March 4, 2014

Russian Spies & Operation Ghost Stories: HUMINT Tradecraft Revealed

In the Intelligence Community (IC), the term tradecraft is used to describe the various techniques and methods used by clandestine intelligence officers working to support human intelligence (HUMINT) operations through the spotting, assessing, development, recruiting, and handling of foreign sources.

Thanks to foreign policy experts over at War on the Rocks, I was reminded that a favorite show of mine based on Cold War-era deep cover KGB operatives, The Americans, had just started another season.  While a great show and definitely worth the watch, The Americans is loosely based on and inspired by the Russian “Illegals” program, a topic that SOFREP has previously covered.  But that was just a snapshot.  It’s time to enter a little deeper and take a look at some of the tradecraft behind the story.


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About the Author

is a junior active duty officer working ground intel and supporting an airborne-capable unit. Not SOF, just a regular guy. He holds a BS in Political Science with a German minor from a small engineering school in Colorado, where he loves the adventure found in the mountains. He strongly advocates admitting nothing, denying everything, and making counter-accusations. Nothing here is written in an official capacity or represents the positions of the USG; all work is his personal opinion alone. NFQ

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  • JTPattenBooks

    It's not a bad thing, but I think that something viewers and most civilians fail to connect re. Cold War spying and today's intel ops is that in days not too far past, an asset, agent, CO, etc. who was rolled up was simply PNG'd and sent home.  There are more instances these days where the only way you are going home is in a body bag, if they ever find your body.  I don't think it is a stretch to say that with the exception of Russian/US spy games, the ante has been raised especially in the Middle East and Africa, as we have seen.

  • Fred82

    14Charlie Fred82  Unlikely. Syria is the big jihad at the moment, but there are still AQ types left in Afg-Pak. In fact, I bet they are laying low at the moment and prepping for an all out jihad against the Afghan government once we leave. North Africa, East Africa, Egypt, and Yemen continue to be AQ havens as well.

  • 14Charlie

    Fred82 14Charlie  Hopefully they're all congregated in Syria and are busy tearing each other to pieces...

  • YankeePapa

    . ...Lately been reading about Soviet and later Russian blackmail of Western politicos and business figures.  One twist that works very well for them is convincing the victims that they are not Russians... but Israelis.  Guilt/suicide/surrender risk that could compromise usefulness thus reduced... . -YP-

  • Fred82

    JohnChristopher1  Free agents like Hanssen and Ames are limited in what they can do when compared to genuine "Americans." They are also less trustworthy and controllable. That said, it has been argued that Soviet covert influence operations in the United States have been quite effective.