Christopher Steele, the former MI6 officer behind the Russia dossier on Donald Trump, has broken 18 months of silence with a veiled swipe at the US president.
He has written about the importance of speaking “truths to power”, a possible reference to the allegations he made about collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin in the run-up to the US presidential election two years ago.
Sky News has seen the text of an email written by Mr Steele to the editor of Vanity Fair after he was chosen to feature on its list of the 100 most influential people in the media, politics, entertainment and finance.
The 54-year-old wrote: “In these strange and troubling times, it is hard to speak unpalatable truths to power, but I believe we all still have a duty to do so.
“I salute those on your list, and otherwise, who have had the courage to speak out over the last year, often at great personal cost.
“At a time when governance is so distorted and one-sided, as I believe it currently is in the United States, the media has a key role to play in holding it accountable.”
Mr Steele enters the at-times lighthearted list at number 38. He is the only named British national on the American-dominated countdown.
Topping the chart is Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who is leading a special inquiry into Russia.
Former first lady Michelle Obama is at number six, while singer Beyonce is at number eight.
Mr Trump did not make the list.
Mr Steele made headlines when the content of a dossier he compiled into allegations of a Russian conspiracy to help Mr Trump into the White House was posted online.
The US president strongly denies any collusion with Russia.
The dossier was commissioned by political opponents of Mr Trump but its claims were deemed so sensitive by Mr Steele that he also shared it with US and British intelligence.
The work is a strand in a wider investigation into alleged Russian meddling led by Mr Mueller.
Mr Trump has branded the probe a “witch-hunt” and often hurls insults at Mr Steele on Twitter.
The former intelligence officer has remained quiet since issuing a single statement in March 2017 after his identity became public.
But his entry onto the New Establishment List by Vanity Fair appears to have spurred him to make the new remarks in an email to the magazine’s editor-in-chief Radhika Jones.
“I was surprised and honoured, particularly as a Brit, to be included” in the list, his message continued.
“I find myself in the company of many talented and distinguished people, although I personally would not accord such accolades to some of the other foreign nationals included in the list!”
Mr Steele said he had a duty to speak ‘unpalatable truths to power’
Mr Steele was most likely referring to President Vladimir Putin who, at number 58, also makes the cut but comfortably behind him.
The former intelligence officer indicated he is unable to travel to the US at a time of deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats over the Russia probe.
“In more normal times, I would have welcomed the opportunity to join you at your New Establishment Summit in the US this week,” Mr Steele wrote.
“Sadly, in the present legal and political situation I am unable to do so, but I sincerely hope and trust that these circumstances will change soon.”
The New Establishment List – which includes bankers, tech entrepreneurs, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and actors – has been running for five years.
Setting out the reason for Mr Steele’s entry, Vanity Fair points to his “golden shower glory”.
This is a reference to one of the most controversial allegations of the dossier: that the Russian authorities have evidence of Mr Trump hiring prostitutes to urinate on a bed in a Moscow hotel that had been used by Barack Obama.
The dossier claimed this was “kompromat” – compromising material.
Mr Trump has vehemently denied the allegation.
“The former head of MI6’s Russia desk compiled the infamous dossier that raised the possibility Donald Trump was vulnerable to Russian blackmail,” Vanity Fair said.
“Steele even grew a beard and went into hiding – merely adding to his mythic reputation on the left.”
Jon Kelly, editor of Vanity Fair’s The Hive, said in a statement: “Inasmuch as the New Establishment attempts to catalogue and rank influence throughout the culture, it’s hard to imagine a comprehensive list without Christopher Steele.
“His dossier, though unverified, had become essentially the Fifty Shades Of Grey among the upper echelons of our government an intelligence community.
“Whatever comes of the Mueller probe, the Trump presidency, and the fate of this administration, the Steele dossier provided an undeniable impetus in moving history on its course.”