Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, a former KGB agent who became one of the KGB’s harshest critics. He is the author of seven books about the KGB and Japan. His new book is KGB/FSB’s New Trojan Horse: Americans of Russian Descent.
FP: Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about the Russian spy ring, consisting of ten Americans, that has recently been busted by the FBI. This very much confirms your warnings to Frontpage readers in our interview a year ago about Putin’s spies in America.
The arrests confirm that Russia is indeed engaged in efforts to place agents in American society. These particular spies, it appears, were assigned to nurture ties in U.S. policymaking circles, to try to influence policy and to deliver intelligence back to Moscow on various issues (i.e. economic, U.S. government players, diplomatic and military affairs, etc.).
Mr. Preobrazhenskiy, what comes to you mind as you observe this development?
Preobrazhenskiy: Thanks Jamie.
I have to say that this case is very unusual. The informational task of the spies was very simple: to get a type of political information that is actually not so secret. Moscow did not need to send so many illegal spies here for it. The SVR station at any Russian embassy could easily do it too. Moscow has paid a lot of money to these people and it got nothing. Maybe it was just a way to milk Moscow as SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence) is very rich nowadays, I don’t know.
But now, let’s make no mistake about it: the events of 9/11 opened up a gigantic highway for Russian intelligence activities in the USA. Both countries had proclaimed themselves as allies in fighting so-called “international terrorism,” though in fact this joint fight has never taken place. The very “international terrorism” that Russia pretended (and is pretending) to fight was invented in Russia by the KGB during the Soviet period.
Despite this harsh reality, the USA gave the SVR a green light in the United States.
The absurdity of the whole situation is that Russian intelligence did not even conceal itself. Its officers, pathetically pretending they were journalists, simply openly approached people during press-conferences and asked direct questions that only intelligence gatherers would be interested in. I was doing exactly the same in the 1980s in Tokyo, but we, Soviet Intelligence officers, were shyer. We were afraid to provoke spy scandals.
The U.S. has even tolerated the mammoth SVR operation of merging the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia with the Moscow Patriarchate. Sober-minded Americans, of course, understood that Russia did this to introduce its own influence and spy activities into America. There was also one more reason: money laundering.
The Church is a giant off-shore zone. Moscow can launder millions of dollars into this country using the Church. But formally, America has praised the seizure.
And now, low and behold, the U.S. has arrested some Russian spies for doing exactly the same thing as has been happening with the Church. Where is the logic?
FP: So what is happening then in your view in terms of Russian spying here?
Preobrazhenskiy: What’s happening in this whole sad charade is that the Russians know that Americans are more or less aware of their spy activities here, but that they (the Americans) are refraining from doing anything about it because of political correctness.
But now the FBI has suddenly acted. The Russians, therefore, are very offended. In their view, they are thinking: so you have allowed a “unification of churches” and allowed our penetration of your society, our money laundry and all kinds of our other espionage, and now today you are prohibiting us from it? This is unfair!
The Russians might especially be angry because by the arrests the Americans have injured Russia’s most important interests: financial ones. Taking some information from the White House is not as important in comparison.
Russia will not swallow this of course. The West has swallowed the strange and tragic catastrophe of the Polish President’s plane crash in Russia. Russia, however, is much more sophisticated in the game of revenge.
In 2005, a group of Russian teenagers, the sons of the Russian diplomats, were severely beaten in Warsaw. I have a feeling they were children of intelligence officers. Moscow took this accident very seriously, and the beatings of Polish diplomats began in Moscow. While in the Soviet period this accident would surely have been tolerated not to spoil relations with Poland or any other country, that is not the case today. In Russia today, the morale of the criminal world is very much respected. Its main principle is not to forgive anything.
That is why their revenge will be fierce.
FP: Narrow in a bit for us on what the Russians were up to in terms of these particular arrests.
Preobrazhenskiy: Well Jamie, as I mentioned earlier, it all looks very strange. There is a clear contradiction between the loudness of scandal and the shyness of the tasks of the alleged Russian spies. Their goals are described as following: “To search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US.” Intercepted messages showed they were asked to learn about a broad swath of topics including nuclear weapons, U.S. arms control positions, Iran, White House rumors, CIA leadership turnover, the last presidential election, the Congress and political parties.”
But this information is not so secret. It has been covered by the media to a great extent. It was not necessary at all to send illegal spies to America to obtain it. This information has been ordered to the “PR” (political intelligence) line of the SVR. The “PR” work is considered the easiest in Russian intelligence. The “PR” officers, usually covered as diplomat and journalists, are picking up this information using their secret agents, opened contacts and even newspapers.