The Spies Who Re­mained in the Cold

Newsweek International - - CONTENT - BY NAVEED JA­MALI @Naveeda­ja­mali


my fa­ther’s of­fice in New York City. He claimed to be a mil­i­tary of­fi­cer as­signed to the Soviet mis­sion to the United States and said he wanted to do busi­ness. My dad, a Pak­istani im­mi­grant, had started a small de­fense com­pany that supplied the U.S. gov­ern­ment with books and re­search ma­te­rial. So while a Soviet stand­ing in his of­fice was ab­nor­mal, what he asked for—in­for­ma­tion on nu­clear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion—was not.

About 20 min­utes af­ter the man left, two FBI agents walked in and told my fa­ther the man’s true iden­tity. Then they asked for his help: My dad was to con­tinue do­ing busi­ness with him and share what in­for­ma­tion he learned with the bureau. It was the be­gin­ning of a decades-long re­la­tion­ship be­tween my fam­ily and the FBI that lasted un­til 2009.

To­ward the end of that pe­riod, I be­came part of the fam­ily busi­ness. For more than three years, I worked as a dou­ble agent for the bureau, in­fil­trat­ing Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence. So I’ve watched the Trump-rus­sia probe play out with con­sid­er­able in­ter­est. Dur­ing that time, I’ve been qui­etly ask­ing cur­rent and for­mer coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als, “Who is mak­ing sure Rus­sia doesn’t un­der­mine our democ­racy?” The an­swer has al­ways been the same: “I don’t know, but I hope some­body is.” Yet since Don­ald Trump still re­fuses to ad­mit that Moscow in­ter­fered in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, I’m not sure any­body—in his ad­min­is­tra­tion or the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity—is keep­ing proper tabs on our Cold War ad­ver­sary.

This threat from Moscow is not an idle one. It ap­pears to have re­sulted in a suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tion against the United States, one that likely be­gan long be­fore Trump took of­fice.

The Rus­sians seem to have pen­e­trated the pres­i­dent’s in­ner cir­cle, used so­cial me­dia to spread fake news and may have even tar­geted the Amer­i­can vot­ing sys­tem. In the af­ter­math of this ma­li­cious cam­paign, the U.S. has done too lit­tle to harden its de­fenses against such an op­er­a­tion. There have been no de­mands to in­crease the bud­get of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity to counter Rus­sia and other in­tel threats to the na­tion. In­stead, many seem to think we can de­feat Moscow sim­ply by throw­ing Trump out of of­fice. That’s a dan­ger­ous idea.

My fa­ther saw first­hand the in­tel­li­gence threat Moscow poses to the U.S. He also saw how the demise of the Soviet Union had lit­tle im­pact on the Rus­sian spy game. Af­ter the col­lapse of the USSR, in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers from the Rus­sian mis­sion to the United Na­tions very quickly be­gan show­ing up at the fam­ily of­fice, look­ing for the same in­for­ma­tion that first spy had sought. To them, the U.S. was still the en­emy.

But U.S. in­tel­li­gence viewed Moscow a bit dif­fer­ently. When I be­gan work­ing for the FBI in 2005, my han­dlers and I were com­pletely fo­cused on Rus­sian spies. But we were the

ex­cep­tions; the rest of Amer­ica was fo­cused on ter­ror­ism and Al-qaeda. The agents I worked with were pa­tri­ots and pro­fes­sion­als, but they had lit­tle sup­port and few re­sources. I would of­ten joke with them about their hand-me-down cars. The agents were fight­ing a bat­tle the Amer­i­can peo­ple thought was over. We had just been at­tacked by a deadly new en­emy, and that fight was suck­ing up most of the money and re­sources avail­able.

Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence wasn’t a top pri­or­ity. Dur­ing my op­er­a­tion, a mil­i­tary at­taché from a for­eign coun­try in­vited me to meet with him. As I sat in his Man­hat­tan con­sulate, drink­ing tea, the at­taché told me he was look­ing for “some­body in D.C. to put me in con­tact with,” a pos­i­tive and in­trigu­ing sign. I re­ported the de­tails to the FBI and then waited. Weeks rolled by. Fi­nally, one of the agents de­ject­edly told me that “the agent re­spon­si­ble for that coun­try won’t re­turn my calls.” I never spoke to the at­taché again. I never learned who in D.C. I was sup­posed to con­tact. It was a missed op­por­tu­nity.

Moscow rarely misses op­por­tu­ni­ties. The Rus­sians were dis­trust­ful of every­one and ev­ery­thing. The tac­tics they em­ployed to avoid FBI surveil­lance were sim­ple but highly ef­fec­tive. They would con­clude each of our meet­ings by hand­ing over a menu or a busi­ness card of an­other restau­rant. Then, a week or so later, I would re­ceive a short call invit­ing me to lunch. At the end of the meet­ing, the process would re­peat. There was never any dis­cus­sion by phone or email. All com­mu­ni­ca­tion oc­curred in per­son. This meant un­less the FBI knew where I was meet­ing my “han­dlers,” they would have strug­gled to know how to mon­i­tor us. The Rus­sians had honed their craft, while the FBI agents were strug­gling to keep up.

As my days work­ing against the Rus­sians con­cluded, I wor­ried more and more about this mis­match. In a post–cold War world, it’s easy to un­der­stand how jus­ti­fy­ing the cost of coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence may have be­come po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult. But no­body told that to the Rus­sians.

With FBI coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence ef­forts lan­guish­ing, they found the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to at­tack the U.S. In the af­ter­math of that as­sault in 2016, the U.S. has still not ac­knowl­edged a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence fail­ure, nor has it ad­e­quately sought to fix it. As long as the pres­i­dent con­tin­ues to call Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence a “hoax,” the weak­nesses Moscow ex­ploited to suc­cess­fully un­der­mine Amer­i­can democ­racy will never be strength­ened.

If Rus­sia’s elec­toral in­ter­fer­ence has taught me any­thing, it is that the U.S. must hold FBI coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence to the standard it was held to in 1989 when agents walked into my fa­ther’s of­fice: to be able to de­tect and counter a Rus­sian re­cruit­ment ef­fort in roughly 20 min­utes. NAVEED JA­MALI is the au­thor of How

to Catch a Rus­sian Spy, a mem­oir about work­ing un­der­cover as a dou­ble agent for the FBI. He con­tin­ues to serve as an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in the U.S. Navy Re­serve and is a se­nior fel­low in the Pro­gram on Na­tional Se­cu­rity at the For­eign Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute.

Many seem to think we can de­feat Moscow sim­ply by throw­ing Trump out of of­fice. That’s a dan­ger­ous idea.

RED DON Trump with for­mer Rus­sian am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak. If the pres­i­dent con­tin­ues to call Moscow’s in­ter­fer­ence a “hoax,” Amer­ica will con­tinue to lose the new Cold War.

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