Streetwise Professor

December 3, 2010

Forget Anna Chapman: Here’s the Real Deal

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:50 am

During the summer spy saga, I had a sneaking suspicion that there was something more.  This Bill Gertz story, if accurate, would confirm that suspicion:

The National Security Agency (NSA) is conducting a counterintelligence probe at its Fort Meade, Md., headquarters in a top-secret hunt for a Russian agent, according to a former intelligence official close to the agency.

The former official said the probe grew out of the case of 10 Russian “illegals,” or deep-cover spies, who were uncovered last summer and sent back to Moscow after the defection of Col. Alexander Poteyev, a former SVR foreign intelligence officer who reportedly fled to the U.S. shortly before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited here in June.

Col. Poteyev is believed to be the source who disclosed the U.S.-based agent network.

NSA counterintelligence officials suspect that members of the illegals network were used by Russia’s SVR spy agency to communicate with one or more agents inside the agency, which conducts electronic intelligence gathering and code-breaking.

Poteyev (who was originally identified as a Colonel Shcherbakov in a Kommersant story) would be a much more important figure if he really outed a mole or moles in NSA (and others who knows where else), than just rolled on the “illegals” arrested and swapped in July.

Which brings up one unsettling aspect of the Gertz story.  If the illegals were really couriers and cutouts linking the SVR with the moles inside the Agency, they were much, much more important than the original reporting would suggested.   In that case, letting them go so precipitously, without adequate time to extract additional information from them, seems like a major, major mistake.  (I know that this was the opinion of some former intelligence people even before the newest revelation: one can only imagine what they think now.)

But that also raises some other questions that could either discredit Gertz’s reporting or the earlier reporting.  The earlier reporting indicated that the Russian illegals had long been under surveillance.  If so, it seems remarkable that any contacts with NSA personnel would have gone undetected.  So, it seems unlikely, though not impossible, that (a) the illegals were in contact with NSA moles, and (b) the illegals were under close surveillance for a long period of time.  If (a) and (b) are both true, that raises uncomfortable questions.

In any event, this casts the whole SVR spy story in a whole new light.  It will be interesting to see what develops going forward, though given the extreme sensitivity of the issue, and of the NSA, it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever get even a shadow of the full story.

And it also means that the rather cavalier and dismissive commentary regarding the SVR illegals that was the norm at the height of the story, both in the US and Russia, was ignorant and superficial.  The surface appearances in espionage stories are almost always deceiving.  Hopefully people will remember this next time, and be a little more circumspect with the levity.  This is serious business.

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  1. I also wonder if the killing of British GCHQ spy Gareth Williams around August 20th – from which the British authorities decided to deflect attention by claiming a jealous homosexual lover – is in any way related. But according to the media (1) he was something of a go-between man between the NSA and GCHQ and (2) suspicious financial transactions on his accounts were detected in the months before his death.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 3, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

  2. excellent sory about russian-american cooperation.

    Comment by colleen w. — December 3, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

  3. meant story

    Comment by colleen w. — December 3, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

  4. As usual, I’m posting off-topic. Sorry about it.
    Reading Russian media, I came to the conclusion that… actually, to a few conclusions.

    1. Medveput wants to join the European Union and to have a single currency. Over time, the Central Bank of the EU will relocate to Moscow.
    Why? Russia has many arguments for that. Tanks, fighter jets, missiles, etc.
    Medveput is aggressively courting Germany, so that the two countries will collectively rule the whole Europe, – until the Central Bank of the EU is in Moscow.
    When the Central Bank of the EU is in Moskow, the Central Bank will print euros, make loans to Russian oligarchs, and they will buy the most important parts of European economy.
    To do that all you need to do is increase interest rates with a stated purpose to fight inflation, cause economic depression, and with hard cash you are like in a candy store, where everything is sold pennies on a dollar.

    2. Medveput wants to join the European anti-missile defense program, and not the NATO anti-missile defense program. It means that Medveput wants to use the European missile shield to protect the whole Europe from American missiles on their way to Russia. By doing so they are pushing the US off the road, and into the ditch. They know that they have only two years until O’Bum is in the office, and they are clever.

    3. In the second half of 2012 Putin will do something serious, on a par with occupation of the Georgian territory. Their calculation goes like this. First, it will help to elect Putin by whipping up nationalistic fever. Second, the lame-duck US president will, most likely, kick the can down the road for the next US president. They know this weak point of the presidential cycle.

    It means that Georgia should be accepted to NATO before the second half of 2012. Also, we should tell Russia in plain Russian that the NATO is building the anti-missile shield for protection against all possible enemies, and Russia will be covered by the shield only if and when Russia becomes a member of NATO.

    As I read Russian discussion forums, I’m amazed and amused. I’ve never seen so much hate towards America, and I’ve lived there till 1987. If they could, they would exterminate stupid Americans like cockroaches, and Medveput would not hesitate for a split second.

    Medveput is determined to achieve military parity with America. Technologies can be bought in Europe, which soon will be very dependent on Russian gas. Right or wrong, Medveput is sure that the best way to concur the Europe is to start another cold war against the US while offering friendship to Europe. Their perception is that Europe will prefer a military union with Russia then another cold war against Russia.

    Needless to say, it’s all freaking dangerous. Before O’Bum is out of the office, we can find ourselves kicked out of Europe, and Europe is under protection of Putin.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — December 3, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

  5. colleen w.,
    that is a great story how every SOB, from North Korea to Libya, can blackmail our Bum-in-chief.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — December 3, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

  6. Michael – Lets wait and see if shale gas plays in Europe are anything close to those in the U.S. before we start allowing Russia to use gas supplies as a way to dominate Europe. The bottom line is that Russia has an economy barely equal to that of the State of Texas. It certainly isn’t an economic giant today and isn’t going to be an economic giant anytime soon. Oh, and I wouldn’t count on Germany making friends with Russia while Putin si around. I don’t think anyone thinks Putin wants to share any power with anyone. He wants it for himself and Germany isn’t about to cede any military or economic power to the autocratic leader of a third world economy.

    Comment by Charles — December 4, 2010 @ 8:45 am

  7. The European Experiment/Union/Reich is run on German coin. Therefore what’s good for Germany is good for Europe. I wish Poland all the best, since energy exports are like crack to the Russia economy. But the cosy relationship between German gas importers and Russian gas exporters are not a product of some Schroeder-Putin conspiracy. In fact, the latter is a product of the former. Furthermore, those nasty Germans have an expression – “Polish Parliament”. I’m sure the Germans are all for Poles drilling shale… in Texas. But since they’d be doing it in close proximity to Germany, if not, technically, on German land, I bet they’d taking a dim view of the whole enterprise.

    Comment by So? — December 4, 2010 @ 9:14 am

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