Analysis: Is US diplomat arrested in Russia a CIA case officer?
May 16, 2013 11 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged an official complaint yesterday with the United States Ambassador to Russia over the alleged espionage activities of Ryan Christopher Fogle. The Third Secretary in the Political Section of the US embassy was arrested with great media fanfare on Monday night, allegedly as he was trying to recruit a Russian intelligence officer. As can be expected, the Russian media had a field day with Fogle’s arrest; after all, it has been nearly a decade since the last time an American intelligence operative was publicly uncovered on Russian soil. Many Western observers, however, have questioned if Fogle could really be an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, and whether the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) simply framed an unsuspecting junior American diplomat. Much of the skepticism expressed by Western commentators focuses on the articles that were allegedly found by the FSB in Fogle’s backpack. They included several pairs of sunglasses, recording devices, as well as two wigs. Would a CIA officer be foolish enough to be carrying with him surreptitious recording devices in downtown Moscow? And do modern case officers still employ wigs when walking the streets of foreign capitals recruiting spies? The answer is, of course, yes.
As with everything else, technological advancement has had a direct impact on numerous practical aspects of espionage. But many traditional features of spy trade craft remain intact in the 21st century. They include the use of intuition, good driving skills, compasses, radio receivers or transmitters, and, yes, even wigs, as well as fake beards and mustaches. The latter, in association with the regular use of different hats, shirts, jackets or coats, are often invaluable in enabling case officers avoid detection and surveillance. This applies especially to intelligence case officers attached to embassies, as their residences and places of work are almost constantly under surveillance by native counterintelligence agencies. This is the reason why ‘dry-cleaning’ —detecting and evading surveillance— is among the first sets of skills instilled on fresh intelligence recruits destined for hands-on clandestine work.
Does this mean that Ryan Fogle should have been carrying with him the bizarre collection of spy paraphernalia that was allegedly found in his possession? It depends on the type of operation he was involved in when he was arrested, as well as on his personal approach to spy craft. Like all government agencies involved in intelligence operations, the CIA has standard operating procedures that must be followed for all clandestine work. But, aside from the basics of espionage, which are instilled on case officers during training, there is plenty of wiggle room for an individual case officer’s personality and experience to come through in their work. There are probably as many approaches to recruiting spies as there are case officers, and nobody at the Agency is going to go over a case officer’s backpack to see what they are carrying with them when preparing to step out into the night for a meeting with a potential asset.
Fogle, in particular, might have been careless, desperate, or simply inexperienced. In any case, it seems that he was a relatively junior CIA operative, and that the Russian FSB did not view his alleged recruitment activities as a serious threat. If they did, chances are that Fogle would have never known that he was being trailed on Monday night. The FSB would have simply allowed him to believe he had successfully recruited his target, and would have enjoyed pocketing the CIA’s money while gaining a valuable insight into the Agency’s modus operandi and feeding Washington deliberately false information. The very fact that Fogle was stopped so publicly, shows that the whole incident was meant for domestic consumption and to taunt the Americans. The staff at the CIA station in Moscow will probably roll their eyes, spend the weekend assessing the damage caused by Fogle’s arrest and expulsion, and get back to work on Monday. For them, it’s just another week in spy world.