In a breathtakingly revealing article in the Washington Post on September 14, 2016, reporter Greg Miller laid out a sweeping overview of the United States’ espionage efforts against Russia, which, he reported, are intensifying amid a surge in Russian assertiveness in both international affairs and, specifically, in U.S. internal politics.
One would be hard-pressed to find a more revealing leak of current and future U.S. intelligence priorities and activities than that revealed in Miller’s article. While Miller has consistently shown that he has very good sources within the U.S. intelligence community, the CIA in particular, his most recent article nonetheless begs the question as to why these plans and intentions are being publicly laid bare at this time.
This is in no way to imply that Mr. Miller is not doing his job as a reporter, digging up newsworthy stories about the U.S. intelligence community, using his impressive stable of sources. This author is sure that he is, in fact, doing just that, which may even account for the great majority of the substance found in the article.
However, what seems noteworthy to this author is that the article is filled with such a level of detail and specificity that there is perhaps a deeper motive here. In other words, it is possible that the U.S. government has decided to send an open message to Moscow that it is tired of the latter’s meddling in international affairs, and specifically in U.S. presidential politics. This is very likely a proverbial shot across the bow, and an attempt to put the Russians on alert that the U.S. government is ready to get serious.
Frankly, it is about time. The Russian government has acted with near impunity over the last few years, flexing its muscles in Ukraine, Georgia, Syria, and beyond. It has sown division among European nations, and likely has engaged in cyber espionage in an attempt to influence the U.S. elections.
The Obama administration has done relatively little to counter these audacious Russian political moves, probably because it has wavered between wanting a “reset” with Putin (so that the latter will work with the U.S. in putting an end to the Syrian Civil War) and returning the United States to a posture closer to the Cold War than any seen since the early 1990s.
Miller’s recent article in the Washington Post would seem to indicate an explicit decision to move back toward that Cold War posture, even though unnamed U.S. officials cited (anonymously) in the article stated, “While the need for better intelligence on Russia is considered an urgent priority, there is no intent to return the CIA or other spy agencies to Cold War footings.”
The fact that officials felt the need to state this point so explicitly implies that this is a significant reallocation of intelligence resources toward the Russian target, despite any protestations to the contrary. In other words, it seems to be at once a classic case of warning “we are about to do this” while also throwing out a Jedi wave, claiming “these aren’t the droids you are looking for.”
Mr. Miller’s article lays out a number of specific “bombshells” that one rarely sees put out so explicitly in open press about U.S. intelligence operations against Russia. Notably,
- One unnamed senior U.S. intelligence official was quoted saying that U.S. intelligence agencies “are playing catch-up big time” with Russia.
- The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has moved Russia up the list of national intelligence priorities for the first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse.
- U.S. officials stated that the CIA and other intelligence agencies currently devote “at most 10 percent of their budgets” to Russian-focused intelligence gathering and espionage, “a percentage that has risen over the past two years.”
- In contrast to the Russian foreign intelligence service, the SVR, which is believed to have 150 or more operatives in the United States, according to the article, the CIA “has at most several dozen case officers…based in Russia, with several dozen more scattered across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states.”
- The CIA has “directed dozens of additional recruits emerging from its [operational] training” to assignments that will at some point involve intelligence work against the Russian target.
- Few new CIA hires emerging from operational training have Russian language training, and will require years of language schooling before they become effective at developing and recruiting Russian assets (spies) to work for America.
- The number of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents assigned to counterespionage operations against the Russian target “is a small fraction of the personnel deployed for the equivalent purpose by Moscow.”
- The CIA has begun to target for recruitment the increasing number of high-ranking Russians who travel abroad, and in a more brazen way. They will, for example, “[wave] wads of cash to entice would-be recruits.”
- Despite its recent alleged high-profile cyber-espionage activities against the United States, “Russia’s digital espionage capabilities are inferior to those of the United States.”
- The House and Senate intelligence committees have sought to beef up the decreased collection against Russia by “steering tens of millions of additional dollars toward Russian-related espionage in the budget adopted by Congress last year.”
- A senior official claimed, “There needs to be a robust presidential finding that would allow us to do a lot more,” meaning the senior official wants the president to authorize more covert actions against Russia. This would, of course, imply that there is not currently a presidential finding that authorizes such a level of covert action.
Again, one cannot understate how many sensitive details were revealed in this article about the U.S.’ reported new posture against Russia, vis-a-vis intelligence collection. It again begs the question, what is at play here?
Is this an overt political leak from the Obama administration to the American public that we are taking Russia more seriously? Is it a message being sent directly to the Russians, saying the same? Is it a bluff and a ruse meant to increase Russian paranoia?
As is the case with regards to myriad issues in the the shadowy world of international espionage, we are left to wonder about motives, actual facts, and hidden agendas. What is clear is that this revelation of information is damn-near unprecedented in recent memory.