On Friday, the FSB publicly identified an individual it claims was the Moscow station chief of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as of late 2011… a move widely-seen as a breach of protocol in the intelligence community. A man identified as an FSB official named the alleged CIA station chief in an interview with state-run television, in which he gave new details about the agency’s highly-publicised detention of alleged American spy Ryan Fogle earlier this week. In the interview, the FSB official reiterated earlier claims that his agency explicitly asked the CIA to stop trying to recruit Russian security and intelligence officers. In late 2011, he added, the FSB formally warned the CIA station chief in Moscow, whom he identified by name, “In the event that provocative efforts to recruit employees of the Russian special services continue, the FSB … would take reciprocal measures against American intelligence officers”. The officer, his face blacked out, and voice altered, said that Fogle’s brief detention this week… reportedly preceded in January by the unpublicised ouster of another American diplomat suspected of spying… was made public because the CIA continued to disregard the warning.
The Daily Telegraph reported, “A diplomat of the same name [given by the FSB official] is listed as a Counsellor in the US Embassy in Moscow in the Autumn-Winter 2012-13 edition of a directory of foreign diplomatic, media, and business offices in the city”. It wasn’t clear whether the man identified as the station chief is still in Moscow. US Embassy officials weren’t immediately available for comment. On Friday, US State Department spokesman Jen Psaki told a news conference in Washington DC that she hadn’t seen the report and referred further questions to the CIA. On Friday afternoon, the CIA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
17 May 2013
On Friday, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers and security experts told RIA-Novosti that Russia’s decision to identify a purported top American spy in the country is an “unprecedented” move in relations between Moscow and Washington with no clear indication of how the USA will react. Peter Earnest, who operated intelligence collection and covert operations in Europe and the Middle East during a 35-year career with the CIA, said, “Certainly, throughout the Cold War, and even after that, there was a practise of not naming the head of the [spy agencies] in the respective countries”. Earnest and other security experts said that the television interview in which a man identified as an FSB officer named an alleged CIA station chief in Moscow puzzled them.
In the interview with state-run television, the FSB officer explained that his agency detained purported US spy Ryan Fogle in Moscow earlier this week because a request in late 2011 to the purported station chief, whom he identified by name, to halt “provocative” CIA efforts to recruit Russian intelligence agents went unheeded. The Daily Telegraph reported, “A diplomat of the same name [given by the FSB official] is listed as a Counsellor in the US Embassy in Moscow in the Autumn-Winter 2012-13 edition of a directory of foreign diplomatic, media, and business offices in the city”. On Friday, neither the US State Department nor the CIA responded to requests for comment.
Melvin Goodman, who served as division chief and senior analyst at the CIA’s Office of Soviet Affairs in the 1970s and 1980s, said, “The leak of the purported spy’s name represents a serious breach in protocol. These things are usually done quietly”. He added that the release of the name was “unprecedented” in the history of American relations with Russia and the USSR. Goodman pointed up that the disclosure of a CIA operative’s name in such a fashion is typically a death knell for the agent’s career, saying, “He could stay operational clandestinely, but I don’t see how they could send him out under any cover”.
Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security services at New York University, called the naming of the alleged station chief a “definite escalation” in the wake of Fogle’s brief detention and subsequent eviction from Russia, where he served as a third secretary in the political section at the US embassy. Galeotti told RIA-Novosti, “It’s almost as if the Russians are inviting the Americans to respond, but as it is, they seem to have Washington off balance”.
Earnest and Goodman both said that without the full picture of the circumstances surrounding Fogle’s detention and the public naming of the purported station chief, it’s difficult to predict how Washington might respond. Goodman said that if Russia’s reaction was indeed precipitated by CIA operatives’ aggressive attempts to recruit Russian intelligence officers, Washington “may just decide to let it go, but without knowing what some of the operational details are, I’d hesitate to speculate on this”.
It wasn’t the first time that the name of an alleged CIA station chief was publicly disclosed in recent years. In 2010 and early 2011, American officials accused Pakistani authorities of leaking the name of two CIA station chiefs in Islamabad to the country’s news media within five months. However, Earnest, the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, noted that Washington’s relationship with Pakistan is considerably different than its relationship with Russia is, adding that there’s no formal protocol dictating how countries should respond in these cases. “It’s very situational, and the fact that you and I and the public don’t know what occasioned the takedown of Fogle means we don’t know what the signal [from Russia] was. That makes it doubly-hard to know the signal of this latest development is. It sort of deepens the mystery”.
Goodman, who spent 24 years as a CIA analyst specialising in Soviet affairs, said the spy spat surprised him given public overtures from both countries in recent weeks indicating they were interested in cooperating on the investigation of last month’s Boston Marathon bombings and ending the civil war in Syria, saying, “This past week suggests that something else is going on”.
18 May 2013 (MSK)