How Putin’s Spies Infiltrated the Trump Campaign

Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency entered a new crisis at the end of this week with the resignation of Paul Manafort, his campaign manager, amid allegations of dirty money and Kremlin connections.

Manafort was brought into the campaign in late March to give the Trump campaign focus as it prepared for the Republican party convention. His predecessor, Corey Lewandowski, possessed limited political experience and had been managing a sandwich shop before he was hired to head up Trump’s presidential bid.

Although Manafort possessed ample political experience, not all of it was welcome. The veteran 67-year-old Republican consultant had helped to elect Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, then George H. W. Bush in 1988, but he had not worked on a Republican presidential campaign since Bob Dole’s failed bid in 1996.

Manafort instead spent ample time overseas, serving as a fixer for various foreign governments – not all of them savory or democratic. Among the regimes Manafort worked for include anti-communist rebels in Angola, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Zaire’s notorious dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Some of Manafort’s clients were worse than unsavory. He spent four years in the early 1990s lobbying on behalf of a Kashmiri advocacy group that FBI investigation determined was actually a front group for Pakistani intelligence, the notorious ISI. For helping Pakistan’s ISI, which is infamous for its support to jihadist terrorism, Manafort’s firm received $700,000.

Connections to the ISI should have been sufficient to raise uncomfortable questions about Manafort, but the cause of his downfall this week is his open ties to corrupt oligarchs and Kremlin fronts in Ukraine. That he had spent several years in Kyiv lobbying for Viktor Yanukovych, who served as the country’s president from early 2010 to early 2014, was hardly a secret.

Indeed, Manafort was critical to Yanukovych’s rise to power, since the American fixer coached the colorless Communist functionary in modern politics. After losing elections in 2004 to the Western-oriented Orange Revolution, Yanukovych understood he needed to update his look and his message. That was what Manafort was for.

The Republican consultant taught Yanukovych how to present messages to different audiences and it paid off when his client won the presidency in January 2010. However, once in power, Yanukovych ruled in a distinctly pro-Moscow fashion. It was no secret that the new president and his Party of Regions were clients of Vladimir Putin, whose security services, above all the Federal Security Service or FSB, were allowed free reign in Ukraine as long as Yanukovych ruled in Kyiv.

Manafort was there every step of the way, and if he objected to his client’s thuggish and corrupt ways, there is no record of it. Everything was fine until Yanukovych fell in February 2014 when he was impeached by parliament and popular protests convulsed the country. When Yanukovych’s thugs attacked protestors in Kyiv, killing nearly a hundred – some of the shooting of unarmed protestors was done by FSB operatives sent to Kyiv to bolster the ailing regime – his position became untenable and he promptly fled to Russia, where he remains.

It was widely known that Manafort spent a decade advising Yanukovych, yet that did not deter Trump from appointing him his campaign manager. For Trump, who openly admires Putin, perhaps Moscow links were considered a plus. Whispers continued that Manafort’s role in Kyiv, between oligarchs and Kremlin connections, was worse than publicly acknowledged.

Nevertheless, Manafort guided his new client through the Republican convention in Cleveland last month, winning him the party’s nomination. He stood by Trump as, post-convention, the newly-anointed nominee engaged in a remarkable bout of self-immolation, between insulting the family of a dead American soldier to asking the Kremlin to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. As Trump committed political suicide before the cameras, Manafort remained loyal and upbeat.

That said, the convention raised questions. In Cleveland, Trump operatives rewrote the Republican party platform, watering it down from promising to provide Ukraine with “lethal defensive weapons” to merely “appropriate assistance.” Although the Trump campaign denied it had a hand in this rewrite, this was quickly proven false. While some saw Manafort behind this change, he weathered that storm, though he was hardly helped by Trump’s bizarre on-camera insistence that Putin is not “in” Ukraine – despite the presence of tens of thousands of Russian troops in Crimea and the Donbas.

Then everything unraveled this week. First came reports that Manafort had been the recipient of vast largess by the Party of Regions. Anti-fraud investigators in Kyiv discovered a ledger showing that between 2007 and 2012, Manafort was promised $12.7 million in off-the-books cash payments by Yanukovych’s ruling party.  At a minimum, Manafort had served as a foreign agent without registering as one, as required by American law. The documents appear authentic and, given the lawyerly evasiveness of Manafort’s denials, there’s no reason to doubt this story.

The scandal had not yet died down – including awkward questions about where this vast sum of money really came from – when worse appeared. Now we have learned that, during his years in Kyiv, Manafort’s translator and sidekick was Konstantin Kilimnik, who had spent several years with Russian military intelligence or GRU. Although Kilimnik made no effort to hide his Kremlin affiliation, he and Manafort became fast friends.

To anybody familiar with Russian intelligence, Kilimnik was very likely Manafort’s spy-handler. At best, he was an access agent for GRU, assessing the American for possible espionage. “There are no former intelligence officers,” as Vladimir Putin has stated, and one can only imagine the glee in Moscow when Manafort was appointed Trump’s campaign manager.

That role has ended with Manafort’s resignation. A shake-up this week reduced the seasoned fixer’s role as Trump tried to re-brand his damaged campaign to take on Hillary Clinton in early November. The exposure of Manafort’s long relationship with GRU was the final straw. Even Trump, for all his overt “bromance” with Putin, could not be seen to have such an obvious Kremlin proxy heading his campaign for the White House.

It is nevertheless shocking that Manafort burrowed his way into the Trump campaign as deeply as he did. There are lessons here for Europe – and especially Germany. America is only now experiencing what Europe has already gone through – a world where parties on both the left and the right are wooed by the Kremlin, which brings cash and favors.

Germany, with its rich reservoirs of Russlandversteher, is especially vulnerable. On the left, Die Linke retains longstanding ties to Moscow, with whom it shares antipathy toward NATO and the Americans. On the rising right, where Merkel’s failed refugee policies provide fodder for Kremlin propaganda every day, the AfD and others more extreme court Russian favor and sponsorship as Germany looks towards national elections next year.

The case of Paul Manafort demonstrates how Moscow uses money and connections to influence Western politics – even in the United States. The West’s political class is vulnerable to Russian exploitation. Manafort’s demise this week is a rare case when the public gets to see this messy reality exposed. Germany is no different – and Germans who value their democracy will pay attention as 2017 approaches.

(This article appeared in German in BILD — you can read it here.)

The Kremlin Admits Snowden is a Russian Agent

In the three years since Edward Snowden landed in Moscow, his relationship with his hosts has been a source of much speculation and controversy. The American IT contractor, who worked for the CIA and NSA until he fled Hawaii with more than a million purloined secret files, has not left Russia since he arrived at Sheremetyevo airport on 23 June 2013, on a flight from Hong Kong.

Snowden landed in Moscow with the permission of the Russian government, whose representatives he met during his sojourn in Hong Kong that lasted more than three weeks. He became so friendly with them that he actually celebrated his 30th birthday at the Russian consulate!

On the run from prosecution in the USA, Snowden received asylum from Vladimir Putin. Although Snowden recently indicated he would like a pardon from President Barack Obama before he leaves office in January, there’s no indication that will happen. The White House only a month ago explained that it considers Snowden to be a criminal, so any pardon seems like a fantasy.

Then there is the messy question of Snowden’s ties with the Kremlin. To anybody acquainted with the world of espionage, particularly when it involves Russians, Snowden is a defector and his collaboration with Moscow’s security agencies is a sure thing – as I explained recently.

Experts on the Kremlin’s powerful intelligence apparatus, what Russians call the “special services,” have no doubt that collaboration is a matter of simple quid pro quo. Any Western intelligence official who receives sanctuary in Russia will share what he knows with his hosts: there is no choice in the matter.

Snowden and his representatives have insisted that he is no collaborator. The official story is that Snowden arrived in Moscow with none of the classified documents he stole from NSA, and he refused to share secrets with Russian intelligence. According to Wikileaks, which told Snowden to flee to Moscow, the defector was approached by Russian spies after his arrival in their country, but refused to spill secrets.

Since Wikileaks itself is now more or less openly a front for the Kremlin, with its head Julian Assange mouthing pro-Putin propaganda with increasing frequency, there’s no reason to take its claims about Snowden seriously – particularly given Assange’s admitted role in getting the American to Moscow in the first place.

Nobody I know in Western intelligence circles believes any of these claims of Snowden’s innocence. If he has not collaborated with Russia’s special services, he would be the very first defector since 1917 not to do so. There are no indications that Vladimir Putin, who publicly called Snowden a “strange guy” and is not known for giving anything away for free, is that charitable.

Snowden’s relationship with Russian intelligence was in the public eye recently when the issue arose during the German parliament’s special investigative commission on NSA. Last month, Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of German domestic intelligence, created a stir when he explained that, in reality, Snowden is very likely a Russian agent.

Gerhard Schindler, the head of German foreign intelligence, went further, explaining that Snowden is “a traitor” and “He has become a plaything of the FSB – which is anything but good” – the FSB being the Federal Security Service, Russia’s powerful and unsavory domestic intelligence agency.

Although these statements should not be controversial, since Snowden has been in Russia for three years and shows no signs of leaving Putin’s protection, his defenders objected to such commonsense pronouncements by Germany’s security leadership. However, Snowden did himself no favors by suddenly being able to tweet in fluent German – a language he seems to have learned overnight – which bolstered the case that he is the plaything of the FSB.

Now, the Kremlin has settled the issue once and for all by stating that Edward Snowden is indeed their man. In a remarkable interview this week, Franz Klintsevich, a senior Russian security official, explained the case matter-of-factly: “Let’s be frank. Snowden did share intelligence. This is what security services do. If there’s a possibility to get information, they will get it.”

With this, Klintsevich simply said what all intelligence professionals already knew – that Snowden is a collaborator with the FSB. That he really had no choice in the matter once he set foot in Russia does not change the facts.

Klintsevich is no idle speculator. He is a senator who has served in the State Duma for nearly a decade. More importantly, he is the deputy chair of the senate’s defense and security committee, which oversees the special services. The 59-year-old Klintsevich thus has access to many state secrets – for instance regarding the Snowden case.

He is also a retired Russian army colonel, having served 22 years in the elite Airborne Forces (VDV). Klintsevich saw action in Afghanistan in the 1980s with the VDV and, based on a careful reading of his biography, appears to have served with GRU, that is military intelligence (his work in “special propaganda” in Afghanistan and his 1991 graduation from the Lenin Military-Political Academy are indications of his GRU affiliation).

Klintsevich is not a well-known figure outside Russia – he appeared in the Western press briefly in 2012 with his short-lived idea to buy Hitler’s birth house in Braunau, in order to destroy it – but he is a well-connected member of the Kremlin’s ruling elite. Given his senate committee position and his GRU past, there is no doubt that Klintsevich is considered nash (“ours”) by Russia’s special services.

His statement outing Snowden’s relationship with the Kremlin therefore cannot be an accident or a slip of the tongue. For whatever reason, Putin has decided to out Snowden as the collaborator that he actually is – and has been for three years already.

One reason for this may be Snowden’s recent tepid criticism via Twitter of Russia’s draconian new laws on domestic surveillance – which vastly exceed any of the activities of the Western democracies that Snowden has so strongly criticized from his FSB hideaway. Indeed, his hosts finally allowing their American collaborator to tweet negatively about Russia – many had noted Snowden’s silence on FSB repression and worse – may be a sign that the defector has outlived his usefulness.

In truth, Snowden was never all that well informed about American intelligence. Contrary to the myths that he and his mouthpieces have propagated, he was no more than an IT systems administrator. Snowden was never any sort of bona fide spy. There are no indications he really understands most of what he stole from NSA.

The FSB therefore milked Snowden of any valuable information rather quickly. He likely had little light to shed on the million-plus secret files he stole. Instead, his value to Moscow has been as a key player in Kremlin propaganda designed to discredit the Western intelligence alliance.

In that role, Snowden has done a great deal of damage to the West. But he was never a “mole” for Moscow inside NSA. In reality, the Snowden Operation is probably a cover to deflect attention from the one or more actual Russian moles who have been lurking inside NSA for years, undetected.

Based on the cases of previous Western intelligence defectors to Moscow, Edward Snowden faces an unhappy future. Whatever happens to him is up to his hosts, who control all aspects of any defector’s life. There no longer can be any honest debate about his relationship with the Kremlin, which has settled the matter once and for all. Putin and his special services consider Snowden to be nash – there is no question about that now.

(This article originally appeared in BILD in German, you can read that here.)

The Kremlin’s Football Hooligans – Another Face of Putin’s Special War

This year’s UEFA European Championship has been rocked by violence. While football hooliganism is nothing new, what happened this year appears organized as well as political. Moreover, the worst hooligans involved are Russian. Given the difficult relations at present between Moscow and the European Union, questions have arisen about what’s really going on.

First, the facts. Although UEFA expected some violence this year, what has happened exceeded all expectations. The worst incident was the England-Russia match at Marseille on June 11, which featured pre-game combat between fans. Russian “ultras” charged at English fans, injuring several, some seriously. Bottles and bar chairs were among the improvised weapons employed. The Russians seemed well prepared, with some of the “ultras” wearing mouth-guards for protection while others sported England shirts – a case of deception to assist their attack.

Then, right at the end of the match, 150 determined Russians charged the England section of the stadium, sending hundreds of fans fleeing for their lives. Police were slow to restore order, and by the time the melée ended, 35 attendees were injured, four of them seriously, including two England fans left comatose.

As shocking as the conduct of Russian “ultras” was in Marseille, the comments that followed their brawling made matters even worse. Although Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister, allowed that the “ultras” had behaved badly and had “shamed” their country, others were less willing to back down.

Some Kremlin officials greeted the Battle of Marseille with glee. A senior Russian MP tweeted his support for the rioters: “Don’t see anything wrong with the fight fans. On the contrary, well done our boys. Keep it up!”

Some Russians have found fault with allegedly effeminate French police, including this memorable jibe from a senior Kremlin police official: “A normal man, as a man should be, surprises them. They are used to seeing ‘men’ at gay parades.”

Even Vladimir Putin got in the act. Several days after the Marseille riot, Russia’s president commented at the Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, “Do you know when the football cup started there was a fight of Russian fans with the British ones, but I don’t know how 200 Russian fans could fight several thousand of the British.” Although Mr. Putin has criticized the actions of his fellow countrymen at Marseille, this statement was an unsubtle dig at England fans.

UEFA has reacted promptly to Russian misconduct. Two days after the Marseille riot, it fined Russia 150,000 Euros and issued a suspended disqualification for violence by “ultras,” adding that a repeat of such events would result in the team’s expulsion from the tournament.

However, the violence has continued, albeit not at the scale witnessed in Marseille. There have been numerous scuffles between Russian fans and others. Most seriously, Russian hooligans attacked and injured several tourists outside the famous Cologne Cathedral. Six Russians were arrested for the attack. The men were on their way to Cologne Airport to catch a flight back to Moscow. Although the attack appeared to be spontaneous, the hooligans had gloves and wore balaclavas – hardly normal attire in June.

In response to these assaults, French authorities have expelled 20 Russians on national security grounds. In addition, three Russians who participated in the Marseille riot received jail terms from a French court for their role in the violence: Aleksei Yerunov, the head of the fan club for Moscow’s Lokomotiv team, was handed two years, while Sergei Gorbachev received 1.5 years and Nikolai Morozov one year in prison.

Among the Russians deported from France is Aleksandr Shprygin, leader of the All-Russian Football Supporters Union, who is a notorious far-right thug with neo-Nazi views.  Infamous for showing off in public, sometimes with a Hitler salute – on occasion brandishing it alongside topless women for the cameras – the 38-year-old Shprygin is no stranger to Russia’s political elite and he is popular among ultranationalists for his combative antics.

There are widespread suspicions that Russian football hooliganism exported to Western Europe may be no accident. In the first place, the “ultras” do not resemble the drunken Russians who usually show up at UEFA events, sometimes causing trouble. The younger generation is fitter, seemingly preferring weightlifting to vodka, and much better trained and organized for street combat. They are also markedly more aggressive than the previous generation of Russian football hooligans.

Several of the “ultras” have boasted of military service in Eastern Ukraine in Russia’s undeclared two-year-old war in the Donbas, leading Western security services to wonder if they are connected with the Kremlin, particularly the General Staff’s Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU, which was responsible for the appearance of “Little Green Men” in Crimea in March 2014.

British intelligence suspects that GRU is indeed behind the “ultras” and that they are part of what some call Kremlin “hybrid warfare,” which I have termed Special War. This is a new generation of intelligence-led attacks on Western countries, encompassing espionage, propaganda, subversion, and even terrorism, with the presence of Kremlin operatives being camouflaged. The intent of Special War is to clandestinely influence politics in Moscow’s favor – and to send a message that Russia is not to be trifled with.

Evidence for GRU involvement is circumstantial but important. Those in the know have noted that Mr. Shprygin got his start as a fan for Dynamo, the Moscow sports club that was founded by the KGB and continues to be run by its successors. Then there’s the fact that the Russian Football Union arranged for a special charter flight to get 230 hardcore fans to the June 11 game in Marseille.

Not to mention that several of the “ultras” who reached France sported large GRU tattoos. These are distinctive, featuring the black bat which is the GRU logo. Some of the tattoos, clearly obtained as a souvenir of service, included specific unit designations while others even include the letters GRU (ГРУ in Russian).

A French intelligence official told me that several of the “ultras” were “definitely GRU, whether past or present we don’t yet know.” A BfV official added that he had “little doubt that Marseille got a visit from GRU” and that it was no accident. “So a company of SPETSNAZ [Russian military special forces, controlled by GRU] ‘suddenly’ appears in France for a football match and we’re supposed to believe it’s all by chance?” he asked.

A former GRU officer who now lives in the West agreed with that assessment, pointing out that sport was controlled by the Kremlin during Soviet times, and this is just one more aspect of life in the USSR that Vladimir Putin has resurrected. “Putin seeks to cause fear in Western Europe, and what better way than to send hardened fighters to disrupt high-profile matches?” “I remember the look that these ‘ultras’ have – lean, mean, and eager to fight – from my own time with GRU. I have no doubt who these young men are,” he added.

The worst of the Russian troublemakers have been sent home now but it appears that this is just one more secret front that Mr. Putin has opened against the West under the rubric of Special War. European football hardly needs more hooligans, but Moscow seems eager to supply them. We have likely not seen the last of GRU’s “Little Green Men” masquerading as football fans.

Edward Snowden is a Russian Agent

Three years after Edward Snowden, the American IT contractor turned global celebrity, made his media debut in Hong Kong, the truth of what really happened in this sensational affair remains elusive. The outline is clear. Snowden left his job in Hawaii with the National Security Agency in May 2013 and appeared at Hong Kong’s Mira Hotel on June 1, having made off with more than a million classified intelligence documents belonging to the American government. A few days later, Snowden appeared on camera to announce that he was lifting the top secret mask off NSA, America’s biggest and most secretive intelligence service.

Yet significant questions remain. Where was Snowden from 21 to 31 May 2013? His whereabouts in that period are unknown. Why did he choose to repeatedly visit the Russian consulate in Hong Kong, even celebrating his 30th birthday there? What did those visits have to do with his departure for Moscow on June 23rd? Last, why has Snowden never left Russia, three years after his arrival?

These issues have taken center stage in the German parliament’s special committee of inquiry into NSA activities. Is Snowden really the whistleblower he claims to be? It is odd that anyone who claims to support press freedom and personal liberty would take extended refuge in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where the population is much more tightly watched by the intelligence services than in any Western country, and where journalists who oppose the regime are harassed and even murdered.

Hans-Georg Maassen, director of Germany’s domestic intelligence service (the mouthful Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution or BfV), has waded into this controversy by stating that Snowden is likely not who he pretends to be. “This would be an espionage operation joined with an operation for disinformation and influence,” he stated: “In order to drive a wedge between the USA and its closest allies, especially Germany.” That Snowden is in fact a Russian agent “has a high degree of plausibility,” Maassen added.

Predictably, Snowden’s defenders have pretended outrage at the BfV director’s statements, although he has made them before. Two months ago, in an interview alongside Gerhard Schindler, director of Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service or BND, Maassen explained that it was likely that the American “whistleblower” was  in reality a Kremlin agent whose actual agenda was harming his own country’s worldwide security partnerships – including with Germany — for Putin’s benefit. That the Snowden Operation has been very effective as disinformation against Western democracies goes without saying.

Such statements, taken as heresy by Snowden’s ardent fans, are uncontroversial among anyone who understands the secret world of espionage. To anybody acquainted with how Russia’s powerful intelligence services actually operate, the idea that Snowden is their collaborator is no more controversial than stating that the sun rises in the east every morning.

The proper espionage term for Edward Snowden is defector, meaning an employee of an intelligence service who takes up residence in another country whose spies are not friends. Since 1917, every single Western intelligence defector to Moscow has cooperated with the Kremlin, on grounds of quid pro quo. There is no known case of a defector not collaborating with the KGB or its successors. If you want sanctuary, you will tell the Russians everything you know. That is how the spy game works.

Any Russian intelligence officer who wants sanctuary in the United States will be required to collaborate with American spy services, including extended debriefings by multiple intelligence agencies. Are we really supposed to believe that Vladimir Putin, former KGB colonel, is more charitable?

“Of course” Snowden is collaborating with Russian intelligence, explained Oleg Kalugin more than two years ago. A legend in global spy circles, Major General Kalugin is the former head of foreign counterintelligence for the KGB’s elite First Chief Directorate. In the Cold War, Kalugin recruited moles inside American intelligence just like Edward Snowden. He is an expert witness here. Kalugin made clear that Snowden’s new life revolves around the Federal Security Service, Putin’s powerful FSB. “The FSB are now his hosts, and they are taking care of him,” he explained: “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.”

To anybody familiar with how Russia works, there can be no doubt that Snowden has been an agent of the Kremlin at least beginning with his arrival in Moscow three years ago. Whether he was recruited by the Russian intelligence before that is likely – as I’ve explained before, it would be highly abnormal for the FSB to grant sanctuary to an American defector they have never met – yet it remains an open question, and a very important one. Whether Snowden has collaborated with the Kremlin since June 2013, however, is not an open question.

Since joining Twitter last year, Snowden has pontificated from Moscow on a wide range of issues. In rare form, he entered the debate regarding the NSA special committee, sending out this remarkable tweet yesterday. (It says: “Whether Maassen is an agent of the SVR or FSB” – that is, Russian intelligence – “cannot currently be verified.”) Challenging the BfV director head-on with a mocking tweet is a strange turn of events in the Snowden saga. Moreover, when did Snowden learn such good German? He’s never spoken it before, much less flawlessly.

All of this leads to obvious questions among anybody familiar with Putin’s Kremlin. Western security experts have suspected that Snowden’s tweets, at least on intelligence matters, are tightly vetted by the FSB. Which would be normal for any high-priority defector. Living under what Russians call a protective “roof” (krysha) provided by the FSB means a loss of personal freedom of the kind Snowden claims he cherishes above all else.

Either Edward Snowden suddenly learned excellent German or someone in Moscow is writing “his” tweets for him. Vladimir Putin himself speaks excellent German from his time with the KGB in Dresden in the 1980s and perhaps he does not wish to see the language mangled in public.

(This article appeared in the newspaper BILD in German, you can read that version here.)

What Russian Intelligence Knows About Hillary Clinton

It is my privilege to reveal to you this highly classified National Security Agency intercept which reveals just what Russian intelligence knew about Hillary Clinton and her email security problems. While I believe that classified information should remain classified, this is a matter of such national importance, since Hillary could be our next Commander-in-Chief, that I am going whistleblower here and leaking this historic document.

FM: NSA

TO: Q07

SIGAD: US-968H

DOI: 23052009 1045Z

This intercept was received by an NSA covert SIGINT site. It is a conversation between two (2) senior officials of the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). It discusses GRU SIGINT intercepts of conversations between high-ranking US Persons (USPs) in their official USG capacity and is to be handled on an EYES ONLY basis. FBI/NSD has been informed. White House/NSC and STATE are not – repeat NOT – authorized to receive this information due to counterintelligence concerns that have been verified by FBI/NSD and CIA/CIC.

This document is classified TOPSECRET//SI//NOFORN//NODISSEM in its entirety and is to be maintained as hard-copy only per the regulations of ECI SHOCKWAVE.

A: Sasha, what the [expletive deleted] are your guys over at BIGBEAR [1] doing?

B: What, Tolya? Have you been drinking again? [Laughs]

A: Just two, it’s early.

B: Two is good, it stimulates the brain.

A: [Expletive deleted] it sure does! But look, I need some answers. The whole AQUARIUM [2] is up in arms over this.

B: Why? It’s all great [expletive deleted]. If the BIGBEAR guys don’t get us all promoted, what the [expletive deleted] ever will?

A: I know….but the big guys here think it’s, you know, too good.

B: The magic [expletive deleted/USP 1] in the White House is running strategic deception on us? [Laughs] They can’t find their Ivy League [expletive deleted] with both hands!

A: Sure, but [USP 2]? They are cunning, [USP 3] knew we listened in on him when he was in the White House, surely.

B: You think he told his wife about that?

A: Well, it was funny, wasn’t it? I loved the chat we intercepted when [USP 3] was getting [expletive deleted] from [USP 4] and then – oh [expletive deleted] – [USP 5] walked in on them and threw a potted plant at them both!

B: [Laughs] Operation INTERN SURPRISE! Slurp-slurp, then scream-scream! God, those were good times.

A: You know it’s really too bad Beijing got to [USP 3] first with their cash, he seems like a fun guy.

B: His wife, not so much. [Laughs]

A: Yes, never enough vodka for that! [Laughs] And [USP 6] – what the [expletive deleted] is the deal with her?

B: The Brotherhood [3] mole?

A: Really?

B: Yeah, we have that too. Cairo confirmed it last month.

A: Wow, the Americans are really [expletive deleted].

B: The emails we are getting from [USP 2]’s office tell it all.

A, Can this actually be real? Who is this stupid? Is [USP 2] trying to have completely open diplomacy?

B: It has to be real. They have absolutely no communications discipline, even for Americans. [Laughs] They are putting EVERYTHING [almost shouted] in these emails.

A: I saw that. It’s unbelievable. How did we crack into this?

B: We didn’t have to “crack” anything! [USP 2] uses her own email on her own server, and it’s totally unencrypted!

A: [Expletive deleted] me, what?

B: I know, it’s insane. They recently put some light encryption on “her” server, after months of no security at all, but we’re deep inside now. We worked around it in 20 minutes. And [USP 2] does all her diplomacy on this line, unreal!

A: Who is this [USP 7] guy who’s in every other email?

B: Oh, him. The one with the self-hating Jewish Nazi son? It’s all too strange. He’s [USP 2]’s close adviser, but boring and confused. Very self-important. I liked [USP 3]’s presidency better, more sex and drugs. [Laughs]

A: Are we absolutely certain Operation PANTSUIT [4] is legit? I need a firm answer for the bosses.

B: We are 100 percent sure. We’ve cross-referenced diplomatic information that [USPs 2 and 6] are putting in their open emails with other intercepts we’re getting.

A: Excellent.

B: Just the other day [USP 2] emailed [USP 7] the readout of her meeting with the German ambassador and we intercepted the German account of it too – they’re not idiots like the Americans, it was in their encrypted communications, but we’ve been reading German diplomatic ciphers for years – and they matched exactly.

A: Good, I’ll tell the bosses that. Get the transcripts to me soon.

B: Will do, it all checks out.

A: The bosses still have some questions.

B: Shoot.

A: You know how it is. The NEIGHBORS [5] get them spun up with their stupid [expletive deleted] “theories”.

B: What now?

A: They think “Parks and Recreation” is a secret American program to destabilize our economy. Something run by CIA using Facebook as their cut-out.

B: [Laughs] Those [expletive deleted] morons. The original BIGBEAR intercept said it’s a [expletive deleted] television show!

A: I know, I know. But put that in the follow-up memo too, I need to cover my [expletive deleted] here.

B: Will do, not a problem, you’ll have it by the end of the day.

A: Thanks, Sasha: I owe you one. But what about “gefilte fish”? This seems to be an Israeli operation, something to do with Mossad.

B: Yes, BIGBEAR came to that conclusion as well. We’re looking for more information. Given how deeply Mossad had [USP 3]’s White House penetrated, there is reason for concern.

A: Good, good…put that in the memo too, that should get the attention of the bosses.

B: Just not The Boss, please! [6]

A: Oh [expletive deleted] no! The last thing we need is that Leningrad Chekist on us. No details outside of our channels, you know how he and his guys love to play counterspy over at the Kremlin. We have no time for that [expletive deleted].

B: Right, definitely. Bottom line is we’re sure PANTSUIT checks out, it will all be in the memo.

A: Excellent, excellent. I still can’t believe they’re this stupid, but I like it! You’ll get your star for this one, Sasha!

B: I’ll believe that when I see it, but I will take your vodka until then, Tolya! [Laughs]

A: If [USP 2] ever manages to become President, we’ll have it made. Keep up the great work and make sure I get every email these idiots send.

B: Will do, boss! We’re getting every last one. These clowns will only stop emailing when they’re dead! [Laughs]

COMMENTS:

A = GenMaj (one-star) Anatoliy V. POTAPOV, Chief of GRU Covert SIGINT Operations

B = Col Aleksandr N. SHAPOSHNIKOV, Senior GRU Staff Officer (NFI)

USP 1 = POTUS

USP 2 = SECSTATE

USP 3 = Former POTUS

USP 4 = Prominent Hollywood actress

USP 5 = Former White House employee

USP 6 = Senior STATE Staffer

USP 7 = Close friend of USPs 2 and 3, operating as an unofficial adviser to STATE

1. BIGBEAR is the GRU coverterm for their covert SIGINT site located inside the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC.

2. AQUARIUM (AKVARIUM) is the colloquial term for GRU Headquarters located at Khodynka Airfield near Moscow

3. “Brotherhood” is believed to refer to the Muslim Brotherhood.

4. Operation PANTSUIT is the GRU coverterm for their interception of USP 2’s personal and STATE emails (which use the same address and reside on the same, non-USG server, according to GRU information; this violation of policy has been referred to FBI/NSD).

5. NEIGHBORS is a reference to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).

6. “The Boss” in this context is an apparent reference to Vladimir Putin.

[This document is, of course, a fake. I’ve used fake-but-accurately rendered “classified” information before to explain Hillary’s EmailGate mess, and I am pretty sure this is a cosmically accurate, if fictional, rendering of events, based on my long dealings with Russian intelligence. GRU hasn’t opened its archives to anybody, ever, so perhaps our descendants will find out in the 23rd century.]

Wikileaks is a Front for Russian Intelligence

The part played by Wikileaks in the Edward Snowden saga is an important one. The pivotal role of Julian Assange and other leading members of Wikileaks in getting Snowden from Hawaii to Moscow, from NSA employment to FSB protection, in the late spring of 2013 is a matter of record.

For years there have been questions about just what Wikileaks actually is. I know because I’ve been among those asking. Over two years ago, little more than two weeks after Snowden landed in Moscow, I explained my concerns about Wikileaks based on my background in counterintelligence. Specifically, the role of the Russian anti-Semite weirdo Israel Shamir, a close friend of Assange, in the Wikileaks circle merited attention, and to anyone trained in the right clues, the Assange group gave the impression of having a relationship with Russian intelligence. As I summed up my position in July 2013, based on what we knew so far:

It’s especially important given the fact that Wikileaks is playing a leading role in the Snowden case, to the dismay of some of Ed’s admirers and even members of his family. Not to mention that Snowden, as of this writing, is still in Moscow. One need not be a counterintelligence guru to have serious questions about Shamir and Wikileaks here. It may be a much bigger part of the story than it appears to the naked eye.

Evidence that Wikileaks is not what it seems to be has mounted over the years. Assange’s RT show didn’t help matters, neither did the fact that, despite having claimed to possess secret Russian intelligence files, Wikileaks has never exposed anything sensitive, as they have done with the purloined files of many other countries. To say nothing of Assange & Co. taking unmistakably pro-Russian positions on a host of controversial issues. Questions logically followed.

Now answers are appearing. It’s long been known that Wikileaks, by their own admission, counseled Ed Snowden in June 2013 to leave Hong Kong and head to Moscow. Contrary to the countless lies propagated by Snowden Operation activists, Snowden’s arrival in Russia was his choice; it had nothing to do with  canceled passports in Washington, DC.

An important gap has been filled this week by Julian Assange, who admitted that Snowden going to Moscow was his idea. Ed wanted to head to Latin America, Julian asserted, especially Ecuador, whose London embassy Assange has been hiding out in for years on the lam from rape changes in Sweden. As Assange explained, “He preferred Latin America, but my advice was that he should take asylum in Russia despite the negative PR consequences, because my assessment is that he had a significant risk he could be kidnapped from Latin America on CIA orders. Kidnapped or possibly killed.”

Only in Russia would Ed be safe, Julian counseled, because there he would be protected by Vladimir Putin and his secret services, notably the FSB. One might think that seeking the shelter of the FSB — one of the world’s nastiest secret police forces that spies on millions without warrant and murders opponents freely — might be an odd choice for a “privacy organization.” But Wikileaks is no ordinary NGO.

Why Assange knew Russia would take in Snowden — it could be a big political hassle for Moscow — is a key question that any counterintelligence officer would want answered. Was Julian speaking on behalf of the FSB or did he just “know” Ed could obtain the sanctuary plus protection he sought?

Just as telling is the recent report on Assange’s activities in Ecuador’s London embassy, where it turns out Ecuadorian intelligence has been keeping tabs on him. Which is no surprise given the PR mess Assange has created for Ecuador with his on-going antics.

Especially interesting is the revelation that, while holed up in London, Assange “requested that he be able to chose his own Security Service inside the embassy, suggesting the use of Russian operatives.” It is, to say the least, surpassingly strange that a Western “privacy advocate” wants Russian secret police protection while hiding out in a Western country. The original Spanish is clear: Assange “habría sido la elección de su propio Servicio de Seguridad en el interior de la embajada, llegando a proponer la participación de operadores de nacionalidad rusa.”

Why Assange wants FSB bodyguards is a question every journalist who encounters Julian henceforth should ask. Until he explains that, Wikileaks should be treated as the front and cut-out for Russian intelligence that it has become, while those who get in bed with Wikileaks — many Western “privacy advocates” are in that group — should be asked their feelings about their own at least indirect ties with Putin’s spy services.

P.S. For those familiar with espionage history, there is a clear precedent for such an arrangement. In 1978 the magazine Covert Action Information Bulletin appeared to expose the secrets of US and Western intelligence. Its editor was Phil Agee, a former CIA officer who had gotten into bed with Cuban and Soviet intelligence; think of Agee as the Snowden of the pre-Internet era. CAIB was in fact founded on the direction of the KGB and for years served as a conduit for Kremlin lies and disinformation that seriously harmed Western intelligence. While CAIB presented itself as a radical truth-telling group, in actuality it was a KGB front, though few CAIB staffers beyond Agee knew who was really calling the shots. One suspects much the same is happening with Wikileaks.

Russia’s “Secret” Army in Ukraine

Today the office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko released via Twitter important details about the organization and structure of Russia’s occupying army in Southeastern Ukraine. The order of battle (ORBAT) information is clearly derived from a lot of intelligence, especially SIGINT (I say this as someone who used to do ORBAT intelligence for a living: this is well done).

Since most of my readers know neither Russian or Ukrainian, I’m passing on what Kyiv has released today in English. The translation isn’t great but it works. I’m providing comments below since most normals are not well acquainted with the nuances of Russian military organization.

Russian Military Command, South-East Ukraine (Novocherkask):

Commanding Officer (CO): GenCol A N. Serdyukov [1]

1st Army Corps (“Donetsk People’s Republic” Military), HQ: Donetsk

CO: GenMaj A.V. Zavizyon [2]

2nd Army Corps (“Luhansk People’s Republic” Military), HQ: Luhansk
CO: GenMaj Y. V. Nikiforov [3]
The organization of the 1st and 2nd Corps, no surprise, corresponds exactly to the standard tables of organization and equipment (TO&E) of Russian Ground Forces. There are several maneuver brigades (“motor rifle” is the Russian term for mechanized in NATO parlance) supported by independent regiments and battalions. As Kyiv has announced, the 35,000 troops belonging to “DNR” and “LNR” forces are bolstered by 9,000 reservists. While some forty percent of the troops are locals, the rest are Russians plus a few mercenaries and foreign volunteers.

The senior command staff are exclusively Russian officers assigned to the 1st and 2nd Corps — officially they are “not there” of course — while the operation is run, logistically and command-wise, from neighboring Russia.
To anybody with a decent memory, this closely resembles the relationship during the 1992-95 Bosnian War, when the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS), while consisting largely of local rank-and-file troops, had most of its command, and nearly all of its financing and logistics, coming from neighboring Serbia and its military — which, in practice treated the VRS as merely as an extension of itself, as in fact it was.

Needless to add, the “DNR” and “LNR” militaries would not last twenty-four hours without constant command and logistical support from Putin’s military. They are an extension of Russian Ground Forces and should be treated as such by the West. It’s time to end, once and for all, any fiction about “rebels” — these are Russian-controlled forces, led by Russian officers, supplied with Russian guns and ammunition, that are waging war inside Ukraine.
Kudos to Kyiv for putting this important information out there as an aid to understanding what’s really going on in their country.


Comments:

1. AKA Sedov; GenCol is a Russian “three-star” rank.

2. AKA Pilen; GenMaj is a Russian “one-star” rank.

3. AKA Morgun; GenMaj is a Russian “one-star” rank.

Hillary’s Emailgate: Understanding Security Classification

The rising scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton regarding her apparent misuse of unclassified email during her tenure as Secretary of State gets worse for the Presidential hopeful with each passing day. During the week now ending, I’ve explained in writing and in radio and TV appearances how Americans ought to look at this touchy matter.

Few Americans have ever dealt with Top Secret materials and understandably they are left perplexed by this complicated and mysterious subject. This is not helped by the fact that Clinton backers seek to blow off this scandal as “no big deal.” Obfuscation does not change the fact that the placing of highly classified information on an unclassified and unencrypted network is a very serious matter indeed, not to mention very likely a criminal act to boot.

To aid understanding of how security classification works in the real world of the Intelligence Community, I’m giving you a sample intelligence assessment which I will walk you through to illustrate how this plays out every day in Washington, DC.

Everything I’m presenting you is fake — Zendia for decades was used by the National Security Agency as its preferred made-up country in training exercises — but corresponds exactly to how the IC actually writes “finished” intelligence assessments based on multiple information sources, then classifies them.

Such assessments are authored every day by multiple American intelligence agencies and offices, then shared with senior leadership. The Secretary of State is always a top consumer of such intelligence. Moreover, the State Department has its own in-house intelligence analysis shop, termed the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) to meet their department’s need for additional classified assessments and reporting.

What follows is a short intelligence assessment of the kind U.S. Government officials read every single day, made up by me but adhering to the style and substance of what I used to do at work when I was an IC analyst.

TOPSECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN

(S) Economic, Political Problems for Zendia Ahead

(TS//SI) The Zendian Ambassador to Dirtbagistan believes it is increasingly likely that his country will fail to make its next International Monetary Fund (IMF) payment, scheduled for mid-September. This IMF payment of 475 billion Zendian wangos ($8.4 billion) is beyond his government’s ability to pay, Ambassador Abu Travolta explained to a senior member of his country’s Ministry of Finance (believed to be Deputy Finance Minister Abu Nugent) on 12 August. The ambassador further opined that, in the event of this likely default, the government of Prime Minister Barack Dukakis would not last long, politically. For this reason the Zendian government is going to great lengths to prevent word of the impending IMF default from reaching the media, according to Ambassador Travolta.

(TS//SI//TK) This information was supported by Zendian Deputy Foreign Minister Abu Bon Jovi, who last week informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) that budget constraints, which he expected to get significantly worse in mid-September, meant that MFA payrolls may not be met upon “something big” happening then. This is believed to be a reference to a possible default on Zendia’s IMF loan.

(S//NF) According to U.S. Government information obtained from multiple agencies, Ambassador Travolta is a well-connected member of the ruling party and is close to Prime Minister Dukakis. He has a track record of accurate predictions about forthcoming events in his country.

(FOUO) According to media reports, Ambassador Travolta has been experiencing health problems (NFI) which may indicate his willingness to be unusually frank with fellow members of the Zendian ruling party.

(U) This situation will be updated as soon as additional information becomes available.

TOPSECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN

Off the bat, you’ll notice the report’s overall classification, TOPSECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN, in big and bold letters at the top and bottom, which reflects the highest classification levels of anything incorporated in the assessment. Only people cleared to that level — here a very high one — can read this report.

Like any report, this has a title slug reflecting what it’s about. It’s classified S for SECRET: notice that each paragraph has its classification stated in parentheses at the beginning. This is called “portion marking” by the IC.

The first paragraph is classified TOPSECRET, the highest “official” classification in the U.S. Government, while the addition of SI, meaning Special Intelligence, indicates this is very sensitive stuff. SI is a security caveat that falls under the rubric of Sensitive Compartmented Information or SCI. Not everybody cleared for TOPSECRET also has access to SCI, that’s a separate matter and all SCI materials require special handling to protect them from compromise.

Here, SI indicates that the paragraph is based on information from signals intelligence or SIGINT from NSA — in this case an intercepted phone call between two senior Zendian officials. Although the report never states that this is SIGINT, the kind of information provided plus the SI caveat indicate this is based on NSA reporting, as anybody experienced with intelligence would immediately recognize.

The following paragraph is also based on NSA SIGINT, albeit from a different, even more sensitive source: the TK in its classification stands for TALENT KEYHOLE and indicates that information is derived from foreign communications intercepted by an intelligence satellite. This, again, is a conversation between top Zendian officials, so it’s valuable “horse’s mouth” information. Here two senior bureaucrats seem to corroborate each other, which is an important revelation.

The third paragraph has a lower classification, SECRET, is not based on SIGINT, and has the NOFORN caveat, meaning it cannot be shared with non-Americans (a good deal of NSA SIGINT, even at the TS/SI level, is shared with close foreign partners such as the Anglosphere Five Eyes countries). This paragraph is based on local classified assessments — probably from the US Embassy to Zendia as well as the CIA Station there — that are sent back as regular reports to Washington, DC about the political lay of the land in that country.

The last substantive paragraph isn’t classified at all but has the For Official Use Only marking, meaning it cannot be released to the public without official approval. It’s based on media reports, which represent an important source of information for the IC and the State Department. CIA’s Open Source Center is the IC’s hub for translating foreign media in many languages and, pound for pound, represents the best value in the Intelligence Community, in my opinion. Here, unclassified media (termed Open Source Intelligence or OSINT) by some, is used to round out the assessment, and how the analyst has reached a tentative conclusion based on that media is considered to be FOUO. NFI means No Further Information.

The last line is entirely unclassified, as indicated by the U at the beginning, and states simply that more information will be forthcoming on this issue as the analyst gets it.

That last line is the only part of the assessment that is wholly unclassified and, in theory, could be released to the public without a cumbersome approval process: of course, taken alone it says nothing of interest, which perhaps is the point.

The larger point, however, is that, save that last line, absolutely none of the information in this assessment could be released to the public, or placed on any unclassified information system, by anybody, not even a cabinet secretary, without specific approval from outside agencies. The SIGINT, in particular, is highly sensitive and could only be placed in unclassified channels with an explicit NSA (and probably Director of National Intelligence) go-ahead, which is rare.

Even “talking around” such information, especially in written fashion, is unwise and usually represents a serious security breach, not to mention it may be illegal. For example, this is how a top official who read that Zendian intelligence assessment might proceed:

1. “We’re hearing Zendia will probably default on its IMF loan.” (Marginally acceptable because there’s no attribution, no sources and methods are mentioned, though even so it’s really at least FOUO if it’s a cabinet secretary putting it in an unclassified email.)

2. “We’re getting intel that Zendia will probably default on its IMF loan.” (Unacceptable, a security violation, but not classified higher than SECRET due to lack of source attribution.)

3. “NSA says Zendia will default on its IMF loan in September.” (Absolutely unacceptable in any unclassified format, a compromise of TS//SI sources and methods….call the FBI.)

What exactly happened in the case of Hillary Clinton’s classified emails we don’t know yet, but the FBI is now on the case, and I’m sure the Bureau will eventually find out. What happens after that? It’s too soon to tell ….

The Rosenbergs and Espionage Denial

More than six decades after they were executed for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg continue to inspire polemics. Their case had ample drama, embellished by the fact that the doomed couple were the only Americans executed for espionage by the United States during the Cold War. That they left behind two orphaned sons made the case poignant.

They were convicted during the Korean War, which took the lives of over 50,000 Americans who died to stem Soviet aggression, which provided an explanation why the government did not seek leniency, especially because the Rosenbergs had assisted the Soviet nuclear weapons program with their espionage. Moreover, it was obvious that Federal prosecutors wanted Ethel’s cooperation — Julius was the Soviets’ big fish and the government’s case against his wife was weaker than against him — but Ethel, a hardline Communist, rejected that, even when she could have saved her own life for her children’s sake.

Although the Rosenbergs had defenders who pleaded that they were innocent, or at least severely misunderstood, most of them fell silent when the National Security Agency twenty years ago declassified its VENONA project, a top secret code-breaking effort that revealed numerous 1940’s secrets of Soviet espionage against the United States. The unveiling of VENONA, one of the great triumphs of American intelligence, also revealed why Federal prosecutors were so confident in their prosecution of especially Julius Rosenberg. VENONA transcripts made clear that Julius, who appeared in the messages under the Soviet covernames LIBERAL and ANTENNA, wasn’t just a Stalinist true-believer but an important agent of the Soviet secret police who gave Moscow every American secret he could get his hands on.

For all but the most determined denialists, that Julius Rosenberg was a Soviet spy was proved conclusively by VENONA — the ace in the hole for the Feds that they possessed in 1953 but could not show to the jury at the Rosenbergs’ trial, because it was so highly classified. Julius was every bit the traitor that the government said he was, and he had betrayed nuclear secrets to Stalin.

Now the case is back in the news, with Michael and David Meeropol, the Rosenberg’s orphaned sons, appealing to President Obama in today’s New York Times to exonerate their mother who, they claim, was unfairly convicted of espionage. Specifically, they want the Obama administration to right what they see as the wrongs of so many decades ago.

“Our mother was not a spy,” the Meeropols flatly state, demanding that President Obama “acknowledge that Ethel Rosenberg was wrongly convicted and executed.” Their case for this is based on the recently released grand jury transcript of David Greenglass, who was the Meeropol’s uncle. Greenglass, Ethel’s brother, was himself a Soviet spy who served almost ten years in Federal prison for betraying atomic secrets to Moscow. One of the most sordid aspects of this sordid case is that Greenglass saved his own skin, and that of his wife, by fingering his own sister.

The newly released grand jury testimony leaves little doubt that Greenglass embellished matters over the decades and his story changed with time (he died last year); he was never an especially reliable witness. On the basis of this the Meeropols protest that their mother was innocent, and to “prove” that they highlight evidence from various sources in a slipshod manner. Although I understand that the Meeropols need to believe that their mother wasn’t a spy for Stalin, the facts to not bear that wish out.

VENONA made very clear what Ethel was up to. I’ve worked with VENONA materials for years, including intercepts never released to the public, and I thereby shut the door on denialism regarding Alger Hiss, another one of Stalin’s spies inside the U.S. government that many on the left simply refused to accept was a traitor, although his guilt was firmly established by VENONA.

Several VENONA messages reveal important facts about Ethel Rosenberg. Number 1657, sent from the KGB’s New York residency to the Center (i.e, HQ) in Moscow on 27 November 1944, is worth citing in detail (for the original see here):

To VIKTOR [i].

Your no. 5356 [a]. Information on LIBERAL’s [ii] wife [iii]. Surname that of her husband, first name ETHEL, 29 years old. Married five years. Finished secondary school. A FELLOWCOUNTRYMAN [ZEMLYaK] [iv] since 1938. Sufficiently well developed politically. Knows about her husband’s work and the role of METR [v] and NIL [vi]. In view of delicate health does not work. Is characterized positively and as a devoted person.

ANTON [xi]

Notes: [a] Not available

Comments:
[i] VIKTOR: Lt. Gen. P.M. Fitin  [head of KGB foreign intelligence].
[ii] LIBERAL: Julius ROSENBERG.
[iii] Ethel ROSENBERG, nee GREENGLASS.
[iv] ZEMLYaK: Member of the Communist Party.
[v] METR: Probably Joel BARR or Alfred SARANT.
[vi] NIL: Unidentified.
. . .
[xi] ANTON: Leonid Romanovich KVASNIKOV [KGB’s New York rezident].

This KGB report establishes that Ethel Rosenberg was a trusted person as far as the Kremlin was concerned, a Communist Party member who was witting of her husband’s secret work for Soviet intelligence, as well as the roles of other agents who were part of Julius’ spy network. Code-phrases such as being “devoted” and “well developed politically” reveal that Ethel was a committed Stalinist in whom the Soviet secret police placed trust.

That Ethel’s role in Soviet espionage went beyond sympathy was revealed in another KGB message from New York to Moscow, sent on 21 September 1944 (Number 1340, it can be seen in full here). This discusses the possible recruitment of a new American agent:

To VIKTOR [i]:

Lately the development of new people [D% has been in pro­gress]. LIBERAL [ii] recommended the wife of his wife’s brother, Ruth GREENGLASS, with a safe flat in view. She is 21 years old, a TOWNSWOMAN [GOROZhANKA] [iii], a GYMNAST [FIZKUL’TORNITsA] (iv) since 1942. She lives on STANTON ISTANTAUN] Street. LIBERAL and his wife recommend her as an intelligent and clever girl.

Comments:

[i] VIKTOR: Lt. Gen. P. M. FITIN.

[ii] LIBERAL: Julius ROSENBERG.

[iii] GOROZhANKA: .American citizen.

[iv] FIZKULITURNITsA: Probably a Member of the Young Communist League.

In other words, Ethel was a such a willing and witting member of the Soviet espionage apparat in mid-1940s America that she was setting up her own sister-in-law as a candidate for recruitment by the KGB. The observation that Ruth Greenglass had a “safe” flat indicates they had clandestine work in mind for her.

Moreover, it’s impossible to believe that Ethel could not have been aware what Julius was up to. As the head of his own KGB agent network for years, Julius was recruiting and running spies for the Soviets, several of them relatives and friends whom Ethel knew well. Additionally, Julius had spy equipment such as cameras provided by the KGB to facilitate his espionage (see VENONA message Number 1600, 14 November 1944, which discusses some of the clandestine tradecraft that Julius used). Ethel was a clever woman and it’s simply impossible to believe that she didn’t notice her husband moving and photographing literally thousands of pages of classified U.S. materials in their not overly large apartment.

Neither is VENONA our only inside source on Ethel’s role in the case. Aleksandr Feklisov, a legendary KGB officer who ran their operations in the United States in the 1940’s, had details to add as well. In the aftermath of the VENONA release, Feklisov stated the Rosenbergs weren’t all that important to Soviet espionage, describing their execution as a “contract murder” by the American government.

That, however, was not how Feklisov described the Rosenbergs in his memoir, published in English in 2001. Although Feklisov makes no effort at being dispassionate — he considers the Rosenbergs to be heroes and the book includes a picture of Feklisov kissing their tombstone (!) — he adds considerably more detail about the matter. Feklisov, who served as the Rosenbergs’ case officer, admitted to more than fifty meetings with Julius, whose betrayal of his own country Feklisov describes in glowing terms. (Here Feklisov’s original Russian-language memoir, published in 1994, is helpful.)

As for Ethel, Feklisov says that he never met her. This does not surprise, as Julius was already such a trusted agent-handler for the KGB that there was no need for Feklisov, who lived in the United States in constant fear of being caught by the FBI, to expose himself to additional danger by meeting with Ethel. Who needed to when you had Julius to handle that? Besides, VENONA messages make clear that Moscow trusted Ethel as well.

Additionally, Feklisov at one point refers to Ethel as a “probationer” (cтажёр in Russian). This word appears regularly in VENONA messages and was 1940’s KGB-speak for agents, that is foreigners who worked wittingly for Soviet intelligence. That closes any debate about how Feklisov viewed Ethel Rosenberg.

I understand the human impulse behind the Meeropols’ desire to have their long-dead mother exonerated. In addition to the pain of losing both parents at a young age, there’s the added horror that Ethel could have saved herself by cooperating — after all, if she wasn’t doing anything wrong, why not talk to the FBI? Especially when your execution is pending. The awful truth is that Ethel Rosenberg, a committed Communist, loved Stalin more than her own children.

Nobody who understands Soviet intelligence and has read the relevant VENONA messages with open eyes has any doubt that Ethel Rosenberg was an agent of the KGB. She was witting regarding a large degree of her husband’s enormous treason, perhaps all of it. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were fanatical Communists in a manner we now associate with jihadists. The cause was their life; it mattered more than anything, even family.

David Greenglass was a traitor and a liar, but the truth is that the U.S. government when it convicted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of espionage needed his testimony as cover. VENONA told the FBI all it needed to know about Julius and Ethel’s secret life of betrayal, but such top secret information could never be discussed in court. Hence the need for first-hand witnesses, sometimes of dubious credibility, wanting to save their own skin.

Greenglass was content to let his sister die to save himself. But that does not make Ethel Rosenberg innocent of espionage on behalf of one of history’s most murderous regimes. She was a spy for Stalin. We can debate whether the Rosenbergs ought to have been executed — I suspect that will be debated until the end of time — but there is no debating that they were guilty of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Ethel was a witting and willing member of that criminal conspiracy.

Today’s Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, successor to the KGB famed foreign intelligence arm, proudly proclaims both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as “greats” who served Moscow. It would be best if the Meeropols accepted that fact and moved on with their lives. There’s no need to bother President Obama, a busy man, with this deception.

[N.B. Although the Soviet secret police was not named the KGB until 1954, having changed its name numerous times since its establishment in 1917, I’ve used the well-known abbreviation for simplicity. Purists can’t always win.]

The Painful Truth About Snowden

Since the saga of Edward Snowden went public just over two years ago, I’ve had a lot to say in the media about this sensational case. That’s gotten me loads of push-back, not to mention trolling, but my take on the case — particularly that it’s a planned foreign intelligence operation that operates behind the cover of “freedom” and “civil liberties” — has increasingly become accepted by normals.

In the first place, that Snowden shows no sign of leaving Putin’s Russia, not exactly a bastion of liberty, has made all but his most uncritical defenders wonder what’s going on here. The clear damage that Snowden’s vast revelations have done to Western counterterrorism and security likewise has raised doubts about motives. And that’s not been helped by the fact that very few of Snowden’s purloined secrets have to do with NSA domestic operations. The overwhelming majority expose foreign intelligence activities that are considered legitimate and normal by most citizens. It’s hard to see how exposing details of Israel’s killing of senior WMD proliferators in Syria, per the latest Snowden revelation, exactly protects the civil liberties of Americans.

At last, some important questions about the Snowden Operation, which I’ve posed for two years, are being picked up by the mainstream media. Even in Germany, where Snowdenmania has taken root perhaps more than anywhere else, voices are now asking who exactly stands behind The Ed Show.

I’ve previously explained how nobody acquainted with counterintelligence, and particularly with Russian espionage practices, accepts the official story, that Snowden “just happened” to wind up in Moscow in June 2013. While we still don’t know when Snowden’s first contact with Russian intelligence was, that remains the preeminent question. Moreover, if you don’t understand that Snowden’s in bed with Russia’s secret services now, after more than two years in the country — “of course” he is, explained a top KGB general — I can’t fix that kind of stupid.

There remains also the important question of what exactly Putin is getting out of Snowden. At a fundamental level the answer is obvious. The Snowden Operation was designed to inflict maximum pain on the mighty Western intelligence alliance, led by NSA, that has stood as a bulwark of freedom since the Second World War. This it has achieved, one headline at a time, making it the greatest Active Measure in Chekist history.

Yet there’s nothing new about any of this. As I’ve explained since the moment Snowden first went public, this is really no more than the Agee operation sexed up for the Internet age. Phil Agee was a former CIA officer who, disillusioned with the Agency (in part because it washed him out over his alcoholism), volunteered his services to the Cubans and Soviets. In the mid-1970’s, Agee (known to the KGB as PONT) became a worldwide sensation, exposing numerous CIA activities and officers through books and articles authored by the KGB under Agee’s byline. To his death in 2008, an unrepentant Agee lied about his KGB connections and insisted he was a pure-hearted whistleblower, a claim which was accepted uncritically by his hardcore fans. Sound familiar?

But there is one key difference between the cases. While Agee had been a CIA operations officer and gave the KGB lots of information about his secret activities, Snowden is really no more than an IT guy. While he excelled at stealing top secret files, it’s evident to the initiated that his actual understanding of the SIGINT system is weak.

Moreover, it’s exceptionally unlikely that Snowden has told the Russians much about NSA and its partners that they didn’t know already, in some form. At the beginning of 2012, Canadian authorities, acting on a tip from the FBI, arrested a naval officer named Jeffrey Delisle, one of the most damaging (but least interesting) traitors in recent history. Motivated by self-loathing and greed, for five years until his arrest Delisle passed volumes of classified information from his office, an intelligence shop in Halifax, to GRU, Russian military intelligence. For the Western SIGINT system especially, this was a devastating compromise. As I explained long before the Snowden case broke:

In the SIGINT realm, what Delisle wrought appears to have terrible consequences, beyond the spook world. Thanks to his access to STONEGHOST and related databases where Anglosphere countries share intelligence seamlessly, the damage from this case is probably felt more severely in Washington and London than in Ottawa. Under the so-called Five Eyes system, which dates to the Second World War, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and (mostly) New Zealand, cover the globe with SIGINT, and share most of the take with each other. Hence, as Delisle explained about what he betrayed, “It was never really Canadian stuff,” he told police, later adding, “There was American stuff, there was some British stuff, Australian stuff – it was everybody’s stuff.” Last week, after Delisle accepted a plea agreement admitting his guilt, the U.S. ambassador in Ottawa, David Jacobson, characterized the case as the loss of “a lot of highly classified material,” adding with consummate diplomatic tact, “That is obviously not good.”

It can be safely assumed that Delisle gave GRU the store on what Anglosphere SIGINT agencies knew abut Russia, which is always a lot – politics, military, economics. He appears to have betrayed a great deal of Canadian insider information too. True to form, GRU was most interested in – Delisle said they were “fixated on” – counterespionage data, i.e. finding Western spies in Russia, but thankfully that, at least, was something the junior officer could not access from his desk in Halifax.

GRU had it all before Snowden gave it to them. Ed’s vast haul of well over a million classified documents undoubtedly added details — as well as the ability to attack NSA and its partners through “helpful” Western media outlets with lots of purloined PowerPoints about SIGINT activities — but nobody acquainted with GRU and SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, will fail to grasp how damaging the Delisle case was to Western intelligence long before Snowden got on that Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong to Moscow.

While the unprecedented propaganda value of Snowden to Russian intelligence cannot be doubted, any seasoned counterintelligencer will have follow-on questions. As a former NSA counterintelligence officer myself, I can share with you the depressing reality that, during the Cold War, the NSA-led Western SIGINT alliance was never not penetrated, somewhere, by Soviet spies. And that’s counting only the moles we know of.

The importance of NSA to Soviet espionage would be difficult to overstate. They called it OMEGA, and it was the KGB’s highest priority foreign intelligence target on earth. Why isn’t difficult to grasp, as since its founding in 1952, NSA has been the source of the lion’s share of foreign intelligence inside the U.S. Government, while also protecting sensitive American communications. When you penetrate NSA, you get the whole thing. An all-access pass to Top Secret America. Moreover, thanks to lots of intelligence sharing among Anglosphere SIGINT agencies, a penetration anywhere across the system could offer a great deal of access to the closest-held secrets of five states, two of which are nuclear powers.

Hence it’s no surprise that throughout the Cold War the KGB and GRU tried hard to recruit spies inside NSA and its partners, worldwide. SIGINT analysts, linguists, mathematicians, code-makers and code clerks — military, civilian, contractor — were all top-priority targets for Soviet spies. Around the globe, KGB and GRU case officers hung out at bars and clubs where NSA personnel collected, hoping for a lonely, drunk, and perhaps horny young man they could “befriend.” They had more success than most Americans perhaps want to know. The worst penetration of the SIGINT system that we know ofWilliam Weisband, came at the beginning of the Cold War, but that damaging traitor had many successors.

Protecting moles has always been an important task for Kremlin spies. Unlike Western espionage, Moscow’s spymasters take a long view, particularly regarding high-priority penetrations, and will do things that no Western spy service would countenance to protect them from exposure. In particular, the Russians have a long (and often successful) history of compromising and exposing less important assets to protect “golden sources.” I’m personally aware of at least three cases in recent memory where Russian spies intentionally let us find their agents, with the aim of leading the path away from more valued sources.

This was a venerable Cold War practice. In the 1960’s the U.S. Intelligence Community became engaged in a vast mole-hunt thanks to the defection of Yuri Nosenko, a KGB officer, shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The debate over Nosenko’s bona fides grew extended and nasty, tearing a fissure through CIA and IC counterintelligence that lingered for years. To his defenders, Nosenko was that rarest of creatures, an actual KGB officer with important knowledge (including, with impeccable timing, information about Lee Harvey Oswald’s stay in the Soviet Union), who crossed to our side. To his detractors, Nosenko’s saga was too convenient by half.

This debate continues more than a half-century after it commenced. Down to his death in 2008, Nosenko was heralded as a hero by the CIA, which in 1969 officially assessed that Nosenko was a legitimate defector, although doubters still remain. Not long before his own death, Pete Bagley, Nosenko’s first CIA case officer, published a definitive account of the doubters’ case against Nosenko. This was the case Bagley made against Nosenko in the 1960s, which harmed his career for being bureaucratically “off-message” in an Agency that very much wanted its star Soviet defector to be real, seasoned with decades of pondering and additional research.

What Nosenko was really up to will not be determined beyond doubt until outsiders get access to the full KGB archives, which is impossible as long as Putin rules in the Kremlin. That said, Bagley made a thoroughly persuasive case that, at a minimum, Nosenko was not who he claimed to be. The holes in Nosenko’s account of his KGB career and defection are big enough to drive trucks through. While Nosenko was a KGB officer, Bagley showed convincingly that he was not the elite foreign intelligence official that he posed as to the Americans.

Bagley and others for decades insisted that Nosenko was a plant, dispatched westward as a fake defector to throw American counterintelligence off the trail of genuine Soviet moles inside the Intelligence Community. This notion, a complex form of long-term offensive counterintelligence married to strategic deception, sounds fanciful to most Western spies but is in fact quite normal in Moscow. Moreover, Bagley offered evidence pointing to deeply damaging Soviet penetrations of the IC. particularly of the cryptologic system, going back to the 1950’s, that Nosenko’s defection sought to protect.

These moles were never uncovered but NSA counterintelligence long agreed that they probably existed. This deception extends beyond Nosenko, right into the mysterious case of Aleksei Kulak, known as FEDORA to the FBI, who was the Bureau’s “golden source” inside the KGB. Kulak served in New York with the Soviet mission to the United Nations from 1961 to 1967, then again from 1971 to 1977. Ostensibly a science attaché, Kulak was really a KGB case officer. An odd duck for a Chekist, Kulak was an actual scientist, holding a Ph.D. in chemistry, and was a hero of the Second World War, having received the highest Soviet valor decoration, the Hero of the USSR, for frontline service.

In the spring of 1962, a few months after his arrival in New York, Kulak volunteered his services to the FBI. Thus began an espionage saga that would continue, on and off, for the next fifteen years and, like Nosenko, would divide the American counterintelligence club. The FBI immediately understood the value of FEDORA. Behind his back they called him “Fatso” but the Bureau saw that Kulak was who he said he was and that he knew a great deal about KGB operations inside the United States.

There were doubters from the start, and to make a complex story brief, the FBI more or less accepted FEDORA’s bona fides while CIA mostly didn’t (though there were dissenters from orthodoxy in both agencies). Kulak spilled the beans about lots of high-value cases, but he seldom gave away enough information — exact names, for instance — to easily uncover Soviet moles. Despite the KGB’s normally rigid compartmentization, which meant that no case officer usually knew much beyond his own purview, Kulak knew some details of many operations he was not involved with. This was due to the fact that he was drinking buddies with the longtime KGB rezident (i.e. station chief) in New York: they had served together during the war and liked to get sloshed, reminisce, and talk spy cases.

One of Kulak’s most sensational revelations was of a KGB mole inside the FBI. The thought, heresy to Hoover’s Bureau, set off a massive hunt for the traitor known as “UNSUB Dick” that lingered through the 1960’s and never officially caught the mole. This was a traumatic experience for the FBI that it kept out of public view for decades. Years later, UNSUB Dick was identified, with a high degree of confidence, but he had left the Bureau years before and the FBI had no stomach for arresting him with all the awkward questions that would follow.

Had Kulak helped — or hurt — the FBI with his tantalizing but incomplete revelations? There’s no doubt that his telling the Bureau a little bit about UNSUB Dick, but not too much, set the Bureau chasing his own tail for years without resolution. Was Kulak our friend? enemy? perhaps frenemy? This sort of enduring counterintelligence mystery is normal if you want to play against the Russians, where initiation into the vaunted Wilderness of Mirrors is a hard school.

Kulak played this game more than once, including against NSA. Just as with UNSUB Dick, he offered a bit of information — fuzzy details of career and life — about a well-placed KGB mole inside NSA. This explosive revelation set NSA counterintelligence on a years-long hunt for the traitor which never definitely uncovered him. Just as with UNSUB Dick, the mole was eventually uncovered, with a high degree of confidence, years after he left Fort Meade, when nobody wanted to deal with what was then old news.

Was Kulak a bona fide source who helped the Americans where he could? Or was he a plant whose job was sending U.S. counterintelligence down false (or just as bad, not very helpful) avenues of mole-hunting inquiry? Or was he bona fide in part while fake also in part, i.e. a classic Chekist disinformation operation? Russians, unlike Western spy agencies, are perfectly happy to compromise a great deal of legitimate intelligence information in the service of dezinformatsiya, and none could deny that the lion’s share of what Kulak told the FBI did in fact check out.

Having examined a lot of Kulak’s information with a fine-toothed comb when I was working CI, my own view is that Kulak was a controlled KGB source, designed to disseminate disinformation that would confuse the Americans while protecting real moles, but he was also an alcoholic who overshared frequently. Debriefs with FEDORA usually involved a bottle of good stuff that the Chekist chugged down solo while Bureau handlers watched in amazement, taking notes furiously.

What does this entertaining Cold War mystery — how Kulak’s never gotten his own movie bewilders me — have to do with Edward Snowden? Kulak died in 1983, the year Snowden was born. Yet they may be connected all the same, albeit only in spirit.

Chekist espionage operations have remained remarkably constant over the decades. Why change what already works? Under Putin, a onetime KGB counterintelligencer, Russian espionage activities against the West, especially the United States, have grown highly aggressive while adhering to proven Chekist tactics and techniques.

To anyone versed in counterespionage, the 2010 roll-up of the Russian Illegals Network offered tantalizing clues. This major event was treated as a comic-opera affair by most Western media, thanks to the star role of the redheaded Illegal Anna Chapman — just as Moscow wanted. In reality, that network was engaged in a wide range of nefarious activities, including the handling of deep-cover Russian agents, that set off big-time counterintelligence alarm bells.

The bad news was delivered by Bill Gertz, veteran intelligence reporter, who nearly five years ago told of a major mole-hunt inside NSA spurred by the Illegals’ roll-up:

NSA counterintelligence officials suspect that members of the illegals network were used by Russia’s SVR spy agency to communicate with one or more agents inside the agency, which conducts electronic intelligence gathering and code-breaking.

“They are looking for one or more Russian spies that NSA is convinced reside at Fort Meade and possibly other DoD intel offices, like DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency],” the former official said. “NSA is convinced that at least one is at NSA.”

They were not looking for Edward Snowden, who in 2010 had only recently begun work on an NSA contract — but in Japan, thousands of miles from Agency headquarters at Fort Meade. Since there have been no follow-up reports on the Russian mole, or moles, at Fort Meade, we are left to assume that they remain unidentified by NSA counterintelligence.

Here Snowden has doubtless been a big help. Since he went public two years ago, NSA has been engaged in the biggest damage assessment in all intelligence history. Trying to determine exactly what Snowden stole, as well as who may have helped him in his betrayal, has consumed the full resources of Agency counterintelligence, and will for years to come. Perhaps this is why the real Russian moles have yet to be uncovered.

If this notion — that Moscow would sacrifice Snowden to protect their actual moles — strikes you as fanciful you’re not well acquainted with Chekists and how they roll, and have rolled for nearly a century now. Welcome to the Wilderness of Mirrors.