Is a Top American Diplomat a Russian Agent?
Today the Ukrainian news website GORDON ran an interview with the Russian businessman and sometime politician Konstantin Borovoy. A harsh critic of Vladimir Putin — he recently said Russia’s president is “mentally unstable” while a year ago he pronounced the collapse of Putin’s corrupt dictatorship to be “inevitable” — Borovoy is something of a gadfly. A parliamentarian of independent views in the Yeltsin era, he served as an intermediary between Moscow and the rebels in the First Chechen War, and was assessed as “a respected and influential Duma deputy” by one savvy Western expert, in part due to his staunch opposition to the takeover of Russia by the “special services,” especially the Federal Security Service (FSB), during the Putin years.
Hence Borovoy’s statements are not to be rejected out of hand as the ravings of a madman. In the GORDON interview, he lambasts Ukraine’s government for having faith in the West as it faces protracted war at Putin’s hands: don’t put faith in NATO and the European Union, he warns Kyiv, “because they do not want a large-scale military conflict.” Borovoy explains that he has assembled experienced cadres of experts — unnamed “military and political experts” — who, like himself, hope to assist Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as he stands up to Putin’s aggression.
One of the major obstacles, Borovoy asserts, is that Putin has secret friends in high places not just across Europe but inside NATO itself, Kremlin “agents of influence” who subvert Western defenses. In particular, he focuses on one well-placed figure — NATO’s deputy secretary general, who, he explains, previously was America’s ambassador in Moscow. Without naming him, this is unmistakably Sandy Vershbow, a career diplomat with a distinguished reputation, having served not only in Moscow from 2001 to 2005, but as the U.S. Ambassador to NATO from 1998 to 2001. Before being sent to Brussels again to serve as the Atlantic Alliance’s number-two civilian official, Vershbow was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. When it comes to Alliance matters and Russian affairs, there are few American officials more experienced than Sandy Vershbow.
Of the ambassador’s tenure in Moscow, Borovoy has this to say:
He established an unprecedented intimacy with former top officials of the KGB and the current leaders of the Russian FSB. For some time his residence in Moscow called “the club of former KGB officers.” They say that this was one reason for his leaving Russia.
To call these charges explosive may be an understatement. I have no idea if they are true or just a scurrilous rumor. This is Russia, after all, where provocation is a way of life. Is this a nasty lie or something one of those connected “military and political experts” shared with Borovoy? I am personally acquainted with a couple cases in recent years when U.S. diplomats in Russia got themselves snared in FSB nets and into trouble, so anything is possible. Borovoy is a reasonably sober character and, more important, a sincere Putin opponent, which would make his motivation here difficult to discern if he seeks to malign a top NATO and American official.
I hope American journalists look into this matter, since it merits investigation. If nothing else, it’s a helluva story, regardless of whether Vershbow is a Russian agent or the victim of vicious Kremlin slander. However, I’m not confident that much will happen there, since every few years explosive, indeed salacious charges like this emanate from Moscow, only to be totally ignored by the American media.
On 5 October 2000, a month before the U.S. presidential election, the Russian press agency Ekho Moskvy, which broadcasts on radio and the Internet, ran a sensational piece. Duma deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov publicly asked Russia’s Federal Archive Service to provide him with any documentation they possessed regarding the secret relationship between Armand Hammer and Albert Gore, Sr., the father of the Democratic presidential candidate in 2000. “I already have this information. My purpose is to get it officially,” Mitrofanov told Ekho Moskvy.
The Duma deputy wanted to illuminate “the mechanism of supporting Armand Hammer and Albert Gore, Sr. by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union…they were financing Gore’s coming out against the Vietnam war,” Mitrofanov said, “as well as his assistance in closing an FBI investigation against Hammer”. He continued: “All this is very interesting, especially in connection with the ongoing presidential campaign in the United States…the incumbent President [Clinton] also started his political career on money given by Hammer or, in fact, on Soviet money. Everybody knows that Hammer got his most profitable contracts in the Soviet Union from Politburo decisions.” Mitrofanov concluded by stating that Albert Gore, Jr. also started his career on Hammer’s dubious money.
This was not exactly news, as ties between Armand Hammer, the Occidental Petroleum boss, and the Soviets were barely concealed. The son of Jews from Odessa, Hammer never hid at least some of his pro-Soviet views, and the FBI knew of them early on, though it took decades for the sordid details to publicly emerge, including that Hammer was tight with the KGB and even acted as a fence for the Kremlin, selling stolen valuables abroad to benefit the Soviet Union. Albert Gore, Sr., who represented Tennessee in Congress from 1939 to 1971, was close friends with Hammer, who shoveled him (often dirty) money in exchange for Washington, DC access going back to 1950.
The Hammer-Gore-Moscow connection was sufficiently well understood behind closed doors that when Albert Gore, Jr., then a member of the House of Representatives, took Hammer as his guest to Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, getting the Kremlin’s man a seat reserved for senators, when Hammer tried to get Reagan to shake his hand the new president, knowing the bagman’s reputation, refused.
While Aleksei Mitrofanov is a somewhat controversial character, the notion that the Gores, Sr. and Jr., were perhaps a bit too cozy with the KGB through the Hammer cut-out was not a crazy question when Mitrofanov asked it. The case became more interesting when, on 25 October 2000 — still before the U.S. election — the Duma deputy made a quixotic statement to the Moscow news agency Interfax about his request to the Russian archives in the matter of Hammer and the Gores, saying that he had received relevant information but he would not be disclosing what he had learned: “This document is classified and the deputies who would like to read it may do so in exchange for a written statement promising not to disclose its content.”
Despite the fact that this story emerged on the eve of the American elections, the U.S. media’s interest in the case was exactly zero. Even though the Interfax report had appeared in English, I can find no evidence that the “mainstream media” bothered to look into this story in any serious way. I will let readers conclude why this was so. Instead this apparently sensational story was relegated to fringe sites, where it was soon forgotten. As long as reporters show no interest in what Russian intelligence is up to in the West, the Kremlin will enjoy a free hand to spy, steal, bribe, and influence our policies, officials, and politicians.