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  • Russian Espionage Undermines Obama's Reset Policy

    On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that ten people have been arrested for being alleged undercover Russian spies. They were charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, as well as for money laundering. While not yet charged with espionage, nevertheless, they walked liked spies and talked like spies.

    The eleventh man escaped, only to be apprehended in Cyprus. These were not the usual suspects acting under diplomatic cover and trying to recruit Americans at cocktail parties. The ten seem to be long term, deep cover agents (so-called “illegals”), most of them Russians.

    The Obama White House and the State Department said that the relations will Russia will continue. However, it would be wrong not to take this matter very seriously. Instead of apologizing for spying, Russia is blaming the United States for protecting its security.

    The arrests came shortly after the Obama-Medvedev “Cheeseburger Summit” last week, when Russian President Medvedev visited the United States. Leading Russian experts, the Foreign Ministry and politicians criticized the arrests. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin remarked that “I hope that all the positive gains that have been achieved in our relationship will not be damaged by the recent event.”

    By blaming the United States, this criticism is totally missing the point: this long term penetration started in the 1990s, when Russia was a beneficiary of tens of billions of dollars of U.S. and Western aid. Today, espionage, not catching foreign spies, is thwarting Barack Obama’s “reset” with Russia. Furthermore, this begs the question whether the Russian services were undermining their own rulers.

    That Russia is continuing to spy on the United States, as other countries which view America as a threat do, should not come as a surprise. In fact, as early as 2007, it was widely reported that Russian (and Chinese) spy operations were “back at cold war levels” in the United States. Moreover, according to then-Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, in the 2007 Annual Threat Assessment to the United States, China and Russia are “among the most aggressive in collecting [intelligence] against sensitive and protected U.S. targets.” The 2010 assessment highlights Russia’s ongoing efforts. Unfortunately, with the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan dominating the intelligence agenda, the U.S. collection on Russia and China is slipping behind.

    According to the complaint filed by the Department of Justice, the Russian SVR (foreign intelligence agency) cells utilized both modern and old (and sloppy) tradecraft, some of it looking like a parody on an old Le Carre novel.

    This included dead drops, coded communications, burying information in “dots” on websites, known as steganography, 27 character web passwords, and some tweaked laptops, courtesy of the Moscow Center’s tech mavens.  Unfortunately for the agents, the laptop crashed repeatedly.

    And the Russian agents were easily tracked by the FBI counterintelligence, although their handlers failed to spot it. This has led some old timers from the intelligence community to speculate that the network is a decoy to mask a much more sophisticated espionage operation in the U.S.

    Such deception is plausible. If there is one cell, there are bound to be more. Oleg Gordievsky, a famous Cold War defector and former chief of the KGB station in London, said that Russia may have as many as 50 deep-cover couples spying inside the United States.

    Moreover, this raises the question, what are other Russian intelligence agencies such as GRU (military intelligence) doing in the United States, and what are the successes of the Russian (and Chinese) online spying, which is executed by a different agency altogether?

    The operation was more than a decade-long effort to exploit the weaknesses of a free and open society. The “illegals” network, aimed at penetrating policy making circles, appears to have been established even before the former KGB officer Vladimir Putin became President of the Russian Federation, when foreign espionage got a massive boost in money and manpower.

    However, it looks like the Russians used a lot of the 20th century tradecraft for the 21st century America. These days Moscow provides no ideological attraction, and bickering between agents and control over expenses suggests that the Center’s pockets were not as deep as in the past.

    It is also unclear why Moscow tolerated a network that seemed to produce so little. One explanation is that their bosses valued tidbits picked up by agents much more than what could be gleaned by sophisticated analysts reading journals or going to conferences. This reflects a cult of intelligence, which outlived its Soviet roots.

    “Reset” or not, the current Russian leadership is still committed to the past and continues to view America with fear and suspicion. In Moscow, the US is still an intelligence target, not a “partner” the Obama Administration believes it is.

    It will take more than cheeseburgers, fries and ketchup to change that.

    Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. The author thanks Owen Graham, Research Assistant at the Allison Center for help in preparation of this blog.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    10 Responses to Russian Espionage Undermines Obama's Reset Policy

    1. Pingback: Russian Espionage Undermines Obama’s Reset Policy – Heritage.org (blog)

    2. Pingback: Despite Arrests, Obama Works to Rebuild Ties With Russia – New York Times

    3. xmlelement, Russia says:

      I know! Medvedev recruited Obama and Schwarzenegger!

      Beware America! Terminator is on our side! ROFL

    4. Pingback: Despite Arrests, Working to Rebuild Russia Ties – New York Times

    5. G-Man, Chesapeake, V says:

      Hmmm, reminiscent of the Cold War. Does anyone think that this will affect the Senate's ratification of New START? I am not sure that this Senate has the political courage to vote down this treaty, which contains dangerous self-imposed Missile Defense restrictions. November elections are just a few short months away…hang in there America! We can right this wrong!


    6. Pingback: Medvedev’s Matthias Rust moment – Asia Times Online

    7. Pingback: Russian Espionage Undermines Obama’s Reset Policy « Faulk For Congress

    8. Pingback: The Big Story: Russian spies-like-us farce or something more serious?

    9. Pingback: The Only Thing We Are Re-Setting is the Cold War | Cycaster News

    10. Roman says:

      How Soviet illegals have been trained:

      Although General Guryenko's organisation is called the Training

      Centre', not one Soviet illegal who has defected has ever been able to say

      exactly where it is. The name Training Centre seems simply to reflect the

      existence of one organisation occupied with one task. Either the

      organisation is constantly on the move, or a secluded little place is

      selected for each individual trainee, normally in the Moscow area where

      there are great numbers of dachas. The dachas for the training of illegals

      are well concealed among other governmental buildings, where outsiders are

      not to be seen on the streets and unnecessary questions are not asked, but

      gentlemen of sporting appearance may be seen walking in pairs in the quiet

      shady avenues. The dacha provides an ideally isolated territory for

      training. In addition to the candidate and his family, two or three

      instructors also live in the dacha where they can immerse him completely and

      supervise him very carefully all the time. His wife is also trained but the

      children lead normal lives and will be held eventually as hostages. The

      internal fittings of the dacha are prepared very thoroughly and carefully.

      From the first day the candidate becomes accustomed to the circumstances in

      which he will be living and working probably for many long years. In this

      connection he wears the clothes and shoes, and eats the food, even smokes

      cigarettes and uses razor blades procured from overseas. In each room a tape

      recorder is installed which runs twenty-four hours a day while he is

      occupying the dacha. These tape recorders continuously broadcast news from

      the radio programmes of his target country. From the first day of his

      training he is supplied with the majority of papers and magazines. He sees

      many films and descriptions on video tapes of television broadcasts. The

      instructors, for the most part former illegals, read the same papers and

      listen to the same radio programmes and spend their time asking their pupil

      the most difficult questions imaginable with regard to what has been read.

      It is quite obvious that after a number of years of such training, the

      future illegal knows by heart the composition of every football team, the

      hours of work of every restaurant and nightclub, the weather forecasts and

      everything that is going on in the realm of gossip as well as current

      affairs, in a country where he has never been in his life. The instructional

      programme is tailor-made for each trainee, giving due consideration to his

      knowledge, character and the tasks which he will be called upon to perform

      in the future. Attention is obviously paid to the study of the language of

      the target country, to working methods and to a cover story.

      Often, the illegal's wife also undergoes training. She as a rule works

      as the radio operator. The posting of a husband and wife together, leaving

      their children behind as hostages, is a very frequent occurrence. It is

      considered that maternal feelings are much the stronger and, with the wife

      posted, hostages are that much more effective. Perhaps more surprisingly,

      the wife also acts as a control for the GRU on her husband. She scrutinises

      his behaviour and sometimes may warn the GRU about his excessive interest in

      women or alcohol. On their return to the Soviet Union, husband and wife are

      subjected to a detailed individual debriefing on all aspects of their life

      abroad. If the husband and wife have decided to keep something secret from

      the GRU, their stories will eventually differ.

      After as much as three or four years of intensive training, the illegal

      passes a state commission of top GRU and Central Committee personnel, and

      goes abroad. Usually his journey to the target country is effected through a

      number of intermediary countries. For example, a journey to the USA would go

      from the Soviet Union to Hungary to Yugoslavia to Cyprus, Kuwait, Hong Kong

      and Hawaii. At each stage, or most of them, he destroys documents with which

      he has entered the country and goes on under new documentation which has

      been prepared for him, either by other illegals or by the residencies under

      cover. The illegal will find these documents in a reserved hotel or a

      steamship cabin or in a letter through the post. At each stage he goes on to

      another cover story, becoming another man. He may have to live in one place

      for some months and study it so he can use his knowledge of the country in

      future cover stories. He does not stop over at all in some of the countries,

      only using his visit to cover his tracks. After some months he arrives at

      the country where he is to work. The first thing he does is to visit the

      city where he is supposed to have been born, gone to school, and married. He

      gets a job and works for a time, after which he returns to the Soviet Union,

      having finished the second stage of his training – the illegal probationary

      period abroad. This probationary period is divided as a rule into one or two

      years, after which the third stage begins. On the basis of the experience he

      has gained, and the shortcomings which have come to light in the training,

      the illegal and his instructors work out a programme of training for a

      period which lasts another one or two years. After this he again undergoes

      state examinations, at which the head of the GRU or his first deputy have to

      be present. Then the illegal is placed at the disposal of one of the heads

      of directorates and again commences the operation for his roundabout journey

      to the target country. For operational purposes (though not for

      instructional purposes) much use is made of Finland as a window to the West.

      In the course of his operational journey, the illegal's stay in one of the

      intermediate countries may continue for several years. This stage goes by

      the name of the 'intermediate legalisation'. To take the case of an illegal

      whose target destination is Washington: he might pretend to be a refugee

      from Hungary escaped in 1956; this would mean periods of residence in

      Hungary to begin with, then Austria and Germany before he arrives finally in

      America. An eventual French illegal would be likely to make the journey via

      Armenia and Lebanon. Both would consolidate their nationality every step of

      the way. In the course of the 'intermediate legalisation', the illegal

      endeavours to acquire as many friends as possible, to go to work, to get

      hold of genuine papers and character and work references. At the end of

      these years of preparation, he at last appears in the country where he is to

      spend so many more years endeavouring to do it as much harm as possible.

      The minimum age of an illegal clearly cannot be less than twenty-seven

      to twenty-nine, but usually he is older, on average about forty. This age

      suits the GRU very well for a number of reasons. A man of forty has a

      balanced, conservative approach to life. The stormy passions of youth have

      disappeared and he is less inclined to take ill-considered decisions,

      especially if he ever suffers the dilemma of whether to continue working or

      to go to the police. His children are sufficiently old to be able to live

      without their parents in the complete care of the GRU, but not old enough to

      live independently, and so they are ideal hostages. And in the event of

      mobilisation in the target country, he may well be able to avoid being

      called up for the army which would mean the breaking-off of relations and an

      end to his active working life.

      On his arrival at his objective, the illegal sets about basic

      legalisation. He has been provided with good papers by the best forgers of

      the GRU on genuine blank passports. At the same time he is extremely

      vulnerable if he is not registered with the police or the tax departments.

      Any check may give him away and for this reason he endeavours to change jobs

      and places of work often to get his name onto as many company lists as he

      can and to acquire character references signed by real people. The ideal

      solution is for him to obtain new documentation from the police department

      under some pretext or another. Often he will marry another agent (who may

      already be his wife); she will then be given a genuine passport, and he will

      'lose' his false one to have it replaced with a real one on the production

      of his wife's genuine document. The acquisition of a driving licence, credit

      cards, membership documents of clubs and associations are a vital element in

      'legalising' the status of an illegal.

      A vital role in the lives of illegals is played by cover stories, in

      other words concocted life stories. The basic or ground cover story is

      created on the basis of real events in the life of the illegal, only

      changing a few details. He keeps the date of his birth but of course changes

      the place of his birth. The dates of birth of his parents and relatives are

      also accurately recorded, usually along with the professions of his parents,

      dates of weddings and other details. The illegal is thus not telling an

      out-and-out lie but only a half-truth. He will not bat an eyelid when he

      tells you that his father served all his life in the army. The only thing is

      that he will not tell you in which army he served.

      There is also the emergency cover story, which is the last line of

      defence of the illegal on having been arrested by the police. As its name

      suggests, this cover story is only to be used as a last resort when the

      illegal perceives that the police no longer believe his basic cover story.

      Designed to be used only when the illegal is in the hands of the police

      department, it is concocted in such a way that the details it gives should

      be impossible to check. For example, one illegal was arrested by the police

      while he was trying to obtain a new driving licence because a mistake had

      been found in his old one. He was subjected to questioning, as a result of

      which his basic cover story was found to be inaccurate. Then he went over to

      his emergency cover story and informed the police that he was a Polish

      criminal who had escaped from prison and bought a passport on the black

      market. During this time the GRU, not having received from the illegal his

      routine communications, informed the Polish authorities about the

      'criminal'. The Poles published photographs of the criminal and applied to a

      number of countries for his extradition. However strange it may seem, the

      police believed the story and handed him over to the Polish Consul. It would

      have been easy to break the emergency cover story, if the police had only

      thought to invite a real Polish immigrant for a ten-minute chat with his

      supposed fellow countryman. Of course he would not have known more than ten

      words of the language. But for the police it was sufficient that he spoke

      their language and did not object to being handed over to the Polish Consul.

      No less important than the cover story is the cover or the place of

      work and the type of employment which the illegal takes up in his life

      overseas. Soviet propaganda paints a grave picture of the intelligence

      officer playing the role of a colonel in the enemy general staff. But this

      is pure disinformation. Such a cover is unacceptable to an illegal for a

      number of reasons. Firstly, he must keep himself away from

      counter-intelligence and the police. He must be a grey, inconspicuous 'man

      in the street' such as millions would hurry past without noticing. Any

      officer on any Western general staff is continuously under scrutiny.

      Secondly, he must be professional in his field. In the general staff he

      would be exposed almost immediately. Thirdly, for such a cover his

      legalisation would have to be unacceptably protracted. He would certainly be

      asked about the military schools and academies where he is supposed to have

      been, the regiments in which he has served, and his acquaintances among the

      officers and staff. Fourthly, an illegal needs plenty of time and

      opportunity to meet whoever he wants to meet. If a colonel on the general

      staff consorted with prostitutes, homosexuals, stockbrokers, atomic

      submarine workers and bootblacks – all those multifarious people he needs to

      cultivate – he would be exposed within forty-eight hours. Finally, and

      perhaps most importantly, the requirements of the GRU change with great

      rapidity. Today they are interested in documents from a certain department

      of the general staff and tomorrow from another. But our illegal is working

      in yet another department and all his attempts to have talks with officers

      of the first two departments have been met with a blank wall or cold

      suspicion. No, the kind of cover offered by such a role is neither feasible

      nor a great deal of use.

      Much better for him to be an independent journalist like Richard Sorge,

      or an independent artist like Rudolph Abel, coming and going as he pleases.

      Today he is talking with the Prime Minister, tomorrow with prostitutes, the

      next day with professional killers and then with atomic weapon workers. If

      he doesn't want to work for three months, there is no problem. If he gets

      many thousands of dollars through the post, again no problem. It is part of

      his cover. There are better, of course. A garage owner, for example. He

      hires his staff and himself goes wherever he wants and for as long as he

      wants, or he stands at the window and takes the money. Thousands of people

      pass him every day -ballerinas and artists, senators and scientists – and

      colonels of the general staff. To one he gives money and instructions

      written in secret writing, from another he receives reports. For the basic

      task of the illegal is not himself to penetrate secret targets, but to

      recruit agents for this purpose. This is his raison d'etre.

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