A Russian mole has apparently been caught. Earlier this week, Robert P. Hanssen became the third FBI agent to be charged with espionage. His neighbors, quite predictably, reacted with disbelief. After all, Hanssen was a church-going family man. How could he possibly have worked for the Kremlin?
In the wake of Hanssen’s arrest, President Bush gave a speech asserting that traitors will not escape detection and punishment. It was a fine statement, and comforting to hear; but careful analysis will show that the arrest of Hanssen is a mere blip for Russia’s intelligence services. In
fact, there is reason to suspect that the Russians purposely gave Hanssen away, perhaps because some larger confidence game was in the offing (and Hanssen had already served his purpose).
If anyone cares to go back and read the memoirs of leading Western spies, like Germany’s Reinhard Gehlen or Britain’s Peter Wright, the story is always the same. The West is constantly afflicted with stunning intelligence defeats, along with a chronic inability to sustain penetrations in Russia. The West has never had intelligence victories comparable to those delivered by Russia’s “Cambridge moles,” involving such intelligence luminaries as Harold “Kim” Philby, Sir Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess. One cannot find, in the history of the Cold War, a Western spy in a comparable position as that of Alger Hiss. Not long ago it was revealed that Harry Hopkins, a chief advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt, was a Soviet spy whose codename was “Agent 19.”
According to our best Cold War spymasters, the West has always been helpless against the superior strategy and tactics of the Russian intelligence services. The story is no different today. We are plagued by moles from within and the lax attitudes of a carefree consumer society
without. The culture in this country is hostile to security concerns, as recent scandals in our nuclear labs have shown, and our countrymen are extremely hostile to any suggestion that we have been seriously penetrated by foreign or communist agents. Anyone who suggests such a thing is quickly labeled and debunked as a “McCarthyist.”
In 1989 Edward Jay Epstein wrote about the collapse of U.S. counterintelligence in a book entitled “Deception: The Invisible War Between the KGB and CIA.” After interviewing former U.S. counterintelligence officials like James Angleton, Epstein wrote, “I wanted to know why U.S.
intelligence was vulnerable to penetrations.” What Epstein found was horrifying. With one successful penetration at a high level, the Russians could easily widen the breach by compromising or neutralizing a host of bureaucratically interconnected officials. According to Epstein, the Russian technique for doing this appeared to be foolproof.
According to Epstein, a single mole can paralyze an entire intelligence organization. This paralysis, in turn, paves the way for further penetrations. Trust is the glue that holds people together. Once trust is broken, officials are tempted to abandon the rules and operate outside the chain of command. This, in turn, opens the way for enemy compromise operations aimed at an organization that is basically without direction and defenseless.
Epstein explains in his chapter, entitled “The War of the Moles,” how a perfectly loyal CIA or FBI officer could be neutered by well-placed moles in the chain of command. Using the CIA or FBI’s own rules and regulations regarding operational transparency, the KGB developed methods for placing U.S. intelligence officers in a horrible dilemma; namely, by confronting them with the choice of breaking the rules and deceiving the chain of command itself, or following the rules and getting friendly agents killed. In an FBI where Robert Hanssen drifted near the top of the counterintelligence food chain, no agency source was safe, no operation secure. The smarter agents would realize, at some point, that the fix was in, that the game was rigged from the top. Therefore, in the name of protecting sources from certain death, careers would be compromised by the routine violation of rules. And such careers would, in turn, be neutralized.
“How prevalent are penetrations?” asked Epstein.
Former CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton attempted to answer the question, saying that U.S. intelligence agencies suffer from chronic, poor discipline. Irregular actions are commonplace in the FBI and CIA, and the KGB has been able to gather plenty of compromising material on intelligence officers that could force the dismissal of almost anyone they cared to be rid of.
Ironically, this may have been the fate of Angleton himself.
Given America’s apparent intelligence failures, one might ask whether the United States has successfully recruited moles of its own, inside Russia. As a matter of fact, since the Second World War the United States recruited over a hundred agents inside the former Soviet Union. However, the lifespan of these agents has typically been shorter than that of a fly. Because we
are penetrated ourselves, any penetration of Russia is immediately detected and passed along to Moscow by U.S. traitors like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. The result in Russia is simple; there are grisly interrogations followed by routine executions.
As for moles in Russia who somehow manage to survive, one is forced to dismiss their trustworthiness given the apparent omnipresence of individuals like Ames and Hanssen. Sadly, an American agent planted deep within Russia cannot last under these circumstances, since those responsible for his survival are themselves Russian agents. The fact that Ames remained in place within the CIA for nearly a decade, and Hanssen survived for over 15 years, dramatizes the longevity of Russia’s agents in contrast with the short lifespan of our own.
If you think that Robert Hanssen is an isolated case, then perhaps you are among those who thought Aldrich Ames was an isolated case. Those who analyze the Hanssen affair with attention to detail, however, might easily conclude that he represents the tip of a much larger iceberg. This is especially obvious insofar as Hanssen was exposed by an agent from within Russia itself, who seems to have turned over Hanssen’s entire KGB file.
You see, because this fact has appeared in U.S. newspapers it is almost certain that the Russians purposely betrayed Hanssen for strategic reasons. Intelligence agencies never permit the advertisement of secret sources to appear in major newspapers. But this is exactly what has happened in this case. And this would only happen if a) our agent in Russia is already dead, or b) the Russian government purposely gave Hanssen up. Either way, the unmasking of Hanssen is a Pyrrhic victory at best.
The late James Angleton said something that we should always keep in mind. He said: “When an intelligence service believes it is invulnerable to enemy deception, it is most vulnerable.”
American intelligence has believed, for many years, that we cannot be fooled by the Russians. Anyone who claims that a massive deception has been under way for the last decade is dismissed as a crank. Recently, a leading Soviet military intelligence defector was asked by the editor of Soviet Analyst, whether the collapse of the Soviet Union itself was a deception.
The defector, who writes under the name of Viktor Suvorov, replied that the collapse of the Soviet bloc was obviously fraudulent. The editor of Soviet Analyst then asked Suvorov if British intelligence understood “this objective reality?”
“No,” was Suvorov’s answer.
And why not?
“Because they are stupid,” he replied.