Mr. Simpson loved holding court with reporters, regaling them with war stories and presenting himself as a journalistic wise man. At a conference of investigative journalists in 2016, he said he and Mr. Fritsch had started Fusion to continue their work as reporters who righted wrongs.
xe2x80x9cI like to call it journalism for rent,xe2x80x9d he said.
Fusion GPS, like its competitors, belonged to a wider web of enablers xe2x80x94 lawyers, public relations executives and xe2x80x9ccrisis managementxe2x80x9d consultants xe2x80x94 who serve the wealthy, the powerful and the controversial. For their part, private intelligence firms take on jobs that others donxe2x80x99t know how to do or donxe2x80x99t want to get caught doing.
Information gathered by private investigators is often laundered through public relations firms, which then shop the material to journalists. Jules Kroll, who created the modern-day private intelligence industry in the 1970s, broke that mold by leaking information directly to reporters. Mr. Simpson took it a step further. He sold Fusion GPS to clients by emphasizing his connections at major media outlets and assured journalists that he was really still one of them.
xe2x80x9cPeople who have never been a reporter donxe2x80x99t understand the challenges of printing what you know, right, because you canxe2x80x99t just say what you know xe2x80x94 you have to say how you know, and you have to prove it,xe2x80x9d Mr. Simpson remarked at the 2016 conference. xe2x80x9cWhen youxe2x80x99re a spy, you really donxe2x80x99t have to get into a lot of that stuff.xe2x80x9d
Fusion GPS also mined a field that other private intelligence firms avoided xe2x80x94 political opposition research. And when Mr. Trump emerged in 2016 as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, lawyers for Hillary Clintonxe2x80x99s campaign hired Fusion to dig into ties between Mr. Trump and Russia.
In the fall of 2016, Fusion GPS invited selected reporters from The Times, The New Yorker and other news organizations to meet Mr. Steele in Washington and receive briefings on what he had uncovered about the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. As is often the case in the world of private intelligence, the meetings came with a catch: If news organizations wrote about the dossier, they had to agree not to disclose that Fusion GPS and the former British agent were the sources of the material.
Mr. Steele was described to journalists as having played a pivotal role in breaking huge cases, including the 2006 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former K.G.B. agent, and the F.B.I.xe2x80x99s investigation into bribery at FIFA, soccerxe2x80x99s governing body. And when speaking about Mr. Trump and Russia, he came across as calm, understated and confident, according to reporters who attended the meetings.