The XX Committee Snowden Reader

Over the year since the case of the NSA traitor-turned-defector Edward Snowden broke into the public eye – and what a year it’s been for your humble blogger here – I’ve written up a lot on this remarkable affair. On all aspects: intelligence, politics, diplomacy, personalities, zeitgeist. I’m in the process of writing a book on Russian intelligence, but you can get my content on the Snowden Operation for free, now, right here. For the benefit of new visitors, here’s the full list of my writings on the case, in reverse order, beginning with my latest post, which I wrote this very day. It’s all here – the secret stories, the hidden agendas, the painful lies of Ed’s defenders, the online dust-ups with Wikileaks, and Glenn Greenwald repeatedly refusing to debate me … you saw it here first, so enjoy!

[UPDATE: Since the Snowden Operation continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, I will maintain this as a living document and update it with my new writings on the case, as they happen.]

The Snowden Operation Meets ECHELON (3 June 2014)

When did Snowden go over to the Russians? (31 May 2014)

The Snowden Operation Falls Apart (30 May 2014)

KGB General: Of Course Snowden is Working for Russian Intelligence (23 May 2014)

Schindler v. Greenwald … almost (18 May 2014)

Germany wakes up from its Snowden binge (2 May 2014)

How to Win Cold War 2.0 (26 March 2014)

How Snowden Empowered Russian Intelligence (20 January 2014)

The End of the Snowden Operation (18 January 2014)

Meet the Anti-Snowden: Captain John Philip Cromwell (24 December 2013)

Sweden Exposes the Snowden-Greenwald Fraud (18 December 2013)

Denmark gets ahead of the Snowden Operation (27 November 2013)

Reforming NSA from the top (26 November 2013)

On Snowden and Coincidences (23 November 2013)

Snowden’s Thunder Down Under (21 November 2013)

The Guardian really needs to stop lying … (17 November 2013)

Russian Intelligence is Behind the Snowden Show: German Intelligence (5 November 2013)

Google and NSA (4 November 2013)

The Realities of Intelligence: The French View (2 November 2013)

What’s Wrong with NSA (30 October 2013)

Update: Merkel’s “real” cellphone is secure (28  October 2013)

NSA, Germany and Handygate: A Reality Check (27 October 2013)

It’s called the Second Oldest Profession for a reason (21 October 2013)

So you want to know about NSA … (6 September 2013)

Snowden, NSA, and Counterintelligence (4 September 2013)

My walk in the EMOPROG lion’s den (2 August 2013)

Wikileaks, Snowden, and the Belarus Connection (6 July 2013)

WWDD: On Real NSA Whistleblowing (2 July 2013)

Snowden in the US-Russian SpyWar (27 June 2013)

Will the real Edward Snowden please stand up? (25 June 2013)

Fistfight in Secrecy (or, Me & Glenn) (20 June 2013)

Snowden, Intelligence, and History (17 June 2013)No Such Agency no more (16 June 2013)

When did Snowden go over to the Russians?

In three weeks, Edward Snowden will celebrate having lived one year in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Everybody familiar with espionage, particularly when it involves Russians, understands that Ed lives under the watchful eye care of Russian intelligence, as he has from the moment he set foot in Moscow. He is working for them now, indeed he really has no choice. They provide his lawyer, his watchers, and they control his movements and actions. How this works was recently explained by the retired KGB general who made his legendary name recruiting and running American traitors just like Ed.

Naturally, Ed’s defenders, as well as people uninformed about intelligence – there’s a good deal of overlap between those two groups – ask for “evidence” that Ed is working for the Russians. To ask the question indicates a deep misunderstanding, perhaps willful, of how the espionage game is played, particularly by Chekists. Vladimir Putin’s Russia does not take in American intelligence defectors – and if you don’t understand that word, don’t question its use here – without something in return (see: quid pro quo, another term that’s relevant). We will not have the full story on what exactly happened with this case for years, maybe decades, probably when a Russian intelligence officer defects to the West with insider details, as sometimes happens. Until then, however, much of the essential outline is visible.

The critical question from a counterintelligence viewpoint is: When did Ed go over to the Russians? That answer will elaborate a great deal about Snowden’s true motivations, and those of his collaborators and co-conspirators. (As readers of this blog are aware, I‘ve long advocated an examination of the key role in the Snowden Operation played by Wikileaks, and it’s more important than ever since Wikileaks has admitted they told Ed to leave Hong Kong and go to Russia a year ago.) In the SpyWar, as it’s played in the Division I game where the Russians are, defections happen, and there’s invariably a complicated backstory, and this case is surely no exception. Bob Baer, the famous CIA operations officer and media gadfly in his retirement from espionage, this week opined that Ed went over to the Russians back in 2007, when he was serving in Geneva as an IT guy on a CIA contract. That seems plausible, indeed it’s the most obvious place to look, given known Russian intelligence tradecraft (konspiratsiya – “conspiracy” – in Russian), but there are other possibilities too. Some have asked questions about an “ethical hacker” course Ed took in New Delhi in 2010, and that seems a story that needs investigation, given India’s longtime reputation as a playground for Russian intelligence.

What can be dismissed out of hand is the notion that, while staying in Hong Kong a year ago, Ed met with Russian spies – sorry, “diplomats” – at their consulate there and, all of a sudden, decided to hop a flight to Moscow. Espionage simply does not work that way, folks. We can only guess at what was on Ed’s mind, but those who know the Russian “special services” understand that such a scenario is so implausible that it can be ruled out altogether. The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) simply does not allow American intelligence personnel they’ve just met to jump on a flight to Mother Russia. That never happens.

Why not, you ask? In real life, unlike in spy movies, the risks are too great. Deciding to work with a possible defector, particularly one from your main adversary, is a big step in and of itself, since both sides play sneaky operational games. In particular, they use dangles, fake agents who present themselves as tasty morsels, hoping for a bite. They show up uninvited to talk to the other side secretly, offering the hope of a big recruitment – if you’re the Russian intelligence officer working the duty desk the day that “Mr. Walker”* comes through the door, your career just got made if this works out. Remember that for the Russians, penetrations of U.S. intelligence are the Holy Grail of espionage, while recruiting a spy inside NSA – the prime target that Kremlin spymasters termed OMEGA during the Cold War –  was the highest of all KGB, and now SVR, priorities.

But there are risks. Big ones. “Mr. Walker” may not be real. He (or she) may be testing you: memorizing names and faces, watching your espionage procedures, seeing how you and your team react to his showing up at your door. Therefore the SVR, like any competent intelligence service, first establishes the bona fides of this guy. You do name checks, you search the internet, you scour your own secret databases, and those of friendly services, to see if they’ve heard of this guy and the exact organization he claims to work for. Does the story he’s telling you seem plausible? Extensive background checks and maybe polygraphs (note plural) will be ordered. In short, you need to know: Does this guy check out?

What you really want to avoid is getting deceived and taking the bait on a guy who actually is working for the other side and playing you. Such a misstep can have grave consequences. That “Mr. Walker” is just an attention-seeking fantasist also has to ruled out, since that will be an embarrassing report back to Moscow too. As the team on the spot, you need to make sure that this scenario is what it seems to be, so you use a lot of precautions. You take your time so as not to get burned. Establishing that “Mr. Walker” is who he says he is, and not a dangle or a plant or a nutjob, can take weeks, if not months. And this is just to recruit him as an agent, a witting source of the SVR, to say nothing of his becoming a defector, which is a much bigger step. You always prefer an agent-in-place over a defector, since that gets public and messy, not to mention that the moment he reaches Russia, your defector’s information has ceased to be up-to-date. A potentially golden source has dried up once he defects.

Letting Edward Snowden move to Moscow was a major decision for the Kremlin, one with huge political ramifications. We can be certain that such a decision was not made by a mid-grade SVR officer in Hong Kong, neither was such a choice made quickly by the Russians, particularly under a president who understands counterintelligence very well. The reality is that Edward Snowden’s relationship with Russian intelligence, whatever it exactly is, predated his arrival in Moscow on June 23, 2013, probably by a considerable margin. It did not begin in Hong Kong, but before, possibly long before. It cannot be ruled out that the SVR (or possibly GRU, Russian military intelligence, which is a formidable espionage service its own) initially dealt with Ed in a false-flag operation, masking their true identity for a time, but experts who are acquainted with Russia’s “special services” understand that the Official Narrative, that Ed just up and moved to Moscow, cannot be true.

Getting to the bottom of this matter is critical to assessing the damage wrought by the Snowden Operation, which despite the claims of his lawyers, is vast and unprecedented. Although it will probably take years to unravel the full story of Ed’s relationship with Russian intelligence, this matter needs thorough investigation now. The U.S. Intelligence Community has senior people who, following in the long line of espionage bosses who really would rather not know the full story behind an epic traitor, seem to prefer to avert eyes from this issue, just as many journalists do. For them, as bad as the Snowden story is already, think how much worse it will look if Ed was really working for the Russians for years: that would be a truly epic counterintelligence fail, and careers and reputations will be ruined. But we need to know the full story here if we are to prevent future Snowdens, as we must.

*IC inside joke: People who show up at the door asking to work for you, unsolicited and unrecruited, are called “walk-ins” by U.S. intelligence (the Russians prefer the term “volunteer”), hence the unknown guy is referred to as “Mr. Walker” until his actual identity is established. Relevant analogies to the Snowden case in the annals of U.S. intelligence are Edward Lee Howard (a failed CIA case officer who defected to Moscow in 1985) and William Martin and Bernon Mitchell (NSA analysts who defected to Moscow in 1960): in all these cases the men had contact with the KGB that long predated their defections; all ended badly.

KGB General: Of Course Snowden is Working for Russian Intelligence

As the Snowden Operation devolves into farce, with the inevitable falling-out between Wikileaks and the Greenwald axis happening online for the world to see, it seems that Edward Snowden isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. What contact, if any, he had with foreign intelligence services before he fled Hawaii for Hong Kong and then Russia, where he remains, is an important question that cannot be answered yet with publicly available information. Indeed, it may take years, perhaps decades for a reliable answer to emerge, given the nature of the espionage business. However, nobody familiar with spy games, particularly when Russians are involved, has any doubt the Ed is working for the Russians now. After all, what choice does he really have?

As if to deflect attention from this obvious truth, today President Vladimir Putin publicly denied that Ed is their guy: he “is not our agent, and gave up no secrets.” This should be taken about as seriously as any Kremlin utterance these days, such as claims that Jewish neo-Nazis are running things in Ukraine. For good measure, Putin added that the whole spectacle is really the fault of America’s “unprofessional” intelligence services, who failed to do their job and prevent this unprecedented disaster. Vlad sometimes can’t help himself, adding, “Russia is not a country that gives up champions of human rights,” meaning Ed.

More important is a new interview with Oleg Kalugin, who is a good deal more honest than Vladimir Putin. Titled “Snowden is cooperating with Russian intelligence,” this is an important development, given Kalugin’s position. He is something of a legend in espionage circles, since he was the youngest general in the KGB at the height of the Cold War, heading up the foreign counterintelligence office of the KGB’s elite First Chief Directorate, its overseas espionage arm. As such, Kalugin was responsible for overseeing the recruitment of foreigners working in the intelligence business…in other words, people just like Edward Snowden. Kalugin’s exploits working against U.S. intelligence are the stuff of exciting late-night spy stories, and you can read about some of them in his memoir, which I recommend (if you read Russian, that version is even better).

I don’t know of anybody in the West with better bona fides than Kalugin to discuss the modus operandi of Russia’s “special services,” particularly in their dealings with Western intelligence sources and defectors. Therefore I am including most of the article, since it merits reading:

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden probably never envisioned that he’d someday be working for the Russian federal security service, or FSB. 

But according to former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, he is now, albeit as a consultant or technical advisor.

“These days, the Russians are very pleased with the gifts Edward Snowden has given them. He’s busy doing something. He is not just idling his way through life.”

“The FSB are now his hosts, and they are taking care of him,” Kalugin boldly claimed in an interview with VentureBeat.

The 80 year-old retired Soviet intelligence officer is Russian spy royalty personified. At 34, he became the youngest KGB general in history, and Kalugin famously helped run Soviet spy operations in America during a career that spanned over three decades.

Kalugin and his wife relocated to Maryland after falling out of favor with the Russian regime in the 1990s. After becoming a vocal critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin (Kalugin called Putin a war criminal for his second invasion of Chechnya), a warrant was issued for his arrest. He’s been in the U.S. ever since.

Kalugin still has juice within Russian intelligence circles and maintains contacts with friends in Russia from his days as a Soviet spy. Kalugin teaches at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies and also sits on the advisory board for the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Back in Russia, according to Kalugin, Snowden is being handled by the FSB, the KGB’s successor. Kalugin claims that Snowden has shared much of his vast trove of secrets about the NSA with his Russian hosts, and in the process, has allegedly handed the FSB one of their biggest intelligence hauls and propaganda coups since the end of the Cold War.

This claim echoes early warnings from congressman Michael McCaul, senator Dianne Feinstein, lieutenant general Michael Flynn, and congressman Mike Rogers, yet no concrete evidence proves that such an exchange took place. Snowden has consistently denied claims that he took security documents with him to Russia.

“Whatever he had access to in his former days at NSA, I believe he shared all of it with the Russians, and they are very grateful,” Kalugin claims.

It has been over a year since Snowden downloaded thousands of top secret NSA documents from his stint as a NSA contractor and traveled first to Hong Kong from his home in Hawaii. He arrived in Moscow August 1 after he failed to gain asylum in 30 other countries.

Snowden’s leaks revealed the NSA’s efforts to turn Facebook into a surveillance machine, the agency’s close ties with Google, and the theft of private user data from firms like Yahoo and Apple. In the wake of these revelations, many of the tech industry’s most powerful firms have frantically adopted new security protocols at unprecedented speeds.

Snowden shared his haul with security journalist Glenn Greenwald and other media outlets, like the Washington Post and Germany’s Der Spiegel, shedding unprecedented light on the prodigious intelligence gathering programs of his former employer and sending shockwaves around the world.

Greenwald, who lives in Brazil but is currently traveling in the U.S., did not return emails for comment.

These days, exile in Russia means Snowden, 30, has lots of time on his hands. A source in Moscow with connections to Russian intelligence said the American is believed to be living, at least part time, in a dacha 70 miles south of Moscow in an FSB retirement community reserved for favored cadres.

“He has lots of free time. He doesn’t need to go into the office anymore,” Kalugin said.

Snowden’s location could not be independently confirmed.

While free to leave Russia, Kalugin claims Snowden’s whereabouts are monitored by his FSB handlers, who allegedly control his spending budget and watch over whom he talks with.

In Kalugin’s view, Snowden is guilty of treason.

“Of course he is, by American standards. Snowden is a traitor,” Kalugin said. “When someone changes sides and goes over to the other side, it’s a victory,” he said.

Snowden’s value to his Russian handlers has not totally run its course, claims Kalugin, and the FSB will allegedly use him as a technical consultant and advisor on topics that interest them. His travel in the country also may be coordinated by the FSB, Kalugin said.

But the former KGB general believes that if he wants to, Snowden will have little trouble integrating himself into Russian culture and digging in for the long haul.

“He is not being left alone obviously. The Russians are trying their best to be hospitable,” Kalugin said.

“At this point,” said Kalugin, who has written three books on his 34 years in Soviet intelligence, “the reception in Russia for him has been exceptionally friendly.”

“And I’m sure that Snowden is enjoying it.”My only quibble there is with Kalugin’s assertion that Snowden is free to leave Russia. Count me skeptical there, since it is very much in the FSB’s interest to keep U.S. intelligence guessing as to exactly what Snowden stole, which would be the first thing Ed would be asked by American interrogators, should they ever get the chance get to talk to this most unique defector. Otherwise Kalugin has conveyed the essentials of the Snowden Operation nicely.It bears noting that Kalugin, who moved to the United States in the early 1990s and has been an American citizen since 2003, is a sharp critic of Putin and his regime, yet is a Russian patriot. He retired from the KGB in 1990 and promptly entered politics on a platform of reforming the country’s repressive security apparatus. He left Russia when it became clear that reform of that system was impossible.Despite claims by Putin and FSB that Kalugin is a traitor – he was convicted of treason in absentia by the Kremlin in 2002 – he does not see himself as such, and he has not divulged the identities of Americans who spied for the KGB, commenting only on cases already known to the public or Western authorities – this being a point of honor for the old spymaster. The sole exception is the case of George Trofimoff, a retired U.S. Army colonel specializing in military intelligence who in 2001 was convicted of spying for the KGB, partly on the basis of testimony provided by Oleg Kalugin – involuntarily, it should be noted (in an ugly turn of events, the U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaed Kalugin’s testimony).I have been acquainted with the general for many years and I can attest that he is an honorable intelligence officer of the old school who does not make up stories for fun and profit. He reflects the old German maxim: Nachrichtendienst ist Herrendienst (Intelligence is gentleman’s work). Kalugin spent many years running spies just like Edward Snowden, winning a raft of KGB medals for his acumen at espionage, particularly against American intelligence. Until we learn more from Russia, Kalugin has provided what may be the last word on Edward Snowden and his relationship with the Kremlin.

Ideology is making America stupid

That there is something wrong with the United States – its politics, its economy, its culture, its interactions with the rest of the world – seems to be widely acknowledged by most Americans today. Poll after poll indicates a profound discomfort with the direction of American society, for myriad reasons. While people on the Left and Right will disagree about what exactly is wrong, and particularly what might be done about it, there’s a lot of consensus that the United States has hit a rather rocky patch, and that our venerable two-party system isn’t doing a very good job of ameliorating what’s going wrong. Indeed, our political system seems to many Americans, including this one, to be one of the larger aspects of the problem.

My colleague Tom Nichols has highlighted how the spreading disdain for actual experts and their expertise undermines public efforts at debating knotty problems, where the views of bona fide experts ought to help. Online freedom, which is supposed to stimulate ideas and discussion, instead too often winds up being hijacked by fools, knaves, and auto-didacts who have read a stunning amount of Wikipedia entries, and not much else. Here, Professor Nichols is entirely correct, as my experience with extensive online abuse over the Snowden Operation continues to illustrate. Per Colonel Jessup, some people really can’t handle the truth.

But I also worry about the tendency to dismiss the American people as a bunch of idiots. In truth, I find that average Americans are often more aware of what’s wrong with our country than the better educated are, though they are frequently unable to exactly articulate our national problems. But they get, deeply, that something just ain’t right here, and it hardly furthers debate to portray such common people, who unlike our cautious-lipped elites are often willing to state obvious truths fearlessly, as idiots. Which is exactly what both Left and Right do. There has developed a near-universal hunt for false consciousness among one’s political opponents, and it is cancerous.

The Right has developed the loathsome habit of stating that groups supporting the Left broadly and the Democratic Party particularly – here they cite blacks, women, gays, et al – are residing “on the Democratic plantation.” If only they woke up and looked at their real interests, the FoxNews logic goes, they would suddenly become the “natural Republicans” that they actually are. It seems not to have occurred to the Right that African Americans, single women, LGBT people, and increasingly Hispanics too, support the Left because the Democratic Party is a better vehicle for their collective interests than the GOP, in its current guise, will ever be. Moreover, the use of “plantation” rhetoric, with its enormously freighted historical baggage, indicates how out of touch its rightist purveyors are. At best, such talk is deeply, unacceptably patronizing to vast swathes of the American people.

But the Left does the exact same thing. Rather than accept that there are lots of Americans, mainly white, often religious, many of them traditionalist in their views, who reject the progressive agenda, it’s easier for the MSNBC set to mock them, while more erudite progressives will explain at great length how they are well-meaning but stupid people who sell out to corporate interests. This view has become so commonplace on the Left that back in 2008 then-candidate Obama felt it wise to talk about clinging to Bibles and guns to describe such fellow citizens, while more recently leading celebrities have told them they need to hurry up and die already, so the golden progressive future can be realized. As a historian, I can affirm that when such hatred for your fellow citizens becomes normative, your republic is in deep trouble. Yet, as I said, it’s become entrenched on both the Left and the Right, the only difference I can tell being that if you’re on the Left you can make a very lucrative celebrity career out of it, while doing the same on the Right makes you Larry the Cable Guy.

This really all comes down to ideology, meaning the substitution of preset cliches over actual thought. I’m not here to knock down the notion of ideology altogether, since all of us have some sort of one (and if you don’t realize you do, the more powerful a hold over you it has), rather I want to point out the hazards of letting that framework shut down genuine thought, discussion, and debate, because you know the answer already. The German word Weltanschauung (worldview) comes closest to what I’m discussing here, and in 21st century America lots of people get their designer worldview, pre-fab, off TV and the Internet, without ever thinking critically about what it might actually mean. Contrary evidence is ignored, out of hand, as lies or propaganda – which of course only the other side has – and perhaps “hatred.” The problem isn’t that Americans have ideologies, it’s that so many of them have embraced a worldview based on self-deception. Simply put, they devoutly, unshakably believe things that simply are untrue.

This is a question of Zeitgeist more than naked partisanship, per se, as Americans both Left and Right seem equally devoted to beliefs that, upon close examination, turn out to be false. The failure of American education explains some of this, but by no means all of the problem. There are many examples I could cite, but I shall limit myself to only a few. The Left and Right get themselves into an equally formidable, if diametrically opposed, lather over guns and their role in our society. The Left will not acknowledge that lots of law-abiding Americans have perfectly legitimately reasons to have guns, in no way contributing to crime rates (and in some cases actually helping them), while the Right will not admit the basic fact that America’s appalling murder rates – which make our inner cities look more like war zones than developed countries – are such because so many people are killed by….guns.

Similarly, the Left pretends that the Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare to normals) is a radical step forward to justice, when actually it is a very modest reform of the existing – exceedingly, unsustainably expensive – system, based largely on onetime GOP proposals, while the Right is in high dudgeon mode over this allegedly vast expansion of state power, when really it’s a huge gift to the insurance industry (a Republican stalwart). Moreover, the ACA manages to do the nearly impossible, namely increasing access to healthcare only very modestly, at considerable taxpayer expense, while doing essentially nothing about controlling spiraling costs, not least because that would upset trial lawyers (a Democratic constituency). If you’re detecting a pattern here, you should.

However, foreign policy is where the confusion-masquerading-as-thought we call ideology really gets going. The Left seems to think – here President Obama bears his share of the blame – that mere words, especially dramatic speeches, can compensate for a lack of strategy or definable and implementable policy. Words, themselves, count only modestly. Churchill’s inspirational “we shall fight on the beaches” speech in 1940, as Hitler stared with ill intent across the English Channel, would have been irrelevant had not the British military been up to the job, barely, to repel German efforts to subdue Britain by air. Additionally, many Democrats believe that hashtags can change the world. Hope is not a strategy, as I teach my students, and neither is Twitter.

Yet the Right is besotted with equally powerful delusions, namely that what hashtags cannot do, the application of firepower can. This is not to malign the transformative effect of military force – I teach at a War College, after all – rather to observe that, in 2014, there are distinct limits on what it can achieve. The blow-it-all-up approach that prevailed as late as 1945 is simply not on the table anymore while the world is watching; even the Russians have toned down their mayhem, and their soft-touch aggression in Ukraine now, what I term Special War, bears little resemblance to the high-explosive horrors that Moscow’s forces inflicted on Chechnya as recently as the mid-1990s. Moreover, the failure of U.S.-led forces to subdue frankly third-rate insurgencies in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade, thanks largely to a basic political illiteracy about those societies, has seriously eroded the prestige of American military might around the world. Only American right-wingers, who continue to fantasize about using kinetic force to fix problems everywhere on the globe, seem to have missed that memo.

Political illiteracy, misguided by ideology, is the core of the problem. When they look at the world, Left and Right in America today both see several billion people who are either very much like us, or want to become just like us as soon as possible. This, of course, is the WEIRD conceit I’ve discussed before, and it seems to be second nature to Americans in 2014. The only real difference is how we want to help the world to become just like us. While the Right prefers using American capitalism with periodic injections of UAVs and TLAMs   – drones and cruise missiles, that is – the Left likes employing “values,” which in most places boils down to dispatching platoons of activists pushing present-day American views on race, gender, and sexuality. It seldom occurs to either Left or Right that both approaches generate considerable push-back around the world.  My family is more European than American, and over the past decade, I’ve watched many of them transition from strong support of America in the world to various forms of discomfort and worse, thanks to policies enacted by Washington, DC. And if Europeans, who share enormous political, cultural, and historical ties with the United States, feel this way, you can imagine what poorer countries around the world, who have much less ability to tone down U.S. policies they dislike than Europeans do, must feel.

To many people on our planet, the USA in 2014 looks like a broken society pushing itself on others, often aggressively. While this depiction sounds ridiculous to most Americans, we must understand that is widely held by billions of people over the globe, including by many who are not congenitally anti-American. We cannot see this because we believe our ideologies so deeply that we never question their basic assumptions, Left or Right. One of the best things about getting out of the country is noting how, from abroad, the political divisions at home that seem so powerful appear trifling to foreigners, who note that beneath the Left and Right talking points there lie surprisingly common views of the world and America’s supposed place in it.

If you want to be a serious student of strategy, you need to see the world as it actually is, not how we might wish it to be. A reality-based assessment of all players, including yourself, must be the first step in developing effective strategy and policy. That is always a challenging undertaking, yet ideological blinders make it far harder than it ought to be. If you cannot get out of the country, read more. Talk to foreigners, see the world through their eyes for a bit. Get out of your comfort zone. If you think either FoxNews or MSNBC has a monopoly on truth, you need to diversify your mind. If you believe the flaws in our foreign policy can be explained by just one word, and that word is either “Bush” or “Obama,” you’re part of the problem. The decade ahead will determine whether our planet can transition from waning American hegemony to a peaceful multipolar world – or not. American military power will remain important, particularly to deter troublemakers, but it must be used judiciously, as our top brass well know, while how Washington, DC, interacts with foreigners in all domains – political, economic, social, not just military – will determine our place in that emerging multipolar world. Letting our ideologies blind us in domestic matters has serious consequences for America, but refusing to see the world as it actually is endangers far more than our domestic tranquility.

Rising Russian Intelligence Activity in Hungary

Hungary is an important state in the Ukraine crisis, albeit one whose role is little understood outside Central and Eastern Europe. Budapest shares a (small) border with Ukraine, while Kyiv has an (also small) Hungarian minority in the far west of the country, in the hilly and forested region known as Transcarpathia – Kárpátalja to the Hungarians. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his ruling right-wing Fidesz party, which just won another four-year mandate, maintain an active interest in their co-nationals who are living outside Hungary, and Budapest has expressed concerns about the potential impact of Ukraine’s crisis, and rising violence, on Hungarians in Transcarpathia.

Although Hungary is a member of both the EU and NATO, since 2004 and 1999 respectively, it plays an ambivalent role currently, as Fidesz, a Euroskeptic, national-conservative party, has displayed certain admiration for Putinism, with which it has some ideological affinity. Moreover, Orbán’s government, which has soured on much of the European project, has sought unusually close economic ties with Putin’s Russia that promise to have long-term political impacts. 

Perhaps most ominously, Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, which took an astonishing twenty-one percent of the vote in last month’s national elections, despite – or perhaps because of – its vehemently xenophobic and anti-Western policies, makes no effort to disguise its admiration for Putin. Jobbik regurgitates Kremlin propaganda regularly, including about Ukraine, and the affinity may be more than merely ideological. It’s been an open secret in European security circles that Jobbik appears to be on the payroll of Russian intelligence, an allegation that has appeared several times in quasi-respectable media over the years, as the party has risen from the paramilitary anti-Semitic fringe to nationwide prominence in Hungary. (Jobbik is equally pro-Tehran, and there are persistent rumors that it takes money from Iranian intelligence too.)

Not surprisingly, such secret Russian interference in Hungarian politics has been a source of concern to the country’s security services for some time. Today’s Budapest daily Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation) has a story, entitled “Increasing activity of Russian intelligence agents,” that elaborates the counterintelligence worries of Hungary’s military during the Ukraine crisis. In recent months, Hungarian security services have observed a noticeable uptick in Russian espionage inside the county, by both the civilian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), aimed at purloining NATO secrets as Hungary finds itself an Alliance frontline state in the Ukraine crisis.

The report notes that although SVR and GRU have long been effective at traditional HUMINT in Hungary, meaning old fashioned legwork to recruit and run human sources, Budapest has noticed an increase in the sophistication of Russian technical intelligence in Hungary too, meaning SIGINT. There is little Hungarian counterintelligence can do, however, as their limited budget means pervasive technical countermeasures to modern Russian SIGINT collection methods are outside their reach. Additionally, the article notes that Russia is far from the only SIGINT threat Hungary is worried about – the report cites China too in this regards – while the Snowden-derived scandal about U.S. intelligence collection caused a major stir in Hungary, and it’s evident that the Fidesz government is worried about NSA too, not least because the Obama administration has repeatedly taken Budapest to task for Hungarian policies viewed in Washington, DC, as xenophobic and less-than-democratic.

The Magyar Nemzet article, which is derived from Hungarian security sources, makes observations about changing Russian espionage patterns that are of interest to counterintelligence hands. Specifically, it notes that while the SVR and GRU traditionally emphasized the use of agents and sympathizers inside Hungarian media, foundations, and Kremlin-controlled front organizations, as well as some sources dating back to the Communist period before 1990, in recent years Russian “special services” have emphasized recruiting a new generation of Hungarians to work secretly for Moscow. These newer agents have been slowly burrowed into a wide range of Hungary’s political and economic institutions, and sometimes they attempt to win sympathizers in public and media positions. Hungarian counterintelligence has also noticed that Russian intelligence officers engage in a wide range of semi-open collection such as data-gathering disguised as contact-building plus engaging in business conversations that are actually efforts at gaining information to be used to elicit cooperation and assist recruitment.

Such methods are more difficult to detect than more traditional Russian methods of HUMINT gathering, as they appear more subtle and perhaps innocent to the uninitiated. While the SVR, the successor to the KGB’s legendary First Chief Directorate, has often shown a relatively soft touch in its efforts to recruit Westerners to spy for Russia, GRU has long been notorious for its blunt and direct methods, what CI professionals term a “cold pitch.” Any Russian intelligence activities aimed at NATO that are more difficult to detect will pose problems for Western counterspies as the Ukraine crisis heats up and the Alliance’s confrontation with the Kremlin grows more serious.