In February 2016, as Christopher Steele’s Russia-related contacts with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI were ramping up, the former British spy emailed some intelligence reports from his Orbis security company to a potential private-sector client.
The documents were labeled “Orbis Russian Leadership Reporting,” and the cover email made a most provocative claim: Russian leader Vladimir Putin might be losing his grip on power.
“I also don’t believe any Russian client or associate will admit to a Western business contact that PUTIN has been weakened or is on the way out, as the intel suggests, out of fear of being branded an oppositionist,” Steele cautioned the recipient. “We shall see but I hope you find them informative/useful anyway.”
As for the nature of the reports, Steele boasted in his Feb. 8, 2016, email, “All are sensitive source, of course, and need handling accordingly with anyone Russian or Ukrainian.”
It is unclear whether Steele also shared those same reports with his handlers at the DOJ, the FBI or the State Department. At the time, he was in contact with the No. 4 Justice official, Bruce Ohr.
But more than two-and-a-half years later, Steele’s intelligence seems debunked in retrospect.
Putin is firmly entrenched in power and, in the summer and fall of 2016, he pulled off one of his most daring feats against the Western world with his meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
Yet, even more alarming at the time was the fact that Steele’s reporting in February 2016 flew in the face of the CIA’s own assessment of Moscow, ironically given that exact same month to Congress in the agency’s annual global threats assessment.
The CIA declared on Feb. 9, 2016, just a day after Steele sent the email, that Putin appeared emboldened for a “more assertive foreign policy approach” and a Western disinformation campaign because his popularity was soaring in his homeland.
“President Vladimir Putin has sustained his popular approval at or near record highs for nearly two years after illegally annexing Crimea,” the CIA reported, saying that expected protests in 2016 over a weakening Russian economy would likely be put down with “repressive tactics.”
In other words,