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The Guardian on September 23: Russian passport leak after Salisbury may reveal spy methods

guardian-passport-espionage

WaPo on September 24: All over Europe, suspected Russian spies are getting busted

wapo-spies-arrested

Just a complete coincidence I am sure.

We all know that modern Russian spy agencies accept only the crème de la crème of Russian society. Only the very best.

dailymail-elite-russian-spies

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Espionage, Incompetence, Russia 
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  1. If you are going to adopt the English version of events, then you must explain why GRU decided to poison a retired spy with weird chemical weapon?

    Describing enemies as both stupid and chaotically evil is the oldest trope of Anglo propaganda, but as a Russian, you can’t just accept it at face value.

    • Replies: @reiner Tor
  2. Am I the only one who thinks this is incredibly boring?

    I mean I get that this is Karlin’s job, but zzzzzzzzzzzz……

    • Replies: @Hyperborean
  3. “Just a complete coincidence I am sure.

    We all know that modern Russian spy agencies accept only the crème de la crème of Russian society. Only the very best.”

    When Russia sends its agents, they’re not sending their best.

    • Replies: @Mikhail
  4. Mr. Hack says:

    Russian spies were the bane of Western comedy back in the 1960′s during the height of the cold war. It looks like the cold war is back again in full swing:

  5. Mikhail says: • Website
    @Anarcho-Supremacist

    Let’s see how this Skripal saga plays out. Like couch potato Bellingcat is such a worthy source.

    Regarding incompetence, why should Russia be so different than the US?

    Consider the likes of Michael Morrell, Michael Hayden, John Brennan, Stephen Hadley and for that matter Keith Gessen and JRL.

    Related:

    https://www.eurasiareview.com/29092018-parallel-universe-thoughts-on-improving-russia-west-relations-oped/

    https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/09/28/parallel-universe-thoughts-on-improving-russia-west-relations.html

    https://www.eurasiareview.com/07092018-consistency-and-reality-lacking-on-crimea-analysis/

  6. When the Russians are sending people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending autistics, Chechens, and some of them I guess, are GRU agents.

  7. DFH says:

    Did spies get worse, or was the belief that they were ever good just a Cold War propaganda meme?

    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
  8. @DFH

    About the UK, I speculated:

    When I was just out of high school (“secondary school”), I recall browsing through a career book, in which I read that the starting salary in MI6 was around 18,000 GBP, compared to the 50,000 GBP or more you’d be making in London investment banking right off the bat. The spooks aren’t going to get the best people with these paltry sums. A couple of generations ago, when patriotism was less superficial, and income differentials were much smaller, you’d have had more competent spooks (though they were still pretty incompetent).

    But I think the collapse in competence was far more acute in Russia.

    The KGB really did recruit the elite, quietly approaching graduates of elite universities. Upon the USSR’s collapse, they flowed out into business and politics, becoming extremely successful.

    Today? Well…

    • Replies: @reiner Tor
  9. @Anatoly Karlin

    But I’d have thought that the commanders would still be from the older, better cohorts.

    Why don’t they lobby for higher salaries? Maybe in exchange for lowering the number of employees.

  10. @Felix Keverich

    The issue is that whatever explanation you choose, it means that Russian services were both incompetent and aggressive. It’s not very relevant if it was ordered or permitted by Putin personally or if they were merely couriers of some oligarch (who remains unpunished by Putin) or whatever. It won’t make Russia look much better, only change the mix from evil to corrupt to incompetent (all three of which are likely present in the final explanation, whatever that might be, only their proportion is in question).

    The Crimea (and to a lesser extent Ilovaysk) and Syria surprised me with their decisiveness and competence. Well, the GRU surprised us, too, with its level of competence. Just in the opposite direction.

    • Replies: @Jon0815
  11. Anon[330] • Disclaimer says:

    There is full scale PR war, and the Skripals spies and Russia gate are a tiny part of it.
    Look at Syria – US, FR & UK and others are all daily breaking international law in operating in another country, frequently attacking the Syrian army directly, without invitation or UN approval.
    It is breathtaking.
    Look at the long period of supply of weapons to ISIS and even now the protection of WH and ISIS in withdrawal
    Look at the sanctions on Iran and Russia – staggering behaviour.

    All lied about on a daily basis.
    In this context Skripals and the MH17 fiction is pretty much inevitable, along with the daft drug cheat allegation and silly Russiagate.
    Indeed the Kavanaugh allegations just go to show what a petty dishonest world Washington is, and make Russiagate look comparatively legitimate.

  12. Jon0815 says:
    @reiner Tor

    The issue is that whatever explanation you choose, it means that Russian services were both incompetent and aggressive.

    The Crimea (and to a lesser extent Ilovaysk) and Syria surprised me with their decisiveness and competence. Well, the GRU surprised us, too, with its level of competence. Just in the opposite direction.

    In the S-300 thread I described a very plausible scenario in which GRU personnel were responsible, and actually quite competent:

    This was a rogue operation by a small number of hardliners in GRU, designed to embarrass Putin and increase tensions with the West. Although these rogue operatives wanted Russia to look guilty, they also didn’t want to be identified and caught. So they arranged for Bashirov and Petrov (couriers or something) to be in Salisbury on the day of the attack, as patsies to distract attention from the real assassin(s), who struck only minutes before the Skripals collapsed, not hours earlier via doorknob. The doorknob novichok was more deliberate misdirection.

    In this scenario, the real assassin(s) nearly succeeded in their secondary goal of killing Skripal (failing only because they were more concerned with the method being provocative than effective), and managed to carry out the poisoning without UK authorities knowing when and where it was actually done, or by who. Unless the assassin(s) somehow knew where the Skripals were going to be at a certain time (or Yulia herself was the assassin), that would have required them to surveil the Skripals’ home and follow them downtown to carry out the attack, without being caught doing so on CCTV. Not an easy thing to do.

    Of course you can argue that the inability of GRU to prevent its personnel from engaging in unsanctioned assassinations equals incompetence, but such things can and do happen in even the best-run intelligence organizations.

    The one deserving the charge of incompetence, and blame for this incident making Russia look bad, would be Putin, who by continually turning the other cheek to the West has not only emboldened Russia’s enemies, but also created the sort of frustrations within the military and security services, which would inspire such a rogue operation.

    I also think there’s still a nontrivial chance that the true culprits were Ukrainian SBU or somebody, and the presence of Bashirov and Petrov was just coincidence (with the hotel room novichok being either a false positive or planted). Certainly, it’s not very likely that two Russian citizens with possible intelligence links, who had arrived in the UK very recently, would have been walking within 300 meters of of the Skripal home on the same day as the attack, if they weren’t involved in some way (even if just as patsies). But it’s also not very likely that an attempted murder via chemical weapon would have just randomly happened to take place within 10 miles of Porton Down. Or the assassination attempt would take place while Skripal’s daughter was visiting. So at least one remarkable coincidence happened in any scenario.

    • Replies: @reiner Tor
  13. @Thorfinnsson

    Am I the only one who thinks this is incredibly boring?

    Make jokes about it?

  14. @Jon0815

    Of course you can argue that the inability of GRU to prevent its personnel from engaging in unsanctioned assassinations equals incompetence

    Well, that’s my argument.

    such things can and do happen in even the best-run intelligence organizations.

    I doubt it, unless you subscribe to the Kennedy CIA murder theories. I doubt such a thing would have been possible in the KGB of the USSR.

    • Replies: @Jon0815
  15. Mister X says:

    Chepiga has glorious hair. I believe that Novichok might be the Kremlin’s secret hair regrowth formula.

  16. Jon0815 says:
    @reiner Tor

    I doubt it, unless you subscribe to the Kennedy CIA murder theories.

    Did Eisenhower approve the CIA’s plans to use the mafia to kill Castro?

    I’d be surprised if in the entire history of the CIA, there was never a single defector or other person at a much lower level than Castro, who a CIA operative attempted to assassinate without the approval of his superiors.

    I doubt such a thing would have been possible in the KGB of the USSR.

    The same incentive didn’t really exist, except for a few years under Gorbachev.

    Regardless, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that failure to prevent a particular rogue operation within an intelligence organization must always be the result of “incompetence,” just as it isn’t fair to assume that of the failure to catch any particular traitor/mole within such an organization.

    • Replies: @reiner Tor
  17. @Jon0815

    This was not a simple assassination attempt.

    1) It was done using an illegal chemical, so required access to a secret Russian laboratory and the ability to suppress the huge paper trail the rogue people left. In other words, it must’ve been way way larger than a simple rogue assassination operation for a relatively low-profile person.

    2) It resulted in the unmasking of a number of previous (and probably later) Russian operations, so its results were arguably far more catastrophic than those of the Castro assassination plans.

    3) The GRU committed many amateur errors. For example a couple guys (and probably some more who the British are just going to announce) were given fake identities and then flown in directly from Moscow. How amateurish is that? Did the CIA make such a basic mistake? I’d guess either they used regular criminals (without providing them official fake passports), or they followed at least some basic procedures.

    • Replies: @Jon0815
  18. Jon0815 says:
    @reiner Tor

    It was done using an illegal chemical, so required access to a secret Russian laboratory and the ability to suppress the huge paper trail the rogue people left. In other words, it must’ve been way way larger than a simple rogue assassination operation for a relatively low-profile person.

    I don’t think the use of novichok necessarily requires a large operation with a paper trail. Possibly the GRU had some in storage somewhere, which someone in the right position could steal. Failure to adequately secure a chemical weapon certainly would be an example of incompetence, but not necessarily a recent one. The fact that the novichok wasn’t nearly as lethal as it seemingly should have been suggests that either it was an old, degraded sample, or was produced by an amateur in a private lab.

    The GRU committed many amateur errors. For example a couple guys (and probably some more who the British are just going to announce) were given fake identities and then flown in directly from Moscow. How amateurish is that?

    You are disregarding my theory that both the doorknob novichok and the very visible CCTV presence of B&P were deliberate misdirection by the rogue GRU, to prevent UK police from discovering when/where/how the Skripals were actually poisoned, and the identities of the actual assassination team (at least one of whom was likely a woman, given that the poison was apparently smuggled through Customs in a bottle of female perfume).

    • Replies: @reiner Tor
  19. @Jon0815

    Failure to adequately secure a chemical weapon certainly would be an example of incompetence, but not necessarily a recent one.

    Putin is #1 for over 18 years now. If he still failed to secure dangerous weapons stockpiles, then it’s his fault. Anyway, I don’t think that’s the case. I think it was a recently produced weapon. It killed the unfortunate alcoholic woman all right, so I don’t think it was a very old sample or something.

    deliberate misdirection by the rogue GRU

    In which case you have a professional network of rogue GRU agents working against the very organization they’re part of. And it hasn’t yet been found. It sounds like Pakistan or something, not a very professional and patriotic organization with an effective chain of command.

    • Replies: @Jon0815
  20. Jon0815 says:
    @reiner Tor

    Putin is #1 for over 18 years now. If he still failed to secure dangerous weapons stockpiles, then it’s his fault.

    I don’t know how long novichok lasts, so perhaps it could have been stolen as far back as the 90s. And when Putin first took over, the Russian military was barely even functional. It took years to turn that around. Even if the novichok was stolen 10 years ago, when it would have been fair to blame Putin, that wouldn’t say anything about the state of the Russian military today, as there have clearly been massive improvements since then (judging by its performance in Georgia vs. Crimea/Donbass/Syria).

    Anyway, I don’t think that’s the case. I think it was a recently produced weapon. It killed the unfortunate alcoholic woman all right, so I don’t think it was a very old sample or something.

    From what I’ve read, even tiny quantities of weapons-grade novichok should be fatal within minutes in essentially 100% of cases, not at best 25% (the woman was a druggie with probably a weakened immune system, who literally sprayed/rubbed it directly on herself, and she still managed to survive for days afterwards).

    And of course if the UK is correct about the doorknob being the point of exposure, the Skripals displayed no ill effects until hours afterward (whereas if the UK is not correct about the doorknob, the case against Russia collapses, because CCTV establishes that B&P were nowhere near the Skripals after they left their home).

    In which case you have a professional network of rogue GRU agents working against the very organization they’re part of. And it hasn’t yet been found. It sounds like Pakistan or something, not a very professional and patriotic organization with an effective chain of command.

    Maybe, although this network could plausibly have involved no more than 5-10 persons, out of an organization of tens of thousands. And those involved would consider themselves to be acting out of patriotism. But “incompetent” doesn’t seem like necessarily the right word to describe the GRU in this scenario: An organization can be both insubordinate and highly competent.

    Also, imagine that everything about the Skripal incident was the same, except that it had happened under Yeltsin. The reaction of the UK and USA would have been completely different: Instead of insisting that the attack must have had Yeltsin’s approval, and that harsh sanctions needed to be placed on Russia in response, it would have immediately have been assumed to be a rogue operation, and cited as evidence for why we needed to support Yeltsin even more.

    Similarly, if somehow it were proven that Putin did not approve the Skripal attack and that it was carried out by a faction which considered Putin too soft on the West, this would be a disaster for the West’s official Narrative, since it would put Putin in the position of relative good guy, demonstrate that the alternatives to him could be much worse, and undermine the rationale for sanctions. That’s why the UK and USA insist that “Putin did it,” even though that makes no sense and is only slightly less absurd then the idea that Assad, on the verge of victory, decided to risk massive damage to his forces and even his own survival, by pointlessly gassing a few dozen random civilians.

    • Replies: @Mitleser
  21. Mitleser says:
    @Jon0815

    Also, imagine that everything about the Skripal incident was the same, except that it had happened under Yeltsin. The reaction of the UK and USA would have been completely different: Instead of insisting that the attack must have had Yeltsin’s approval, and that harsh sanctions needed to be placed on Russia in response, it would have immediately have been assumed to be a rogue operation, and cited as evidence for why we needed to support Yeltsin even more.

    Being their guy makes all the difference.

    On the morning of October 4, Muscovites awakened to the awful sight of the burning Parliament building—the White House they had defended against the putsch in August 1991, where Yeltsin had stood on a tank and led the democratic forces. On October 5, the day after the bloodshed, Clinton called Yeltsin and congratulated him for his handling of the situation; he did not ask about the loss of life. Even stronger support was expressed by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, while visiting in mid-October, who practically lauded Yeltsin for his actions during the crisis. Documents show that the Clinton administration saw no alternatives to Yeltsin and was prepared to support him no matter what.

    This situation grew out of the extreme personification of U.S.-Russia policy but also from the black-and-white picture the Yeltsin camp presented of the political situation in Russia, painting his opponents as “fascists” and unreformed communists. In fact, it was the same Supreme Soviet that was elected in the lauded free elections of 1990, that elected Yeltsin its chairman, and that granted him emergency powers to implement the radical economic reform in October 1991. As the year 1993 progressed and the political confrontation in Russia deepened, the U.S. administration dealt exclusively with the Yeltsin camp and came to regard the opposition as their Russian interlocutors presented them. But most importantly, the stakes were very high: Yeltsin was a good partner who was willing to play on U.S. terms, and any alternative—even democratically elected—was deemed unlikely to be as cooperative or reliable. The Clinton administration was therefore highly invested in Yeltsin and, as Ambassador Pickering says he told Strobe Talbott, “you’ve got no other choice” than to support Yeltsin and hope that the December elections would be free and fair.

    https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/russia-programs/2018-10-04/yeltsin-shelled-russian-parliament-25-years-ago-us-praised-superb-handling#.W7aR1–52pM.twitter

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