Saturday, October 6, 2018

What is Moscow Doing with All the Russian Spies Who’ve Been Unmasked Recently?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 6 – Every country that engages in espionage abroad eventually faces the problem of what to do with its spies who are caught and publicly identified as such, but rarely has any country faced such a massive problem in that regard than does Russia today. And that raises the question: what is Moscow doing with its spies who’ve been unmasked?

            Nurlan Gasymov, a journalist with the URA news agency, interviewed four Russian experts on the intelligence business in an attempt to answer this question (

            Petr Fefelov, a security specialist, said that “the unmasking of an intelligence officer does not always lead to his automatic removal from the service. There are no former intelligence officers, but it is possible the officer will shift to a different status [because] he no longer can work as a resident in a foreign country,” and so will work elsewhere in his agency in Russia.

            Viktor Baranets, a reserve colonel who serves as military commentator for Komsomolskaya pravda, says that because the government has invested so much in training intelligence officers, it would be wasteful in the extreme simply to dismiss them once they have been exposed. It might even constitute a security threat.

            Consequently, he continues, officers who can’t work abroad or who have retired are shifted to specific “structures where the knowledge of languages, countries and so on can be of maximum use to out country.” Some become teachers; others work as analysts or as guards of one kind or another.

            He too stresses that former officers “never disappear from the field of view of state organs,” particularly until the government is completely certain that the officer hasn’t been turned and will as before “work in the interests of the state.”

            Aleksey Filatov, an FSB lieutenant colonel in reserve and vice president of the Alfa veterans, says that it sometimes happens however that an exposed officer will be pensioned off, especially as veterans in this line of work retire far earlier than do other employees of the state or business.
            And Anton Tsvetkov, head of the Experts Council on Security and Civil-Security Relations, says that one thing that may surprise many is that exposed officers may nonetheless continue to use social networks. Such networks, he says, play an important role in maintaining their “legend” or cover and cutting things off quickly would not be a good idea.

            Of course, he continues, they don’t use their real names when they go on line.

            Gazymov asked Baranets whether the exposure of so many officers will affect Russian intelligence operations.  He says that will depend on how much information the officers in question gave to foreign governments in the course of their detentions and how many other officers are forced to “go to ground” lest they be captured as well.

            “If, however, no one tracks down these agents, then they can continue to work in the residency.”

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