There’s a healthy debate about Russia’s strategies and tactics in the 21st century operational environment. Some argue Russia’s advancing a new sort of hybrid warfare that attacks a new set of state vulnerabilities. Others argue that Russia’s just up to the same old tricks responding to new opportunities. Former FBI double agent Naveed Jamali—author of How to Catch a Russian Spy—interprets Russia’s approach to warfare from the tactical level of espionage and spying. Here are a few of Jamali’s points that may be worth considering.
Old Russia, New Russia
In “The Kremlin Playbook,” we quickly surveyed Russia’s New Generation Warfare doctrine, the strategies the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues Russia is employing to achieve its bipolar ends: domination through economic manipulation the corrosion of democracy through deepening political division. In contrast, “Russian Meddling” put the Kremlin’s manipulation in context of Russia’s traditional elements of state power. That is, the approach is nothing necessarily new. It’s just a post-modern adaptation of Cold War strategies to today’s vulnerabilities. In Jamali’s experience, there is something new and threatening afoot.
In the spirit of The Kremlin Playbook, Jamali argues that tactics associated with Russian espionage in the 21st century have shifted in important ways. In the last century, Jamali argues, Moscow focused resources on military, intelligence, and security related targets. The objective of spying was western technology and military strategy, which makes sense: it was an arms race: who could build bigger, better, more effective offensive and defensive weapons? Who could defeat the other’s military power? The East or the West?
Today, as New Generation Doctrine advocates would argue, economic manipulation and domination serve to abrade defenses and increase state vulnerabilities. “’During the Cold War,’” Jamali argues, ‘”they were more interested in recruiting American military or intelligence officers to spy for them. But what I found is that the focus has shifted to recruiting decision-makers and gaining legitimate access to businesses.’” That Russian agents would target those with financial and economic leverage makes sense in context of the New Generation Doctrine, makes sense in a global economy.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
In our global economy, interaction among high-level executives is not only expected, but both necessary and routine. So agents of the Kremlin looking for access no longer need to hide in the shadows. And those interacting with Russian financiers are in tremendously vulnerable positions. One brief interaction at a business conference may lead to another, longer meeting at subsequent conferences, and relationships and trust begin to build on what seem perfectly legitimate grounds. “In contrast with Cold War-style espionage, the way the Russians now make initial contact with a potential asset is often perfectly legitimate,” reports Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand. “They start with ‘walking through the front door’ and asking for access before assessing ‘whether you’re a viable candidate for recruitment.’”
However, as Fort Leavenworth Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) Research Coordinator Lester Grau might argue, this relationship-building process is essentially the same tactic foreign agents might use to gain the trust of military and intelligence assets in Cold War style. Build a relationship with a target. Slowly manipulate the target and gain trust. Obtain some sort of compromising information with which to leverage the target. Recruit.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Jamali would likely be wary of Grau’s rhetoric, perhaps arguing that Grau fails to appreciate the degree to which Russia’s techniques—and, along the way, China’s techniques and the techniques of other threats—are evolving and, thus, leaving counterintelligence efforts vulnerable. “The former spy,” Bertrand reports, “said he was worried that the FBI is still playing catch-up when it comes to identifying Russian assets.” According to Bertrand, Jamali argues that “US counterintelligence efforts ‘have to be updated’ to effectively combat Russia’s continuously evolving recruitment methods.”
In the context of spying, as Jamali describes it, CSIS’ New Generation Warfare doctrine makes sense. However, Grau’s traditional approach makes sense, as well. When it comes to modern spying, the common denominators for recruiters are access and trust, and the objectives are pretty much the same: the capacity to wield power over a state, though the nature of the power may differ.