Steele, a British secret agent who spent his career in the shadows, has been thrust into the spotlight after an explosive dossier on Donald Trump was published Tuesday.
U.S. president-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to attack the credibility of the 52-year-old former MI6 agent, who has since gone into hiding, calling him a “failed spy” and calling the report “fake news.”
But Steele’s former colleagues say he was one of the best in the business.
Three British intelligence officers told The Associated Press Steele was well regarded in the intelligence community, with excellent Russian skills and high-level sources.
“He was the real James Bond,” Nigel West, a former colleague told NBC news. “I actually introduced him to my wife as James Bond.”
Steele was posted by MI6 to Moscow in 1990. Within months, the Soviet Union was collapsing and change was afoot under soon-to-be Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
After working undercover in Russia, Steele led the investigation into the Kremlin’s alleged assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, the KGB agent turned MI6 informant.
Steele was later posted to Paris from 1998-2002 and left the secret service in 2009.
His private firm was later hired by England’s Football Association to investigate other countries bidding to host the 2018 World Cup, a bid which Russia won.
The results of Steele’s investigation were reportedly used by the FBI to uncover FIFA’s corruption scandal.
Despite his credibility, the report remains unsubstantiated.
“Although Mr. Steele himself is identified as a reputable source, this information isn’t coming from Mr. Steele,” Bob Ayre, a former U.S. intelligence officer, told Global News.
“It’s coming from other sources, passing through Mr. Steele. Mr. Steele’s credibility does not automatically transfer to his Russian sources. So we don’t know who the information came from.”
James Nixey, the head of Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia program told the AP that parts of the document created by Steele “read exactly as reports from the secret services.”
All three of the former intelligence officials, however, cast doubt on whether the material in the report and its level of detail would have come from active sources within Russia. The material, they said, was more likely to have come from conversations with third parties.
-With files from the Associated Press