COUNTER-INTELLIGENCE: HOW SPIES ARE CAUGHT THESE DAYS

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An interview with FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev

The intelligence agencies of several dozen countries are paying great attention to Russia. Army General Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service, discusses what kind of secrets the foreign spies are hunting and how Russian counter-intelligence works.


The intelligence agencies of several dozen countries are paying great attention to Russia. Army General Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), discusses what kind of secrets the foreign spies are hunting and how Russian counter-intelligence works.

Question: Why have foreign intelligence agencies become more active in relation to Russia in recent years?

Nikolai Patrushev: Foreign intelligence agencies have always operated extensively in relation to our country, and their activity levels have not decreased. The leading foreign powers are increasing funding for their intelligence agencies by 15-20% a year. They are primarily interested in information about the political and socio-economic situation in Russia; the steps Russia’s leadership takes with the aim of strengthening statehood, territorial integrity, and the economy, and upholding our national interests in the international arena, including our reactions to developments in the CIS.

Foreign intelligence agencies are particularly interested in the state of combat readiness and restructuring progress in the Russian Armed Forces, primarily their nuclear missile component; military-industrial complex development, advanced designs of arms and military hardware, promising research; the situation in the North Caucasus and regions of the Russian Far East and Siberia; natural resources and their transport infrastructure.

At present, foreign intelligence agencies are directing substantial efforts into obtaining information about the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. They are showing great interest in the configuration of political forces that characterize particular candidates for the Duma and the presidency, as well as opposition activities. Moreover, they are attempting to influence protest attitudes and actions in Russia, to the advantage of their own governments.

Moreover, in a number of Western countries there are politicians remaining in power who still think in the categories of the Cold War era. In the spirit of the Brzezinski school, they are making substantial efforts to prevent Russia from becoming an equal participant in international relations, and laying claim to our territories and natural resources. Claiming credit for the break-up of the USSR, they now harbor plans aimed at dismembering Russia. They regard intelligence agencies and organizations as a fairly effective instrument for carrying out those plans.

Question: Which countries are particularly active in this context?

Nikolai Patrushev: Despite the obvious global changes of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the intelligence agencies of NATO member states are still quite active in relation to Russia. Britain should be emphasized here – its agencies not only engage in intelligence activities across all areas, but also strive to influence the development of the domestic political situation in Russia.

The activities of Turkey’s intelligence agencies are also worth noting: they are striving to create and develop positions among the political elites and big business in Russian regions with large numbers of Muslim residents. Pakistani intelligence is striving to gain access to military and dual-use technologies, as well as to obtain information about Russia’s military technology cooperation with a number of other countries.

The CIA and the SAS are continuing to involve their partners from Poland, Georgia, the Baltic states, and some other countries in their work in relation to Russia.

Question: It’s surprising to hear that the intelligence agencies of Poland and the Baltic states, and especially Georgia, are actively working against Russia.

Nikolai Patrushev: What’s so surprising about that? American and British intelligence agencies have a substantial influence on the agencies of these countries and some other countries in Eastern Europe. This covers a broad range: from recruiting personnel and distributing budgets to selecting strategic areas of activity and directly organizing joint intelligence operations.

Serving the interests of their “senior partners,” and in line with the opportunist considerations of their political leaders, the abovementioned intelligence agencies carry out operations that extend far beyond their national interests.

For example, efforts are being made to recruit Russian citizens in the abovementioned countries, and operations for contacting agents are carried out. Some of the American and British allies are acting quite aggressively. Moreover, some Georgian intelligence agents don’t hesitate to maintain contacts with the criminal world, using it more and more frequently in their intelligence operations and various acts of provocation.

Question: Of late, various media outlets have often reported on British intelligence failures.

Nikolai Patrushev: In countering British intelligence, we have always taken note of its centuries-old traditions and vast experience in working with secret agents. Its strengths and its weaknesses are known to us. Ever since the days of Elizabeth I, British agents have been guided by the princple of “the end justifies the means.” Money, bribes, blackmail, helping people evade punishment for crimes they committed – those are their basic recruitment methods.

The agents our counter-intelligence has exposed at various times occupied some fairly senior positions: former military intelligence officer Skripal, former Interior Ministry officer Obukhov, former foreign intelligence officers Gordiyevsky and Oyamyae.

More recently, in order to achieve certain political goals, the British have relied on individuals who have been accused of commiting crimes and are hiding abroad from Russian justice. Your readers will remember articles in various media outlets about Russian citizen Vyacheslav Zharko approaching the security agencies to tell the story of how he was recruited by the SAS, with the active participation of Boris Berezovsky and Alexander Litvinenko.

All this has inevitably had an impact on the quality of work done by British intelligence – hence the failures.

Question: In recent years, we have often heard of foreign intelligence agencies using non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for their own purposes.

Nikolai Patrushev: Indeed, the arsenals of foreign special services do include the practice of using NGOs – to obtain intelligence information, and as a tool for exerting covert influence on political processes. Examples of this can be found if one analyzes events in the course of the so-called “color revolutions” in Ukraine, former Yugoslavia, Georgia, and some other countries. A substantial role in these events was played by youth organizations, and the training of their members was funded from abroad.

There is also the threat of the capacities of certain foreign NGOs being used to fund what amounts to subversive activities against Russia. This threat often emanates from international terrorist organizations that use certain NGOs in their own interests, including the objective of funding gang formations in the North Caucasus.

Question: How has the situation changed since Russia’s new NGO law came into effect?

Nikolai Patrushev: The amendments to legislation concern nationwide measures aimed at bringing order to the activities of NGOs. They do not affect the rights of the FSB – this move hasn’t given us any additional functions or powers.

I’d like to stress that we understand the important role played by NGOs in developing and reinforcing civil society in our country, and we are interested in their activities. But the attention of counter-intelligence is drawn to NGOs or their staff that engage in unlawful activities within our terms of reference.

Question: You have repeatedly emphasized the importance of international cooperation between special services, given the expansion of terrorist threats. How does this relate to counter-intelligence work?

Nikolai Patrushev: In our view, we have managed to form a fairly effective system of international cooperation. The scale of this is expanding steadily. The FSB maintains active contacts with 136 security bodies and special services in 76 countries.

Our closest relationships have been established with counterparts in CIS countries, within the CIS Council of Security Body Leaders. Our partners from outside the CIS have shown increasing interest in the Council’s activities in recent years. Observers are invited to attend Council meetings: special service representatives from Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. We also use cooperation mechanisms via the G8, the United Nations, the European Union and OSCE, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and other international or regional organizations.

Partnership development is facilitated by the annual international conferences which the FSB organizes for the leaders of special services, security bodies, and law enforcement agencies. The sixth conference, held September 6-7 in Khabarovsk, was attended by representatives of 53 countries and four international organizations.

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