The panel also noted that it is now more difficult to recruit intelligence sources inside Russia than it was during the Soviet era. During the Soviet era, the CIA relied upon “volunteers” who would approach American intelligence officers, Bearden said, but the pool of Russians willing to betray their government largely has dried up. It is not entirely clear why this is the case, but Bearden suggested that given previous Soviet and Russian penetration of American intelligence services, it is possible that the fear of compromise has driven away many potential sources.
Clement suggested that Russian perceptions of the United States have deteriorated so badly that even educated Russian liberals take a dim view of Washington—making the recruitment of spies extremely difficult. Moreover, many Russians who might have betrayed their government in previous eras no longer feel compelled to risk imprisonment or death by working for the CIA. Instead, those dissidents can simply leave Russia for the West—which was not an option during the Soviet era.
Beebe, however, suggested that in the information age—where biometrics and social media are prevalent—the age of recruiting traditional human intelligence sources is over. “Biometric data means essentially that you can’t put someone under cover here in Washington and then have them travel around the world, pose under diplomatic cover and recruit people,” Beebe said. “Doesn’t work. Who they are, their identity is instantly known to governments that want to know who they are.”
1. The Russian Federation is 85% Russian, not 50% like the USSR. The guy who revealed the Soviet biological weapons program to the US was called Kanatzhan Alibekov.
2. Internal Russophobia is on the decline. This can even be seen amongst the liberals, where the most odious of that lot have been utterly marginalized, and are demographically dying off (e.g. Novodvorskaya) and/or have moved abroad (e.g. Kasparov).
When the Soviet system existed, there were plenty of people with a strong ideological opposition to the regime, such as Vasily Mitrokhin, who secreted away huge chunks of the KGB archives and later transferred them to the UK. When it collapsed, and in the absence of any other positive (nationalist) values – indeed, bearing in mind their suppression under the old regime – it was replaced by pure materialism, so you had a vast upsurge in treason during the late 1980s and 1990s.
3. This materialism factor was accentuated by the sheer material poverty Russia fell into during the 1990s. Selling secrets for a nice suburban house in California makes much more sense when you are an impoverished civil servant who lives in a khrushchevka and hasn’t been paid for months than when you are getting a PPP-adjusted salary of $2,000, live in a nice modern apartment, and possess a car and can travel to Turkey or Crimea a couple of times a year.
4. Conversely, whereas anti-Soviet dissidents could plausibly imagine that they were betraying an ideology, not their own people, this has become more and more implausible as the gradient of Western ethno-Russophobia veers ever upwards.
5. Another factor could be declining competence amongst Western spooks focusing on Russia. The intelligence services have never attracted the very best – far from the James Bond stereotype of them being suave, well-informed mystery men, in reality they tend to be mediocre, and idiotic conspiracy theories run rife amongst among them – and this should be even more true today, when the best talent is sucked up by Big Finance and Big Tech to an extent unparalleled during the Cold War. Russia Studies have also been neglected and underfinanced since the end of the Cold War until recently, with bigger and bigger jokers taking the limelight with every passing year (from Edward Lucas to Molly McNew). Combine the two trends, and this too would explain a collapse in Russia recruitment.