Spies Who Look Just Like Us
The U.S. media is performing a "disservice" to the American people in the coverage of recent espionage incidents and its portrayal of spying in general, according to counter-intelligence expert Christopher Simmons in a recent interview with International News Analysis Today.
Simmons is a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, specializing in counter-intelligence operations. Before his retirement from the Defense Intelligence Agency, Simmons was deeply involved in the questioning of Ana Belen Montes, who was a senior Pentagon analyst and one of Cuba's most important master spies in the U.S.
The recent case of the Russian spy ring broken by the FBI is only the latest case of the disheartening failure of the U.S. media to inform the American public as to what spies do and the danger they pose to the security and survival of our country.
In June 2010, ten agents living in the US under assumed false identities while secretly working as covert Russian spies were arrested. A few weeks later, the U.S. exchanged the 10 admitted spies for four Russian American agents being held in Moscow. During the trial, the Russian spy ring was ridiculed in sections of the press for its apparent amateurishness.
"The media minimized these people," Simmons said. "They were not rogues, this was not a haphazard operation. They followed standard SVR guidelines."
The SVR is Russia's foreign intelligence service and one of the successors to the Soviet Union's KGB.
Agents of influence
The basic task of all spies, including these recently caught SVR Russian operatives, is to "steal and shape," Simmons explained.
The "steal" aspect is best known to the public, that is, stealing another nation's military or production secrets, but Simmons also described how spies can "shape" a nation.
Spies engaged in the "shape" aspect of espionage are known as "agents of influence," Simmons said. These agents of influence attempt to mold the thinking of a society or a government by targeting "experts who are quoted in the media, the published research of prestigious think tanks, and the exercise of government policy," he explained.
The 10 arrested Russian operatives were engaged as agents of influence, and not primarily as spies looking for secrets.
Both the Justice Department and the media seriously misinformed the American people by stating that the Russian operatives had not stolen any secrets. Instead, they "were deeply involved in the 'shape' aspect of spying," said Simmons.
Media stories downplayed the seriosness of the crime
The Russian agents of influence sought to transmit to Moscow Central (the nerve center of Russian espionage) what they heard regarding governmental attitudes and policies toward Russia, as well as any other information Moscow deemed important to Russian interests. The Russian operatives also attempted to guide U.S. policies and attitudes to follow Russia's best interest, regardless of harm to American security.
Americans can also be recruited by foreign spies as agents of influence. Ana Belen Montes was such an agent. She was recruited by Cuban intelligence officers and then rose to a position of importance as one of the leading experts on Cuba in the U.S. government. Her position enabled her not only to supply Havana with information on U.S. plans and polices regarding Cuba, but also guide those plans and policies in Cuba's favor.
Because of Montes' efforts, to a significant degree Havana was writing U.S. Cuban policy.
The Russian operatives were attempting to fulfill the same - or a similar - role. Simmons noted that one of the Russian operatives may have even been attempting to influence the gold market.
Spy Ring downplayed by Obama administration
Although the FBI arrest of the 10 Russian spies was impressive, Justice Department statements and media coverage undercut the meaning and significance of its success, according to Simmons. The public was left with the impression that counter-intelligence is not vital, only a sideline activity with little real impact on American society.
The dismissive tone expressed by the Obama administration to this major and successful FBI operation could be an indication that the counter-intelligence budget may be cut back.
Russian agents of influence who mixed easily in American society
Simmons believes, however, that U.S. counter-intelligence resources are already "stretched to the breaking point."
"Intelligence is a game, but it is a grave game... and Americans must realize that the bad guys are out to hurt us," he declared.
Experienced U.S. counter-intelligence personnel are being "forward deployed" to Iraq and Afghanistan," Simmons told INA Today, and these deployments "lower already overburdened counter-intelligence services stretched dangerously thin."
Counter-intelligence operations demand multiple agents to track one suspected foreign secret officer or agent who has been recruited to work against the U.S. Additional support staff to compile and analyze data acquired by the frontline agents are also required.
The apprehension of the Russian spies required a considerable expenditure of human and material resources from Seattle, Washington to New York City. These efforts, despite the cost, are essential for American security.
After their arrest by the FBI, neighbors and associates of the Russian spies repeatedly stated their complete surprise that the people they knew and trusted were actually secret agents. Their ability to pass as very ordinary people demonstrated the high degree of professionalism of the Russian spies, Simmons stated.
Protecting the nation against these spies can be difficult, because, as Simmons told INA Today, "they can look just like us."
Posted August 20, 2010
Toby Westerman publishes
International News Analysis - Today
An investigative, analytical, and uncompromising weekly analysis of the world situation
Contact T. Westerman at
or P.O. BOX 5182, Rockford, ILL, 61125-0182
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