Russian, American Spies Square Off 05/17 07:19
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The embarrassing arrest of a suspected CIA officer in
Moscow is the latest reminder that, even after the Cold War, the U.S. and
Russia are engaged in an espionage battle with secret tactics, spying devices
and training that sometimes isn't enough to avoid being caught.
The most recent skirmish involves Russian security services ambushing a
29-year-old diplomat who they say was trying to court a spy. The Russians said
Ryan Fogle was caught red-handed with a recruitment letter, a compass, two wigs
and a wad of cash. The Russians published photographs of his arrest and
displayed all his supposed spy gear for the world. It was intended as proof to
the public that the young diplomat was in fact working for the CIA: Gotcha.
None of these tactics are new. Humiliating and outwitting the other side is
a tradition that extends back decades. In 1977, the KGB arrested a pretty
blonde named Martha Peterson in Moscow trying to leave a message for an
important spy, code-named Trigon. Just as in the case of Fogle, the Russians
were waiting with cameras when they nabbed Peterson. Eight years later, the KGB
filmed the arrest of A.G. Tolkachev, a top CIA spy, which it later made
available to Russian television.
In a case that made headlines across the world, the FBI in 2010 wrapped up a
ring of sleeper agents it had been following for years in the United States.
The Russians were not amused. Eventually the sleeper agents, including Anna
Chapman, who later posed for a magazine cover in lingerie, were returned in a
These are the perils of working overseas. "I was angry," Peterson recalled
in interview. "I was caught with things in my possession too. That is a bad
The idea is not to get caught. But that's easier said than done. The
Russians are famously adept at identifying and catching spies. The Russians
have netted at least a dozen agency officers conducting clandestine activities
over the years, former CIA officials said.
To reduce its exposure, the CIA goes to great lengths to train its officers
to avoid what happened to Fogle --- if he was doing what the Russians said.
Agency officers undergo intense training at the CIA spy farm in Virginia,
taking what is known as the "field tradecraft course." It's a basic spy course
in which agency officers learn to identify when they're being followed. In CIA
jargon, they're taught to perform surveillance detection runs. They are
supposed to perform these before a mission. The rule of thumb: If a CIA officer
sees something twice over time and distance, he or she is likely being watched.
For those being deployed overseas to places like Moscow, they receive
further training, including a hostile environment tradecraft course. FBI agents
in Washington and New York, who have the most experience following spies, put
rookie case officers through their paces. These FBI agents are also trained by
the CIA. They play rough, giving the young agency officers a taste of what
Fogle likely experienced. The course formerly was known as "internal
operations" for CIA officers living behind the Iron Curtain.
The wives or husbands of agency officers stationed in Moscow also took the
course. Everyone was expected to be prepared.
Despite precautions, Moscow is a place unto itself. Former agency officers
call them "Moscow rules" because of the complex cat-and-mouse games. It can be
a hard place to do business, perhaps one of the toughest places in the world to
recruit agents. In the past, paranoia has swept through the CIA station in
In the late 1980s, when the Cold War was still raging, the Moscow station
was practically paralyzed, believing its officers were under constant
surveillance. There was no way they could leave the station and recruit people
without being spotted. Operations almost came to a halt. By the early 1990s,
after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the
CIA figured out it could do business again in Moscow.
The agency officers in Moscow developed a list of quirky indicators to help
determine whether they were being followed. A former CIA officer, speaking on
condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss intelligence
operations, recounted that the Russians tended to use cars so inconspicuous
that they were conspicuous. There were always two Russians in the car in case
one needed to get out on foot. At a red light, they behaved like they were
parking rather than stopping at the light. The CIA determined that certain cars
with an inverted pyramid on the front grill were used by the KGB.
One former agency officer said he never took shortcuts in Moscow. He would
run detection routes that could last hours. The final step involved leaving a
car and riding public transportation. Then and only then, eventually moving on
foot, would he secretly meet a source. Another agency officer used his wife as
a decoy to distract the KGB when he left secret messages.
Sometimes the banal worked.
Persuading the Russians to stop following agency officers sometimes meant
boring them. If the Russians believed it was another routine day --- walking
the dog, grocery shopping and taking the children to the park --- they might
abandon their surveillance.
To beat the Russians, they also relied on technology. The U.S. government
had cracked many of the Soviet Union's encrypted frequencies they used to
conduct surveillance. An agency officer using an earpiece could sometimes
determine whether chatter about making a "left" or "right" was about him and
safely abort his mission.
Even with precautions, Peterson said there are things a spy doesn't know.
She had no idea the Russians had learned the identity of Trigon. They knew she
was leaving something for him at a designated place at a bridge. They were
waiting for her with cameras and flashbulbs when she arrived one summer's night
in Moscow. After groping her, KGB agents found a small receiver she had hidden.
She was questioned for hours then kicked out of the country.
Later, she found out the CIA had itself been compromised. In 1984, the FBI
arrested Karl Koecher after learning he was a KGB mole who once worked for the
CIA as a translator. Koecher had a played a role in Trigon's downfall and
ultimately in Peterson's arrest.
"I had that feeling I had made a mistake. But it was clearly an ambush in my
case," said Peterson, who published a book last year about her experience, "The
Almost a year after she was caught, the KGB in 1978 publicly revealed
Peterson's CIA employment, payback for the FBI disclosing the arrest of three
Soviet spies in the U.S. Newspaper reports carried the Soviet claim that she
was a "CIA agent" who was involved in a plot to poison one of their citizens.
She worked for the CIA but the rest of the story was fiction.
Fogle was waylaid, too, raising questions about what happened. Former CIA
officials told The Associated Press that little about his case makes sense.
Disguises are typically used to leave the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and sneak past
nearby Russian observation points. But once an officer runs the final phase of
his detection route, there would have been no need for a wig, much less two.
It's also unlikely, officials said, that Fogle would have been recruiting
anyone at that time. Typically, that would have happened already in another
setting. You don't use the streets of Moscow to sign up a spy, they said. And
the source would have been vetted before any face-to-face meeting. He would
have been assessed and then developed before any recruitment.
"I say it would be extremely unusual unless you had 150 percent confidence
in the relationship," said Joseph Wippl, a former senior CIA clandestine
officer who has worked overseas.
Fogle could have been tempted by a provocation or dangle, something that has
always worried the CIA, especially in Russia. Someone could have provided the
CIA such sensational "feeder" information that the CIA couldn't resist trying
to send a message to the possible recruit in a predetermined place. But the
Russians would have been waiting.
Why the Russians made a show of Fogle's arrest is unclear, even as it's
happened in other cases. Were they sending a message to the U.S., expressing
"I don't know what to make of it," Wippl said. "It doesn't add up."
The CIA has declined to comment on Fogle's arrest.
Not every blow-up like Fogle obviously makes the nightly news. In 1988, the
KGB executed Soviet Gen. Dmitri Fyodorovich Polyakov for being a spy for the
U.S. government, which had code-named him "Tophat," ''Bourbon" and "Roam."
Afterward, according to two former CIA officials, the KGB sent a video of his
execution to the CIA.