Russian-language video on Telegram aims at Russians ‘on the fence’
May 16, 2023
WASHINGTON—The Central Intelligence Agency’s semipublic campaign to convince Russians disaffected by the war in Ukraine to spy for Washington has borne fruit, CIA officials said this week, as the spy agency released a new video aimed directly at Russian government officials.
Since last fall, the CIA and Federal Bureau of Investigation have used social-media platforms and public appearances to encourage Russians angered by President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to contact them—and have provided what they say are secure Internet channels to do so.
Some Russians have responded, an official involved in the outreach effort said Tuesday. “It is resulting in contact,” the official said.
The official declined to provide details of how many would-be Russian agents have contacted the CIA or what information they were in a position to provide, citing operational secrecy.
Current and former U.S. officials say that despite Mr. Putin’s apparent unchallenged control over Russian society and political life, Russia has emerged as a potentially rich recruiting environment for government officials and others unnerved by the mounting costs of the Ukraine invasion. An estimated 500,000 or more Russians have fled abroad, where they are easier for U.S. spy agencies to contact.
“We’re looking around the world for Russians who are as disgusted with that as we are,” CIA Deputy Director of Operations David Marlowe said in November. “Because we’re open for business.”
The new CIA-produced, Russian-language video was posted on Telegram, a messaging service popular in Russia, and on other social-media channels.
It portrays fictional Russian officials, at home with their families and at work, struggling with a decision to reach out to the American spy service. The war in Ukraine and Mr. Putin are never explicitly mentioned.
The nearly two-minute video closes with the message: “The people around you may not want to hear the truth. We do. You aren’t powerless. Connect with us securely.”
Instructions for contacting the CIA on Tor, an anonymous encrypted Internet communications tool, then flash on the screen.
Daniel Hoffman, a retired CIA officer who served as the agency’s Moscow station chief, said any Russian volunteering to help the U.S. would do so at a time or place of his or her choosing.
But the video, he said, helps by “letting them know that we’re here and can securely engage with them.”
That is a “respectful” approach, he said. “It’s designed for people that are on the fence.”
Mr. Hoffman noted that the CIA released the video in the run-up to an expected major Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian military forces on its territory which, depending on its success, could unnerve some Russian citizens further. “You want to be prepared, with your catcher’s mitt, ready to go,” he said.
Russia’s embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The video was explicitly designed not to be seen as fomenting Mr. Putin’s overthrow or Russia’s destabilization, the official involved in the effort said. “I don’t believe in a revolution,” the narrator says. The Russian leader, however, has long been convinced Washington wants to overthrow him and weaken Russia.
The CIA is hoping Russians will come forward with information on such topics as Russia’s economy, foreign policy, cyber activities and senior leadership, the official said.
Mr. Hoffman said that even if the video results in just a single recruit, “that’s a great operation.”
William Mauldin contributed to this article.
I hope that this measure will bear lots of fruit.
“The video was explicitly designed not to be seen as fomenting Mr. Putin’s overthrow or Russia’s destabilization, the official involved in the effort said.”
Well, we hope that this will happen! And, the sooner, the better.
“The official declined to provide details of how many would-be Russian agents have contacted the CIA or what information they were in a position to provide, citing operational secrecy.”
That means the list will be leaked in the near future by some Pentagon toilet cleaner.