Analysis: Time for Western spy agencies to refocus on Russia?
April 8, 2014 2 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
During the Cold War, Western intelligence agencies relied on legions of Soviet specialists to make sense of the Kremlin’s policy maneuvers. The American Intelligence Community in particular was almost exclusively engaged in collecting information on the USSR. To the extent that American intelligence collectors were active in countries other than the USSR, it was primarily in order to monitor Soviet activity. The implosion of the Soviet Union brought about a relaxation of Western intelligence collection efforts against Russian targets, a process that was further fueled by the 9/11 attacks. The latter turned the attention of Western intelligence collectors on Islamist-inspired militancy in the Middle East and other predominantly Muslim regions. The legions of Western Sovietologists and Russia specialists saw their careers stagnate, as counterterrorism became the predominant buzzword in intelligence circles. But the recent invasion and annexation of Crimea by Russia is prompting a reexamination of intelligence collection priorities among Western spy agencies. A recent analysis piece by the Reuters news agency suggests that some Western intelligence planners view the events in Crimea as “demonstrating a dramatic need for renewed focus” on Russia. There is concern among intelligence specialists, says Reuters, that no signals chatter was detected in Russia in the weeks prior to the invasion of Crimea to indicate an imminent Russian takeover of Ukrainian territory. This alleged weakness is coupled by concerns among some foreign-policy planners that the West is potentially entering “a new era of […] confrontation with Moscow”, argues Reuters. If this is true, then Western intelligence agencies will need to replenish their level of expertise on Russia, which, according to some intelligence insiders, “has diminished drastically” in the last decade. The article quotes Fiona Hill, an American former intelligence officer, who argues that the US Department of Defense and the White House have lost many of their Cold-War-era Russia experts. Where have these experts gone? Many are now retired or working in the corporate sector that is active in the Russian energy market. There is also a new, post-Soviet generation of Western Russia experts with years of experience in living and working in Russia, who have never worked for Western governments. These experts are likely to soon be accosted by Western intelligence agencies, say insiders.