Essential reading to understand the US-Russian intelligence war

Today, American spies and intelligence analysts have dealt blows to Putin’s empire dreams. The Central Intelligence Agency has given the White House and the State Department the power to expose Putin’s plans to use disinformation as a pretext for war. Preemptive strikes defused Russian lies and propaganda, shaping the battlefield in Ukraine and strengthening the will of the West. And US intelligence services have been providing covert support to Ukraine since Putin launched his first war against the nation eight years ago.

This is the last fight in the political war that has raged between the United States and Russia since the creation of the CIA in 1947. We see this conflict when a defector is caught spying or when intelligence spectacularly succeeds or fails. But it takes time for the smoke to dissipate and the image to become visible. To begin to understand Putin’s attack on the United States and its allies, and the American response to its attack on Ukraine, it is crucial to know the history of the CIA and to better understand Putin himself. same. In addition to reports from the battlefront, arm yourself with a small stack of books.

In 1979, Thomas Powers published “The Man Who Kept Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIAwhich remains the best book ever written on the agency. (I say this knowingly, having a writing myself.) Present at its inception, Helms led the CIA under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, when the spies of the United States clashed against their enemies in Asia, Europe, the Americas and, finally, in Washington. Nixon fired him for refusing to help cover up the Watergate break-in.

The genius of the book is its careful examination of a uniquely American question: how does a secret intelligence service exist in an open democratic society? Powers wrote in the aftermath of the 1975 Church Committee hearings, which revealed the CIA’s most egregious covert actions during the Cold War. Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) described the CIA as “a rogue elephant,” trampling people and nations, staging coups, spying on Americans, installing dictators and plotting to kill leaders like Fidel Castro . Powers dared to ask: Who do you think gave those orders? Who wanted Castro dead? Presidents have done it. The CIA took the fall. Powers also observed that the conduct of the CIA during the Cold War posed a problem for the United States: “What kind of people are we? What are we standing for?” The same question could be asked about secret prisons and torture interrogations in the war on terror. political weapons – clearly show that intelligence can also serve as a force for democracy.

The leaking of CIA secrets was a boon to KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who led the Soviet spy service from 1967 to 1982. Long before Putin crushed the 2016 US presidential election to help Donald Trump, Andropov created a huge department of disinformation, which revealed that Americans (and the world) could be persuaded to believe anything. The CIA killed JFK! America has taken over the Great Mosque of Mecca! The US Army invented AIDS! Putin, Andropov’s KGB sidekick, used this base to launch war on Ukraine, create fake videos of atrocities against Russians, false flag attacks, false weapons reports Ukrainian nuclear and biological, and much more.

Andropov, the Soviet leader from 1982 to 1984, became convinced that President Ronald Reagan was preparing to fight and win World War III during those years. Robert M. Gates – then the CIA’s chief intelligence analyst, later the agency’s director and 21st century secretary of defense – knew that the United States was far too close to the brink. His 1996 memoir,From the Shadows: The Ultimate Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War», covers 30 years of American apprehensions and misunderstandings of the Soviet threat. Looking back, we now know that neither side ever saw the other clearly. A career Soviet analyst, Gates had never set foot on Russian soil until the end of the Cold War. (“It was good to see it from the ground,” he said at the time.) Our spy satellites were counting their missiles but not the potatoes that were rotting in the field for lack of fuel to take them to the market, and thus the CIA overestimated the true strength of the Soviets. Today, it appears that CIA spies have been gathering intelligence inside the Kremlin to better understand Putin’s intentions. There is a good chance that someone close to him will help him.

Otherwise, how would they know what Putin was thinking? A KGB man to the marrow, he is “a master at manipulating information, suppressing information, and creating pseudo-information”, as Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy wrote in “Mr. Putin: Agent in the Kremlin“, originally published in 2013. “Putin has spent a lot of time in his professional life distorting the truth, manipulating facts and playing with fictions,” they wrote. “Nor is he, we conclude, always able to distinguish one from the other.”

As Washington’s top Kremlinologist, Hill was a senior director for Russian and European affairs on President Trump’s National Security Council staff. She testified at her first impeachment, accused of extorting Ukraine’s president, by withholding deliveries of Javelin anti-tank weapons by first asking “a favor” – dirt from Joe Biden. Hill directly accused Republicans of encouraging Putin’s long war on American democracy. “Some of you on this committee seem to believe that Russia and its security services have not waged a campaign against our country – and that perhaps somehow for a some reason, Ukraine did it,” she testified. “This is a fictitious story that was perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

The first American to testify against the Kremlin’s lies was George Kennan, who died in 2005 at the age of 101. Kennan was in charge of the American Embassy in Moscow in February 1946 when he wrote “The long telegramstill the most famous dispatch in the history of American diplomacy. Every member of the newly nascent national security establishment absorbed it, and Stalin, thanks to his spies, read it too. So should you.

“Russians’ very disrespect for objective truth – indeed, their disbelief in its existence – leads them to regard all stated facts as instruments for the pursuit of one ulterior purpose or another,” wrote Kennan. The Russians conducted their business at two levels: the public realm of politics and diplomacy, and the secret world of espionage and subversion. They were “insensitive to the logic of reason” but “very sensitive to the logic of force” – not tanks and troops, but American political warfare designed to thwart the Kremlin’s dreams of glory. Kennan later defined political warfare as “all means in the command of a nation, except war, to achieve its national ends”. He was the intellectual author of the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-torn Europe and, much to his chagrin later in life, the man who conceived that the fledgling CIA should use covert operations, including “the ‘encouragement of underground resistance’, in the fight against the Kremlin.

This area of ​​US intelligence is dirty and dangerous business. When it fails, as it often does, people die. But the fate of Ukraine – and of Putin himself – may hinge on its success.

Tim Weiner’s most recent book is “The Folly and the Glory: America, Russia, and Political Warfare 1945-2020”. He is working on a history of the 21st century CIA.

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