Wakeup Call from the Sleepers

The recent sensation over eleven Russian spies under deep cover being rolled up should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows something about the Russian Federation. It neatly exposes the reality that the resetting of Russian relations, as far as Russia is concerned, is neither transparent nor reliable, and also demonstrates that the SVR's agenda is not in sync with the ruling parties.

Known in the intelligence world as "sleepers," "illegals," "back markers," "deep cover agents," and agents "on ice," they were trained for the spy trade for many years in Russia. They then probably cultivated their new identities in Europe, from Europe to Canada, to eventually cross the border into the U.S. Some adopted false identities, some posed as married couples, and all integrated into a variety of communities on the east coast of the United States. FBI agents were close on their trail for at some seven years, following them, recording conversations, downloading computer material, recording meetings, and copying documents. Throughout their surveillance, FBI agents witnessed tradecraft that was classic Cold War modus operandi. The eleven spy suspects were undoubtedly exposed owing to sloppy tradecraft. Paging George Smiley.

Many people are wondering what their mission could have possibly been. Why risk deploying sleepers when so much of America's "secrets" can be found in open sources today? Rest assured, it wasn't the theater of the absurd, or a rejected chapter from a John Le Carré draft. There is more to it than meets the eye.

One reason to use sleepers is that diplomatic cover is too easy to uncover nowadays. Therefore, to be an effective spy in the field, one has to operate undercover as a deep cover resident, just as so many of the most successful spies in the past pursued their profession. Russia perfected such spycraft, dispatching thousands of "illegals" to foreign countries from their S Section of the Foreign Chief Directorate of the KGB. Today, the tradition continues with the SVR, the successor to the KGB. In fact, one of the sleepers, "Anna Chapman," aka Anya Kushchenko, is the daughter of former KGB agent Vasily Kushchenko.

These men and women were groomed for many years and are considered by the SVR very valuable assets. Their aim is to gain access to Americans of influence, report their weaknesses (to eventually compromise them), and gain access to other possible sources of information on U.S. policy, such as in academia or by penetrating think-tanks. They infiltrate additional strategic sources through "false-flag" recruitment (where the subject is led to believe he is supplying intelligence to a source other than Moscow Center). The "sleepers" endeavor to develop ties in the policy-making realm by getting invited to embassy parties, lectures, and seminars, as well as acquiring membership in clubs and societies. For example, sleeper "Cynthia Murphy," by means of her legal profession as a tax consultant, was cultivating a wealthy fundraiser, and thereby closing in an Obama cabinet official, when she was arrested. Another one in Boston attended a strategic seminar on tactical nuclear arms. In addition, they try to influence public opinion in favor of Russia, detect potential recruits, plant bugs, act as a "cut-out" (the link between two separate components of an intelligence operation) and plan covert operations that might include sabotage and targeting potential assassination victims.

While the sleepers did use outdated Cold War means of communication, such as "dead drops" and invisible ink, more modern methods were employed as well. Moscow Center used steganography as one of their means of communication. Steganography uses special software that secretly inserts encrypted data into images that are on public computer websites without the data being visible. The sleepers also used a specially prepared laptop computer provided by the Russian Mission in New York. Radiograms -- that are coded bursts of data radio transmitted over a special frequency -- were also used to communicate with the Center.

The exposure of the eleven who couldn't spy straight is unprecedented in the annals of counterintelligence and will surely have an enduring effect on Moscow Center. They must be scuttling about in all directions, like ants after someone kicks open an anthill, trying to figure out just how much the FBI knows about other sleepers and what methods were used to catch them out.

Now that this network has been substantiated, lessons can be learned. One should not believe this was just an isolated, redundant exercise cooked up by some Cold War holdouts. Without a doubt, there are many other deep-core agents still at large in the West, who are in all probability practicing better tradecraft than this network did. The SVR uses a shotgun technique to secure intelligence. They send out thousands of agents and sleepers into the field knowing full well that many will fail or be of little use, but the handful that succeed -- and they do -- are worth their weight in plutonium.

For example, one deep cover agent was uncovered in NATO only two years ago. He was former KGB colonel Herman Simm, and he turned out to be the "most damaging" spy in the history of NATO. For years he disclosed highly sensitive intelligence to the SVR "including installation, maintenance, procurement and use of cryptographic systems." He "compromised a wide range of NATO intelligence reports and analyses" as well.

The West must realize that those in power in Russia are still the Cold War generation, and they are not going to liberalize simply because the Cold War is over. Furthermore, to believe that we can build an ingenious strategic partnership with them is a naïve fantasy. We should remain civil with them, but we must at the same time be firm and in our commitments toward freedom and justice, all the while keeping our eyes wide open to the fact that change in Russia moves at the rate of a glacier. It wasn't called the Cold War for nothing.
The recent sensation over eleven Russian spies under deep cover being rolled up should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows something about the Russian Federation. It neatly exposes the reality that the resetting of Russian relations, as far as Russia is concerned, is neither transparent nor reliable, and also demonstrates that the SVR's agenda is not in sync with the ruling parties.

Known in the intelligence world as "sleepers," "illegals," "back markers," "deep cover agents," and agents "on ice," they were trained for the spy trade for many years in Russia. They then probably cultivated their new identities in Europe, from Europe to Canada, to eventually cross the border into the U.S. Some adopted false identities, some posed as married couples, and all integrated into a variety of communities on the east coast of the United States. FBI agents were close on their trail for at some seven years, following them, recording conversations, downloading computer material, recording meetings, and copying documents. Throughout their surveillance, FBI agents witnessed tradecraft that was classic Cold War modus operandi. The eleven spy suspects were undoubtedly exposed owing to sloppy tradecraft. Paging George Smiley.

Many people are wondering what their mission could have possibly been. Why risk deploying sleepers when so much of America's "secrets" can be found in open sources today? Rest assured, it wasn't the theater of the absurd, or a rejected chapter from a John Le Carré draft. There is more to it than meets the eye.

One reason to use sleepers is that diplomatic cover is too easy to uncover nowadays. Therefore, to be an effective spy in the field, one has to operate undercover as a deep cover resident, just as so many of the most successful spies in the past pursued their profession. Russia perfected such spycraft, dispatching thousands of "illegals" to foreign countries from their S Section of the Foreign Chief Directorate of the KGB. Today, the tradition continues with the SVR, the successor to the KGB. In fact, one of the sleepers, "Anna Chapman," aka Anya Kushchenko, is the daughter of former KGB agent Vasily Kushchenko.

These men and women were groomed for many years and are considered by the SVR very valuable assets. Their aim is to gain access to Americans of influence, report their weaknesses (to eventually compromise them), and gain access to other possible sources of information on U.S. policy, such as in academia or by penetrating think-tanks. They infiltrate additional strategic sources through "false-flag" recruitment (where the subject is led to believe he is supplying intelligence to a source other than Moscow Center). The "sleepers" endeavor to develop ties in the policy-making realm by getting invited to embassy parties, lectures, and seminars, as well as acquiring membership in clubs and societies. For example, sleeper "Cynthia Murphy," by means of her legal profession as a tax consultant, was cultivating a wealthy fundraiser, and thereby closing in an Obama cabinet official, when she was arrested. Another one in Boston attended a strategic seminar on tactical nuclear arms. In addition, they try to influence public opinion in favor of Russia, detect potential recruits, plant bugs, act as a "cut-out" (the link between two separate components of an intelligence operation) and plan covert operations that might include sabotage and targeting potential assassination victims.

While the sleepers did use outdated Cold War means of communication, such as "dead drops" and invisible ink, more modern methods were employed as well. Moscow Center used steganography as one of their means of communication. Steganography uses special software that secretly inserts encrypted data into images that are on public computer websites without the data being visible. The sleepers also used a specially prepared laptop computer provided by the Russian Mission in New York. Radiograms -- that are coded bursts of data radio transmitted over a special frequency -- were also used to communicate with the Center.

The exposure of the eleven who couldn't spy straight is unprecedented in the annals of counterintelligence and will surely have an enduring effect on Moscow Center. They must be scuttling about in all directions, like ants after someone kicks open an anthill, trying to figure out just how much the FBI knows about other sleepers and what methods were used to catch them out.

Now that this network has been substantiated, lessons can be learned. One should not believe this was just an isolated, redundant exercise cooked up by some Cold War holdouts. Without a doubt, there are many other deep-core agents still at large in the West, who are in all probability practicing better tradecraft than this network did. The SVR uses a shotgun technique to secure intelligence. They send out thousands of agents and sleepers into the field knowing full well that many will fail or be of little use, but the handful that succeed -- and they do -- are worth their weight in plutonium.

For example, one deep cover agent was uncovered in NATO only two years ago. He was former KGB colonel Herman Simm, and he turned out to be the "most damaging" spy in the history of NATO. For years he disclosed highly sensitive intelligence to the SVR "including installation, maintenance, procurement and use of cryptographic systems." He "compromised a wide range of NATO intelligence reports and analyses" as well.

The West must realize that those in power in Russia are still the Cold War generation, and they are not going to liberalize simply because the Cold War is over. Furthermore, to believe that we can build an ingenious strategic partnership with them is a naïve fantasy. We should remain civil with them, but we must at the same time be firm and in our commitments toward freedom and justice, all the while keeping our eyes wide open to the fact that change in Russia moves at the rate of a glacier. It wasn't called the Cold War for nothing.

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