Goodbye diplomacy, hello KGB 2.0.
Last year, U.S. Embassy officials in Russia made headlines after reports surfaced that Embassy worker Ryan Fogle had been publicly arrested and accused of espionage. Now, more U.S. officials are coming forward with reports that Russian operatives are using Cold War-era surveillance tactics to keep an eye on foreign diplomats.
In an ABC News exclusive, U.S. officials overseas spoke with reporters about what life is like for a diplomat in one of the most highly-surveilled countries in the world.
Stories of slashed tires and hacked e-mails—things that happen during local elections in the United States, if we’re honest—have given way to escalating surveillance tactics that remind officials of once-bygone KGB tactics.
Via ABC News:
“Security services have traditions of behavior. Certainly, our hosts in Moscow do. They are employing old techniques and patterns of behavior that are familiar,” said James Collins, the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 1997 to 2001 and now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Right now, I think we are in a hostile environment in Moscow where the authorities are indeed sending the message that Americans are to be considered with suspicion,” Collins said.
Galeotti, the expert on Russian security, said the return to Soviet-era tactics are a symptom of power shifts within the Russian government.
“It reflects a wider swing back to the good old KGB days, as some of the veterans would think of them — days in which the Soviet security services were much more sharp elbowed and the intelligence community could operate with fewer constraints,” he said.
Russian tactics have targeted U.S. officials in operations ranging from the petty to the career-destroying:
Some of the alleged Russian actions seemed petty. In several instances, U.S. officials returned home to find their belongings had been moved or a window left open in the middle of winter. American diplomats have also been trailed more overtly by Russian security agents.
Others attempted to interfere with diplomatic work, like disrupting public meetings with Russian contacts. Uniformed guards provided by Russia to stand outside the embassy, ostensibly for protection, have harassed visitors and even employees trying to enter the building.
Russians who work or meet with the embassy have also been intimidated, U.S. officials said. Several had been warned by shadowy individuals to discontinue their contacts with American officials or face unspecified hardships. Russians authorities have also stepped up pressure on programs run by the U.S. embassy.
Earlier this month, a pair of American reporters conducting a journalism workshop in St. Petersburg, in cooperation with the embassy, were hauled to court for alleged visa violations even though they were able to run a similar program under the same type of visa on an earlier trip.
In 2009, the same Russian security services were believed to be behind an Internet video showing a married American diplomat under surveillance and then appearing to have sexual relations with another woman, a so-called “honeytrap.” The embassy at the time denounced the tape as a fabrication in retaliation for the diplomat’s work on human rights in Russia.
The current string of incidents, however, seems more broadly aimed at treating the United States with hostility.
Putin knows what cards he has to play, so he’s doing what he knows how to do best: mind games and manipulation against both neighboring countries like Poland and Ukraine, and countries that choose to oppose aggressive Russian tactics in favor of diplomacy. This may just be a power play, but as tensions escalate between U.S. officials and Russian officials on what is supposed to be diplomatic territory, we can count on the fact that efforts to quell tensions in the Baltic and in Ukraine will be met with Russian pushback.DONATE
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