First Thoughts on Arrest of Russian Spy in New York

SVRSo today the FBI charged three Russians with being spies, agents of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service). Two are already out of the country and were in diplomatic cover anyway, so the worse the US government could have done would have been to “PNG” them (persona non grata — in other words, kick them out). The third, though, Evgeni Buryakov, was in “non-official cover”, apparently* working undercover at Vneshekonombank, the Russian Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs. More will emerge about the case and I’ll have more time later to ponder it, not least thanks to tomorrow’s snow day, but here are some first thoughts:

This underscores my view that Russian espionage in the West is not only intensive and extensive, it is geared for the long haul. Many of the recruitment targets the SVR were after were not especially valuable now, they were being cultivated for years in the future or for potential future tasking.

This is proper espionage, by which I don’t necessarily mean especially skilled (it’s hard to tell so far whether it was or was not), but the methodical collection of information, leads and assets that truly establishes intel resources rather than the showy and expensive nonsense of the deep undercover illegals of the “Anna Chapman Ring” (not that she was their leading light).

Russia is still heavily using every state-affiliated agency available for its illegals. Vnesheconombank is a state agency rather than a real bank, by the way, and if you’re wondering why I assume this is where he worked, well, it’s because someone of the same name is listed on their webpage as a deputy rep:

Unless there are two Russians of the same name working in NYC in a Russian bank, I can assume this is a "gotcha"

Unless there are two Russians of the same name working in NYC in a Russian bank, I can assume this is a “gotcha”

Russians are very heavily invested in gathering economic and econ-political intelligence, as well as the usual political/military stuff. In part this is part of general assessment of Western capacities, but also to support Russian economic interests and, these days, to identify not only potential scope for sanctions but also ways of undermining the Western economy. One danger, after all, of the sanctions regime over Ukraine is that it has further strengthened Moscow’s awareness of the potential in the weaponization of finance…

More anon.

Shuffling the siloviki: who may be the winners and losers in 2012?

With Putin’s presidential election over, now the question becomes who will make it into the new government, at a time when some insiders are suggesting there may be some substantial change. On the whole, the siloviki tend not to experience particularly rapid reshuffles, but there are some who are looking more vulnerable. In a couple of columns for the Moscow News, I look first at the three key silovik ministers (Serdyukov at Defense, Nurgaliev of the MVD and Prosecutor General Chaika), and secondly at the chiefs of the main security and intelligence services (FSB, SVR, GRU, FSKN, FSO). After all, it’s not just about personalia: the decisions about who stays and goes and more to the point the nature and origins of any new hires will say a lot about what Putin plans for the future, and what he fears.

The Intelligence War over South Ossetia

I’m interested by the continuing debate as to whether Russian intelligence proved effective or faulty over South Ossetia. My view is that Moscow undoubtedly won the intel war and what follows is based on an earlier article I wrote for Jane’s Intelligence Digest (http://jid.janes.com/public/jid/index.shtml).

Even before the Georgian attack that triggered the Russian invasion of 7 August, there had been an upsurge in intelligence and counter-intelligence work by the various antagonists. Eduard Kokoity, president of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia, claimed on 4 August that Georgian intelligence officers were preparing ‘acts of terrorism.’ Possibly; certainly there have been several bomb attacks in the region, although if so, they really should have concentrated on trying to block the Roki tunnel linking North and South Ossetia. It seems that the Georgians launched an unsuccessful military attack on the tunnel in the early stages of the conflict, but were blocked by Russian and South Ossetian forces, but the tunnel could have been sabotaged in advance.

(more…)

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