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.
Also, the accusation says the following: “The arrested Russian spies are said to have had several work-related personal meetings with a man the court papers describe as a prominent New York-based financier who was active in politics.” If this person was active it means he is not active now. That is why it is so easy to run such a meeting using either Russian journalists or Russian agents who are so numerous in America.
America has been so much penetrated with Russian influence such a lobbyists, organizations working for Russia, mere agents and “useful idiots,” that it was not necessary to use illegal spies for such an easy work
FP: So why?
Preobrazhenskiy: It is hard to say. Maybe money laundering is connected.
If it was done for the SVR, it means that SVR has been turned into a business organization, It looks truthful, being characteristic for today’s Russian system.
The same goal is said to be targeted by the previous successful operation of the Russian intelligence: seizing the majority of parishes of Russian Orthodox Church abroad by the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007.
FP: What do you think of the American media’s handling of the bust?
Preobrazhenskiy: The American media says that it was the largest spy scandal after the end of the “cold war. “ But when was this war finished exactly? Who had sighed capitulation? When was the victory day? Who is the victor?
By emphasizing the end of the Cold War, Americans are disorienting themselves. On the contrary, the Russian leadership today says that the cold war never ended.
During the Cold War, Britain used to dismiss tens of Soviet spies, and Moscow did the same (but in smaller scales) and the friendship still returned. The Soviet Union was managed by very old people who were restricted by Communist ideology and who had an investment in good relations with West. Today’s Russian leaders do not depend on the West. Moreover, the West depends on them. Also they are very vindictive. Soon after his coming to power, President Putin used to say a proverb of the Russian criminal world: “The one who offends us will not survive a day.”
It is also interesting to note that Russian intelligence in the U.S. was acting freely and openly. Now a few people are arrested and all the others are not. How come? And like I said earlier, the Russians know that Americans are aware of the great number of Russian spies here.
FP: There is also something quite pathetic happening with the statements that have come from the White House, about how this incident won’t affect the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations etc. It appears as though the Obama administration would rather not know about the spying and actually wishes that the FBI did not find any Russian spies. Why is the Obama administration so desperate in ignoring the reality and in trying to befriend what is a clear adversary?
Preobrazhenskiy: I am totally unaware if Obama did or did not know anything about this case. Based on logics one can assume he did. Otherwise it means that he has received a “bitter pill,” as Russians say. By now, it seems that this case really might not affect the official “reset” so much. But unofficially, Russians might take some measures which will become a “bitter pill” for America.
FP: What are your fears for America if it doesn’t open its eyes and do something about Putin’s spies in America and about what Putin’s Russian is up to in general?
Preobrazhenskiy: The core of this problem is America itself. The leftist demonology is spreading in America, and it makes America vulnerable to the influence of other leftist countries, of which Russia is only one. That is why American rightists and conservatives should unite and be active.
The Russian penetration here, using both intelligence and opened means like institutes, think tanks, journalists and “useful idiots” is aimed at influencing America from the inside.
But it is difficult for many Americans to hear that somebody is influencing them. “It is impossible to influence America.” they think. Yes, it is impossible to do it using force, but there are some other ways in which it is very possible indeed. And it has been happening for a long time.
In the recent two years, I have spoken about Russian influence at some institutes and clubs in Washington. My lectures were accepted without enthusiasm. It seemed that it was unpleasant for the audience to hear about Russian influence, but now it has revealed itself.
FP: What is it that the American administration just doesn’t get about Russian motives and tactics? What is it that Americans must accept and understand in order to be able to deal with the threat that Russia poses?
Preobrazhenskiy: Americans are still in euphoria about the supposed end of the Cold War. But as I asked earlier, who signed a capitulation? And where were the Nuremberg-style trials of communists for their crimes against humanity?
Make no mistake about it: The Russians know the war is still going on. And they do not share American values. Russia is mostly an Asian country. And the very fact that Americans do not understand, and do not want to understand, this is a result of the great Russian influence here.
FP: Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, thank you for joining us.
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