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Book Review: “Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West.” By Edward Lucas

Posted by democratist on March 8, 2012

8th March 2012,

It has been four years since Edward Lucas’ The New Cold War excoriated the Putin regime for its increased repression at home and aggression abroad. That book proved a success precisely because it crystalized a trend in Russian politics which had been becoming evident internationally since about 2003, but which no one had previously managed (or dared) synthesize and analyze in such damning detail in a single tome. The central message of the The New Cold War was a warning about western complacency in the face of a determined foe that was recovering its confidence and capabilities.  In Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West, Lucas seeks to update and deepen his original thesis with both historical and contemporary evidence.

Lucas’ main point is that while the end of the Cold War and the 2010 unmasking of the Russian “illegal” network in the US have been seen as great victories for western spy-catchers, historically it has often been the case that it was the Russians who had the upper hand. In this regard much of the book focuses on the very mixed western record of espionage and counter-intelligence targeted towards the Soviet Union, but launched from the Baltic States in the inter-war period (and again since 1991), as well as often short-sighted and disastrous western attempts at supporting armed resistance groups in the Baltics after 1945.

Examples here include much which has been glossed over in recent official histories; western support for many years of massively penetrated and ineffective émigré groups in both the post-war period, which led to the deaths of large numbers of their agents, and which never had any chance of revealing information on Soviet military activities or decision-making; superb Soviet domestic counter-intelligence right up until the late 1980’s, which meant that both SIS and CIA were together probably never able to recruit more that a maximum of about 80 agents between 1960-90; and the failure for many years of Western counter-intelligence to detect the activities of Herman Simm, an Estonian citizen who spied on NATO for the Russians from 1995 until his arrest in 2008.

Deception stands as a renewed warning against complacency: While the past few years have demonstrated that the SVR can be penetrated, even in its most secretive enclaves, a more historically informed contextualization of recent events suggests that despite very high levels of corruption present in contemporary Russian society, the special services are likely to remain focused, resilient and reasonably disciplined.

Whereas both the US “illegal” and Simm cases were ultimately uncovered because the CIA was able to recruit a key member of the SVR’s illegal program in the chaos that accompanied the downfall of the USSR in the 1990’s, and while it appears that western intelligence agencies retain a number of agents in situ, Lucas makes it clear that the Russian spooks retain important economic, social and political resources upon which they can draw at home, in addition to taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of comparatively open western societies.

The West still has many secrets; military, political, economic, that the Russians (and others) would be delighted to get their hands on in order to buttress their autocratic regimes at home and spread their influence abroad. In the Russian case is quite conceivable that the current government will remain in power for many years to come, buoyed financially by a resurgence in oil prices. If the west wishes to bolster the gradual trend within Russian society towards democratization, then we must not give the Putin regime an easy ride in its attempts to expand its power and influence.

Posted in Book Reviews, Russian Espionage | 1 Comment »

Democracy and Innovation: Mr Putin’s Very Very Large White Elephant.

Posted by democratist on April 21, 2011

21st April 2011,

Apart from its political implications, the most interesting thing about Prime Minister Putin’s speech to the Duma yesterday is what he said with regard the future of Russia’s five trillion rouble military innovation programme, and how this optimistic vision conflicts with the current state of the Russia defence sector as we see it.

Democratist was especially interested to hear Putin say that, while Russia will need to almost completely rearm and re-equip its armed forces over the next decade (implying that similar attempts over recent years have been less than successful), “I am absolutely convinced the modern weaponry for our army and navy can and must be supplied by the Russian defence industry. Obviously, certain technology and weapons types can, and probably should be purchased abroad. But we need to understand that nobody will sell us the most advanced and latest generation technology.”

As regular readers will know, since we set up shop almost a year ago, Democratist has considered Russia’s increasing national inability in the sphere of (especially military) technological innovation as one of the key motivating factors behind the Russia 2020 ”modernization” drive. While superficially novel, this desire for modernization reflects a historical preoccupation with the importance of military competition against comparatively advanced western nations, that runs throughout modern Russian and Soviet history at least as far back as Peter the Great, and which has provided the impetus for various spurts of attempted technological modernization.

However, elite and popular resistance to liberalisation combined with the expectation (and now realization) of a rise in hydrocarbon prices over the last few years have meant that genuine and deep systemic economic reform was always going to be something of a non-starter: From our perspective, the Medvedev liberalisation project always had more to do with encouraging (mostly state-partnered) foreign investment than the introduction of meaningful, economy-wide reform.

Subsequently we have argued that, in the general absence of a culture of innovation from within the domestic Russian public or private sectors, or from foreign investors, and with a continuing “brain-drain,” as many of Russia’s most talented young people leave to pursue careers abroad, the State would seek the innovation it has historically seen as essential in order for it to remain militarily competitive, through an enhanced reliance on espionage. This seems set to remain the case despite increased arms sales to Russia by European firms because, as Putin has effectively admitted the West remains fundamentally unwilling to sell the Russians their cleverer toys – lest they eventually find themselves on the wrong end of them.

However, even if (what is probably a much weakened) SVR or FSB still manage to come up with the goods in terms of stolen intellectual property, Democratist remains far from convinced by the Prime Minister’s claims that the (still largely Soviet-era, and extraordinarily corrupt) Russian defence sector will be able to supply the armed forces with modern weaponry in the numbers required any time soon.

In short, our prediction is that, without a sharp change of tack, the next decade will see a the technological gap between the Russian armed forces and those of the West widen, despite these proposed investments.

Posted in Autocracy and Innovation, Russian Corruption, Russian Economy, Russian Espionage, Russian Military | 3 Comments »

The FSB and the Web: Out innovated, yet again.

Posted by democratist on April 8, 2011

8th April 2011,
A great piece in today, brought to our attention by Miriam Elder.
It would appear, on the basis of a recent statement from the Ministry of Information that the Russian Security Service (FSB) is currently unable to effectively monitor communications on Gmail, Hotmail, Skype (and presumably other similarly protected sites) because the encryption built into these systems has become too sophisticated to allow for easy state snooping.
Apparently, the FSB now considers these services a threat to national security, and would like to have them banned (although this remains unlikely, for the moment).
If this story is true (rather than some kind of sneaky FSB bluff) it means that Russia’s Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) outfit, the “Service of Special Communications and Information” (part of the FSB since 2003) is unable to easily break into commercially available Western cryptography with the equipment currently at their disposal.
Our guess is that it almost certainly is true – and would help to explain (for example) the FSB’s repeated inability to prevent bomb attacks in Moscow over the last few years.
And if the FSB can’t crack the commercial stuff, what are the odds they can still break into the secure communications systems of Western governments and militaries on a regular basis (normally one of the principle tasks of such agencies)?
More fundamentally, this announcement yet again underscores that, while the Russian government is continuing to make a concerted attempt to drive innovation through increased funding, corruption – both within the government and the wider economy, is slowly degrading even those parts of the state which the regime has sought to privilege.
As we saw last June, the SVR has been penetrated (probably repeatedly) by the CIA in recent years, and has now resorted to using “super-spy” Anna Chapman as a domestic propaganda tool – replacing real success with a pale fictive copy. As for the military industrial complex, while weapons designers are still coming up with innovative ideas, the state of the defence industry is such that it is unable to reproduce these systems in the numbers required. In the wider high-tech sector, government policy to encourage growth through the creation of large state controlled agglomerates – especially in armaments, the nuclear industry and aerospace – has not been effective, and such industries continued to account for only about 3% of GDP in 2008.
Over the last few years then, Russia been unable to modernize, but it also now seems more handicapped than ever in its efforts to catch up with the West through espionage (a strategy employed, albeit at unsustainable cost during the final phase of the cold war – and which continues today), or to convert stolen, or new ideas into usable weapons or products in significant quantities.
In terms of the internet specifically, the state appears to be using amateur “patriotic hackers” to carry out DDoS attacks on opposition websites such as LiveJournal, because they dare not attack them directly under current political circumstances. But while LiveJournal in particular may be open to greater direct pressure in the future (a fact Russian bloggers might want to consider), this recent statement implies a deeper, a more serious technical malaise at the FSB than has been so far publicly apparent.
The Russian state is becoming increasingly out-innovated in terms of its ability to compete with the West, to monitor its citizen’s communications, and to control the information to which they have access. Structural international pressure on Russia to reform is still somewhat limited for the time being, but seems likely to grow more intense over time.

Posted in Autocracy and Innovation, Russian Economy, Russian Espionage | 3 Comments »

Ekaterina Zatuliveter and the Neglect of Public Opinion.

Posted by democratist on March 24, 2011

March 24th 2011,

This morning Democratist has been enjoying yet another prize example of media manipulation, disinformation and obfuscation, courtesy of the (curiously) increasingly amateurish Russia Today (“Neglecting Public Opinion is a Privilege of the West“)

Given permission from the relevant judge, the Kremlin’s English-language mouthpiece has taken to employing Ekaterina Zatuliveter (Mike Hancock’s former parliamentary researcher, currently on bail after being arrested on charges of espionage last December) as a “contributor.” 

And naturally, the chosen subject for  Zatuliveter’s  journalistic debut is that mainstay of Soviet-era propaganda; Western hypocrisy – as expressed through the pretext of support for the anti-war movement.

In halting, accented English, the lissome Ms. Zatuliveter gives it her best shot, reading out the following (which we reproduce in full);

“This Saturday, London might experience the biggest protest in its history. Bigger even than the anti-war coalition march in 2003. Up until now the [inaudible] political activist groups have not been very well-organized, but they have finally decided to gather everybody who has been badly effected by the actions of the coalition government. With 35-45% of British people opposing intervention in Libya, it seems that on Saturday those intervention protestors will not be lost in the crowd. I will not expect [sic] the government to rush into doing everything straight away, it rarely happens in practice, but those protests are simply a part of a democratic system. However, there is a paradox in here; when non-Western countries experience protests, and their governments do nothing about it, western countries immediately accuse those governments in being undemocratic, but when western countries do the same, they ignore opinion of people [sic] in their country. [Inaudible very short sentence]. The polls show that public opinion in the UK regarding intervention in Libya, is not mirrored by MPs in the house of commons, with only 13 of them voting against the military intervention this vote was taken on Monday, two days after the UK had started bombing Libya. This was a rare moment in the House of Commons, when Labour literally occupied seats next to Tories and the Lib-dems, vacating the opposition side of the chamber to the people of Britain.”

Where to start with the unravelling of this inelegant, unwieldy macédoine of quarter-truth?

Apart from the obvious questions about Zatuliever’s impartiality/objectivity, and why the “independent” Russia Today has seen fit to employ her as a commentator (thumbing their noses at the British establishment, whilst in fact unwittingly highlighting the UK’s liberal bail conditions and commitment to freedom of speech – even for suspected spies) Democratist sees Zatuliever’s first journalistic effort as raising the following main points;

The first is that the piece appears to have been edited to focus more on Western military action in Libya than originally intended; a quick check of the Stop the War Coalition’s Website reveals that this weekend’s demonstration is not principally intended to be about Libya, but rather that, “Stop the War will be marching with CND in an antiwar and peace contingent on the 26th March TUC anti-cuts demonstration.” – i.e. Stop the War and CND will be tagging along on a larger TUC demonstration focused on spending cuts.  This explains some of Zatuliever’s otherwise more opaque comments (“intervention protestors will not be lost in the crowd” etc). But this information is not contained in the piece as broadcast – which misleadingly implies that the entire demonstration is in opposition to Western military action in Libya.

Second, the original YouGov opinion Poll (upon which we assume Zatuliever/RT are basing their figures – and we have to assume this, because the data provided in the piece are not attributed) was taken between 20th-21st March, and is poorly worded in terms of the question it posed (“Do you think Britain, France, the US and other countries are right or wrong to take military action in Libya?”) because it did not differentiate between the imposition of a no fly zone, and a full ground invasion, or between action that had been mandated by the UN, or not: Further work is therefore required before British public opinion on this issue can be satisfactorily established. But the figures cited seem to support the idea that military action is unpopular, and that a big anti-war demonstration due to take place this weekend in London as a result of that, and they seem to imply that British MPs don’t really care about, or represent the opinions of their constituents (just like the Duma!) – so why let something as trifling as accuracy get in the way of a good story?

Let us finally then examine the core question of Western hypocrisy. Zatuliveter’s  report suggests that the UK government is ignoring popular anti-war demonstrations at home, while accusing non-Western countries as being “non-democratic” when these experience supposedly comparable demonstrations. But we have already established that i) this weekend’s “anti-war” demonstration may well turn out to be for the most part something quite different from what is implied by RT, ii) British public opinion has not yet been fully established on the subject of military action in Libya, and that therefore iii) the question of the extent to which British MPs represent their constituents on this issue remains open. It is however, certainly correct to say that the UK government is accusing Libya of being undemocratic (to say the least), and has helped to enforce the UN no fly zone. But then again (the very real considerations of geopolitics and oil aside), that might be to an extent because the regime in Tripoli used its airforce to repeatedly strafe and bomb its own population over much of the past month: The Libyan government response was not (as Zatuliveter implies) to “do nothing about it” when they experienced protests, but rather to kill large numbers of their own people.

Perhaps if President Medvedev (partly in reaction to events in the middle East over the past few months) was not quite so concerned about the long-term reaction of his own population, he would have had the guts to veto UN Security Council Resolution 1973, and say in public what Prime Minister Putin did effectively say; that the West has no right to interfere in the affairs of repressive regimes such as Libya (or Russia for that matter). But in fact, as Medvedev (but not Putin) seems to understand, it looks increasingly that taking public opinion for granted is a privilege that not even the Russian elite will be able to maintain for that much longer, despite the best efforts of Russia Today’s domestic homologues.

Posted in Democratization, Human Rights, Libyan Revolution, Russia Propaganda, Russia Today, Russian Espionage | 2 Comments »

Anna Chapman and United Russia: Inevitable Bedfellows.

Posted by democratist on February 23, 2011

23rd February 2011,

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, United Russia has selected Anna Chapman as a candidate for the Volgograd region for the Duma elections.

Who would have guessed that Chapman would have had such a future in front of her, given that she failed so spectacularly in her first career as an SVR “illegal”?

Well Democratist for one.

Chapman is fast becoming a symbol of everything that’s rotten about the political system in contemporary Russia; a place where sub-saharan levels of corruption (and electoral fraud) mean that media success and political careers can be built on family connections, rather than on any kind of ability.

In Chapman’s case these are the very best sort of connections available; those that link directly to the SVR and to Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin. As Andrew Osborn pointed out in an article in The Telegraph just after Chapman was expelled from the US last July, her father Vasily Kushchenko is almost certainly a veteran KGB/SVR man of long-standing, and a good friend of Sergei Ivanov (with whom he worked in Kenya back in the Soviet period).

For those who do not know about Ivanov, he was Minister of Defence between 2001-2007, and has served since then as Deputy Prime Minister. Ivanov (just like erstwhile Gazprom Chairman Dimitry Medvedev) almost certainly owes his career since 2000 to his relationship with Putin (who Ivanov has known since he met him at a KGB training institute in Saint Petersburg the mid 1970’s).

Since Kushenko is apparently another good friend of Ivanov’s, and the Russian media (such as REN-TV) has become little more than an appendage to the state bureaucracy, it is hardly a surprise that Chapman managed to get fast-tracked onto a  media career within a few weeks of her return from the US, and has now got herself onto the United Russia ticket.  

Her candidacy is further evidence that, just as Mikhail Gorbachev stated in a news conference he gave on Monday, United Russia has become a “bad copy” of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; a ruling party/rubber stamp largely stocked with the appointees of those who really wield power.

Posted in Elections, Russia Propaganda, Russian Espionage | Leave a Comment »

Autocracy and Innovation: Lessons from Russia and China.

Posted by democratist on February 17, 2011

17th February 2011,

Democratist has just read another interesting article by Stephen Blank over at Jamestown, which serves to once again illustrate our oft-repeated point that autocratic rule and corruption in Russia have had a devastating (and continuing) impact on national research and development, especially over the last 10 years, and that this weakness is in turn seriously damaging the country’s status as an international political, economic and military player.

Blank quotes Konstantin Sivkov (Vice-President of the Academy for Geopolitical Issues, and a former General Staff officer) to the effect that the avionics and technical specifications of China’s new J-20 strike fighter may suggest the PRC will be capable of attaining highly advanced strategic-technological breakthroughs for fighter-aircraft over the next five to fifteen years.

According to Sivkov, while the J-20 does not approach the capabilities of the US F-22, its specifications may imply that China could soon surpass Russia, whose defense industrial sector still relies on Soviet models (Interfax-AVN, January 17). There is no sign, according to Sivkov, of Russia’s defense industry’s capability to keep pace with its peers.

While autocrats (and their apologists) may find comfort in the technological advancements of the PRC, Democratist notes that, despite having recently become the second largest economy in the world, and in many ways the world’s industrial “workshop”, China still apparently lags considerably behind the US in terms of military technology, and is still heavily reliant on espionage and the reverse-engineering of Western technology in an attempt to catch up. Democratist believes that, even with plenty of resources, a lack of democracy, openness, and accountability will make innovation difficult, even for the PRC.

So, while Russian and Chinese espionage certainly pose a threat to US military superiority, it does not appear that either country is currently producing their own military industrial innovations, but are rather seeking to copy those of Western countries. As long as the West can prevent their secrets from falling into the wrong hands for a reasonable amount of time, they seem likely to be able to maintain an innovative advantage over autocratic states for several decades, if not longer.



Posted in Autocracy and Innovation, Russian Corruption, Russian Espionage, Russian Military | 1 Comment »

Autocracy and Innovation: Lessons from Egypt.

Posted by democratist on February 11, 2011

11th February 2011,

Regular readers of Democratist will be aware of our interest in the interrelationship between democracy and innovation, and our belief that autocratic rule in Russia (and its attendant corruption) have had a devastating (and continuing) impact on Russian science and technology (S&T), despite President Medvedev’s so-called “modernization” programme.

This weakness has in turn seriously damaged Russia’s status as an international economic and military player. However, rather than implementing the political reform required for the development of an innovative scientific community, the response of the Putin regime has been to place a renewed emphasis on espionage (for a concrete indication of the SVR’s interest in US tech, check out who Anna Chapman was following on Twitter before she abandoned her page last July; almost all of these are S&T-related journalists or magazines).

But regardless of the efforts of the SVR and FAPSI (Russia’s well-staffed SIGINT outfit) and the very real danger they present to Western firms, an indication of the continuing fate of the wider Russian scientific community under the nomenklatura might be gauged to a considerable extent by comparison with a similar example which has been brought to our attention thanks to BBC Radio Four’s excellent Material World science series; that of Egypt.

In this week’s programme, Material World interviews Hassan Azzazy (a Professor of chemistry at the American University in Cairo) about the way the Mubarak regime has effected Egyptian scientific research over the last 30 years. 

Azzazy’s main points were that while officially the Egyptian government was a keen promoter of S&T, in reality they had a limited understanding of the importance of research, which eventually had the effect of leaving the country lagging several decades behind other developing nations: Government interference and corruption were the key problem, with the ruling NDP party appointing university staff on the basis of loyalty rather than ability, and any kind of anti-government political activity resulting in banishment from almost any position in academia, research or government. This meant that many of Egypt’s best and brightest were forced to work abroad. 

The implications of what Azzazy says are that almost all of Egypt’s problems in relation to innovation have stemmed from a lack of democracy, openness, and accountability under Mubarak, which has in turn led to a significant inability to appoint the best staff, a huge misallocation of resources, and a lack of effective planning. Democratic openness, as well as resources, are required to cultivate research, and restore competitiveness.

And, as Azzazy says, “In the 21st Century, if you do not use science and technology, and innovation to build a strong economy, and address national needs, you are essentially outdated, and this is exactly the correct term for the current regime.”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Posted in Russian Economy, Russian Espionage, Russian Science | 3 Comments »

Russia: Counter Espionage as Foreign Policy

Posted by democratist on December 29, 2010

December 29th 2010,

Some of our readers may remember that back in September Democratist suggested the strong likelihood that Russia would need to place an increasing emphasis on military and industrial espionage over the coming years in order to compensate for a lack of domestic innovation and FDI.

We argued that such a trend is more or less inevitable, given the country’s extraordinary corruption, very little foreign investment, and historical precedence.

Democratist readers may not therefore be too surprised to hear that, in an Itar-Tass article published on 28th December, SVR Chief Mikhail Fradkov is reported as having stated,

“In the foreseeable future, the SVR’s workload will not be diminishing…the SVR provides active assistance to the task to modernize our country…the intelligence service is making a palpable contribution to the development of the national science, technological and defence potential.”

Evidently Fradkov is doing his best to pander to the expectations of both Putin and Medvedev (who is, despite his “liberal” image a keen advocate and supporter of Vorsprung durch Spionage).

Since the US-Russia spy exchange in July, Democratist has become more sceptical about the SVR’s abilities. It appears a mere shadow of the KGB’s “First Directorate” (Первое Главное Управление), has evidently been penetrated by the CIA several times in recent years, suffers from seriously lax personnel security (stemming from corruption), and is likely to face similar problems in the future.

Nonetheless, we feel that the West should do everything in its power to exploit Russia’s evident weakness in the sphere of innovation; while the opportunities to reverse-engineer Western military gadgets may be limited given Russia’s industrial backwardness, the more apparent national military-industrial weakness becomes to the nomenklatura over the next decade, the more likely we are to see calls for genuine political and economic reform (as opposed to the current sham). Additionally, a militarily weak Russia is preferable for the West, given the potential for the current regime to take on a more nationalistic and revanchist hue.

In this regard counter-espionage in relation to Russia needs to be seen not just as a function of Western national security, but also of foreign policy, and deserves a commensurate increase in attention and resources.

Posted in Russian Espionage, Russian Liberalization, Western Foreign Policy | 3 Comments »

Book Review: Strange Days Indeed, The Golden Age of Paranoia by Francis Wheen

Posted by democratist on December 24, 2010

24th December 2010,

In line with our policy of writing book reviews for titles that have already been available for some time (a result of both sloth and impecuniosity), Democratist recently acquired a copy of Francis Wheen’s excellent Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia. (4th Estate, 2009) through the good offices of, and for the very reasonable sum of £0.01 (plus £2.75 post and packaging).

Strange Days is essentially a political and social history of the 1970’s, focused principally on the US and UK, which seeks to highlight the developing “mélange of apocalyptic dread and conspiratorial fever” that characterized much of the decade, as the optimism of the 1960’s came face to face with (among other things); Watergate, the 3-day week, Baader-Meinhof, the IRA, the growth of religious cults, and the popularity of conspiracy theories.

As such, the book provides an especially interesting re-introduction to the decade to those of us who were born during it but were too young to understand much about what was going on at the time (and which was considered too recent for us to be taught as history at school).

The pages dealing with the origins of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland were especially revelatory in this regard; Democratist grew up under the very real threat of IRA bombs, but was only faintly aware of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in the 1960’s and 1970’s, or the 1972 “bloody Sunday” massacre (for which the UK government has only recently apologised).

However, while Democratist strongly recommends Strange Days to our readers, from our own particular perspective, we have to say that we think the book might perhaps have benefitted from a few extra paragraphs about the role of the Soviet bloc during the period.

This is firstly because the USSR and its satellites were a political arena in which paranoia played a key role, not just in terms of the KGB’s repression of the Soviet people, or the commonly held views about capitalist/Zionist conspiracies of their senior staff (see “The Mitrokhin Archive“), but also in their tendency to pander to the Kremlin’s paranoid fears of western aggression in their intelligence reporting, culminating in participation in operation RYAN in the early 1980’s, which in turn led to tensions over the NATO Able Archer ’83 exercise, that brought the possibility of nuclear war closer than it had been at any time since 1962.

The second reason to bring the Soviets and their fellow travelers into the picture is that, in a number of cases, their hand is visible in stoking political instability in the West, as well as the fires of paranoia initially lit by Watergate (and other US intelligence abuses). The promotion of instability is clearly demonstrated in the case of Baader-Meinhof, who had extensive help from the East German Stasi after 1977. More subtlety, the KGB was involved through its program of “active measures” in the promotion of numerous conspiracy theories throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s (especially in relation to the Kennedy assassination) which did much to heighten the “conspiratorial fever” to which Wheen refers.


Posted in Book Reviews, Russia - US Relations, Russia Propaganda, Russian Espionage, US - Russia | 1 Comment »

Of dissembling and Disinformation.

Posted by democratist on December 12, 2010

12th December 2010,

While it is usually fairly easy to spot the various forms of Russian disinformation campaigns in state-controlled media such as Russia Today, it is rare for the public at large to have an opportunity to examine a piece of Russian diplomatic dissembling, as practiced by an expert.

However yesterday an example of the genre came to light, courtesy of Wikileaks and The Guardian.

Dissembling is the art of concealing one’s true intentions, or seeking to arouse sympathy for a cause by the spreading of falsehoods or rumours. While the use of the mass-media for this purpose might be termed “macrodisiformation”, in as far as it is aimed at as wide an audience as possible in the hope that some will believe it, dissembling is a form of “microdisinformation,” practiced on a individual-to-individual basis, and is generally targeted at smaller groups, such as journalists themselves, or the diplomatic communities that one finds in most national capitals throughout the world.

In each case the end goal is the same; that the targeted individual(s) will repeat the rumours that you have fed them, thereby influencing the perceptions of others. In the case of diplomatic dissembling, the expectation might be that the target will repeat the rumour in a cable back to their Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and that this will cast enough doubt on alternative versions of the event being described (where the truth is not yet fully established) to influence decision-making in one’s favour, or at least temporarily prevent potentially unfavourable decisions being taken.

This surely, was at least partly the logic behind a reported meeting in Paris in late 2006 between Russian special presidential representative (and former intelligence officer) Anatoliy Safonov, and US ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism (and ex-CIA bureau chief) Henry Crumpton, shortly after the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, during which Safonov told Crumpton that “Russian authorities in London had known about and followed individuals moving radioactive substances into the city, but were told by the British that they were under control before the poisoning took place”.

Democratist suspects that the Safonov’s main motive was to try to forestall potentially negative US actions in support of the UK during the tense period that followed the Litvinenko murder by; i) implying that the FSB was not involved, and that the murder was the work of non-state actors and, ii) perhaps seeking to imply that the British spooks allowed the murder to take place because they had their own agenda, and they could later use Litvinenko’s death as a cause célèbre.

Interestingly, the Russians have sought to use a very similar (albeit more open) tactic in relation to the recent Zatuliveter case. In the same article, the Guardian reports, “Alexander Sternik, chargé d’affaires at Russia’s embassy in London…denounced the move [to deport Zatuliever] as a “PR stunt” designed to mask Britain’s own problems. “These problems are many over the last couple of months,” Sternik said. “You can cite the unflattering leaks from WikiLeaks and [England’s] unsuccessful [World Cup] bid.”

While no hard evidence of Zatuliever’s guilt has come to light so far, Sternik’s explaination of the UK’s actions lacks credibility when seen in the context of the KGB/SVR’s history of dissembling, as practicsed by Safonov.

Posted in Russia - US Relations, Russia Propaganda, Russian Espionage, wikileaks | 1 Comment »