Diplomacy and Secret Service – Online Updating Pages 

Chapter 3:   Cuckoos in the Nest?

p. 25 – Box 3.1   SIS and Passport Control Officer cover
The State Department’s agreement in 1946 to give diplomatic cover to intelligence officers was codified (and modified in some way) in a further agreement c. 1950/1 called the ‘STOSO Agreement’ [State Department- Office of Special Operati0ns]. The leads on negotiating this were Fisher Howe (then deputy head of intelligence in the State Department) and Richard Helms (then head of OSO and later of the CIA as a whole). See this reference, p. 10. Also, this one.

p. 28, penalties faced by NOCs if caught: for example, the Russian (SVR) NOC, Evgeny Buryakov, whose deep cover while gathering economic intelligence was that of an employee of the New York branch of a Russian bank, was arrested in January 2015 and in May 2016 sentenced to 30 months in prison, fined $10,000, and ordered to be deported on conclusion of his sentence. See also the highly interesting FBI deposition of 23 January 2015 before the US Magistrate Judge of the Southern District of New York: Evgeny Buryakov Complaint.

p. 28 – Box 3.2   The CIA’s failed bid for more NOCs.
I have just learned from Hoffman’s outstanding book, The Billion Dollar Spy (see ‘Main references’ below) that, in order to more safely run its ace Soviet agent in place, Adolf Tolkachev, in 1981-2 the CIA in effect created a category of intelligence officer roughly intermediate  between those with diplomatic status (legals) and those without it (illegals). These were officers with ‘deep cover’ inside an embassy. They were put through Foreign Service training, given embassy jobs in the administrative class (not traditionally associated with intelligence), allowed no desk in the ‘station’ itself (the seventh floor of the Moscow embassy at the time), and only in rare circumstances permitted direct access to it – otherwise communications with the ‘station’ within the embassy had to resemble those with agents outside, including dead drops! The great advantage of this arrangement was that such officers had the security of diplomatic immunity but were far less likely to be suspected by the KGB and would, therefore, more readily escape surveillance in making contact with their agents. On the other hand, it was lonely and stressful work (one thought it resembled the life of ‘an undercover cop’), and support from the station for agent meetings was difficult to arrange. Not least because of the large number of locally engaged staff employed by the embassy (assumed to be reporting to the KGB) and suspected bugging of the building, only a few – including the ambassador and the chief of the CIA station – knew the identities of the mission’s ‘deep cover’ officers. It would not be surprising to learn that, in hostile states where embassy surveillance is oppressive and efficient, this tactic is employed by at least a few other secret services.

pp. 28-9 NOCs: NOCs find more favour in some services than in others. Mossad is reported to use a greater proportion than the CIA and in his book on the CIA in the 1980s, Woodward (see below) records their popularity with Alexandre de Marenches, the powerful head of the French SDECE from 1970 until 1981. On the question of NOCs versus legals in Woodward’s Veil , see pp. 39-40, 60, 75, 286 (Mossad).

pp. 29-30, embassy ‘stations’: There is a very interesting description of the CIA station in US Embassy Moscow in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Hoffman, The Billion Dollar Spy (see below), pp. 33-4, 153-4, and 174. On the embassy’s seventh floor, it was accessed via an unmarked door with a cipher lock, and then another one behind that which had a combination lock and resembled the entrance to a bank vault (the second door was left open during the day). The station’s main room had no windows and was ‘shielded in corrugated metal and isolated from the embassy walls to avoid eavesdropping or penetration’ (p. 153). The KGB rezidentura in a major Soviet embassy was evidently little different and for the same reasons. In his absorbing if soulless memoir, former senior KGB officer Victor Cherkashin (see below) says that the rezidentura in the Washington embassy was on ‘the fourth floor under the building’s mansard roof, where a coded digital lock opened a thick steel door leading to our crammed rezidentura …’ (p. 15).

pp. 30-1, diplomatic ranks of intelligence officers: it is interesting in this connection that when it was announced in July 2020 that Richard Moore was to be the new head of SIS, it was also revealed that he had first joined it in 1987, which happens to be the same year in which he was given cover by the launch of a diplomatic career, first as second secretary. In 1990 he moved on the same rank to the British Embassy at Ankara; in 1991 to the consulate-general in Istanbul as consul (information); in 1992 to the FCO (nominally) as first secretary; in 1995 to Islamabad, on the same rank; in 1999 back to the FCO (nominally), still as first secretary; and in 2011 to Kuala Lumpur as counsellor (political) (The Diplomatic Service List 2006, p. 266). Thereafter it is more difficult to track him because the DS List, which was too revealing, ceased publication. However, what is known about Moore’s subsequent diplomatic career is that he was British Ambassador to Turkey from January 2014 to December 2017 and political director at the FCO at the time of the announcement of his appointment to be ‘C’ at SIS. The official announcement clearly implies that he had formally left SIS prior to becoming ambassador at Ankara and it would be remarkable were this untrue. On the other hand it cannot be ruled out altogether. All of the many press reports on his new appointment to SIS (which can be easily found) are equally vague on this question.

p. 32, case officers and tradecraft: In his Billion Dollar Spy, Hoffman (see below) provides authoritative insight into the methods of contacting agents unobserved by the KGB employed by case officers in the CIA station in Embassy Moscow in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Preferring face-to-face meetings rather than dead drops in order to develop trust, in addition to lengthy counter-surveillance runs these methods included two innovations. The first was the ‘identity transfer’; that is, leaving the embassy disguised as the sort of ‘ordinary’ embassy worker in whom the KGB usually showed little interest. The second was use of a custom-made ‘jack-in-the-box’ modelled on the head and shoulders of the case officer; this could be made to pop up in his place after he had jumped from the passenger seat of the car driven by a colleague in the seconds after it had turned a corner and was invisible to its KGB escort.
Agents in place and means of persuasion: A significant proportion of the most valuable agents – especially ‘walk-ins’ (p. 27) – are believed to have been prompted by personal grievances with their own services and therefore need little if any persuading. This comes out strongly from the Cherkashin memoir (see below, pp. 114-5).
Agents of influence (a special case of agents in place): interestingly, Cherkashin (see below) believes that these are the most valuable of all agents. He defines them as persons ‘in a consequential position secretly working to affect policy’ (p. 267; see also p. 283). He couldn’t have been expected to allow for someone as stupid as Trump, who is prepared to do this openly.

p. 32 – Box 3.5   Trump: Russian agent of influence?

  • On the use of Russian Embassy-based intelligence officers in support of the Trump campaign, I missed an important claim; namely, the report in early 2017 of the FBI belief, arrived at independently of the Steele dossier (referenced on p. 56), that Mikhail Kalugin, head of the Economic Section of the Russian Embassy in Washington, who returned to Moscow in August 2016, was one such officer. His alleged role was to transfer to cyber hackers and others cash disguised as pension payments to Russians resident in the United States. See ‘Russian diplomat under U.S. scrutiny in election meddling speaks’, McClatchy, 15 February 2017 ; Paul Wood, ‘Trump Russia dossier key claim “verified”’. BBC News, Washington, 30 March 2017 ; The Independent, 30 March 2017
  • If Box 3.5 had not already been very long I would have mentioned that we know that there was a large cadre of intelligence officers in the Russian Embassy in Washington during the election campaign won by Donald Trump because in March 2018, in response to the Skripal affair, the US Government expelled 48 of them (and 12 from the UN). This, incidentally, was reportedly far more than Trump had intended and he was furious when he found out, Harding (see below), pp. 146-7 and Politico, 26 March 2018
  • A summary of the Mueller Report written by the Trump-appointed US Attorney General William Barr – not the Report’s own summary – was sent to Congress on 24 March 2019. Its claim that Mueller had not found sufficient evidence to support the allegation that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it had ‘conspired or coordinated’ with Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election has little bearing on the argument of this box. In so far as it is concerned with the election, the box is about what the Russians did during these months, not whether Trump colluded with them in the strong sense of this term, which it’s probable he didn’t. (‘Collusion’ means joint secret planning in order to deceive. The paradigm case in international politics since the Second World War is Anglo-French-Israeli collusion over Suez in 1956, which was designed to encourage Israel to attack Egypt and follow this with an Anglo-French invasion ostensibly to separate the warring parties but in reality to overthrow Nasser.) As Michael Wolff, in his best-selling Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Little, Brown, 2018), reported Steve Bannon as saying, the Trump team never expected to win the presidency and consisted of individuals so stupid, disorganized and politically naïve as to be incapable of conspiring about anything (p. 97).
  • A heavily redacted but searchable version of the full Mueller Report was released by the US Department of Justice in April 2019. It can be accessed here. The only obvious items of direct interest  are: (1) The ‘relationships’ formed with Trump Campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page in 2008 by SVR officer Alexander Bulatov  (with cover in the Russian Consulate-General in New York) and 2013 by fellow SVR officer Victor Podobny (cover in Russia’s permanent mission to the UN in New York) (Vol. 1, pp. 95-6). Page ‘advocated pro-Russian views and made July 2016 and December 2016 visits to Moscow’ (p. B-8). Mueller merely says that ‘the investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election’ but he was clearly an agent of influence. (2) The fact that the Russian-Ukrainian Konstantin Kilimnick, a key associate of Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, was believed by the FBI to have ‘ties to Russian intelligence’ and had as early as 1997 travelled to the United States on a Russian diplomatic passport (Vol. 1, p. 133).
  •  The Epilogue of the book by the directors of Fusion GPS, the US private sector open source research firm that hired Christopher Steele to research Trump’s Russia links, is very good on the Mueller Report; see Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, Crime In Progress: The secret history of the Trump-Russia investigation (Allen Lane, 2019).
  • On why the Mueller investigation was a political failure, see this review by Katie Benner of Jeffrey Toobin’s True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The investigation of Donald Trump (Random House, 2020) – or better still, of course, the book itself.

p. 33, identification of intelligence officers under diplomatic cover: sometimes they are revealed to local security services by the latter’s own agents inside an embassy.

p. 34, ‘… only to be PNG’d’: I have perhaps made too light of this. Woodward (see below) reports the CIA view that it was (or could be ?) evidence of ‘a professional screw-up and disgrace’ (p. 478). Martha Peterson, a CIA case officer in Moscow in the mid-1970s, implies that this was more likely to be the view if it happened early or mid-way through an officer’s tour of duty in a particular embassy because a well-prepared replacement was unlikely to be immediately available. If they were to take risks and court being PNGed, therefore, this was more likely to be near the end of their tour, The Widow Spy (Red Canary Press, 2007), pp. 177, 206-7.

p. 34, The diplomatic price of diplomatic cover: This was seen as so heavy by some ambassadors that even well into the second half of the twentieth century they refused to have intelligence officers in their embassies. A notable case in point was Llewellyn Thompson, US ambassador in Moscow from 1957 until 1962 and again from 1967 until 1969, Hoffman, The Billion Dollar Spy, p. 13.

p. 35, power of chiefs of station: Woodward (see below) stresses that ‘security- and intelligence-assistance operations’ for heads of state (keeping them alive and in power) gave CIA chiefs of station  enormous leverage with them, and also great influence in the embassy, ‘particularly if the security operation yielded good political intelligence from within the presidential palace’ (p. 310; also p. 307).

p. 35, taking risks that threaten good relations: A likely case of such a risk was the murder in California on 15 October 1984 of Henry Liu, a Taiwanese opposition journalist who had become a US citizen. This was carried out by Taiwanese mobsters in the Bamboo Gang but orchestrated by military intelligence in Taipei, notably its head, Vice-Admiral Wang His-Ling, formerly military attaché in the Republic of China’s Washington embassy. On the face of it, intelligence officers with cover in the quasi-embassy (Coordination Council for North American Affairs, CCNAA) that replaced this following the termination of diplomatic relations with the Republic of China in 1979 played little role in this still murky affair. Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that they were not complicit in some degree. In any event, the revelation in January 1985 that the murder of a US citizen on US territory had been officially directed by a foreign power, led to a public outcry, a hearing by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and threats to curtail arms sales, cut back the unusually large number of quasi-consular offices answerable to the CCNAA – and expel intelligence officers, for Taipei had a history of using its intelligence officers to intimidate Taiwanese students and academics in the United States. Under heavy American pressure, the Taiwanese authorities eventually tried and imprisoned those involved, including Wang, who was given a life term, although his prison berth was very comfortable and, along with the others, he was released after less than six years. On this subject, see especially ‘The Murder …’ in Main references and further reading below, and the ADST Oral History resource (search ‘Henry Liu’).

p. 35, Sigint posts in embassies to friendly states: The Berlin risk had been avoided in the US Embassy in Tehran in the last days of the Shah because the ambassador refused an NSA proposal to give house room to an electronic listening post (Woodward, pp. 109-10).

p. 37, watching for signs of political unreliability in the embassy: This was one of Cherkashin’s main responsibilities in the embassy’s in which he served: ‘I’d keep an eye on our diplomats’ conduct – making sure they didn’t defect … (see his Spy Handler below, p. 103, also p. 72).

p. 38, giving warning of attacks on embassies: I should have mentioned here the warnings that have been given of plans to kidnap and possibly murder ambassadors, including the ambassadors of friendly states.

p. 38, practical assistance to diplomats: an interesting instance of communications assistance by secret intelligence is provided by Henry Kissinger’s insistence on the need for a CIA communicator in the new US Liaison Office in Beijing, who was to be declared to the Chinese. See Doc 24, Kissinger, Bruce etc, 29 March 1973

p. 38, involvement of intelligence officers in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi: According to the report of the UN Special Rapporteur (see below), seven of the fifteen-man hit team sent from Riyadh were intelligence officers and were assisted by three ‘security attachés’ on the staff of the consulate-general (pp. 87, 152).

Main references and further reading

‘Annex to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: Investigation into the unlawful death of Mr Jamal Khashoggi’ [scroll to the bottom of this page>], UN Human Rights Council, 19 June 2019

Bearden, Milt and James Risen, The Main Enemy: The inside story of the CIA’s final showdown with the KGB (Century: London, 2003). A successful collaboration between a senior CIA officer (Bearden) and New York Times journalist (Risen), this is a big and valuable book. It also has a useful analytical index; see especially the sub-heads under the entry for ‘case officers’.

Cadwalladr, Carole, ‘Why Britain Needs Its Own Mueller’, The New York Review of Books, 16 November, 2018

Cherkashin, Victor, Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer (Basic Books: New York, 2005)

Davidson, Adam, ‘A Theory of Trump Kompromat: Why the President is so nice to Putin, even when Putin might not want him to be’, The New Yorker, 19 July, 2018

Eftimiades, Nicholas, ‘Uncovering Chinese espionage in the US’, The Diplomat, 28 November 2018 [Nothing on role of Chinese embassy and consulates in the USA but very good background.]

Harding, Luke, Shadow State: Murder, mayhem and Russia’s remaking of the West (Guardian Faber: London,  2020)

Hoffman, David E., The Billion Dollar Spy: A true story of Cold War espionage and betrayal (Icon Books: London, 2018)

Miller, Greg, ‘Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration’, The Washington Post, 13 January2019

The Murder of Henry Liu. Hearings and Markup before the Committee on Foreign Affairs and its Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs. House of Representatives, 7 February; 21 March; 3 April 1985. Available here

Der Spiegel Staff, ‘How Russian Agents Hunt Down Kremlin Opponents’, Spiegel Online, 9 December 2019

Woodward, Bob, Veil: The secret wars of the CIA, 1981-1987 (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1987)