Comment: Is Germany’s external spy agency a liability for Europe?

BND GermanyGERMANY’S EXTERNAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), constitutes a liability for Europe’s security and is in desperate need of a drastic and immediate overhaul. That is the conclusion of a blunt editorial penned last week by James Crisp, the Brussels-based Europe editor of Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Founded in the early stages of the Cold War under American tutelage, the BND operated for several decades on the frontlines of the existential clash between the United States and the Soviet Union. Deservedly, the agency received strong criticism about the Nazi past of some of its senior officials in the early days. Yet, like West Germany as a whole, by the 1970s it had largely managed to democratize its institutional structure and practices.

Crisp argues, however, that the BND, once one of Europe’s most important intelligence agencies, has been “hollowed out since the Cold War” and is today viewed by its European counterparts as “complacent and arrogant”. Consequently, the string of embarrassments that the BND has suffered lately, culminating in the discovery of an alleged Russian spy in its ranks, is hardly coincidental, according to Crisp. Even this recent discovery appears to have occurred only after the BND was tipped off by an allied intelligence agency.

The German spy agency has not fared much better in the American-led war in Afghanistan, or during the latest phase of the Russo-Ukrainian war. Unlike the American intelligence agencies, the BND did not subscribe to the view that Moscow would invade its neighbor to the west. Bruno Kahl, the agency’s president, was actually in Ukraine for consultations when Russian tanks began to head toward Kyiv. In what has rightly been described as a humiliation, Kahl was trapped inside Ukraine and had to be smuggled out of the country by a German special forces unit, just as Russian bombs began falling on the Ukrainian capital.

How does one account for the current state of the BND? To some extent, the spy agency’s culture has been shaped by that of the broader postwar German state, which has gone out of its way to reconcile with Russia. Successive German administrations have viewed their rapprochement with Moscow as a cornerstone of Europe’s security trajectory. Consequently, it can be said that Berlin has a history of underestimating the security threat posed by Russia. Read more of this post

Analysis: A murky assassination that could radically alter Turkish politics

Sinan Ates Turkey Grey WolvesON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2022, an assailant on a motorcycle opened fire on Sinan Ateş, the leader of Turkey’s most feared paramilitary force, known as the Grey Wolves. By that evening, the 38-year-old Ateş had expired in an Ankara hospital, prompting analysts to forewarn that Turkish politics had entered new and unchartered territory. Indeed, some observers claim that Ateş’ assassination may impact Turkey’s upcoming presidential elections in unpredictable ways. The leading political figures in this strategically important NATO member-state, including its authoritarian leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, are paying close attention.

Turkey’s Far-Right Shock Troops

Known officially as the Idealist Clubs Educational and Cultural Foundation, the Grey Wolves organization is the paramilitary arm of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a militant political force that occupies most of the far-right space of Turkish politics. The MHP espouses authoritarian and anti-Western views and is violently opposed to negotiations with Turkey’s ethnic minorities, including the Kurds. Its politics appeal to ultra-conservative voters, who are usually male and over the age of 35. The Grey Wolves operate as the MHP’s shock troops, often engaging in bloody street fights against Kurds, leftists, and other popular forces that stand in opposition to the Turkish far-right. Known for their machismo and violent bravado, the Grey Wolves appeal to working-class men in their teens and twenties. In essence, therefore, the MHP and the Grey Wolves are two sides of the same coin.

In 2015, the MHP formed an electoral pact with President Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). The formation of this pact, known as the People’s Alliance, marked the culmination of a long process of informal cooperation between the two sides, which had been going on since at least 2007. The People’s Alliance has been instrumental in preserving the AKP’s domination of Turkish political life in recent years, despite the loss of popularity that President Erdoğan has been experiencing. Currently the AKP relies directly on the MHP’s parliamentary support to rule Turkey with a minority government. The Grey Wolves, which tend to be more unruly than their parent organization, are nominally in support of Erdoğan, but tend to see him as too mellow and not sufficiently authoritarian.

The Fragmentation of the MHP

The MPH likes to project itself as a unified militant organization. In reality, it has always been the product of an uneasy alliance between disparate far-right groups. Its membership ranges from social conservatives to ultranationalists, Hanafi (Sunni) puritans and even neo-fascists. In 2017, when the MHP and the AKP formed the People’s Alliance, several of these groups voiced serious misgivings about aligning themselves with Erdoğan. Eventually, a vocal faction of pro-Western and secularist conservatives left the party over concerns that the MHP would be completely absorbed by the pro-Islamist and anti-Western AKP. Read more of this post

Separate investigations focus on ex-FBI special agent’s Russian and Albanian ties

FBIAUTHORITIES IN THE UNITED States have launched at least two separate investigations into the business dealings of Charles McGonigal, the highest-ranking former employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to face criminal charges in recent times. Much has been written about McGonigal’s alleged connection with Kremlin-linked Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. On the contrary, relatively little is known about his purported dealings with Albanian and other Balkan officials and middlemen, some of whom appear to have intelligence links. There is also the question of whether the criminal charges against McGonigal and his alleged co-conspirator, former Soviet and Russian diplomat Sergey Shestakov, are strictly financial in nature, or may eventually expand to include an espionage angle.

McGonigal, 54, retired in 2018 after a 22-year career at the FBI, during which he served as head of counterintelligence in New York, home of one of the Bureau’s largest field offices. He was arrested on Saturday in New York, upon returning to the United States from a trip to Sri Lanka. He faces charges of conspiring with Shestakov, a naturalized US citizen, to provide under-the-table services to Deripaska. The latter is among a long list of Kremlin-linked oligarchs, who have been subject to strict US sanctions since 2018. In working for Deripaska, McGonigal is accused in the state of New York of violating US government sanctions and engaging in money laundering, among five other charges.

However, the former FBI special agent is facing nine more charges in Washington, which involve illicit activities that he allegedly engaged in while still serving in the FBI. This is in contrast with his business relationship with Deripaska, which he is believed to have entered after his retirement from the Bureau. According to the indictment, McGonigal received in excess of $225,000 from an Albanian-born American businessman, who is also a former employee of Albanian intelligence. In return, McGonigal allegedly helped promote the businessman’s interests in the US and abroad. Throughout that time, McGonigal reportedly failed to disclose his alleged financial links with the businessman, as is required of all FBI employees. Read more of this post

Female targets of QAnon conspiracy attacked up to 10 times more, study finds

QAnon - IAFEMALE TARGETS OF CONSPIRACY theories propagated by QAnon adherents face up to 10 times more online harassment and abuse than male targets, a behavioral study of pro-QAnon online users has found. QAnon refers to an American-rooted conspiracy theory that views former United States President Donald Trump as a central figure in a behind-the-scenes battle against a sinister cabal of enemies, known as the “deep state”. According to QAnon adherents, “deep state” elites (politicians, entertainment figures and other celebrities) consist of Satan-worshiping cannibals who traffic children for sex. QAnon adherents also believe that these elites will be routed during “The Storm”, a final reckoning between Trump and the “deep state”, which will result in the arrest and physical extermination of all elites.

But in a new study published last month by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a team of researchers posits that not all victims of QAnon adherents are targeted with equal intensity by the conspiracy theorists. Concordia University PhD candidates Marc-André Argentino and Adnan Raja, and ISD analyst Aoife Gallagher, used online data collected in 2020 and early 2021. They categorized the data according to six case studies involving celebrity figures, ranging from Tom Hanks and Anderson Cooper to Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey, all of whom have been prominent targets of QAnon conspiracy theories.

The researchers found that, in each case, online attacks proliferated quickly once individual targets were “labelled and perception [was] hardened in narratives about their alleged role in pedophilia and/or sex trafficking”. What followed was coordinated hate and harassment campaigns that included “forms of high-volume brigading” —a coordinated attack by groups of users united by belonging to the same antagonistic subreddit. In each case, negative sentiments were amplified through the multiplication of coordinated hateful —and often violent— content.

The study shows that “[g]ender-based, racist and anti-LGBTQ+ hate and rhetoric” was present throughout the dataset. However, of all factors —gender, race or sexual orientation— relating to the identities of targets, gender was by far the most determining. According to the data analysis, female targets of QAnon brigading were subjected to volumes of hate and harassment that were as many as ten times higher than those of their male counterparts. The study also shows that this gender-based variation was true in every platform used, such as Facebook (primarily), Instagram and Twitter.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 November 2022 | Permalink

Spy agencies must regulate ethics of manipulation in HUMINT, researcher argues

HUMINTIT IS DIFFICULT TO argue against the widely shared view that clandestine human intelligence (HUMINT) is replete with ethical dilemmas. These are inherent in the process of gathering intelligence via the use of human sources or covert agents. Yet it is possible —indeed desirable— for intelligence agencies to implement well-regulated ethical approaches to clandestine HUMINT, according to Dr. Stephan Lau, a junior professor of psychology and member of the Faculty of Intelligence at the Federal University of Administrative Sciences in Berlin, Germany.

In an article entitled “The Good, the Bad, and the Tradecraft: HUMINT and the Ethics of Psychological Manipulation”, which was published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security, Lau argues that the concept of manipulation, which is often central in HUMINT, is nothing new. In fact, he explains, manipulation is a type of social influence that occurs naturally in human interactions, and may even have positive outcomes, depending on the case. Indeed, researchers have analyzed manipulation as a form of beneficial influence, which can help further commonly established social goals and norms. If anything, therefore, argumentative —also known as persuasive— forms of influence are normative aspects of interpersonal negotiation between humans.

COERCIVE INFLUENCE AND MANIPULATION

There is, however, a darker side, Lau explains, which relates to coercive influence —i.e. using threats or force to modify a person’s behavior. The subject becomes even more complicated when manipulation is instrumentalized as “a piece in the toolbox of HUMINT tradecraft”. The author goes on to suggest that manipulative influence in HUMINT can be distinguished between legitimate (harmless) and illegitimate (harmful). It follows that it is possible to attach a degree of ethical responsibility to the actions of case officers, or other covert operators, who engage in clandestine HUMINT activities as part of their work. Read more of this post

New paper sheds light on Russian and Chinese influence in Italy

Russia Italy Putin ConteA NEW PAPER, PUBLISHED by the United Kingdom’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) for Defence and Security Studies, sheds light the complex relationship between Italy and the West’s two principal adversaries, Russia and China. Italy is a major global economic power. It is a prominent member of the Group of Seven (G7), which collectively account for more than 50 percent of global net wealth. It is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

Despite —or perhaps because of— its central place in the Western alliance, Italy has long been a leading advocate for cooperation and dialogue between the West and Russia. In 2019, it became the first G7 member and the first major European Union power to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with China on Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. Additionally, the Italian private sector has been far more hesitant than those of other Western countries to abandon Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, with only a single Italian company having completely exited the Russian market since February of this year.

According to two Italian researchers, RUSI Senior Associate Fellow Raffaello Pantucci, and Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti, of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), Italy’s cooperative attitude toward China and Russia has led some to accuse Rome of being a “Trojan horse in Europe”. But in their research paper published by RUSI earlier this week, Pantucci and Ambrosetti argue that the reality is far more complex, especially in the case of Italian-Russian relations. They point out that Italy has, in fact, been a leading voice in favor of the imposition of harsh sanctions on Moscow in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Currently the Italian state is actively seeking to disengage its energy-import sector from Russia.

Strategy of Engagement

The research paper, entitled “Russian and Chinese Influence in Italy”, argues that Italy’s tendency to “hedge between its close transatlantic ties and its longstanding connections with Moscow and Beijing” is not new. In fact it reflects a longstanding Italian strategy, which tends to remain relatively constant and “does not change according to the political color of the government in charge” in Rome. As a result, Italy’s relations with Russia and China “show a roughly consistent pattern” in the post-Cold War era, as Rome is largely oriented “toward engagement” with both Moscow and Beijing. Read more of this post

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

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

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

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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