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.)

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.)

Dodging Armageddon: The Third World War That Almost Was, 1950

Fifteen years ago I authored a piece for Cryptologic Quarterly, the National Security Agency’s in-house classified journal, about how close the world actually came to World War III in the early 1950s. Although this was little understood at the time, the North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950 was a dry-run for the Kremlin, which was obsessed with silencing Tito’s renegade Communist regime in Yugoslavia. Had the United States not strongly resisted Pyongyang’s aggression, a Soviet bloc invasion of Yugoslavia would have followed soon after.

Of course, President Harry Truman did send U.S. forces to defend South Korea in the summer 1950, resulting in a conflict that has never formally ended. More importantly, he saved the world from nuclear Armageddon, as my CQ piece laid out in detail. Lacking much Western conventional defenses in Europe, any Soviet move on Yugoslavia would have resulted in rapid nuclear release by a hard-pressed NATO. I cited numerous still-secret files and as a result my article was classified TOPSECRET//SCI.

However, NSA has seen fit to declassify and release my article, minus some redactions, and even post it on the Agency’s open website. They have omitted my name, perhaps out of fear UDBA assassins will track me down decades after Tito’s death, but I’ll take my chances.

You can read the article here — enjoy!

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.

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.]

Snowden is a Fraud

In the two years since the Edward Snowden saga went public, a handful of people who actually understand the Western signals intelligence system have tried to explain the many ways that the Snowden Operation has smeared NSA and its partners with salacious charges of criminality and abuse. I’ve been one of the public faces of what may be called the Snowden Truth movement, and finally there are signs that reality may be intruding on this debate.

No American ally was rocked harder by Snowden’s allegations than Germany, which has endured a bout of hysteria over charges that NSA was listening in on senior German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. Although these stories included a good deal of bunkum from the start, they caused a firestorm in Germany, particularly the alleged spying on Merkel, which was termed Handygate by the media.

In response, Germany tasked Federal prosecutors with looking into the matter and, they if determined there was sufficient evidence, to press charges against NSA for breaking stringent German privacy laws. The investigation, led by Harald Range, Germany’s attorney general, has been slow and diligent, examining all possible evidence about NSA spying on Germany. Here Snowden’s purloined information would play a key role.

However, the matter has become politically fraught. In the first place, senior German security officials were circumspect about the case, since Berlin is heavily dependent on NSA for intelligence on vital matters like terrorism. Worse, follow-on Snowden revelations showed that the BND, German’s foreign intelligence service, and NSA are close partners, and the BND has itself been spying on EU neighbor states that are friendly to Germany such as AustriaBelgium, and the Netherlands.

To top it off, last month’s major hack of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, turns out to have been the work of Russians, apparently state-sponsored. In reality, the major spy threats to Germany are not NSA, but Russians and Chinese, as I’ve been saying for some time — and, to be fair, so have German security officials, though they got drowned out in the public hysteria over Snowden.

Now we learn that Range’s prosecutors are dropping their year-long Handygate inquiry, for want of hard evidence. Federal prosecutors in Karlsruhe aren’t saying much, beyond that they simply don’t have evidence of spying that would stand up in court. Back in December, Attorney General Range offered a warning about the dubious nature of much of the “evidence” against NSA:

The document presented in public as proof of an actual tapping of the mobile phone is not an authentic surveillance order by the NSA. It does not come from the NSA database. There is no proof at the moment which could lead to charges that Chancellor Merkel’s phone connection data was collected or her calls tapped.

Got that? That’s the polite, legalistic way of saying the Snowden claims are backed by faked NSA documents, as has been clear for some time to anybody who understands counterintelligence and the SIGINT system. This should surprise no one, since using fake or doctored Western intelligence documents to embarrass democracies is a venerable tradition for Russian intelligence — the proper espionage term is Active Measures — and since Snowden’s been in Moscow for the last two years and shows no signs of going anywhere else anytime soon, two and two can be added together here.

To make matters worse for Snowden’s fans, a report about the Handygate inquiry being dropped in the magazine Der Spiegel, which has been a key player in the Snowden Operation, includes the painful truth. While some have clamored to get Snowden out of Moscow to testify before prosecutors, Berlin understood how politically tricky that would be. Moreover, prosecutors determined that Ed simply didn’t have much to say.

As a prosecutor explained, Snowden provided “no evidence that he has his own knowledge” (keine Hinweise dafür, dass er über eigene Kenntnisse verfügt). In other words, Ed doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about. This is not news to anybody who understands how NSA and the Allied SIGINT system actually work.

Snowden was an IT guy, not a SIGINT analyst, and in his final position he was working as a contracted infrastructure analyst for NSA’s Information Assurance arm, i.e. the Agency’s defensive side, which protects classified U.S. communications networks. Snowden was never a SIGINTer, working on the intelligence collection side of the house, and he doesn’t seem to understand how that complex system, built over decades, actually functions.

This is why Snowden has made so many odd, contradictory, and even outlandish statements over the past couple years about SIGINT, which have caused those who actually understand how NSA works to scratch their heads … Ed doesn’t know any better.

It’s been obvious for some time to insiders that, for reasons we still don’t fully understand, Snowden decided to steal something like 1.7 million classified documents from NSA servers through internal hacks. About 900,000 of those documents came from the Pentagon and have nothing to do with intelligence matters.

There’s no way Snowden could have read more than a tiny fraction of what he stole, nobody has that much time, and it’s clear now that Ed, an IT guy and a thief, who was never any sort of “spy” as he portrays himself, would not have understood all those NSA documents he made off with anyway.

Snowden’s been living under the protection of Putin’s Federal Security Service now for two years, functioning as a pawn of Russian intelligence. When his secret relationship with the Kremlin started remains an open question, but that he has one now can only be denied by the foolish (witness the weak lies told by his supporters about Ed’s FSB ties), since when you defect, you wind up in the care of that country’s security service. That’s how it works in America, and I don’t hear anybody seriously suggesting that Putin’s Kremlin is more liberal in these matters than the FBI or CIA.

In light of these revelations from Germany, it’s worth pondering whether Ed was always just a pawn, a talking head, for others with agendas to harm Western security. As we’re now in the Cold War 2.0 with Russia that I warned you about after Putin’s theft of Crimea, this seems like a more than academic question.

For two years now, I’ve been trying to inform the public about what’s really going on behind the Snowden Operation, using my understanding of how the SpyWar actually functions, and I’ve gotten a lot of grief for it from Ed’s hardcore fans. News out of Germany can’t help but lead me to point out that, well … I told you so.

Hacking as Offensive Counterintelligence

Washington, DC, is reeling from revelations that the Office of Personnel Management, the Federal government’s HR hub, has been extensively hacked. OPM is an obscure but important agency since it holds the personnel records of Federal workers, past and present, and even more, it conducts background investigations for security clearance holders across many Federal agencies.

Based on available information so far, the records of some four million Federal workers, going back to 1985, have been compromised, of whom 2.1 million are currently serving. In what has become the custom inside the Beltway, OPM had repeated warnings about its slipshod computer security practices but not much was done despite the enormously rising threat of foreign hackers. The extent of this needless debacle is truly disastrous, as I explained in a series of tweets the other day.

1/ Let me explain a bit about why the compromise of OPM information is so serious from a security & counterintelligence (CI) viewpoint ….

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 6, 2015

2/ We can take it as a given that career/HR type info has been compromised on 4M FedGov employees (2.1M current) whose data got hacked…

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 6, 2015

3/ That’s important — but far more is background investigation (BI) info which OPM first denied was compromised, now admits it has been…

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 6, 2015

4/ A USG BI, which OPM handles a lot of for many different agencies, is NOT some sort of glorified credit check, it’s much more than that…

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 6, 2015

5/ BI contains very personal & private information, supplied by security clearance applicants then verified (one hopes) by adjudicators …

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 6, 2015

6/ BI data includes your personal life, travels, full bio, details on finances and any “troubles” — legal, private, sexual, you name it…

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 6, 2015

7/ BI also goes into great detail about “foreign national contacts” of clearance holders and applicants — a goldmine for foreign intel ….

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 6, 2015

8/ Whoever has this info now can say about FedGover X that they know more about them than that person’s best friends, even spouse/partner…

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 6, 2015

9/ This is EXACTLY the sort of information any FI service would love to have in order to influence, recruit, or compromise USG personnel …

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 6, 2015

10/ From any CI viewpoint, OPM hack is a certified disaster that it will be difficult to repair in less than decades. A truly epic #FAIL

— John Schindler (@20committee) June 6, 2015

Speaking as a former counterintelligence officer, it really doesn’t get much worse than this. For our Intelligence Community to get hit by this and the Snowden debacle within two years speaks to systemic failure, not “oversights” and “mistakes” any longer. We’re not serious about stemming foreign espionage, as I recently explained, and now that neglect has caused serious pain that will last decades. Some of the damage may not be repairable, ever.

The IC is pointing the finger at China, tentatively, apparently at hacking entities that have a “close relationship” with Chinese intelligence. The case for official Chinese culpability is growing. It seems that Beijing is using aggressive hacking to establish a database of information about millions of Federal workers and security clearance holders.

Why China would do that isn’t difficult to guess. While defensive counterintelligence, the preventing and uncovering of enemy spies, is the “JV” level of counterespionage, as President Obama might put it (notwithstanding that the IC can’t manage even this), the real pros engage in offensive counterintelligence, which aims at recruiting spies inside the enemy camp, particularly inside the opposing intelligence service. That’s how you gain control of the enemy’s central nervous system: You know what he knows about you, hence you can deceive him at a strategic level. This is the essence of SpyWar, as I’ve explained, the secret struggle between the West and adversaries like China, Russia, and Iran, a clandestine battle that never ceases, yet that the public seldom gets wind of, except when something goes wrong. “May we read about you in the newspapers,” is the old Mossad curse/wag for a reason.

Whoever now holds OPM’s records possesses something like the Holy Grail from a CI perspective.  They can target Americans in their database for recruitment or influence. After all, they know their vices, every last one — the gambling habit, the inability to pay bills on time, the spats with former spouses, the taste for something sexual on the side (perhaps with someone of a different gender than your normal partner) — since all that is recorded in security clearance paperwork (to get an idea of how detailed this gets, you can see the form, called an SF86, here).

Do you have friends in foreign countries, perhaps lovers past and present? They know all about them. That embarrassing dispute with your neighbor over hedges that nearly got you arrested? They know about that too. Your college drug habit? Yes, that too. Even what your friends and neighbors said about you to investigators, highly personal and revealing stuff, that’s in the other side’s possession now.

Perhaps the most damaging aspect of this is not merely that four million people are vulnerable to compromise, through no fault of their own, but that the other side now so dominates the information battlespace that it can halt actions against them. If they get word that a American counterintelligence officer, in some agency, is on the trail of one of their agents, they can pull out the stops and create mayhem for him or her: run up debts falsely (they have all the relevant data), perhaps plant dirty money in bank accounts (they have all the financials too), and thereby cause any curious officials to lose their security clearances. Since that is what would happen.

If this sounds like a nightmare scenario for Washington, DC, that’s because it is. Decades of neglect have gotten us here and it will take decades to get us out of it. The first step is admitting the extent of the problem. Getting serious about security and counterintelligence, finally, is the closely related second step. Back in the 1990’s, CI professionals warned the U.S. government about the hazards of putting everything online (we also pointed this out about internal databases that were supposed to be “secure”). Any cautions or caveats were dismissed as “old think,” out of hand. We were right about this, just as we were right about insider threats like Snowden. The past is the past, it’s time to move forward and do better without delay. The SpyWar is heating up and there’s no time to waste.

Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?

For years I’ve warned the U.S. Intelligence Community to get serious about counterintelligence, the business of preventing penetrations of our side by hostile espionage services. Counterintelligence is actually a lot more than that — mastering its offensive side is the key to real espionage success — but Washington, DC, is still far off from mastering even the defensive part of this game. Ignoring CI, as we systematically do, has cost this country lives and treasure in abundance, and it will continue to right until the IC gets serious about counterintelligence.

However, what I’ve termed the counterintelligence imperative just doesn’t seem all that imperative to IC bigwigs, who continue to regard CI as a nuisance and an afterthought. This reluctance seems an immutable law of the vast, sprawling, and expensive Intelligence Community, having long ago been institutionalized. A dozen years ago, a former NSA director bemoaned American CI’s “dismal performance,” noting that counterintelligence is fragmented, under-resourced, and neglected, and none of that has improved since. If anything, it’s gotten worse.

Counterintelligence continues to be regarded as something less than a full-time job by most IC leadership, who prefer not to think about it at all. Just how peripheral CI is to U.S. intelligence was made clear by an assessment done by the Congressional Research Service back in late April 2013. This detailed study, intended to be a primer on the Intelligence Community for Congress, was a walk-through of the entire IC, with analysis of which agencies do what as well as explanations of all the various -INTs. Yet, in this thirty-page study, the word “counterintelligence” never appears, not even once.

It’s perhaps fitting that this CRS study appeared just two months before Ed Snowden defected to Russia after stealing over 1.5 million classified documents, representing the greatest intelligence loss in the history of Western espionage. Such is the price of totally ignoring counterintelligence. One might have thought that the epic Snowden debacle would concentrate minds in the IC about the need to get finally serious about CI. Alas, one would be wrong.

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The IC has belatedly promised to clean up its totally dysfunctional security clearance process, while a crackdown on suspected insider threats is underway. Having seen this show before, I am pessimistic about this having much effect beyond terrifying thousands of perfectly loyal IC employees. Jim Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, a few months ago announced the formation of a new, unified IC center to consolidate counterintelligence and security missions, which sounds promising but may just be another “reorg” designed to make things look better than they actually are, which is a venerable Beltway tradition.

Besides, how Clapper really feels about counterintelligence was made clear in his recent testimony before Congress about how the Intelligence Community views the world and what the spooks think really threatens America. Although the IC has been at pains lately to say counterintelligence is a high priority — after the Snowden disaster, how could they not? — Clapper never specifically addressed CI in his remarks, not even once. Perhaps worse, no Senators asked Clapper about the state of counterintelligence at all.

This gross neglect continues despite jaw-dropping headlines about Russians accessing the emails of the State Department and the White House, recent arrests and expulsions of Russian spies from America and other Western countries, as well as from NATO headquarters. Kremlin espionage against the West now equals the highest levels of the Cold War, and they are as aggressive as ever in their targeting of our politics, governments, and economies, yet U.S. intelligence continues to pretend that counterintelligence is unimportant.

Losing the SpyWar against the Russians will have grave consequences, not least because Putin’s forces are engaged in what I term Special War against us, and espionage constitutes the cornerstone of that campaign. Based on evidence available to date, it’s apparent that the Russians are winning the SpyWar and have attained what the Pentagon terms “information dominance” over NATO.

This was made clear by recent rather frank comments by General Phil Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Warning that more Russian aggression in Ukraine and beyond may be imminent, Breedlove added that NATO faces “critical” intelligence gaps. As SACEUR told Congress:

Russian military operations in Ukraine and the region more broadly have underscored that there are critical gaps in our [intelligence] collection and analysis … Some Russian military exercises have caught us by surprise, and our textured feel for Russia’s involvement on the ground in Ukraine has been quite limited.

In other words, he’s worried that the Russians have the drop on NATO and we might not detect a sudden Kremlin attack on Ukraine — or worse, on a NATO country. It’s not everyday that SACEUR is this blunt in his public language, and Breedlove’s words should be taken as a warning of how bad things have gotten in Western intelligence. Since the lion’s share of U.S. (and often NATO) intelligence comes from signals intelligence, i.e. from NSA and its partners, it’s clear that Western SIGINT has taken a big hit recently. That hit was named Edward Snowden.

As I predicted almost two years ago, the Snowden Operation has been a huge win for the Kremlin, and right now its special services have an edge in the SpyWar thanks to Ed’s betrayal. His treachery is at least the equal, strategically speaking, of William Weisband’s at the onset of the Cold War, Weisband being the worst of our SIGINT traitors … until Snowden.

While the damage inflicted by Snowden on Western intelligence will eventually be repaired, that will be years off. In the meantime, the Russians are playing a strong hand, espionage-wise, leaving NATO guessing what Putin’s next move will be — and where. This is a bad place for the Atlantic Alliance to be, as any strategist or military historian will tell you. While NATO dwarfs the Russians in conventional strength, good intelligence can compensate for that weakness, particularly when combined with strategic denial and deception of the sort that the Kremlin excels in.

We are entering a dangerous period for Europe and the West, now that Putin has completed his Victory Day public extravaganza, and the risk of being strategically surprised by the Kremlin is very real. Just this week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the Russians have bolstered forces in and around Eastern Ukraine and now possess “the capability to launch new attacks with very little warning time.” There is little that the West can do right now to make good the intelligence losses caused by Snowden, that will take time, but getting serious about preventing the next Snowden and blunting the impact of rising Russian espionage against NATO is absolutely imperative. There may be little time left to waste. We must get in the counterspy game with vigor and without delay, or be prepared to lose the SpyWar, and much more.