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Posted at 7:35 AM ET, 03/31/2010

Beyond Moscow subway bombings, Russia-U.S. intelligence bond limited

By Jeff Stein

The FBI office in Moscow has a “great relationship” with its Russian counterpart and is likely querying U.S. intelligence databases for information that could help solve the massive train bombing there, a knowledgeable source said Tuesday.

But as time has passed after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the CIA in particular has learned that the Russians aren’t interested in talking about problems closer to American interests, to wit, terrorists operating from former Soviet republics bordering on Afghanistan.

The relationship is "not fabulous, but it’s decent, all things considered,” said a former U.S. intelligence official who has been responsible for international cooperation on counterterrorism and crime. The official spoke on terms of anonymity in order to discuss the issue freely.

The FBI referred a question on the issue to the White House, which did not return a query.

U.S.-Russian cooperation on counterterrorism has been limited in recent years to Moscow’s preoccupation with Islamic and nationalist insurgents in Chechnya, this and two other intelligence sources said.

It’s all Chechnya, all the time for Russia, a former CIA officer who served in Moscow said in an interview.

“Counterterrorism cooperation with the Russians has always been an iffy proposition,” he said. “As long as there is something to be gained in the worldwide struggle against Chechen terrorism -- yes, that’s the way they see it -- then the Russians, particularly the FSB, are all for it.”

The FSB, or Federal Security Service, is Moscow’s equivalent of the FBI.

“However, if we go to them with a request for assistance,” the former CIA officer continued, "it's a flip of the coin if we'll even receive a response, much less any help. It's most definitely a one-way street, and has caused no end of frustration within the building” -- CIA headquarters.

“Immediately post-9/11, it was pretty good in Uzbekistan,” he continued. “They helped us and the Uzbeks neutralize the IMU [the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan], but other than that, it’s been hit and miss.”

The U.S. counterterrorism take from the Russians became so paltry five years after the Sept. 11 attacks that the CIA’s chief of clandestine operations at the time, Stephen R. Kappes (now deputy CIA director), turned down the FSB’s invitation to its annual international conference.

All the European services sent senior officials (except for the former Soviet Baltic states, who weren’t invited) to the gathering that year in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The CIA dreaded the thing, a multi-day drunk.

“These things were always like a big Chekist theater,” the former CIA officer recalled, referring to the first of the Soviet Union’s many internal security services, “a very elaborate show with absolutely no substance.”

“There were lavish lunches and lavish dinners, a big drunk, with speaker after speaker,” the officer recalled.

The Russians liked having the Americans and other Western services there, if only to brandish their attendance as endorsement of sorts for their brutal suppression of Islamic militants and nationalists in Chechnya.

So for all these reasons Kappes decided to stay away from Sochi and send a lesser official to represent the CIA, the agency's Moscow station chief, a well-informed source said.

Things haven’t improved much since.

“I am not aware of any meaningful cooperation,” said a recently retired top U.S. counterterrorism operative, who also spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity. “They had their own strategy that focused on dealing with the Chechen problem. International cooperation against al-Qaeda was not high on their list.”

With one exception, the sources agreed: Iran. The Russian and American counterintelligence services keep a mutual eye on Iran’s substantial embassy in Moscow and personnel elsewhere.

Despite the FBI’s offer of help with the Moscow bombings, “The Russians really don’t need any help with this kind of investigation,” said a current U.S. counterterrorism official.

“They’ve been through it before, unfortunately, and they know the dangerous players from the Caucasus all too well.

“There is US-Russian cooperation on counterterrorism,” he added. “But you have to remember that an awful lot of what the Russians face in terms of terrorist threats comes from within their own borders. For them, a great deal of this is domestic.“

By Jeff Stein  | March 31, 2010; 7:35 AM ET
Categories:  Intelligence  
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Comments

This all seems plausible to me, but reading stuff with no named sources is just hard to swallow.

Do I believe the writer? If the writer is accurately conveying what he was told, do I believe the people he is quoting? Is this disinformation? CYA?

Not only no names, also no corroborating facts or evidence presented. Is this laziness? Are there facts that would prove whether this is true?

Finally, "The FBI referred a question on the issue to the White House, which did return a query."

The White House DID RETURN a query? What did it say? Is this a typo or code to say that the statements were WH backed?

Posted by: justkiddingdc | March 31, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I have spent a total of 10 years living in Moscow and other former Soviet republics and just wanted to make one small comment too often missed by journalists and policy makers flying in and out of Russia to discuss cooperation on terrorism and even minor foreign policy issues. That small point is that the average Russian (and most certaintly all senior Russian patriots/officials) have an incredible chip on their shoulder toward the US that makes it hard for them to even take mutually positive steps with the USG. Perhaps similar to France in the 1950s and 1960s, the average Russian believe they were humliated by their loss of super power status and nothing gives them more pleasure than to see the US suffer a defeat of any nature. I am a Michigan grad and must admit to a similar pleasure when I see my Notre Dame grads suffer a loss on the football field. I must admit I don't know what I enjoy more watching ND lose or my Wolverines win a game. This same emotion is very strong in the elite of Russia. A great example is Russia's efforts in the early days of the world financial meltdown to convince China to dump shares of Fannie Mae. You would think why would Russia want to see the world financial system go into a further free fall at a time that it was wrecking the Russian economy. The answer is that most Russians still do not see a difference between a Russian policy victory and an American policy defeat of any nature. This raw emotion will last a generation and we will not see any meaningful cooperation until we start dealing with a post-cold war generation in 20 to 30 years.

Posted by: RPeacock | March 31, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Your point on anonymous sources is well taken. Intelligence officials, however, current and past, almost never talk for attribution. It's a hazard of the trade. It's my job to evaluate whether they're peddling falsehoods -- CYA -- or not. In the black world, that's tough. But based on 30 years' experience covering this beat, I think I'm an honest broker for you, the reader. I try to be.
By the way, there was a dropped word: The White House did NOT return a query. It's been fixed. Thanks for catching it.-js

Posted by: Jeff Stein | March 31, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Your point on anonymous sources is well taken. Intelligence officials, however, current and past, almost never talk for attribution. It's a hazard of the trade. It's my job to evaluate whether they're peddling falsehoods -- CYA -- or not. In the black world, that's tough. But based on 30 years' experience covering this beat, I think I'm an honest broker for you, the reader. I try to be.
By the way, there was a dropped word: The White House did NOT return a query. It's been fixed. Thanks for catching it.-js

Posted by: Jeff Stein | March 31, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

This second coordinated attack looks like revenge terrorism. I wonder why that is ? How has the good Sheppard been protecting his flock ? It seems that with a Spring thaw, someone pumped up the volume.

With an m/o easily borrowed from the movies or a Christian Militia in USA, seems that a terrorist m/o is evolving. That would be predictable.

Too bad on cooperation being a one-way street. What's in it for me ?

Posted by: truthhurts | March 31, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Please. Our FBI is investigating Americans angry and frustrated with our leadership which doesn't want to acknowledge who The Enemy is. If it did, it would have to attack. If it attacked, it would have to be saying "bye, bye" to a noxious 'friend', Bush buddies, Saudi Arabia.

The Rooskies, their hands full with their own Muslim killers, don't want or need advice from our ostrich FBI.

Posted by: dumpbama | March 31, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

The Uzbekistan quote is intriguing; there's still so much to be said about US-Uzbekistan cooperation in the war on terror between 2001 and 2005...

Posted by: MathiasV | March 31, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse


"drunk" intelligence gathering was suppose to be a status quo safe haven for the holy brotherhood of police patrols.

why are the commonwealth children of law enforcement being violently targeted by their own elite members?

the surgical war on terror aka war on corrupt coward cop families is progressing amusingly on schedule. just ask the crossed pope.

how many liberal pretty boys in uniform and tattooed nicotene dependant spies are gonna get humiliated this summer in the very very dangerous land of allah?

vive le vengence is mine saith the lord

Posted by: therapy | March 31, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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