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.