David Smith, excerpts:
This week the Guardian learned that a female Russian national, hired by the secret service, was dismissed after being caught holding regular and unauthorised meetings with the Russian intelligence agency the FSB.
“The story is very credible and not very surprising to those of us who have worked in embassies,” said John Sipher, whose 28-year career in the CIA’s national clandestine service included serving in Moscow and running the CIA’s Russia operations. “It is a constant problem – especially with the FSN-I [Foreign Service National Investigator] position. Those foreign nationals are hired to work with the local police and security services. They often come from those services.
“In high counter-intelligence threat countries they are almost always reporting to the local service. In Russia it is a given. The Russians would never let someone occupy that position that wasn’t reporting to them.”
Sipher added: “These jobs are an accident waiting to happen. In countries that don’t have basic rule of law and a culture of service, the embassy needs people to make connections and help them get things done…. It helps the embassy get things done and helps the local service have eyes and ears inside the embassy.”
The Russian national is understood to have had access to intranet and email systems, giving her potential access to highly confidential material including the schedules of the president and vice-president. A source said the secret service tried to minimise its embarrassment by firing the woman last summer when Russia ordered the removal of 750 personnel from the US embassy during a diplomatic spat.
Larry Pfeiffer, a former CIA chief of staff and now director of the Michael V Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security, said: “This incident only underscores the persistence and pervasiveness of the Russian counter-intelligence threat. It has historically been and remains our greatest and most sophisticated threat. We should be glad this one has been caught but remain vigilant against those who, through exquisite tradecraft, remain undetected.”
Intelligence analysts warn that Russian worker believed to have had full access to secret data is unlikely to be an isolated case
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