Major political scandal in Washington

The latest Russian-American spy scandal was but an attempt to disrupt the G8 summit and persuade the US Administration to revise its relations with the Kremlin.

Publication of a report on the war with Iraq by the Pentagon fomented a major political scandal in Washington, last week. American experts had worked on the document for two years. The report is based on the archives seized in Iraq and on the testimony of key officials of Saddam Hussein’s regime. One of the documents allegedly implied that a Russian mole leaked classified plans to the Iraqis from the American forces headquarters.

The information on a Russian spy in the American headquarters stirred a public outcry. Washington was indignant. Its ally and partner, Russia enjoyed access to classified information of the American command and passed it on to America’s enemy! US State Secretary, Condoleezza Rice, promised to demand an explanation from Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov.

Along with everything else, the incident took place on the eve of the G8 summit to be presided by Russia. American diplomats say that the scandal boosted anti-Russian moods in the US Congress. The camp of Russian-American friendship enemies now includes Senator John McKane, the notorious Russophobe, and Democrat Hilary Clinton. Senator Ted Kennedy (Massachusetts) even tried to persuade George W. Bush’s Administration to revise its relations with the Kremlin and boycott the forthcoming G8 summit.

In the meantime, the scandal leaves too many questions unanswered. Judging by the report, Russian intelligence recruited someone from the US command in Doha, the capital of Qatar. In March 2003, the asset allegedly informed the government of Iraq of the details of the American military operation. The Americans allegedly decided that overrunning major Iraqi cities was impossible and therefore opted to seize the territory up to the Euphrates without entering cities as such. The invasion was allegedly to be carried out by the 4th Division of the US Army from Jordan. In the meantime, the American troops moved from Kuwait, not Jordan, and did so even before the arrival of the 4th Division. It could not make it to Iraq because Turkey did not permit the Americans to land their force on its territory.

It follows that the Russian spy misinformed the Iraqi leadership. Was it a deliberate leak orchestrated because the Americans knew there was a mole in their midst? Or did the false information originate in Iraq itself so as to justify the defeat of its army? If the Central Command, headquarters of the American military operations in the Middle East, is infiltrated by Russian intelligence, the Americans would have been running a rigorous investigation by now. They are not. Captain Christopher Ogastin of the Central Command Press Service told The Washington Post, “No, the Central Command is not running an investigation at this point.”

Reliability of the document the report refers to is questionable. In fact, even the authors of the report themselves doubt its integrity. One of the authors Kevin Woods said at a press conference at the Pentagon that on the one hand, he did not perceive any reasons to doubt validity of the Iraqi documents but on the other, he did not have any guarantees of their validity either. US Army Chief of the General Staff, General Peter Pace said last week, “We still do not know how precise the translation of the document was. We do not even know what it is: true information or disinformation.” Neither does US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld know it for sure. He did not look concerned by the latest spy scandal at his meeting with journalists. According to Rumsfeld, he had had the report for months already, but nobody pointed out the document indicating Russian intelligence’s involvement.

Vagueness of the information and undisturbed composure of the American military indicate that the scandal was politically motivated. “It’d hard for me to grasp why bring the information to the international community via the media. The way it was done leads me to the conclusion that this whole episode has political motives,” Lavrov said. A lot of American analysts share this point of view. They ascribe the scandal to the forthcoming G8 summit and call it another attempt on the part of the anti-Russian lobby to persuade Bush to reconsider relations with the Kremlin. “There was indeed a risk that the situation could get out of control in the heated atmosphere generated by this scandal and the general decline of Russian-American relations,” Fiona Hill, an analyst with Brookings Institution, said. Marc Medish, senior analyst with the Carnegie Endowment and member of Clinton’s National Security Committee, is also convinced that the scandal could disrupt the G8 summit in St.Petersburg.

Bush, however, would not rise to the bait. He made it plain that he did not plan to kick up a quarrel with Russia or miss the G8 summit.