British lawmakers are demanding an inquiry into what role, if any, British security agencies played in the handling of the controversial Trump intelligence dossier prepared by a former member of the country’s secret services.
Fears are mounting in London that the lurid allegations contained in the 35-page dossier about Republican U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could impact relations between Britain and the United States.
Lawmakers say the British parliament’s intelligence oversight committee should launch an inquiry into whether the intelligence services and government ministers, including Prime Minister Theresa May, saw the document prepared by Christopher Steele, a former member of Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6.
And they want to know if the government evaluated the dossier, which includes tawdry and compromising information that could have been used to discredit Trump, if accurate, before passing it on to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Steele, the co-owner of a London-based private intelligence firm, was retained during the U.S. presidential race by political opponents of Trump to investigate the billionaire's ties with Russia. British government officials have confirmed to VOA that the former MI6 agent spoke to British intelligence officials about his probe and sought the agency’s clearance, as a matter of courtesy, before supplying the FBI with his findings and meeting with U.S. law enforcement personnel to discuss them.
Susceptibility to blackmail discussed
The controversial dossier was also supplied to Republican U.S. Senator John McCain and its contents were discussed with him by Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia, on the sidelines of an international security conference in Halifax, Canada, in November, just after the U.S. presidential election.
President-elect Donald Trump gets on an elevator after speaking with reporters at Trump Tower in New York, Jan. 9, 2017. Trump has dismissed the dossier as "fake news," created by his political opponents.
Wood admitted to Britain’s Independent newspaper Friday that he did discuss with McCain concerns that the president-elect could be susceptible to blackmail by the Kremlin and allegations that Trump's team had colluded with Moscow during the presidential election race on the hacking of Democratic Party emails and databases.
Wood did not respond Thursday to a VOA email requesting an interview; but, on Friday he told the Independent, “Yes I did meet Senator McCain and his aides at the conference.”
He said, “The issue of Donald Trump and Russia was very much in the news and it was natural to talk about it. We spoke about the kind of activities the Russians can be engaged in. We also spoke about how Mr. Trump may find himself in a position where there could be an attempt to blackmail him with “kompromat” (compromising material) and claims that there were audio and video tapes in existence.”
Wood’s role is adding to anxiety in London that the situation could drag Britain and its intelligence services into the sharp dispute between the president-elect and U.S. security agencies. Trump has accused U.S. intelligence services of leaking the dossier to the media. At a news conference this week in New York, Trump dismissed the dossier as false and on Friday tweeted, “Totally made up facts by sleazebag political operatives, both Democrats and Republicans - FAKE NEWS.”
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Wednesday said he told Trump the intelligence community did not create a document featuring claims Russia compiled information in an attempt to compromise the incoming president.
British government mum on issue
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister May has so far refused to discuss with the media whether there was any British government involvement in or knowledge of the intelligence allegations gathered by Steele. The prime minister’s office has emphasized that Steele is a former member of the intelligence service, not a current one.
A view of the building where offices of Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd are located, in central London, Jan. 12, 2017. Media have identified the author of the Trump dossier, former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, as being associated with the firm.
A growing number of British lawmakers appears frustrated by what they argue is stonewalling. Some are demanding that Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who oversees MI6, should make a statement to the House of Commons to give his assessment of the dossier and to explain what the impact might be on U.S.-British relations.
“This is a dossier that has emanated from the U.K., from a former member of the U.K. intelligence services,” said Labor lawmaker Mary Creagh, who is among MPs calling for an inquiry. “It is clearly something that has been seen and considered by U.K. intelligence and I would hope by U.K. ministers,” she said.
She wants to know if the dossier informed the warnings delivered before Christmas by MI6 head Alex Younger, who in a speech said Britain and Western nations are facing grave threats to their security and political systems from the hostile propaganda and cyberattacks by rival states, singling out Russia for its aggressive subversion campaigns.
Contents ‘pretty shaky’
Labor lawmaker Ben Bradshaw, a former Foreign Office minister, says it is essential for the intelligence and security committee to launch a probe, given the refusal by May's office to comment on the document.
Doubts are mounting about the claims contained in the dossier. Another former British ambassador to Russia, Tony Brenton, said Friday, “There are some things in it that look pretty shaky.”
And Russian journalist Andrei Soldatov, a specialist on Russian intelligence agencies, says factual errors in the dossier “raise questions about its credibility at the very least.” In an opinion article for Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, he wrote, “Beyond the factual detail, there are problems too with the document’s analysis.”
Some intelligence analysts argue Russian intelligence misled Steele by giving him false or heavily embellished information about Trump.