Paper Reports Rise in Russian Spying


Russia's foreign intelligence services are accelerating efforts to recruit young lawmakers and academics in Germany, a German newspaper reported Sunday. The German domestic intelligence service, the BfV, has information about efforts by Russian agents to recruit young members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, Welt am Sonntag reported Sunday. Young officials from political parties and foundations were also being targeted for inside information or recruiting those with good career prospects, the newspaper said. It did not identify the source of its information. The BfV, which stands for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said on its web site that Russia was among countries that continue to target Germany for intelligence gathering activities. It also cited China, Iran and North Korea as countries particularly active in this field. Officials at the BfV were not immediately available for comment.


In related news:

The all-American fellow was a Russian spy

He had all-American cover - born in Iowa, college in Manhattan, army buddies with whom he played baseball. George Koval also had a secret. He was a top Soviet spy, code named Delmar, trained by Stalin's ruthless bureau of military intelligence. Atomic spies are old stuff. But historians say Koval, who died last year in Moscow and whose name is just coming to light publicly, appears to have been one of the most important spies of the 20th century.

On Nov. 2, the Kremlin startled Western scholars by announcing that President Vladimir Putin had posthumously given the highest Russian award to a Soviet agent who in World War II penetrated the Manhattan Project to build the atom bomb. The announcement hailed Koval as "the only Soviet intelligence officer" to infiltrate the project's secret plants, saying his work "helped speed up considerably the time it took for the Soviet Union to develop an atomic bomb of its own." Since then, historians, scientists, federal officials and old friends of Koval's have raced to tell his story - the athlete, the guy everyone liked, the genius at technical studies. American intelligence agencies have known of his betrayal at least since the early 1950s, when investigators interviewed his fellow scientists and swore them to secrecy.

The spy's success hinged on an unusual family history of migration from Russia to Iowa and re-immigration to the Soviet Union. That gave him a strong commitment to communism, relaxed familiarity with American mores and no foreign accent. "He was very friendly, compassionate and very smart," said Arnold Kramish, a retired physicist who studied with Koval at City College of New York and later worked with him on the bomb project. "He never did homework." Stewart Bloom, a senior physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, who also studied with Koval, called him a regular guy. "He played baseball and played it well," usually as shortstop, Bloom recalled. "He didn't have a Russian accent. He spoke fluent English, American English. His credentials were perfect."

Over the years, scholars and federal agents have identified a half-dozen individuals who spied on the bomb project for the Russians, especially at Los Alamos in New Mexico. All were "walk-ins" - spies by impulse and sympathetic leaning rather than training. By contrast, Koval was a mole groomed in Russia by the feared GRU, the Soviet agency for military intelligence. Moreover, he gained wide access to America's atomic plants - a feat unknown for any other Soviet spy. Historians say Putin may have cited Koval's accomplishments as a way to rekindle Russian pride. As shown by a New York Public Library database, the announcement has prompted detailed reports in the Russian press about Koval and his clandestine feats. "It's very exciting to get this kind of break," said John Earl Haynes, a Library of Congress historian and an authority on atomic spying. "We know very little about GRU operations in the United States."

The story of how Koval became a spy centers on his family, who came from Russia and decided to return. He was born in 1913 in Sioux City, Iowa, which had a large Jewish community and a half-dozen synagogues. In 1932, during the Great Depression, his family emigrated to Birobidzhan, a Siberian city that Stalin promoted as a secular Jewish homeland. Henry Srebrnik, a Canadian historian at the University of Prince Edward Island who is studying the Kovals for a project on American Jewish Communists, said the family belonged to a popular front organization, as did most American Jews who emigrated to Birobidzhan. The organization, he said, was ICOR, a Yiddish acronym for the Association for Jewish Colonization in the Soviet Union. He added that Koval's father presided over its Sioux City branch as secretary.

By 1934, Koval was in Moscow, excelling in difficult studies at the Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology. Upon graduating with honors, he was recruited and trained by the GRU and was sent back to the United States for nearly a decade of scientific espionage, from roughly 1940 to 1948. How he communicated with his controllers is unknown, as is what specifically he gave the Russians in terms of atomic secrets. However, it is clear that Moscow mastered the atom very quickly compared with all subsequent nuclear powers. In the United States under a false name, Koval initially gathered information about new toxins that might find use in chemical arms.

Then his GRU controllers took a gamble and had him work under his own name. Koval was drafted into the U.S. Army, and by chance found himself moving toward the bomb project, then in its infancy. The army judged him smart and by 1943 sent him for special wartime training at City College of New York. Considered a Harvard for the poor, the school in Manhattan was famous for brilliant students and Communist radicals. But Koval steered clear of all debate on socialism and Russia, Bloom said. "He discussed no politics that I can recall. Never. He never talked about the Soviet Union - never ever, not a word."

At City College, Koval and a dozen or so of his army peers studied electrical engineering. Kramish said the army unit lived in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, across from City College, adding that in an odd coincidence, Koval called himself an orphan. Something else about him stood out, Kramish said - he was a decade older than his peers, making everybody wonder "why he was in this program." Meanwhile, the Manhattan Project was suffering severe manpower shortages and asked the army for technically adept recruits. In 1944, Koval and Kramish headed to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the main job was to make bomb fuel - considered the hardest part of the atomic endeavor.

Koval gained wide access to the sprawling complex, Kramish said, because "he was assigned to health safety" and drove from building to building making sure stray radiation did not harm workers. In June 1945, Koval's duties expanded to include top-secret plants near Dayton, Ohio, said John Shewairy, an Oak Ridge spokesman. The factories refined polonium 210, a highly radioactive material used in initiators to help start the bomb's chain reaction. In July 1945, the United States tested its first atomic device and, a month later, it dropped two bombs on Japan. After the war, Koval fled the United States when American counterintelligence agents found Soviet literature hailing the Koval family as happy immigrants from the United States, said a Nov. 3 article in Rossiiskaia Gazeta, a Russian publication.

In 1949, Moscow detonated its first bomb, surprising Washington at the quick loss of what had been an atomic monopoly. In the early 1950s, Kramish said, the FBI interviewed him and anyone else who had known Koval, asking that the matter be kept confidential. Bloom at the time was working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. "I was pretty amazed," he recalled. "I didn't figure George to be like that." In Russia, Koval returned to the Mendeleev Institute, earning his doctorate and teaching there for many years, Rossiiskaia Gazeta said. It added that he was a soccer fanatic even in old age and that people at the stadium who knew about his secret past would quietly point him out.

Koval's spy role began to emerge publicly in Russia in 2002 with the publication of "The GRU and the Atomic Bomb," a book that referred to Koval only by his code name of Delmar. The book offered few biographical details but said he was one of the few spies who managed to elude "the net of the counterintelligence agencies." Koval reportedly died Jan. 31, 2006. By American reckoning, he would have been 92, though the Kremlin's statement put his age at 94 and some Russian accounts put it at 93. Posthumously, Koval was made a Hero of the Russian Federation, the highest honorary title that can be bestowed on a Russian citizen. The Kremlin statement cited "his courage and heroism while carrying out special missions." Kramish surmised that he was "the biggest" of the atomic spies. "You don't get a medal from the president of Russia for nothing," he said.


In related news:

Russia demands British Council closes offices

Britain and Russia are on course for a dramatic showdown after the Kremlin ordered the British embassy to suspend all of its cultural operations outside Moscow. Unveiling the latest retaliation in a diplomatic dispute over the murder of ex-KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko last year, Russia instructed the British Council, the Foreign Office's cultural arm, to close its outlets in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg by the beginning of January. Britain immediately vowed to defy the order, which it said constituted "a serious breach of international law", setting the stage for a potential police showdown at the two offices in the New Year.

The extraordinary face-off dashed hopes for a quick resolution to the worst crisis in Anglo-Russian relations since the Cold War with diplomats expressing bafflement and outrage that a charitable entity was being targeted for political reasons. The British Council, which promotes British culture and offers academic opportunities to foreign students around the world, has long been the focus of official suspicion in Russia. Even before Mr Litvinenko's murder, the organization faced accusations of tax irregularities and lacking legal status, despite being fully legitimized by a 1994 treaty. While denying the charges, Britain began quiet negotiations for a new protocol and made significant concessions in the hope of keeping the row separate from the Litvinenko affair.

But for the first time yesterday, Russia's foreign ministry explicitly linked the British Council's travails to the dispute, saying that it had shelved the new charter in retaliation for the expulsion of four diplomats from London in July. "Britain's unfriendly actions towards Russia in July this year, which were accompanied by a whole number of discriminatory measures, derailed our efforts regarding the preparation of this document," spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said. Britain expelled four Russian diplomats after the Kremlin refused to hand over Andrei Lugovoi, the MP suspected of murdering Mr Litvinenko. Having responded in kind, Russia's decision to escalate a row that had seemed close to resolution by targeting a non-political body drew unusually vocal criticism from the Foreign Office.

"It is a cultural, not a political, institution and we strongly reject any attempt to link it to Russia's failure to co-operate with our efforts to bring the murder of Alexander Litvinenko to justice," a Foreign Office spokesman said. The Kremlin's move also attracted opposition from Russian human rights activists. "It looks as if we are sitting behind the Iron Curtain once more," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a prominent former Soviet dissident. "The British Council is not political but educational and extremely useful. We should have been grateful and we have responded with black ingratitude." Despite its apparently benign intentions, the British Council combines two attributes the Kremlin dislikes: it is British and is close to Russian civil society, which has been heavily repressed as Vladimir Putin's government has grown more autocratic.

In the past year several British interests, including the BBC and British companies, have come under increasing official pressure. But the often outlandish campaign against the British Council, which has faced accusations of recruiting Russian youngsters for MI6 and deliberately causing a "brain drain" to weaken the country, has particularly damaged the Kremlin's reputation, diplomats warned. "There are only two other countries where the British Council has suffered this kind of harassment: Iran and Burma," one said. Despite the possibility that Russia's riot police -- who enhanced their thuggish reputation after breaking up peaceful opposition rallies this year -- being called in to enforce the suspension order, British Council officials vowed to keep working next year. "The British Council's activities are fully compliant with Russian law," said Natalia Minchenko, the council's communications chief. "We have not violated any legislation so there is therefore no legal reason to stop working."


Russia Targets British Council, Fuels Spy Murder Spat

Russia ordered the U.K. to close its cultural offices outside of Moscow, reigniting tensions sparked by last year's murder in London of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko. The U.K. government said it will ignore the order, which it considers a violation of international law. The British Council, which promotes cultural ties, ``is fully entitled to operate in Russia, both in Moscow and elsewhere,'' Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman, Michael Ellam, told reporters in London today.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the British Council does not have a "legal basis'' to operate outside of the capital Moscow and will have to close all other offices by Jan. 1. Russia and the U.K. have been embroiled in a dispute over the Russian government's refusal to hand over Andrei Lugovoi, the main suspect in the Nov. 2006 lethal polonium radiation poisoning of Litvinenko. In July, the U.K. expelled four Russian diplomats, triggering a tit-for-tat response in Moscow. "This is clearly a politically motivated decision that reflects the seriously poor state of Russian-British relations,'' Yevgeny Volk, a Moscow-based analyst for U.S. research group the Heritage Foundation, said by telephone.

Double Standards

U.K. prosecutors asked Russia in May to extradite Lugovoi to face trial for the murder. Russia refused, citing a constitutional ban on extradition. It accuses the U.K. of double-standards for rejecting Russian demands to extradite self-exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky and others, including Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev. A critic of President Vladimir Putin, Litvinenko received political asylum in the U.K. He accused the Russian leader of ordering his murder in a deathbed statement. The Kremlin dismissed the accusation as ``absurd.'' "We are going back to the Iron Curtain,'' said Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, a human rights campaigner from the Soviet era who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group. "This is a return to a policy of isolation,'' she said by telephone. The U.K. Foreign Office accused Russia of retaliating over the Litvinenko dispute. "It is a cultural, not a political institution, and we strongly reject any attempt to link it to Russia's failure to cooperate with our efforts to bring the murder of Alexander Litvinenko to justice,'' the Foreign Office said in an e-mailed statement.

'Matter of Compliance'

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied that Russia had deliberately targeted the British Council, saying it was "a matter of compliance with Russian legislation.'' "These are two completely different things: Russian legislation is one and the Litvinenko case is another,'' he said by phone. The British Council, which has faced tax probes in Russia, had already decided to close most of its Russian offices outside Moscow by the end of the year, except for the cities where the U.K. has consulates: St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. The Foreign Office said the council's work "directly benefits hundreds of thousands of ordinary Russians.'' The Russian Foreign Ministry, in a statement on its Web site, said that U.K. attempts to use consulates as a "cover'' for the council's operations were a violation of diplomatic conventions, because the cultural organization is not linked to embassy or consular activities.

Legal Framework

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Krivtsov said that the U.K. and Russia must agree on a new legal framework allowing Russian cultural centers in the U.K. before the British Council can reopen regional subsidiaries. He said the offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg will be closed by the New Year. ``They have to comply,'' Krivtsov said by phone. Until recently, the British Council, which organizes cultural and educational exchanges and teaches English, had offices in Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, Rostov- on-Don, Samara, Sochi and Volgograd. Reinforcing the hostile official climate for British interests, a pro-Kremlin youth group, Nashi, picketed the U.K. embassy last week and delivered a letter addressed to Queen Elizabeth II asking her to recall U.K. Ambassador Anthony Brenton.

Nashi, which hounded Brenton for months after he addressed an opposition conference last year, accuses him of channeling money to political groups opposed to Putin. Also last week, the British Broadcasting Corp. appealed to the Foreign Ministry to ensure the safety of its staff in Russia after three separate attacks on Moscow-based employees in one week, from Nov. 24 to 30. Volk said while there was no evidence to suggest a ``coordinated campaign'' against the U.K., ``it's clear that Russia has got pretty irritated by U.K. policies and wants to retaliate.''


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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. And when Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan reemerged in Armenian politics, I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you for reading.