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SVR Operations

The SVR's website states that "If the period of confrontation between East and West, intelligence collection was carried out in almost all countries of the world, which were attended by US intelligence agencies and other NATO countries, it is now the SVR operates only in those regions where Russia has real, not imaginary interests. SVR Russia believes that it has no major or minor opponents. In addition, currently in the exploration transition from confrontation with the secret services of different countries to interact and cooperate in the areas where their interests coincide (the fight against international terrorism, drug trafficking, the problem of proliferation of mass destruction weapons, etc.). Of course, this interaction is not comprehensive and does not rule out reconnaissance on the territory of certain countries, based on the national interests of Russia."

Putin’s Russia is playing a key role both openly and behind the scenes in the weakening of democracies and the activation of anti-American sentiments in many parts of Europe. Supporting “illiberal,” quasi- authoritarian governments and supporting both extreme right and extreme left movements in Europe is part of Russia’s strategy in the 21st century.

Speaking at a 21 December 1995 Moscow celebration of the 75th anniversary of the formation of the VChK-KGB-SVR, Primakov declared that NATO expansion would create a "security threat" for Russia. Primakov said that trying to understand the "true motives" of those who advocate NATO enlargement is a key task of the SVR, and added his agency would seek to block the alliance's expansion while trying to establish good relations with former Cold War adversaries. Primakov said Russian policy should seek to prevent the emergence of a "global hegemony" by the United States. Primakov also stressed the importance of combating the threats of ethno-national conflicts and terrorism to Russian territorial integrity and national security.

Important areas of SVR intelligence activity include possible scientific breakthroughs which might radically change the Russian security situation, as well as determining those areas in which the actions of foreign states' special services and organizations might damage Russian interests.

The SVR contacts with various intelligence and counterintelligence services of foreign states is one of the agency's fastest growing areas of activity. The Foreign Intelligence Service maintains working contacts and collaborates with several dozen special services in other countries. This includes work on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and combating terrorism, the drugs trade, organized crime and money laundering, illicit arms trade, and the search for and release of hostages as well as citizens of Russia and CIS countries who are reported missing. Collaboration includes the exchange of intelligence information, assistance in training of personnel and material and technical assistance. The SVR also has reportedly concluded formal cooperation agreements with the intelligence services of several former Soviet republics, including Azerbaijan and Belarus, which cover gathering and sharing intelligence.

An agreement on intelligence cooperation between Russia and China was signed in Beijing at the end of the summer of 1992. It envisaged the restoration of the cooperation in the area of intelligence which had been cut off in 1959. This secret treaty covered the activities of Russian Military Strategic Intelligence (GRU) and the Foreign Intelligence Service, which are cooperating with the Chinese People's Liberation Army's Military Intelligence Directorate.

Although the SVR [along with other agencies] is involved in industrial espionage, there are signes that the data being collected by Russian intelligence agencies are not being used effectively. In a 7 February 1996 Security Council meeting [which included FSB Director Mikhail Barsukov and SVR Director Vyacheslav Trubnikov] President Yeltsin ordered top state officials to close the technology gap with the West by more efficiently using industrial intelligence. Yeltsin complained that less than 25 percent of the information collected by Russian spies abroad was used in Russia, even though he claimed information was derived directly from foreign blueprints and manuals.

SVR economic intelligence activities includes the identification of both threats to Russian interests [attempts to pressure Russia in world markets for arms or space technology) as well as emerging opportunities such as advantageous market trends for particular types of commodities and raw materials. Priority is attached to ensuring balanced development of relations with foreign countries in such spheres as currency and finance, export and import transactions for strategic raw materials, and in the high technology sphere. The SVR is frequently commissioned to ascertain the business reputation and real potential of foreign firms and individual dealers who intend to establish business relations with Russian state organizations. It also seeks to identify foreign firms attempting to persuade certain Russian partners to conclude illegal export deals, and to track of Russian capital going abroad.

In addition to the economic, scientific, and technical focus of collections efforts noted above, human intelligence (HUMINT) collection against American intelligence agencies also has been ongoing, as exemplified by the 1996 arrests of a Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agent (Earl Edwin Pitts) and CIA operations officer (Harold James Nicholson). The end of 1996 was also marked by the the case of former SVR Colonel Vladimir Galkin, provoking a noisy scandal that added tension to Russian-American relations and relations between the SVR and the CIA.

A German insider was convicted of economic espionage in 2008 for passing helicopter technology to the Russian SVR in exchange for $10,000. The insider communicated with his Russian handler through anonymous e-mail addresses.

Money laundering is a process of disguising the source of money. It is most commonly used to allow money from an illegal sources such as drug trafficking to be used as legitimate income. Layering involves separating the illegally obtained money from its criminal source by layering it through a series of financial transactions, which makes it difficult to trace the money back to its original source. In recent years, more countries have implemented laws to combat money laundering. Financial service regulators and enforcement agencies around the world are working to improve communications and share information in anti-money laundering efforts.

In contrast to real currency, "virtual" currency is a medium of exchange that operates like a currency in some environments, but does not have all the attributes of real currency. In particular, virtual currency does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction. But "convertible" virtual currency either has an equivalent value in real currency, or acts as a substitute for real currency. There were initially no legal acts that specifically regulate the use of bitcoins in the Russian Federation. Russian law bans the issue of any currency not approved by the Central Bank of Russia.

Bitcoin is an innovative payment network perceived by some as the digital money of the future. Bitcoin was first introduced in 2008, by an unidentified person, or group of people, under the name "Satoshi Nakamoto." Its unique ‘blockchain' technology is aimed at avoiding central authority and allowing users to transfer the currency quickly and anonymously. Launched in 2009, the bitcoin cryptocurrency reached its peak value in late 2013, trading at over $1,000 per bitcoin. Since 2014, its value has fluctuated between $200 and $500.

During the Cold War, the practice of intelligence differed considerably between East and West. Western intelligence services were most commonly tasked with gathering information, but their Soviet counterparts placed much greater emphasis on deception operations to influence opinions or actions of individuals and governments. These “active measures” (aktivinyye meropriatia, as the Soviets called them) included manipulation and media control, written and oral disinformation, use of foreign communist parties and front organizations, clandestine radio broadcasting, manipulation of the economy, kidnappings, paramilitary operations, and support of guerrilla groups and terrorist organizations. Under Stalin, active measures also included political assassinations, a practice that was revived under Putin. The basic goal of Soviet active measures was to weaken the USSR’s opponents — first and foremost the “main enemy” (glavny protivnik), the United States — and to create a favorable environment for advancing Moscow’s views and international objectives worldwide.

Russia continued the energetic persuit of active measures. Bitcoin provided a means to anonymously smurf large sums of money around the world to enable Moscow to win friends and influence people.

The arrests of 10 Russian spies in 2010 provided a reminder that espionage on US soil did not disappear when the Cold War ended. The highly publicized case also offered a rare glimpse into the sensitive world of counterintelligence and the FBI’s efforts to safeguard the nation from those who would steal our vital secrets. The FBI case against the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) operatives — dubbed Operation Ghost Stories — went on for more than a decade.

The Russian government spent significant funds and many years training and deploying these operatives,” said one counterintelligence agents who worked on the case. “No government does that without expecting a return on its investment.” FBI agents and analysts watched the deep-cover operatives as they established themselves in the U.S. (some by using stolen identities) and went about leading seemingly normal lives—getting married, buying homes, raising children, and assimilating into American society.

The deep-cover Russian spies may not have achieved their objective, but they were not idle. They collected information and transmitted it back to Russia, and they were actively engaged in what is known in the spy business as “spotting and assessing.” They identified colleagues, friends, and others who might be vulnerable targets, and it is possible they were seeking to co-opt people they encountered in the academic environment who might one day hold positions of power and influence.

Evgeny Buryakov, aka Zhenya, 41, was sentenced to 30 months in prison 25 May 2016 for conspiring to act in the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation without providing prior notice to the Attorney General. Federal law prohibits individuals from acting as agents of foreign governments within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General.

Buryakov, in the guise of being a legitimate banker, gathered intelligence as an agent of the Russian Federation in New York. He traded coded messages with one of his Russian spy co-defendants, who sent the clandestinely collected information back to Moscow. Beginning in at least 2012, Buryakov worked in the United States as an agent of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, known as the SVR. Buryakov operated under non-official cover, meaning he entered and remained in the United States as a private citizen, posing as an employee in the New York office of a Russian bank, Vnesheconombank (VEB). SVR agents operating under such non-official cover (NOCs) are typically subject to less scrutiny by the host government and, in many cases, are never identified as intelligence agents by the host government. As a result, an NOC is an extremely valuable intelligence asset for the SVR.

The rightist and Euroskeptic political parties gained more support in the face of Eurozone and migrant crises, and the "Kremlin's hand" was blamed for this development. In January 2016 the British media published a dossier claiming that Russian secret services fund political parties and charity organizations throughout Europe in order to undermine "political cohesion." Moscow's influence was also mentioned during the discussion regarding the Brexit referendum. UK Prime Minister David Cameron was the first to announce that if Brexit were to occur, Russian President Vladimir Putin 'might be happy', and the European media agencies followed suit.

American intelligence was set to conduct a "major investigation" into the Kremlin's 'infiltration' of European political parties, The Telegraph reported 17 January 2016 According to the newspaper, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had been instructed by Congress to conduct a major review of Russia's alleged secret funding of European political parties over the past decade.

Washington, The Telegraph says, had become concerned over's Moscow's use of clandestine influence to undermine NATO, block US missile defense and undo the Western sanctions imposed on Russia in the aftermath of the crisis in Ukraine. An unnamed senior British government source told the newspaper that "it is really a new Cold War out there," referring to Russian "meddling" which, according to The Telegraph, is "taking on a breadth, range and depth far greater than previously thought."

"Right across the EU we are seeing alarming evidence of Russian efforts to unpick the fabric of European unity on a whole range of vital strategic issues," the source said. Meanwhile, the newspaper suggested that it had been given privy to a mysterious dossier on "Russian influence activity," with Kremlin influence operations said to stretch from France to the Netherlands, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Ultimately, the US intelligence review was set to examine the extent to which Russian security services have funded European political parties, charities, and NGOs with the express aim of "undermining political cohesion." The latter was classified to include everything from protests against US missile defense to attempts to find alternatives to Russian energy.

With officials declining to tell the newspaper which parties specifically would be affected by the probe, The Telegraph decided to attempt a little "influence activity" of its own, suggesting to its readers that the groups most likely to find themselves on the list are far right parties including Hungary's Jobbik, Greece's Golden Dawn, Italy's Northern League, and France's Front National. "Other cases of possible Moscow-based destabilization being monitored by diplomats includes extensive links in Austria, including a visit by Austrian MPS to Crimea to endorse its annexation," The Telegraph suggested.

Parties on the left of the political spectrum, such as Germany's Die Linke, Poland's Left Alliance or Greece's SYRIZA, like their right wing counterparts, have made statements suggesting that their countries should improve or at least normalize relations with Moscow, will also be investigated.

Russian support for European politicians and groups who want their countries to break away from the EU, or Brussels-centralized policies, and its Western allies had been evident. Russian state bank loans have gone to the French far-right party of Marine Le Pen, and the Kremlin has courted Euro-skeptics across the political spectrum.

“Russia is openly supporting political forces on the radical left and on the radical right that are openly against the idea of the European Union and calling for the abolition of the European Union,” Peter Kreko, director of the Political Capital Institute research institution in Budapest, said in June 2016. With a Brexit, the EU would lose one of its strongest opponents of Russian influence in Europe, Kreko said. “So it's partially about disintegrating the European Union as a whole and destabilizing it,” he said. “On the other hand, this is also about Great Britain, which is one of the fiercest critics of Vladimir Putin's Russia.”

Political analysts said the Kremlin hoped a British exit would weaken European resolve against a resurgent Russia and lead to the lifting of Western sanctions. Although still marginal, European political voices had grown in France, Germany, Greece and other nations calling for the sanctions to be removed.

In April 2016, in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, many Western media agencies focused their attention on Russia's President Vladimir Putin, writing articles about a "$2 billion offshore copmany" that can allegedly be traced to the Russian leader. It should be noted that Putin's name is not mentioned even once in the Panama Papers. However, US economist Clifford G. Gaddy believes that it may mean that the Panama Papers "leak" was in fact orchestrated by Russia. Russian intelligence services stepped up operations in Poland in the run-up to a NATO summit to be hosted by Warsaw, the Do Rzeczy weekly reporte in June 2016. The magazine quoted a source in the Polish secret services as saying that intelligence officers based in Russia’s diplomatic centers in Poland were working full steam. What is of greater concern, the source added, was the activity of agents not under official cover. Such agents are more difficult to catch, Do Rzeczy said in its article, penned by Cezary Gmyz.

The magazine highlighted the case of Mateusz P (full name withheld under Polish privacy laws), the leader of the Zmiana party, who was detained by Poland’s Internal Security Agency (ABW) last month. Do Rzeczy said he had been paid money by Russian NGOs. The suspect reportedly said he had no idea the NGO officials were linked to the Russian secret services. But Poland’s Internal Security Agency is convinced that the NGOs in question were fully controlled by the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).

In June 2016 The Guardian declared that the disturbances involving Russian football fans were instigated by the Kremlin and were an element of "hybrid warfare" waged against the West. The newpaper also claimed that some of the fans involved also had connections to Russian security agencies. The article's authors chose not to elaborate exactly why Russia decided to target the British fans known for their love of brawling, or to describe the exact nature of those alleged connections between the football fans and Russian security agencies More than 35 people were injured in Marseille 11 June 2016 after British and Russian soccer fans brawled in and around the Stade Velodrome. Russia scored a late goal in the game to earn a 1-1 draw with England. After the European Cup tournament game ended in a tie, Russian supporters charged the English side, forcing fans to flee and climb fences in a desperate bid to escape. Moments after the final whistle in the Stade Velodrome, masked Russian supporters charged at England fans, punching and kicking them. Some England fans had to scramble over barriers to escape. One English fan suffered a heart attack. The Russian team awaited possible sanctions following the actions of its fans. UEFA said it opened disciplinary proceedings against the Russian Football Federation. Four years earlier in Poland, after Russian fans engaged in similar violence at Euro 2012, the team was given a suspended six-point penalty.

The chief prosecutor in the French city of Marseille said June 13, 2016 that Russians involved in clashes with British fans at a Euro 2016 soccer championship match were "extremely well-trained" and prepared for violence. Brice Robin said that "there were 150 Russian supporters who in reality were hooligans" who were ready for "ultrafast, ultraviolent action." Highly athletic and physically toned, they were a far cry from the red-faced, beer-bellied English hooligans once running the show abroad in the 1970s and 1980s.

A contingent of about 150 Russians travelled to Marseille with the specific goal of fighting England fans. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko initially denied that there had been any crowd disturbance. Russian officials played down the violence over the weekend in Marseille – and in some cases even praised the fans involved. One top football official said the hooligans had defended the country’s honor and should be forgiven, while a top law enforcement official suggested Europe was “too gay” to know what real men look like.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2016 19:28:09 ZULU