The West may finally be starting to step up its efforts to counter Russia’s alarmingly successful and usually unchecked espionage and propaganda efforts. First, it emerged this week that the NSA provided the decisive evidence of Kremlin guilt in the 2006 killing of Russian spy-turned-dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London. Now, U.S. officials are pointing fingers at Russian state-run news agency TASS for its ties to a Kremlin spy ring in New York. The Washington Post reports:
On Monday, federal prosecutors charged three Russians with being undeclared officers of the SVR, the Russian foreign intelligence service, and a criminal complaint said an unidentified Russian news organizationcollaborated with them.U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the news organization was Tass, which frequently provided cover for KGB agents during the Cold War. […]As part of the FBI’s criminal complaint, the bureau revealed that it had bugged an office in New York that the SVR officers believed was secure, capturing incriminating and sometimes embarrassing conversations.In the complaint, the FBI detailed how the spies crafted questions on behalf of Russian intelligence for Tass to pose in New York, according to a May 2013 exchange between Sporyshev and Buryakov, whose cover was a job with a Russian state-owned bank in Manhattan.
In addition to decrying outright espionage, U.S. officials have also stepped up their criticism of Russian propaganda in the West, which Moscow has been investing in heavily. And it isn’t just the U.S. that is pointing fingers at Russia; Germany is expanding the operations of its international news service, Deutsche Welle, in an explicit effort to counter Putinist propaganda, The Wall Street Journal reports:
Deutsche Welle, an international television and radio broadcaster akin to the British Broadcasting Corp.’s World Service, plans to launch a new multimedia English-language service called DWNews in April. Deutsche Welle President Peter Limbourg has said the new service is designed to “defy [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s propaganda.” […]Chancellor Angela Merkel ’s government is putting Deutsche Welle, and its new DWNews service, at the center of its public-relations counterattack. This year, she is boosting Deutsche Welle’s annual budget by more than 2%, to €294 million ($332 million), a rare spending increase for a government that has made fiscal discipline its mantra. Earlier this week, Deutsche Welle opened a bureau in Kiev.
Russia’s spies and its propagandists have been very effective at penetrating the West, as Edward Lucas wrote in a recent article for TAI. One reason they have been so successful is that Western governments often do not care to call them out. The events of this week don’t overturn that state of affairs, but they are a heartening first step.