Part Two: The spies and oligarchs
Vladimir Putin’s FBI Spy
In 2002, former FBI agent Robert Hanssen was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Robert Philip Hanssen joined the FBI in 1976. By 1979, Robert Hanssen started spying for the Soviets. Except for two breaks, 1981 through 1985, because his wife caught him spying and 1991 through 1999 because of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Hanssen continuously spied for the Russians while working at the FBI. On February 18, 2001, Hanssen was arrested by the FBI for his spying activities. The United States government expelled 51 Russian diplomats in response to the Hanssen spying. Russia, retaliated by sending 50 US diplomats home. The last time such a massive expulsion of Russian diplomats by the US was in 1986, when Ronald Reagan expelled 80 Russians.
Hanssen was paid $1.4 million for providing the Russian government US intelligence reports. Hanssen had no ideology towards Communism, the Soviets or the Russian way of life. Hanssen simply spied against his country because the Russians cultivated his need for money, sexual perversion and attention.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Hanssen stopped providing US intelligence information to the Russians, for a second time, because he feared the instability of the Russian government, due to the fall of communism, would expose him to FBI counterintelligence. However, in 1999, when Vladimir Putin rose to power in Russia, Hanssen went back to work for the Russians, feeling secure that Putin would not expose him.
According to Ron Kessler’s book, “The Secrets of the FBI,” after the United States arrested 10 Russian spies in June of 2010, Leon Panetta secretly proposed to the Russians that a spy swap be held. One of the spies that the Russians wanted was Robert Hanssen. The Russians did not get Hanssen, instead they got their ten Russian spies back.
The Hanssen betrayal has been called “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history” by US government ofificals.
Vladimir Putin’s Spy Network Is Busted
It was a scene right out of the television series Americans, but it was real life. In June of 2010, ten Russian citizens were arrested by the FBI on charges of being Russian sleeper agents. The Russians had been planted by the Russian SVR to spy on US academia, policy makers and US companies. The Russians were beginning a long-term undercover operation by having its operatives build contacts and create identities, also known as “legends,” to pass themselves off as US citizens. In total, twelve Russians were identified by the FBI. One escaped via Cyprus and another was deported by US authorities. The spies were instructed by Moscow to become “Americanized” so that they could infiltrate US policy makers, per the criminal complaints.
In July of 2010, the ten Russians, under US custody, were swapped with Alexander Zaporozhsky, Sergie Skripal and Gennadiy Vasilenko, after each pleaded guilty to one count, each, of espionage related charges.
One Russian spy became a worldwide celebrity. Anna Chapman aka Anna Kushchenko used Russia’s time honored sexual enticements to lure British national Alex Chapman into marrying her. Anna enticed Alex to marry her so that Anna could get a British passport. The passport facilitated her ability to establish herself in the United States.
Another one of the Russian spies, allegedly attempted to get close to Hillary Clinton via her accounting work. Lydia Gureyva, aka Cynthia Murphy, an accountant and vice-president of Morea Financial Services, targeted Alan Patricof, a venture capitalist and an active Democratic Party fund-raiser. According to Patricof, a close friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton, the Clinton’s were being targeted for espionage purposes by the Russian spy, Murphy.
Another Russian spy, who was not arrested along with the ten spies, was Alexey Karetnikov. He was deported on July 13, 2010. Karetnikov was working at Microsoft at the time of his arrest.
For Putin, in addition to the danger posed by the United States, he also understands that he faces internal problems as well.
The Russian Oligarchs
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian government was faced with taking its closed Soviet economic system and opening it up to competition. In the rush to open the nation’s vast resources, very few rules and little oversight were created leading to the rise of the Russian oligarchy. The Russian oligarchs (new Russians) are a class of excessively wealthy Russians that took the vast resources of the old Soviet Union and converted them into their personal wealth. Along with wealth, they assumed significant power in Russian politics.
One of Vladimir Putin’s first official actions, after taking over the Kremlin from Boris Yeltsin, was to reign in the oligarchs. Putin embarked on a plan to limit the oligarchs’ power in Russia. A power struggle ensued between them. The feud was settled after the Russian oligarchs agreed to support Putin and, in return, Putin stopped prosecuting them and allowed them some measure of independence. The “grand bargain” created an uneasy truce between them, although some of the oligarchs fled Russia to London and other parts of world.
Although the “grand bargain” kept the uneasy truce in place for years, benefiting both the oligarchs and Putin, international sanctions, because of the Ukraine invasion and other recent Russian military interventions, has put severe pressure on the Russian economy. The Russian oligarchs are suffering from the pressure on the Ruble and the international sanctions forcing them to publicly denounce Putin’s military adventures. Some have voiced open displeasure against Putin in recent years.
Vladimir Putin is a creature of the notion that information is power. To keep the Russian oligarchy in check, Putin needs to know where and how they are vulnerable. He needs intelligence to amass the information he seeks.
Although there is evidence of a widening schism between the two, Putin and the oligarchs still depend on each other’s support to keep the powers they have each amassed. But, Putin understands that this cooperation could end suddenly.
This leads us to an often-overlooked part of the Russian intelligence modus operandi, which is actively seeking to influence world events through subterfuge.
Russian Active Measures
The Russian intelligence apparatus has a specific term for political warfare against other countries to control world events. It is called “active measures”. Active measures has been part of the Russian intelligence repertoire since the Cheka started operating. Among the tools for active measures is disinformation campaigns, propaganda, persecution of dissidents and the funding of front organizations to support or create insurgencies or revolutions to force governmental changes. The Russians have devised many ways of influencing world events through their active measures programs. Among them is discrediting governments and creating internal conflicts among government agencies.
Although the recent Donald Trump Russian dossier has been fostering discussions of Russian interference in US elections as a recent event, the fact is that the Russians have a history of interfering in US elections for many years.
The Mitrokhin Archive
The Mitrokhin Archive is a collection of hand-written notes that a KGB archivist created over 30 years of working for the KGB. Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin, defected in 1992. While in Latvia, Mitrokhin went into the United States embassy and offered his archive to the CIA officials stationed there. The CIA officials turned him away believing that the archive was fake. Mitrokhin left the US embassy and went to the British embassy where his documents were deemed authentic. Two books were written and the archive was entered into the public domain. Mitrokhin’s only demand for turning over the documents to the west was they be published.
The archive revealed instances of Russian interference in US politics. One revelation was that the Russians wanted to keep Richard Nixon out of office by offering to finance part of the Hubert Humphrey presidential campaign against Nixon. Humphrey was the Democrat opponent. One of the lessons that the Russians learned from their attempts to undermine the reelection campaigns of Ronald Reagan was that undermining their target via disinformation campaigns and creating conspiracy theories was far more effective than directly attempting to influence the outcome of an election.
In addition, the documents revealed that the Russians were heavily involved in creating conspiracy theories to help in their destabilizing operations. The Mitrokhin archive demonstrated that the Russians were involved in manufacturing the conspiracy theory that the AIDS virus was created by a US military laboratory.
The Russians also planted conspiracy theories that John F. Kennedy was killed by highly successful businessmen as part of a Communist plot. Although it might seem counterproductive to the causal US observer, the Russians creating the illusion that the Russians were behind the Kennedy assassination serves their disinformation purposes because it distracts the attention away from actual programs the Russians are working on. It also gives the Russians plausible deniability, after all, who would believe that the Russians are pointing fingers at themselves.
Before the Internet, “fake news” was disseminated through funding of news outlets, fabricated evidence planted in news rooms and by using nongovernmental agencies (NGOs) as conduits for the disinformation campaigns. One example of this that the Mitrokhin files demonstrates is that the Russians infiltrated Ramparts, a political magazine published in the US from 1962 through 1975. The magazine has been labeled as a “radical,” new left magazine which opposed the Vietnam War. It published Che Guevara’s diaries. The magazine was infiltrated by a Russian operative to help spread disinformation.
Rolling Stones founder, Jann Wenner and Mother Jones co-founder, Adam Hochschild were both at Ramparts before its demise and while the Russians were infiltrating it.
The Russians have realized over time that they do not need to actively influence groups to spread their propaganda. Fringe groups peddling conspiracy agendas are easily influenced or subverted by seemingly well-meaning influencers offering advice, information or money. The anti-establishment mentality of the conspiracy theorists, allows them to be easily manipulated and even agitated to make enough noise to bring the necessary attention to help spread the Russian disinformation.
Technology has greatly enhanced the Russians ability to destabilize governments through their intelligence operations.