Russian in Cyprus Was
Behind Key Parts of
Discredited Dossier on
A Wall Street Journal investigation points
to the identity of ’Source 3’ as a
disgruntled PR executive with a ‘vast
network’ of sources
By Alan Cullison in Washington and David
Gauthier Villars in Istanbul
November 02, 2020 "Information
- - WSJ
Oct. 28, 2020 12:19 pm ET - In the nearly
four years since they were published, many
about President Trump compiled by former
British spy Christopher Steele have been
widely discredited, including by Special
Counsel Robert Mueller ’s investigation of
Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
A Wall Street Journal
investigation provides an answer: a
40-year-old Russian public-relations
executive named Olga Galkina fed notes
to a friend and former schoolmate who
worked for Mr. Steele. The Journal
relied on interviews, law-enforcement
records, declassified documents and the
identification of Ms. Galkina by a
former top U.S. national security
In 2016, Ms. Galkina was
working in Cyprus at an affiliate of XBT
Holding SA, a web-services company best
known for its Webzilla internet hosting
unit. XBT is owned by Russian internet
entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev.
That summer, she received
a request from an employee of Mr. Steele
to help unearth potentially compromising
information on then-presidential
candidate Donald Trump ’s links to
Russia, according to people familiar
with the matter. Ms. Galkina was friends
with the employee, Igor Danchenko, since
their school days in Perm, a Russian
provincial city near the Ural mountains.
Ms. Galkina was the
source, for instance, of the dossier’s
contention that Webzilla played a
central role in the 2016 hacking of the
Democratic National Committee, according
to people familiar with the matter. The
release of emails stolen from the
Democratic Party leadership roiled the
The former British spy
Christopher Steele arrived to a
London court in July to attend
his libel trial brought by
Russian internet entrepreneur
Aleksej Gubarev. -
Photo: tolga akmen/Agence
She was also responsible for the mention of
Mr. Gubarev in the dossier as a hacking expert
recruited under duress by Russian security
services, these people said.
Likewise, she was behind the dossier’s assertion
that Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, and
Russian intelligence officials, held a secret
meeting in Prague in the summer of 2016 to
discuss how to pay the hackers and cover up
their work, the people said.
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Messrs. Cohen, Gubarev and others have long
since denied taking part in the activities
described in the dossier. Contacted by the
Journal, Ms. Galkina acknowledged receiving a
reporter’s written questions, but didn’t respond
While contributing to the dossier, the people
familiar with the matter said, Ms. Galkina was
in a messy dispute with her employer, Webzilla’s
A law graduate who spoke five languages and had
worked in Russia in a variety of industries,
according to an online resume and a person who
worked with her, she appeared qualified for the
job. But in August 2016, less than 10 months
after her arrival in Cyprus, Ms. Galkina’s
employer took steps to fire her.
Relations soured to the point
where her manager went to authorities in the
Cypriot city of Limassol in November of that
year and filed a statement with police.
According to the statement, which was
reviewed by the Journal, Ms. Galkina was
chronically showing up late to work,
sometimes appearing drunk.
The manager told police that
an acquaintance of Ms. Galkina had told him
he would face deep trouble, including
possible death, unless he paid €10,000
($11,740) in compensation, according to the
statement, which was confirmed by a Cypriot
official and a person who attended its
recording. Because the manager never filed a
formal complaint, the matter was dropped,
the official said.
In November 2016, Ms. Galkina
was fired. Weeks later, she implicated
Webzilla and Mr. Gubarev in the hacking,
according to people familiar with the
Mr. Trump has said the
dossier was part of a broader
attempt to sully his
referring broadly to information about
Russian interference in the 2016 election as
Mr. Mueller’s investigation
found that the hacking of the DNC was
directed by the Kremlin
in a bid to benefit Mr. Trump. Mr. Mueller’s
investigators obtained a related
indictment of 12 Russian
military intelligence officers
as well as guilty pleas or convictions
several former aides and
associates to Mr.
Trump for lying to investigators or separate
financial crimes. The investigation didn’t
establish a conspiracy between the Trump
campaign and the Russian government, which
has repeatedly denied interfering in U.S.
Mr. Gubarev arriving to a London
court in July to pursue his libel
case against Mr. Steele, who he
blames for allegedly leaking the
dossier to BuzzFeed. -
Photo: tolga akmen/Agence
The Mueller report presented
no evidence the purported Prague meeting
ever happened. Alleged attendees have denied
they had anything to do with the hacking or
met in the Czech capital. Mr. Gubarev,
Webzilla and XBT have denied any involvement
in the hacking.
Mr. Danchenko, the Russian
national who conducted research for Mr.
Steele’s dossier, was identified publicly
for the first time this past summer after
the Trump administration
from a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe
into the report’s origins.
In three days of interviews
with the FBI in early 2017 as the agency
tried to determine the origin of the
dossier, Mr. Danchenko said he had been
working for Mr. Steele as a researcher,
according to the declassified documents.
With the approach of U.S. elections in 2016,
Mr. Danchenko told the FBI, Mr. Steele asked
him for information about Mr. Trump’s ties
Mr. Danchenko told the FBI
that the task was “outside the normal scope
of work and it wasn’t completely
comfortable” for him. To find such
information on Mr. Trump, he turned to his
“social circle” in Russia, according to
declassified FBI notes of the meeting.
Mr. Danchenko told the FBI
that a school friend, referred to in heavily
redacted FBI notes as “Source 3,” had
provided him with information for Mr. Steele
“across a wide range of topics,” and stood
as the dossier’s most important contributor.
The former high-ranking U.S.
national-security official told The Wall
Street Journal that the source in question
was Ms. Galkina.
Mr. Danchenko, in a statement
released by his attorney, said he wouldn’t
confirm or deny information concerning his
sources or methods. “I have a longstanding
relationship with most of my sources ... and
have no reason to believe that any of them
fabricated information that was given to
me,” Mr. Danchenko said. “More importantly,
I have yet to see anything credible that
indicates that the raw intelligence I
collected was inaccurate.”
Acquaintances of Mr.
Danchenko said that he and Ms. Galkina
had been friends since high school in
Perm. In his FBI interview, Mr.
Danchenko said he knew Ms. Galkina since
the equivalent of eighth grade and that
she had remained a “close, personal
friend” who he had helped financially
over the years.
Mr. Danchenko told FBI
investigators that Ms. Galkina, who had
held a variety of jobs in government and
the private sector in Russia over the
years, had a “vast network of people”
she could talk to, including some with
connections to the Kremlin, and had
helped him gather information in the
past, according to the declassified
According to Mr.
Danchenko’s FBI interview and FBI notes,
Mr. Steele gave him “four to five” names
of officials in Mr. Trump’s circle to
research, which he passed along to Ms.
Galkina in the fall of 2016. “Almost
immediately,” she recognized the name of
Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Mr. Cohen, according
to the declassified notes.
Ms. Galkina’s initial
version of alleged contacts between Mr.
Cohen and the Russian government was
sketchy and she could identify few of
the people involved, according to the
In mid-October, Ms.
Galkina reported that Mr. Cohen had met
with Kremlin officials that summer in an
undisclosed European country, where they
discussed ways to minimize the
appearance of contacts between Mr.
Trump’s aides and Russia, the FBI notes
In December, Ms. Galkina
gave Mr. Danchenko new details about Mr.
Cohen’s purported meeting and implicated
her erstwhile boss, Mr. Gubarev, in the
DNC hacking, the notes said. Mr. Cohen
denied in an appearance
in 2019 that he had ever been to Prague
or that he had anything to do with the
2016 hacking of the Democrats.
The dossier also alleged
that another individual, Seva
Kaptsugovich, was involved with Mr.
Gubarev in the hacking. A man bearing
the same name was a notorious convict in
Perm, Ms. Galkina’s Russian hometown,
where a court in 2013 sentenced him to
more than 18 years in prison on
sexual-crime charges. He couldn’t be
reached for comment.
Mr. Steele, who has said
the dossier wasn’t meant for public
consumption, through an associate
declined to comment. The dossier was
published by BuzzFeed News in January
2017. Other news outlets, including the
Journal, subsequently published articles
describing some of the allegations and
making clear that they were unverified.
Mr. Gubarev sued BuzzFeed
in the U.S., where a judge dismissed the
case, saying that the dossier had become
a government record that the publication
couldn’t be held liable for, even if it
was incorrect. Mr. Gubarev has filed a
libel lawsuit against Mr. Steele in the
U.K. Mr. Gubarev declined to comment,
citing the pending litigation.
Buzzfeed’s editor in chief at the time,
Ben Smith, said the ruling was a
vindication of the publication’s work.
The FBI in July 2016
launched an investigation into any links
between the Trump campaign and Russian
interference in the election based on
intelligence it had received overseas.
Later, acting on a request from former
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and
complaints by members of Congress, the
Justice Department’s inspector general
reviewed the FBI’s
starting the Russia probe and last year
reported it found “serious performance
failures” in the FBI’s conduct in a
portion of that investigation that
relied on the dossier.
The review found that the
FBI had reason to open its overall probe
and found no evidence that political
bias influenced the FBI’s decisions. The
probe of the ties to Russia was
handed to Mr. Mueller
in May 2017.
FBI director Christopher
Wray has introduced a series of reforms,
including changes to the FBI’s
confidential human-source program, under
which Mr. Steele provided information to
the FBI. The declassified FBI notes
indicate U.S. federal agents distrusted
Mr. Steele’s source network.
—Nonna Fomenko in Moscow
contributed to this article.