Burn Notice

I’m laughing my fuzzy fluffy rump off this morning, not at the cute television series, but rather the release by the Ukrainians of a list of more than 600 people they claim are Russian spies operating in Europe. Not just names, but a variety of information about them including financial in some cases.

I’m not even about to begin to speculate how accurate the list may be, but if even only a fraction of the people are as claimed, this is a huge blow to Russian intelligence operations in Europe. If it is mostly or completely accurate, it is a disaster of biblical proportions to FSB operations in Europe.

There are many different types of spies. You have those operating under diplomatic cover, who to be honest are quite often controllers and recruiters rather than out doing James Bond type stuff. It can happen, particularly on first assignments overseas, but they are supposed to be there in the open as it were. One reason they don’t do a lot of flashy stuff (if smart) is that part of the game was trying to make the enemy play “guess the spy” and make them split resources covering everyone. One exception was with military attaches, as pretty much everyone knew that they were spies even if they tried not to act like it. After all, you wanted them invited as observers, etc. so they could get information.

Then you have those who are posing as business owners, salespeople, journalists, and a host of other professions. All with very legitimate needs to travel, meet people, etc. All who had contacts and avoided the automatic assumption of being a spy associated with being a diplomat/politician.

Then you had the full covert agents, sometimes sleepers, that were infiltrated into countries with new IDs and covers, who took pains to never be associated with any government, etc. The KGB used to be very good at planting sleepers around the world, particularly Europe and the U.S.

Finally, you have those recruited in a target country. They had to be monitored, controlled, and provided means of dropping off information and messages. A good bit of that was controlled by those with diplomatic immunity, but could also find covert agents used in the chain of communications. Particularly where business or social led to frequent contact anyway. Potentially dangerous, but sometimes far less dangerous than dead drops.

The Ukrainian list blows the first two groups, if not the first three groups, out of the water. From the quick look I took, it seems more like groups two and three, but… Even if none from three are on this list, the handlers just got blown. They are cut off, potentially exposed, and on their own.

Even if no name on the list were accurate, the intense scrutiny this is going to place on these people and anyone linked even remotely to them, is going to severely hamper FSB operations in Europe, and likely elsewhere. Again, if it is accurate to any great degree, this is an unmitigated disaster that could hamper or cripple operations for years.

Bravo. Well played.

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