Russian Campaigns to Destroy Political Opponents

The U.S. media has been active at tying the election of Donald Trump to Russian hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, but that isn’t the greatest danger from the Russians. That hacking would not have had negative effects on the election if the principals in the Hillary Clinton campaign had not sent messages that were politically embarrassing. I know the Democrats are bent on believing they would have won if the Russians hadn’t interfered, but it seems to me the Democrats had a flawed candidate who didn’t connect with Middle America.

Despite that personal belief, there is something important to understand about the skill of the Russians in shaping opinion. The intelligence operations within the Soviet Union were amazingly effective at destroying political opponents, and Russian organizations are being quite effective at carrying that forward. A recent article describes how Russian “kompromat” is used to destroy political opponents with no facts required. The term is used to describe compromising material for blackmail of those who the Russians have determined to be dangerous. The process involves “.  .  .high quality faked documentation.” The documentation includes “.  .  .hints, images, videos, promises of disclosures, perhaps even some high-quality faked documentation. Sex or pornography often figures prominently.”

We can hope the media with a free press will be able to counteract false reports generated by Russian intelligence services. We’ll see who wins; the free press with freedom of speech or the Russians bent on destroying those they deem to be unfriendly. My primary message is that everyone should be skeptical of any negative Russian campaign against anyone.

The Man Behind the Rosenbergs

the-man-behindThis is a fascinating book written by retired KGB agent Alexander Feklisov with Sergei Kostin. The book begins with an interesting description of Feklisov’s life in the Soviet Union as a youngster and his eventual acceptance into the INO, or Soviet Foreign Intelligence. He is sent to the United States early in World War II and spends four years sending and receiving messages without being involved in espionage. He is a capable and loyal employee and he eventually enters the world of the “illegals” with the assignment of recruiting spies from the many Americans who sympathized with the Communism and the Soviet cause. I found it interesting that Feklisov ardently defended his contacts as being “anti-fascist activists” and not Communist spies.

Feklisov’s advancement in Soviet intelligence was enhanced by the remarkable fact there were few older agents when he began his training. Feklisov was surprised there “…was only one older officer in our section…” He “…later learned that the Stalinist purges had not spared the intelligence services. The leadership of the INO had been decimated as much as the Red Army by the end of the 1930s.” It is difficult to understand Feklisov’s dedicated loyalty to the Stalinist system after such a revelation.

Feklisov was almost prohibited from receiving a foreign assignment because he wasn’t married. He was told, “How can you recruit any agents if you can’t even recruit a wife?” His immediate supervisor praised his abilities and recommended him for an overseas assignment. He even complimented him with the comment, “If you want my opinion, it’s rather good that he didn’t get married on command. It goes to prove he’s a serious sort of fellow.” That and the fact the NKVD was short of people in the United States led to his assignment in New York as a communication specialist.

He became Alexander Fomin with the code name “Kalistrat” and was assigned to establish a clandestine radio link. The announcement of the Nazi attack on the USSR revealed some attitudes that disturbed Feklisov, or Fomin. Senator Harry Truman announced that Russia should be helped if the Germans were winning or the Germans should be helped if the Russians were winning. “The first prize for bluntness would go to the New York Daily News, which published a cartoon depicting the USSR and Germany as two snakes fighting each other. The caption read, ‘Let’s let them eat each other!’” Feklisov felt Roosevelt was fairer in his assessment. “His attitude toward the USSR in general, now that it was bearing the brunt of the war effort was favorable.” (My reading of history says that FDR’s attitude went far beyond “favorable.) Continue reading

All the Shah’s Men

All The Shah’s Men, An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
By Stephen Kinzer
Published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

The United States took the lead in organizing, funding, and carrying out the 1953 coup that removed the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, and restored Mohammad Reza Shah to the Peacock Throne. Iranians generally had admiration and respect for Americans, but the coup created hatred and distrust. The oppressive regime of the Shah led to his overthrow in 1979 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.   Predicting alternative history is at best imprecise, but perhaps without this coup Khomeini would not have come to power. Perhaps the United States would not have decided to give the Shah asylum, which precipitated the Iranian hostage crises. Perhaps Jimmy Carter would have been elected to a second term. Perhaps the Iranians would not have supported insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, and perhaps they wouldn’t be pursuing development of nuclear weapons. Of course that is all meaningless speculation, since the CIA did engineer the overthrow of the legitimate leader of Iran and installed a replacement who used brutality to remain in power until the Carter administration decided Khomeini and his plane full of supporters should not be killed when they landed in Tehran.

Iran was poor but strategically located at a time when the Russians and the West were vying for advantage. The country became even more important when massive deposits of oil were discovered. The British moved in, negotiated a deal to control the oil with most of the profits going to the English, and acted like selfish imperialists. Their refinery managers lived in luxury next to the Iranian workers who lived in squalor. Iranians were pleased when Mohammed Mossadegh became their leader. He inspired memories of the Persian Zoroastrian religious belief that people have the right to enlightened leadership, the duty to obey wise rulers, and a further duty to rise up against the wicked. Mossadegh saw the British as wicked, nationalized the oil resources and refinery of the British-controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and pushed the British out of the country. Time Magazine named him “Man of the Year” in 1951. 

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Venona, Decoding Soviet Espionage in America

by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan persuaded the American intelligence community to declassify the Venona Project in 1995, which was more than forty years after the Soviets learned that the project had uncovered their massive espionage penetration of every sensitive department of the United States government.    The project began because Colonel Carter Clark did not trust Joseph Stalin.  In February 1943 he ordered the Signal Intelligence Service, the Army’s elite code breakers, to attempt to decode cables between Soviet diplomats in the United States and Moscow.  The cables were virtually impossible to decode as long as they were sent using a complex two-part ciphering system.  However, about 1700 cables, or a bit over one percent of the total were sent in which the “one time pad” had been reused, and that allowed at least partial decoding.  “The deciphered cables of the Venona Project identify 349 citizens, immigrants, and permanent residents of the United States who had had a covert relationship with Soviet intelligence agencies.”  About 200 were never identified except by code name, which means that those people remained in their government and military positions unimpeded in their activities.

The Soviets learned about the Venona project from a high level official in the Roosevelt administration within a year and a half of its origin.  Ironically, the first cables weren’t successfully decoded until 1946, which was after the Soviets learned of Venona and had corrected the mistake of reusing the one time pads. Continue reading