US government warns of ‘unprecedented articulated threats’ against law enforcement

FBIA SECURITY BULLETIN ISSUED jointly by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warns of a growing number of “articulated threats” against law enforcement. The bulletin connects these threats with the recent execution by the FBI of a search warrant at the Florida residence of former US President Donald Trump. Several US-based media, which have accessed the bulletin, described the volume of threats against law enforcement and other government personnel as “unprecedented”.

The bulletin, issued on Friday, said known threats were “occurring primarily online and across multiple platforms” in the social media ecosphere. Most threats were general in nature, and included calls for a civil war and an armed rebellion against the US government. The bulletin warned, however, that alongside general threats FBI and DHS agents were investigating “multiple articulated threats and calls for the targeted killing of judicial law enforcement and government officials”. Among those threats, some were “specific in identifying proposed targets and tactics, as well weaponry”, the bulletin added. At least one case involved a targeted threat to “place a so-called Dirty Bomb in front of FBI headquarters” in downtown Washington, DC. The term ‘dirty bomb’ refers to an improvised nuclear weapon consisting of conventional explosives and radioactive nuclear waste material.

There was particular concern over the weekend for the safety of those FBI special agents and other government officials, whose names appear on the official government documentation that relates to the search of Trump’s residence. The names of several FBI special agents were reportedly being circulated across online forums last week, while pro-Trump activists have vowed to publicize the personal information of dozens of FBI employees. An armed man who tried to storm the FBI field office in Cincinnati, OH, was shot dead on Thursday, following a car chase and gun battle with law enforcement personnel. Meanwhile, a group of armed protesters gathered on Saturday outside the FBI field office in Phoenix, AZ, but eventually dispersed without incident.

The bulletin warns that domestic violent extremists (DVEs) could potentially target “individuals implicated in conspiracy theories and perceived ideological opponents who challenge their worldview”. It adds that high profile DVE attacks in the coming weeks may inspire copycat actions, while the emergence of new conspiracy theories could add more fuel to the fire. The bulletin concludes by viewing the upcoming 2022 midterm election as “an additional flashpoint” around which DVEs could “escalate threats against perceived ideological opponents, including federal law enforcement personnel”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 August 2022 | Permalink

Tip by confidential human source guided FBI search of Trump’s home, reports claim

Mar-a-Lago MULTIPLE NEWS OUTLETS CLAIMED on Wednesday that Monday’s search by authorities of a Florida residential compound belonging to former United States President Donald Trump was based on information provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by a confidential human source. The source reportedly gave the FBI details about a number of classified documents that were allegedly hidden in Trump’s Florida estate, as well as their precise location.

America’s troubled political waters turned stormy once again on Monday morning, when around 35 FBI special agents and technical support personnel arrived at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in a convoy of unmarked vehicles. The FBI team proceeded to execute a search warrant, which authorized them to confiscate government files that were allegedly in storage at the luxury estate. According to the 1978 Presidential Records Act, these files belong to the state and should have been deposited to the National Archives upon Trump’s departure from the White House in January of 2021.

On Monday afternoon, the FBI staff reportedly left Trump’s residence with between 10 and 15 boxes of documents. In the ensuing hours, a number of commentators pointed out that, as per Trump’s attorney Lindsey Halligan, who observed the search in person, the FBI focused on just three rooms, ignoring the rest of the sprawling mansion —namely Trump’s office, a bedroom and a storage room. That, according to some, points to the strong possibility that the FBI special agents had prior information about the location of the files.

On Wednesday morning, Newsweek said it could confirm that the FBI had prior information about the precise location of the files. The news outlet cited two senior government officials, including “an intelligence source” who had “direct knowledge of the FBI’s deliberations” in the days leading up to the search. According to the sources, during the first week of August the government prosecutor in charge of the case was able to secure a search warrant by a West Palm Beach judge. The prosecutor reportedly did so by providing the judge with “abundant and persuasive detail” about the files, which “proved that those records were contained at Mar-a-Lago […] in a specific safe in a specific room”.

On Wednesday evening, The Wall Street Journal also reported that the FBI had been approached by “someone familiar with stored papers”. The source allegedly provided government investigators with information about the precise location of “classified documents” at Mar-a-Lago. The paper added that the FBI confidential source had direct access to the documents.

The US attorney general’s guidelines [PDF] define FBI confidential human sources as individuals who are “believed to be providing useful and credible information to the FBI for any authorized information collection activity”. They further stipulates that the FBI expects or intends to obtain “additional useful and credible information” from confidential human sources in the future, thus it usually builds a long-term relationship with these individuals. The guidelines also note that, given the sensitivity of the role of confidential human sources, their “identity, information or relationship with the FBI warrants confidential handling”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 August 2022 | Permalink

CIA-JSOC convergence impedes covert action oversight, researcher warns

US Capitol CongressA GROWING CONVERGENCE BETWEEN the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States military has been one of the most notable changes in American intelligence after 9/11. Some argue that the resulting overlap between the CIA and the military, in both capabilities and operations, has altered their character —perhaps permanently. The CIA has become more involved than ever before in lethal operations, while the military has embraced intelligence work with unprecedented intensity.

Today, more than two decades after 9/11, joint activities between the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) have become customary. JSOC was founded in the aftermath of operation EAGLE CLAW —the failed attempt to free US diplomatic personnel held in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. Its mission is to bring together the Special Operations Forces (SOF) elements across the US military. In addition to ensuring inter-operability and standardization between these elements, JSOC oversees the operations of elite joint SOF units that perform highly classified activities around the world.

Increasingly since 9/11, the CIA and JSOC have been launching combined counter-terrorism operations and have learned to compete less and collaborate more —though turf wars between them are not uncommon. Today it is not unusual for CIA civilians to gather intelligence on a particular target before hand it over to JSOC, which in turn tasks its military personnel to use lethal force against the target. This type of collaboration may bear fruits in the counter-terrorism domain, but also makes it difficult for the US political leadership, primarily Congress, to exercise appropriate oversight over covert action.

Partial Oversight

In an article published on Sunday, Dr. Jennifer Kibbe, Professor of Government at Franklin and Marshall College, and a specialist on the oversight of intelligence operations, explores the effects of the CIA-JSOC convergence on democratic accountability. The article, “CIA/SOF Convergence and Congressional Oversight”, appears in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security. If features statements from interviews by current and former Congressional staffers with experience in working for the intelligence committees of the US Congress. Read more of this post

Decades after end of Northern Irish conflict, the legacy of spies remains obscure

Northern Ireland Troubles BelfastTHE NORTHERN IRISH CONFLICT was a 30-year irregular war involving the government of the United Kingdom and an assortment of paramilitary groups. By the mid-1990s, when most of these groups had declared ceasefire, over 3,600 people had been killed and over 40,000 injured. The major paramilitary groups that participated in the conflict were the separatist Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), and the pro-UK, or ‘loyalist’, Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

Although the bloody conflict has been the subject of numerous studies, its intelligence component is still obscure. This is especially so when it comes to the legacy of the spies who —by all accounts— were central to the day-to-day progression of this persistent conflict, which came to be known as “the Troubles”. In an insightful paper, Eleanor Williams, a PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast, and Thomas Leahy, Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University, examine this little-studied aspect of the Northern Irish conflict. The article, “The ‘Unforgivable’?: Irish Republican Army (IRA) informers and dealing with Northern Ireland conflict legacy, 1969-2021”, was published on Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security.

The authors list the substantial number of UK security agencies that had a role in recruiting and running informers during the Troubles. They include: the Security Service (MI5); the Metropolitan Police Special Branch; the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch; and the Northern Irish Police Special Branch. Informants were also recruited by a host of intelligence organizations belonging to the British Armed Forces, such as the Military Reaction Force and the Force Research Unit. Although these agencies coordinated their intelligence activities to some extent, cooperation was not close. Consequently, there were hundreds of informants recruited by numerous UK state elements of the throughout the 30-year conflict. Their exact number remains unknown to this day. Read more of this post

Hawaii couple alleged to be Russian spies using fake names held without bail

Walter Glenn Primose, Gwynn Darle MorrisonA FEDERAL JUDGE IN HAWAII has denied bail to a married American couple, who are believed to have assumed the identities of dead children in order to lead double lives for over 20 years, according to prosecutors. Local media reports allege that Bobby Edward Fort and Julie Lyn Montague, who were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on July 22 on the island of Oahu, are Russian spies, and that their names are parts of their assumed identities.

According to the reports, the real names of the couple are Walter Glenn Primose, 66, and Gwynn Darle Morrison, 54. Government prosecutors allege that, in the late 1980s, the couple hurriedly left their home in the state of Texas, telling family members that they were entering the US Federal Witness Protection Program. They are also said to have given some family members permission to take whatever they wanted from their home, before it was foreclosed.

The government claims that the couple then assumed the identities of two infants, Bobby Edward Fort and Julie Lyn Montague, who had died in Texas in 1967 and 1968 respectively. They then used these infants’ birth certificates to obtain social security cards, drivers’ licenses, and even US passports. In 1994, while living in Hawaii under his assumed name, Primrose enlisted in the US Coast Guard, which is the maritime security and law enforcement service branch of the US military. He served there for over 20 years as an avionic electrical technician with a secret level clearance. Following his retirement in 2016, Primrose is said to have worked as a private contractor for the US Department of Defense until his arrest on July 22 of this year. Read more of this post

Analysis: The West should not trust Ukrainian spy agencies. Neither should Ukrainians

Volodymyr ZelenskyON SUNDAY, JULY 17, the Ukrainian administration of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced the most extensive shake-up of the nation’s security leadership since the Russian military invasion. Two key members of Zelenskiy’s inner circle, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova and domestic security chief Ivan Bakanov, were summarily fired. Venediktova was the public face of Kyiv’s war crimes campaign, which was launched in March in response to the Russian invasion. Bakanov, a childhood friend of Zelenskiy, had headed the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) since 2019.

In a subsequent video statement, Zelenskiy said he fired the two officials after he was informed that at least 60 employees of the SBU and the Prosecutor General’s office had defected to the Russians in eastern Ukraine. Last week, in an article for SpyTalk, Kremlin watcher Olga Lautman said Bakanov’s dismissal had been expected for a few days. Regardless, the move has shaken Western observers, and has given rise to legitimate questions about the susceptibility of Ukraine’s security and intelligence services to Russian meddling. Should the Western alliance, and Western intelligence agencies in particular, trust their Ukrainian counterparts? The answer is, invariably, no. In fact, even the Ukrainians themselves are not in a position to trust their own intelligence services.

From the KGB to the SBU

On September 20, 1991, just one week after Ukraine secured its independence from the Soviet Union, the SBU was founded in place of the Soviet KGB. Initially, the new agency handled both internal security and external intelligence functions. But in 2005, the SBU’s Department of Intelligence became a stand-alone agency under the title Foreign Intelligence Service (SZR). Since then, the SZR has functioned as the institutional equivalent of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), while the SBU has performed domestic security functions that resemble those of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

As is the case with the entirety of Ukraine’s state sector, the two agencies are endemically bloated. Intelligence observers report that the SBU’s 30,000 employees make it far larger in size than its British counterpart, the Security Service (MI5). Meanwhile, according to the latest information, the SZR has “double the number of personnel than the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and is larger than Britain’s [Secret Intelligence Service, or] MI6”. By all accounts, even today, more than 30 years after the dissolution of the USSR, the two agencies continue to resemble Soviet-style bureaucracies in terms of size, sluggishness, and corruption. Read more of this post

Alleged Russian spy who used fake Brazilian identity jailed for 15 years

GRUAN ALLEGED RUSSIAN SPY, who used a forged Brazilian identity to travel internationally, has been jailed in Brazil after he was denied entry in Holland, where he had traveled to work as an intern. IntelNews has discussed at length the case of Victor Muller Ferreira, who was outed as a Russian spy by the Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) in June. According to Dutch officials, Muller’s real name is Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, and he is a Russian intelligence officer.

According to Muller’s biographical note, he was born to an Irish father and a Spanish-speaking mother in Niteroi (near Rio de Janeiro) on April 4, 1989. However, according to the AIVD, Cherkasov was actually born on September 11, 1985, and has been working for at least a decade for the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly known as GRU. Cherkasov was apprehended by the Dutch authorities as he tried to enter Holland via air. He was en route to The Hague, where he was about to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a paid intern. He planned to eventually transition into full-time employment in the ICC, where he “would be highly valuable to the Russian intelligence services”, according to the AIVD.

The AIVD reportedly notified the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service, which detained Cherkasov upon his arrival at Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol. The Dutch government promptly declared the alleged GRU officer persona non grata and expelled him back to Brazil “on the first flight out”. Last month, a Brazilian federal court in Guarulhos, a suburb of Sao Paolo, found Cherkasov guilty of identity theft that had lasted for at least a decade. The court found that, during that time, Cherkasov used the identity of a dead Brazilian citizen named Victor Muller Ferreira to enter and leave Brazil 15 times. The 10-year period started in 2010, when Cherkasov entered Brazil using his real Russian identity. But when he left the country a few months later, he did so using the forged identity that had allegedly been provided to him by Russian intelligence. Now, according to the British newspaper The Times, Cherkasov has been jailed for 15 years.

Meanwhile, in a separate development, Richard Moore, director of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), claimed last week that half of all Russian spies operating in Europe under diplomatic cover have been expelled since March of this year. Moore was speaking at the annual Aspen Security Forum in the United States. Such expulsions do not relate to alleged intelligence officers like Cherkasov, who do not operate under diplomatic cover. They are therefore far more difficult to detect than their colleagues, who are officially attached to Russian diplomatic missions around the world.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 July 2022 | Permalink

Gathering intelligence on the world’s largest secret society: the Chinese government

Xi JinpingINTELLIGENCE OBSERVERS OFTEN REFER to the Communist Party of China (CPC) as “the world’s largest secret society”. Barring brief periods of relative openness in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the closed decision-making system of the CPC has presented Western intelligence analysts with cascading intractable enigmas for over half a century. This problem has become even more pressing under the decade-long leadership of Xi Jinping, during which the imposition of rigorous counterintelligence measures have turned China into a text-book hard intelligence target.

How does one manage to monitor developments in the inner sanctum of the Chinese state in the face of such formidable obstacles? According to two intelligence experts, it is still possible to gather and analyze actionable intelligence on China, by adopting the right approach. In their article “Beijingology 2.0: Bridging the ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ of China Watching in Xi Jinping’s New Era”, published on Monday in the International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, Bjørnar Sverdrup-Thygeson and Stig Stenslie outline the main contours of such an approach. China specialist Sverdrup-Thygeson is Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. Stenslie is Research Director and Head of the Centre for Intelligence Studies at the Norwegian Defense Intelligence School.

From Beijingology to Beijingology 2.0

The two authors explain that the Chinese intelligence riddle is not new. In fact, China-focused intelligence practitioners have long referred to their work as “Beijingology”. The term refers to the art (as opposed to science) of studying the Chinese closed political system, based on widely divergent sources of intelligence. These range from “rumor mills among Beijing diplomats” and speculations on social media, to social-science-based quantitative studies. Sverdrup-Thygeson and Stenslie explain that the two extremes of Beijingology are invariably disconnected from what is actually happening on the ground in China, and are thus of limited value.

The key, they argue, is a well-balanced mixture of approaches, which they term “Beijingology 2.0”. This approach combines traditional Beijingology methods with a host of advanced and innovative tools in social science research, such as discourse analysis and textual analysis of official Chinese government documents. The latter “offer one of very few windows into Chinese elite-level political dynamics” and thus cannot be ignored. Like all bureaucratic regimes, the Chinese political system produces copious amounts of official information in the form of public documents, speeches, and CPC-authorized statements. Such sources include daily editions of the People’s Daily (the CPC’s official media organ) and the People’s Liberation Army Daily. Read more of this post

Ukraine war prompts European Union to overhaul counter-surveillance practices

European Commission buildingTHE POLITICAL FALLOUT OF the Russian invasion of Ukraine is prompting the European Union (EU) to radically upgrade the security of its facilities, according to a series of internal memoranda. On July 14, the EUObserver, an EU-focused news agency based in Brussels, said it had seen an internal EU document that describes the creation of a new anti-surveillance unit. The unit’s mission will reportedly center on providing security for closed-door EU meetings, using counter-measures standards employed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

According to EUObserver, EU member states have agreed to establish a so-called “CSC-TSCM Expert Group,” which will spearhead the formation of this new unit. In security parlance, TSCM stands for technical security counter-measures, a method of counter-surveillance. In their most basic form, TSCM operations are carried out by teams of technical experts trained in the use of anti-bugging equipment. These are able to detect radio emissions, which are generated by most surveillance devices —commonly referred to as ‘bugs’.

The internal memorandum stipulates that the “CSC-TSCM Expert Group” will be officially set up after July 25. It will consist of experts from several EU states. The resulting unit’s mission will be to “prevent, detect and potentially neutralise eavesdropping of information in any physical or electronic form,” the memorandum states. Counter-measures operations will include regular inspections of “facilities and vehicles and the protection of classified meetings” in buildings that house the EU Council, EU Parliament, and the European Commission.

The forthcoming formation of the “CSC-TSCM Expert Group” appears to be closely linked to news, published earlier this month, relating to the construction of a new facility. The new facility is described in the media as an EU “secure bunker.” According to the EUObserver, the €8 million ($8.07 million) enclosed space will operate as a designated EU sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF). The term denotes a secure area within a larger building, which is used to discuss sensitive topics and process classified information. Read more of this post

Newspaper discloses names of Russian alleged spies expelled from Belgium

Russian embassy in BelgiumA BRUSSELS-BASED NEWSPAPER has publicized the names and backgrounds of nearly two dozen Russian diplomats, who were recently expelled by the Belgian government on suspicion of espionage. A total of 21 Russian diplomats were expelled from Belgium in April, in co-ordination with dozens of European governments. The move was part of a broader European wave of diplomatic expulsions of Russian diplomatic personnel, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Like other governments in Europe, the Belgians carried out the expulsions of Russian diplomats in secret, and employed a “no comment” policy in response to media requests. Such an approach is customary when it comes to diplomatic expulsions. It allows the government ordering the expulsions to expect a similar level of discretion if and when its own diplomats are expelled in a possible tit-for-tat move by an adversary. It is therefore highly unusual for information concerning expelled diplomatic personnel to be made public. And yet that is precisely what happened earlier this week, when the EUObserver, an English language newspaper based in Brussels, published information about the names and backgrounds [PDF] of the 21 expelled Russian diplomats. The paper said the information was leaked by a source, but did not elaborate.

According to the newspaper, all 21 expelled diplomats were men. It further alleged that 10 of them were intelligence personnel of the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff. A further nine diplomats worked for the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR, Russia’s equivalent to the United States Central Intelligence Agency), while two were employees of the external service of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Most were in their 40s, though at least one was in his early 60s and one was in his late 20s. The EUObserver said that some of the information about the alleged spies was unearthed by The Dossier Center, a British-based open-source information outlet, which is similar to Bellingcat. The Dossier Center is funded by the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is a critic of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Read more of this post

The secret behind al-Shabaab’s longevity: A formidable spy wing

Al-Shabaab SomaliaMORE THAN HALF OF all terrorist groups fail within a year, while 95 percent of them are extinct within a decade. Yet al-Shabaab, Somalia’s al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist outfit, has been projecting strength in the Horn of Africa for over 15 years, despite having faced much stronger opponents. Today, with an operational presence in both Somalia and Kenya, the group maintains a force of between 5,000 and 10,000 full-time fighters. Pointing to its longevity, some observers view it as the most successful terrorist group of the 21st century.

What accounts for al-Shabaab’s endurance? According to a recent article by researcher Zakarie Ahmed Nor kheyre, the secret rests with the group’s sophisticated intelligence wing, the Amniyat. Nor kheyre’s article, entitled “The Evolution of the Al-Shabaab Jihadist Intelligence Structure”, was published on Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security. The author argues that counter-terrorism researchers have been focusing on al-Shabaab’s operational, logistical and financial capabilities, to the detriment of its formidable intelligence wing. The latter, Nor kheyre claims, has been a priority of al-Shabaab for years, and is today more efficient that the Somali federal government’s own intelligence agency, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). He quotes one Somali insider who exclaims that “without Amniyat, al-Shabaab would be nothing”. Read more of this post

An assessment of Russia’s espionage network in Switzerland

Russian embassy SwitzerlandSINCE LATE FEBRUARY, WHEN Russian troops invaded Ukraine, over 500 Russian diplomats have been expelled from Western countries. Even former Russian allies have contributed to the growing list of expulsions —most recently Bulgaria, which ousted a near-unprecedented 70 Russian diplomats last week, citing espionage concerns. Amidst that sea of expulsions, Switzerland remains an island. It is among the few European countries that have yet to officially expel Russian diplomats. Abiding by its centuries-old policy of neutrality, it has resisted calls to take sides in the intelligence war between the West and Russia.

“No-Questions-Asked” Approach to Espionage

Russia has been able to take advantage of Switzerland’s neutrality policy since February. Instead of returning to Moscow, at least some of the expelled Russian diplomats have been reposted to Switzerland. They continue to operate there under a “no-questions-asked” policy, which has prevailed since the days of the Cold War. For this and other reasons (i.e. proximity to prime intelligence targets, safety, advanced telecommunications systems), Switzerland has been a major intelligence hub for decades. According to the Nachrichtendienst des Bundes (NDB), Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service, the past few years have witnessed higher levels of activity by foreign intelligence services than any other period since the Cold War.

Russia’s Intelligence Presence in Switzerland

During that time, Russia has been able to build a pan-European espionage hub in the small alpine state. That is the conclusion of a report by Jonas Roth, which was published last week in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Switzerland’s newspaper of record. The report, entitled “So Spioniert Russland in der Schweiz” (“How Russian spies operate in Switzerland”), features commentary by several experts and government officials. One source tells Roth that, despite the intense diplomatic pressure Russia has faced globally since February, its espionage structures in Swiss cities like Geneva and Bern “are still intact”.

How many Russian intelligence officers are currently operating in Switzerland? According to the report, at least a third of Russia’s 220-strong diplomatic presence in the country consists of intelligence officers. These 70 or so intelligence officers represent all three of Russia’s primary intelligence agencies, namely the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Main Directorate of the Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU), and the Federal Security Service (FSB). Officers from these agencies handle an unknown number of informants and agents; these are Swiss or third-country nationals, who provide the Russians with intelligence on a regular basis. Special activities are carried out by Russian intelligence personnel who travel to Switzerland on an ad hoc basis. Read more of this post

Despite expectations, a cyber-blitz has not occurred in Ukraine. Experts explain why

Russian invasion of Ukraine IN THE OPENING STAGES of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there was a widespread expectation among security experts that the world would witness a new chapter in the history of cyber-warfare: something akin to carpet-bombing in cyberspace. These fears, however, have not materialized. Although cyber-attacks have occurred on both sides, their scale has remained markedly modest. Consequently, their effect has been limited and has had no traceable strategic impact on the conflict.

Why is that? According to two experts, Nadiya Kostyuk, assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Cybersecurity and Privacy, and Aaron Brantly, assistant professor and director of Virginia Tech’s Tech4Humanity Lab, the reasons partly relate to how nation-states form cyber-alliances, as well as to Russia’s overall approach to this war. The two experts attempt to forensically analyze this topic in their article entitled “War in the Borderland Through Cyberspace: Limits of Defending Ukraine Through Interstate Cooperation”, which was published on June 29 in Contemporary Security Policy.

Does the Improved Cyber-Defense Argument Stand to Reason?

In their article, Kostyuk and Brantly systematically scrutinize a number of reasons that other experts have proposed to explain the absence of a major cyber-war campaign by Russia. Among them is the view that Ukraine significantly improved its cyber-defenses after 2015, when it began collaborating closely with Western countries —notably the United States and the United Kingdom. Specially designated “cyber-warfare teams” from these countries have been helping Ukraine in tasks ranging from “the synchronization of [its] cyber-related legislation” with Western standards, as well as aligning them with NATO standards, so that Ukrainian cyber-warfare units can make use of advanced technologies and systems. Could it be, therefore, that Ukraine has improved its cyber-security posture enough to be able to defend itself against relentless Russian cyber-attacks?

That is unlikely, say the authors, given that “Ukraine’s cyber capabilities are still organizationally and operationally under- developed” in comparison to Russia’s. That is exacerbated by the endemic corruption and clientelism (the creation of patronage networks) in Ukraine, as well as by the bitter in-fighting between government agencies —notably the Ministry of Defense and the Security Service of Ukraine. It should not go without notice, Kostyuk and Brantly note, that the Ukrainian government sought frantically to develop a “volunteer cyber-army” on an ad hoc basis to defend the nation in the first days of the Russian invasion. That did not exactly instill trust in the country’s level of preparation to withstand a cyber-campaign by Moscow. Read more of this post

Can one ever truly leave the Russian intelligence services? It depends, says expert

Kremlin, RussiaRUSSIANS ARE AWARE OF the phrase “there is no such thing as a former chekist”. The term “chekist” dates from the Bolshevik-era All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (VChK, pronounced “cheka”), which was formed in 1917 as the first Soviet-era state security agency. By the 1940s, intelligence posts had come to be seen as life-long relationships between chekists and the Soviet government, which continued even after one’s retirement. In the words of Joseph Stalin, “[a] chekist has only two paths: toward promotion or to prison”. Is that still the case? It depends on who you ask, says Dr. Kevin Riehle, a 30-year counterintelligence veteran with the United States government, who now teaches at the University of Mississippi’s Center for Intelligence and Security Studies.

Riehle, author of Soviet Defectors: Revelations of Renegade Intelligence Officers, 1924-1954 (Edinburgh University Press, 2022), discusses this topic in an article published earlier this month in The International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence. The article, entitled “Post-KGB Lives: Is There Such a Thing as a Former Chekist?”, examines this concept with reference to three Russian intelligence agencies, all of which trace their origins to the Soviet-era Cheka —namely the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Federal Protective Service (FSO).

The author explains that the history of chekist organizations is replete with examples of officers, especially those with military backgrounds, who “received post-separation jobs with no apparent obligation to continue cooperation with the [intelligence] service[s]”. However, since the rise of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency, the Kremlin has imposed tight restrictions on the post-retirement activities of former intelligence personnel. As of 2019, such former personnel are not permitted to leave Russia for any reason for five years following their retirement. There is another category of Putin-era intelligence retirees, who enter careers in business or politics. Many of them maintain their intelligence contacts and “continue to fulfil service requirements” while displaying a sense of pride for their government service. This often results in business or political advantages, notes Riehle. Read more of this post

Analysis: HUMINT insights from the Muller/Cherkasov case

AIVD HollandAT A TIME WHEN dozens of countries are routinely expelling record numbers of Russian intelligence officers, news of the unmasking of yet another Russian spy is barely newsworthy. However, the case of Sergey Cherkasov/Victor Muller is different. That is because, unlike the vast majority of Russian spies with blown covers, he did not operate under diplomatic protection. This is not necessarily uncommon —in fact, there are probably dozens of Russian case officers operating internationally without diplomatic cover. What is unusual is that one of them has been publicly unmasked. What is more, the case offers some interesting pointers for those interested in contemporary human intelligence (HUMINT).

The Facts

According to the Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD), which publicized the case last week, a man using a Brazilian passport attempted to enter Holland in April of this year. His passport had been issued under the name Victor Muller Ferreira, allegedly born to an Irish father and a Spanish-speaking mother in Niteroi (near Rio de Janeiro) on April 4, 1989. However, according to the AIVD, the man’s real name is Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, a citizen of Russia, who was born on September 11, 1985. Based on the information released by Dutch intelligence, Cherkasov is an intelligence officer of the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly known as the GRU.

The AIVD claims that the reason for Cherkasov’s visit to the Netherlands was to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, as a paid intern. He eventually planned to transition into full-time employment in the ICC, where he “would be highly valuable to the Russian intelligence services”. The AIVD reportedly notified the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service, which detained Cherkasov upon his arrival at Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol. The Dutch government declared the alleged GRU officer persona non grata and promptly expelled him back to Brazil “on the first flight out”.

Cherkasov’s Cover and Legend

Cherkasov arrived in Holland with a cover, a term that refers to a fake operational identity used for purposes of espionage. It is unlikely that his cover was natural, meaning that he is probably not Brazilian by birth —though it is possible that at least one of his parents was/is not Russian by birth. What is more likely is that Cherkasov’s cover is contractual, meaning that it was crafted especially for him by the GRU after he was hired as an intelligence officer. This likely happened as many as 10 years ago, when Cherkasov was in his early 20s. Read more of this post

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