Democracy. Russia. CIS.

The End of the Myth of the “Great Illegals”

Posted by democratist on June 30, 2010

30th June 2010

Democratist has been most interested, and initially somewhat surprised by the timing of the FBI’s decision to arrest and charge 10 people as members of an alleged Russian spy-ring. While Russia’s continuing espionage activities in the US (and elsewhere) should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has read the August 2009 US National Security Strategy or visited MI5’s snazzy website (including pages handily translated into Welsh) the timing of these arrests, only a week after Medvedev cordially ate burgers with President Obama during his “reset” visit, seems a little puzzling.

While the 10 have not been charged with espionage as such, but the lesser crime of “conspiracy to act as unlawful agents of a foreign government” – which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, nine of them face far more significant charges of money-laundering,  threatening sentences of up to 20-years. Additionally, the FBI has suggested that none of the information these “illegals”  (individuals spying under a false identity without diplomatic cover or immunity) were tasked with collecting by their masters in Yasenevo was classified. This makes little logical sense as it breaks the so-called “Mossad rule” of espionage; why invest millions of dollars in training these people and putting them in place, only to have them collect information that the SVR and their Kremlin masters could have read in The Economist

Democratist’s best current theory as to what is going on is that the FBI has been onto these “illegals” for a number of years, and has been biding its time as it slowly collected information about the extent of the network and its (apparently rather unimpressive) activities and targets, as well as the evidence required for a prosecution. That the FBI has chosen to prosecute so soon after the recent “reset” summit can only have been authorized at the highest level – and one suspects that President Obama would have been fully aware of the situation as he shared french fries with Medvedev in Washington last week.

It seems therefore that the current arrests and the publicity that will surely surround any subsequent trial are part of a calculated US plan to discredit the SVR at home, and by extension the so-called Siloviki, (the many members of the ruling elite with a background in the KGB and the military – a group informally headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin). It appears that enough evidence is in place to allow the FBI to implicate the SVR’s “illegals” in a variety of inglorious, and purely self-serving criminal activities through a lengthy trial, in which the 20-year terms that the accused will face for money-laundering will eclipse the charges they are likely to face for their “official” espionage activities. 

The “great illegals” have long been the subject of largely unmerited Soviet and Russian hagiography (as detailed in The Mitrokhin Archive and elsewhere). It would seem that the FBI’s very public revelations are about to put a serious dent in that image.

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