Historically, American leadership has been extremely knowledgeable of the arcane methods and operations of intelligence. George Washington was a very strong supporter of espionage activities and personally encouraged the development of the Culper net that furnished him and his staff with key information relative to British troop movements on Long Island during the early days of the Revolutionary War. Included among the Washington “spies” on Long Island was the pretty Sally Townsend, still in her teen years, perhaps the first American female deep cover agent.
The ignorance of the US press regarding the lengthy and complicated history of U.S. intelligence is apparent when any discussion of this essential defence field is discussed. It is true however, that only since World War II has the USA been substantially committed to foreign operations both in counterintelligence and espionage as well as action-taking .This latter term is now generically referred to as “Special Operations”. In this arena the Americans have considerable experience going all the way back to frontier days – something that also is overlooked.
Intelligence ignorance is not limited to the American services. Far less understood by most media are the Russian services and their fields of operations. Russia has its own classification and ranks that serve in civilian, military, domestic and foreign intelligence roles. What is important, however, is to recognize the contemporary Russian services pursue objectives and methods only slightly changed in modern times from what existed in Czarist days. Today external, domestic, and military intelligence arms are SVR RF, FSB and GRU, respectively. Their charters are not that much different than in earlier times, but the structures have been altered to adjust to considerable scientific and technological changes.
Even more important in the case of Russian intel instruments is the increased scope of their activities with regard to penetration of priority foreign national instruments, most particularly in the U.S. and other Western countries. This fact makes their efforts to test and then destabilize the American electoral system that much more understandable. In the period after 1991 when the KGB First Chief Directorate was shifted to the newly created SVR RF, the new structure came to include Directorates S and X. (Illegal humint ops and technical intel respectively). During this early period these directorates worked closely with the new Directorate I that coordinated what the Russians called “Computer Services”. When the ranking SVR officer Sergei Tretyakov, undercover in the Russian UN Mission, defected, he exposed the internet manipulation program that was being run via untraceable access to public library computers. This was back in the year 2000.
This information has been available to US government, and ultimately press outlets, for years. Nonetheless, no active exposure program was taken until the GRU-directed St. Petersburg-centered technical operation to electronically invade, and possibly manipulate, the 2016 presidential election in the United States became public knowledge. They certainly should have seen the link between Tretyakov’s internet disinformation program to the “active measures” of the 2015 St. Petersburg computer-based activity.
Taking the next step to realize that there are many aspects of Russian intelligence operations that play off of U.S. ops seems simply logical. There has been the clear suggestion in recent times that American intelligence agencies are just not up to the level of those of Russia or China. Agree or not with this assessment, it is true that U.S. counterintelligence (CI) has played a weak “second fiddle” to our preoccupation (and funding) of counterterrorism primarily targeted at Islam. Moscow and Beijing have certainly taken advantage of that priority and the lack of aggressive CI aimed at them.
While the recent political dossier incident appears to have been well monitored (to say nothing of being possibly supported) by our and British intelligence services, it was operationally compromised by just that coordination. With leadership in both the FBI and CIA politically manipulated in 2015-16, the separation of “charters” became ineffectual. You can be sure the various Russian intel departments were all over this.
Not to worry though. In spite of the politicization (and the inadequate to non-existent field operational background of the top ranks of U.S. intel in recent years), the street agents and field officers combined with our technical boffins are on the job keeping up with their Russian and Chinese counterparts. “Sally Townsend and her Culper compatriots are still doing their best, General, sir.”