Today, continuing our story about Sergei Naryshkin and his new gig as Head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.
Where we left off yesterday, Russian Banker Evgeny Buryakov had been arrested in New York City, January 26, 2015, on charges of espionage. A fact which analyst Evgeny Krutikov blames at least partially on the incompetence of his handlers, Igor Sporyshev and Viktor Podobny. Both of whom are (allegedly) Russian intelligence agents operating under diplomatic cover. According to wiki:
Prior to working in New York City, Buryakov allegedly worked in South Africa under non-official cover from approximately 2004 to 2009. In America, Sporyshev and Podobnyy tasked Buryakov with attempting to recruit New York City residents as intelligence sources, as well as gathering information about American sanctions on Russia and American efforts to develop alternative energy resources. Buryakov worked for Directorate ER of the SVR, which is focused on economic intelligence. Buryakov also came up with questions for the Russian News Agency TASS to ask at the New York Stock Exchange regarding high-frequency trading , exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and automatic trading robots.
Beginning in 2013, an undercover agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), posing as an analyst for an energy firm, began providing Sporyshev with binders containing industry analyses and bugged with hidden microphones, allowing the FBI to record Sporyshev, Podobnyy, and other Russian intelligence personnel. The undercover agent met Buryakov at a Manhattan office, as well as at casinos in Atlantic City.
As Krutikov points out, most intelligence work is precisely of this nature, collecting and collating boring economic data. Young eager spies sometimes chafe at this routine work, imagining themselves as super-spies: Finding the Magic Key, saving the world while bringing glory to the Fatherland.
Sporyshev was Buryakov’s direct handler, or “curator”, as the Russians say. Sporyshev gave Buryakov technical assignments to complete; then the two of them worked over the collation and analysis together, before forwarding their results to Yasenevo. Buryakov was fine with all of this and behaved himself impeccably. Sporyshev was the problem, according to Krutikov. In private conversations Sporyshev groused about his excessive work load. By day he had to work his cover job, at the Russian Trade Mission. By night he worked his second job — as a spy. In tapped conversations recorded by the FBI, Sporyshev is heard to complain, this is not what he signed up for, when he enlisted in the intelligence service. And the more seasoned spy Viktor Podobny (40 years old) is overheard to counsel his younger colleague (27 years old) that “this is not a James Bond film, and you’re not going to fly away in a helicopter.”
Reform of the SVR
Back in 2010 Director of the SVR [I’ll borrow from wiki and start using that acronym in my translations] Mikhail Fradkov announced that the Russian Federation no longer engages in “total espionage” as did, for example, the Soviet Union. Well, that was before Ukraine; before Crimea; before all the economic sanctions and before all this s*** hit the fan. And Fradkov is no longer the Director, now it’s Naryshkin. Not that Fradkov was driven out in disgrace, or anything like that. He’s still in tight with the ruling circles, apparently, and he still has a career. It’s just that the Russian government decided that the SVR needed some changes and reforms, and they believe that Naryshkin is the man to do that.
Nobody is saying that the “electives” are going away either, namely using intelligence assets to service the needs of corporations, both private and state-owned. Just that more objective control is to be placed over these activities. There was a time, for example, when pretty much all Russian intelligence work in the Balkans was done in the service of the Gazprom Company. This is obviously an incorrect use of such an asset! Priorities need to be set in a more rational manner.
According to Krutikov, the SVR faces a world in which the need for its services grows at an exponential rate. It’s not a question of “electives” any more, but of a whole series of “general political” problems and tasks. Historically, economic and scientific-technological espionage was considered of the highest importance. And still is. But nowadays, accurate political prognostications are even more important, and their value cannot be overestimated. The informational security of the President and the government, are of the highest priority. As is the struggle for “influence” in the world.
In the past few years, the intelligence “cadre” of the Russian Federation have undergone a regeneration, with the infusion of a younger generation of Chekists. However, the old, Soviet-style “corporate mentality” has not yet been completely extinguished.
In the later Soviet era, the perfect Chekist was the corporate man. Mediocrity was a better quality than talent, because talent can lead to unpredictability. Contrary to popular belief, the work of a spy consists mainly in following instructions. Even normal daily life has to be strictly regulated and lived according to a set of rules. Routine is the norm for the vast majority of time spent on the planet. But every now and then, as an exception, during some exceptional or stressful situation, the spy must suddenly spring into action with creative thinking outside of the box. And this is something that cannot be taught, but only experienced. Successful political espionage requires a non-conformist personality that can think in non-standard ways; not to mention a whole set of other skills, such as knowledge of languages and cultures.
[to be continued]