Putin’s Game

‘I declare it’s marked out just like a large chessboard!’ Alice said at last. ‘There ought to be some men moving about somewhere–and so there are!’ she added in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as she went on. ‘It’s a great huge game of chess that’s being played–all over the world–if this is the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is!’

As you may have heard, the Russians rather ostentatiously outed an alleged American spy, Ryan Fogle, yesterday. Before I talk about that, I wanted to make sure folks had Garry Kasparov’s op-ed in the WSJ from the other day. Among other questions about whether we really want to be partnering closely with Vladimir Putin, Kasparov notes how selective Putin’s attentiveness to terrorism can be.

Terror would seem to be a more likely area for U.S.-Russian collaboration, especially regarding the virulent brand of Islamist extremism that has been bubbling over in Russia’s southwestern Caucasus region since the fall of the Soviet Union. Yet the Kremlin’s cooperation on the Islamist threat has been remarkably selective.

Soon after the suspects’ names in the Boston bombing became known, the Russian security services announced that they had warned the FBI about the elder Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, in 2011. But what about during and after Tamerlan’s visit to Russia’s North Caucasus in 2012? That’s when he reportedly was indoctrinated and trained by radicals in Dagestan.

Why were there no communications in 2012 from the FSB (the successor of the KGB) about a suspected radical, an American no less, training in the hottest of Caucasus terrorist hotbeds and then returning to the U. S.? It is beyond belief that the extensive police state that monitors every utterance of the Russian opposition could lose track of an American associating with terrorists.

Tamerlan reportedly met with Makhmud Mansur Nidal, a known terror recruiter, and William Plotkin, a Russian-Canadian jihadist. Both men were killed in Dagestan by the Russian military just days before Tamerlan left Russia for the U.S. If no intelligence was sent from Moscow to Washington, all this talk of FSB cooperation cannot be taken seriously.

This would not be the first time Russian security forces seemed strangely impotent in the face of an impending terror attack. In the Nord-Ost theater siege by Islamist Chechens in 2002 and the Beslan school hostage attack by Chechen and other Islamist radicals in 2004, it later came to light that there were FSB informants in both terror groups—yet the attacks went ahead unimpeded. Beslan was quickly used by Mr. Putin to justify shredding the last vestiges of Russian democracy by eliminating the election of regional governors.

It’s not just Kasparov doubting Putin’s cooperation on the Boston Marathon investigation.

House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers complained about it back on April 26.

“The Russians I think have a lot more information here than they are sharing today,” Rogers told Fox News. “They’ve kind of let us peek under the curtain a little bit, but it’s very clear to me that they have valuable information that, A, they should have provided earlier, and B, that we need to get now to understand what happened when he went back to Russia.”

Shortly thereafter, Putin and President Obama had their second conversation on the topic, after which Putin publicly professed to have little of value to offer because the Tsarnaev’s hadn’t been living in Russia.

Mr. Putin said last week that the Federal Security Service was unable to provide “information which had operative value” about the Tsarnaev brothers, “due to the fact that the Tsarnaevs had not lived in Russia for many years.”

Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, repeated that phrase after the two presidents spoke on Monday, but he said cooperation between the countries’ counterterrorism and intelligence services had improved to new levels as a result of the Boston bombing.

“This aroused praise from Putin and Obama, and their satisfaction,” Mr. Peskov told the Interfax news service, adding that cooperation on intelligence “on the whole promotes mutual confidence in bilateral relations.”

The White House offered a more reserved account of the two leaders’ conversation, noting “the close cooperation that the United States has received from Russia on the Boston Marathon attack.”

Meanwhile, a WSJ story from last week catalogued all the things Russia either did not turn over in timely fashion or did turn over with errors:

  • (Possibly) that Canadian alleged extremist William Plotnikov –whom Russia killed last July — had implicated Tamerlan as an associate in 2010
  • The original tip from the FSB provided incorrect birth dates for Tamerlan
  • FSB provided no response to three requests for more information from FBI
  • Texts from Tamerlan’s mother telling another relative he’d be interested in joining jihad
  • Details from Tamerlan’s trip to Russia in which FSB alleges he met with militants

To be sure, some of this reluctance to share information is a very normal imperative to protect sources and methods, as the WSJ points out.

U.S. officials say they don’t know why the text messages weren’t provided earlier. They surmised Russia didn’t provide other information because they wanted to protect their sources or because they didn’t give the information much credibility themselves.

To be sure, U.S. law-enforcement officials say it isn’t clear whether knowing the content of the text messages would have changed what the FBI learned in 2011 about Mr. Tsarnaev’s turn toward radicalization. A senior U.S. law-enforcement official also notes that the FBI, in sharing information with the Russians, often withholds details that could reveal its own sources and methods.

And of course this was all taking place in the aftermath of America’s bust of Anna Chapman’s spy ring in June 2010 (and the 2008-2010 fight over Viktor Bout’s extradition to the US surely didn’t help matters). So some of Putin’s reluctance to share this intelligence naturally stems from deep suspicion between the countries.

Still, as Kasparov notes, the FSB has a history of “missing” terror attacks when it suits them.

All of which leads to the latest development in Putin’s chess match: the claimed exposure of a CIA spy working under official cover, Ryan Fogle, complete with rather unconvincing wigs and childlike spy toys. Predictably, FSB just so happens to be accusing Fogle of trying to recruit an FSB officer working counterterrorism in the Caucasus.

Mr. Fogle had been trying to recruit a Russian intelligence services officer responsible for fighting Islamist terrorists in Russia’s Caucasus region, the Federal Security Service said.

And they’re now using this theatrical production as an excuse for warming relations to chill again.

Russian officials expressed surprise at what they characterized as an attempt to recruit a security officer responsible for fighting Islamist terrorists in the Caucasus as the sides had announced cooperation on the issue.

“At first, we couldn’t believe it happened,” an unnamed FSB officer told U.S. Embassy officials who had come to pick up Mr. Fogle after his detention, according to a video released by the FSB. “When relations between our countries are strengthening, an American diplomat commits in our view a state crime against the Russian Federation.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry blasted an act it said was in “the spirit of the Cold War” and “raises serious questions for the American side.”

It is unusual, according to former intelligence officials, for U.S. spies to be identified and even rarer for them to be publicly shamed. Tuesday’s expulsion was the first of a U.S. diplomat from Russia on espionage charges since the early 2000s.

Golly. What a surprise that the FSB found a spy they could use to prevent the US from learning what Tamerlan was really doing in Chechnya last year.

‘Where do you come from?’ said the Red Queen. ‘And where are you going? Look up, speak nicely, and don’t twiddle your fingers all the time.’

Alice attended to all these directions, and explained, as well as she could, that she had lost her way.

‘I don’t know what you mean by YOUR way,’ said the Queen: ‘all the ways about here belong to ME—but why did you come out here at all?’ she added in a kinder tone. ‘Curtsey while you’re thinking what to say, it saves time.’

22 replies
  1. Snoopdido says:

    The speculation in the mainstream media of why Putin did this misses the obvious. Putin did this to send a message that he thinks CIA Director Brennan is a clown. He’s right.

    With the reported less than helpful response by the Russians to the FBI’s Brothers Tsarnaev investigations both before and after the Boston Marathon bombing, I’ll bet Brennan personally went to Obama and told him that the CIA would save the day by recruiting a Russian spy to help watch out for future bad news from the Caucasus.

    I’ll also bet that Brennan himself was responsible for instructing the his CIA Station Chief in Moscow to make it happen tout suite.

    Result: Clown show.

  2. Lex says:

    It’s obviously complicated, but it’s also probably not worth listening to Kasparov on much regarding Russia. It’s even less helpful to put much stock in what he says on this given his ties to Americans that have openly supported Chechen radical/terrorists.

    The FSB may not be quick to help a country that’s supported the terrorists it now wants the FSB’s help tracking.

  3. peasantparty says:

    Putin plays games just as well as the US does in matters of empire.

    Here are my thoughts:

    Putin needs help in getting control of the Caucasus regions.
    He also seriously wants control over Georgia.
    We will see more killings and hints of CIA, JSOC involvement in both places due to the direct talks with Obama.

    The Libya, Syria, and Iran situation that Isreal is pushing the US into is bothersome to Russia, however Putin will work with the US if they play nice and help him with his goals. He knows that Lebanon will be next on the US target map and in order to have access to the areas without Islamic blowback, the US will wish to use the Caucasus areas.

    Therefore, what the US needs and what Russia needs will be joined in an effort for a short period of time. Poland is now hosting military personnel, as well as military contracters. Putin is aware of this and will make good use of it without allowing the US to do what they want for Isreal without him gaining the benefits.

  4. peasantparty says:

    @Snoopdido: I agree Brennan probably ordered that. The thing that really amazes me is that now that it is done, he has royally screwed himself. Putin is not only laughing at him, but is worried because, “The Plan” won’t work as easily.

    Russia is not a usual working partner for the US, and this is another episode of Pakistan replay.

  5. orionATL says:

    whoa! this is way out of my league.

    thanks to each one for very instructive comments.

    i will note that putin, if i am recalling correctly, was traind and worked a successful career in kgb.

    obi’s bad luck :)

  6. orionATL says:

    “… . In the Nord-Ost theater siege by Islamist Chechens in 2002 and the Beslan school hostage attack by Chechen and other Islamist radicals in 2004, it later came to light that there were FSB informants in both terror groups—yet the attacks went ahead unimpeded…”

    hmm. why does this sound vaguely familiar? **

    **hint: richard clark said he met with george tenet 10 days before the attack on the wtc and that tenet said not a word to him about its possibility or its participants.

  7. lefty665 says:

    @Snoopdido: Nice take.

    Reminds me of the Chinese and the EP3 early in Duhbya’s reign. Comes under the heading of seizing an opportunity we have presented to teach the new boy a lesson. “Be careful who you fuck with moron.”

    Putin was being gentle. He could have picked someone without immunity, held them and blown it up. Instead we got a quickie. You’ve got it on the nose with “clown(s)”.

  8. Clark Hilldale says:

    The fact that the Russians arranged this spectacle right now (when if it was serious they would have dragged it out by doing the usual counterintelligence thing and doubling Fogle’s FSB contact) and explicitly linked the CIA plot to Caucasus region CT is important.

    I would not be surprised if they were sending a message that they don’t appreciate the way the US intelligence community talking points given to the media portrayed them as being the ones who dropped the ball in the Tsarnaev case.

    The American media has gone out of their way to insist that the USG had no intelligence failure in the Boston marathon case. This narrative is threatened by the existence of Russian warnings about the older Tsarnaev brother having been radicalized.

    The tortured logic that we have been asked to accept that Tamerlan only became dangerous after the FBI decided he was not dangerous requires blaming the Russians for not telling us all they knew.

    Maybe the Russians provided more detail than is publicly known and they are tired of the entire USG charade about who is to blame.

    And they let the world know this yesterday.

  9. P J Evans says:

    You would expect our agents to be able to do it more subtly than that. Fogle appears to have flunked his final exam for promotion from apprentice-trainee to trainee.

  10. klynn says:

    This is the thorn in his side for the Olympics.The threat from the Caucasus region.

    EW, I’ll have to get you the link to an interview after his Phone-in marathon of questions.

    Lots of coded language like, “This is like running a a very long marathon.” Noting his age group runs about a 5 hours marathon. (He made the comment the day after the bombing.)

  11. john francis lee says:

    ‘ Maybe the Russians provided more detail than is publicly known and they are tired of the entire USG charade about who is to blame. ‘

    Maybe the Russians provided no detail about Tamerlane’s operations in the Caucasus becasue they figured that the CIA were fully informed of Tamerlane’s activities because Tamerlane was a CIA boy-toy ! Do ya think ?

    And they were right about the CIA … it’s just that the CIA’s interests and American interests are not, as they may assume, congruent.

  12. Patsy says:

    Clark Hillsdale, +1000

    CIA is very anxious to learn what the FSB knows because it fears that FSB could shed light on the direction and coordination of an armed attack on the civilian population attributed to a CIA asset. You can see how that might be somewhat touchy.

    Russia will know a good deal about how CIA controlled Tsarnaev: His Mom’s shoplifting travails? His odd domestic dispute? His cultivation by academic mentor Brian Glyn Williams? The Jamestown Foundation? His mixed martial arts career? His Central Asian expat friends?

    Russia has not forgotten the painstaking trail of adverse-information breadcrumbs dropped for Lee Harvey Oswald, before he took the fall. Prudence would dictate that the FSB befriend Tsarnaev too, to find out what the the CIA had in mind for him. Who knows what tidbits they picked up?

  13. emptywheel says:

    @klynn: Yeah, I’ve got a link to an English story on his statement. But I’d LOVE the original, even w/transcriptions so I could get jist (via Czech) of what he’s really saying.

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