In a historic first, America’s premier espionage agency is going online to recruit Russian spies. The CIA is now instructing Russian ‘digital-walk-ins’ on how to use an encrypted access node to its website to provide clandestine information on Russia, from their home, office, or internet café.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted more Russians to take the risky step of getting in touch with the intelligence agency, officials said,” according to the Washington Post.
‘Walk-ins’ are those well-placed individuals who simply walk in to a U.S. embassy to volunteer information on their country. They are then vetted and debriefed. Often, they are recruited for more intelligence gathering.
But by going online, the Agency is expanding that opportunity digitally to a far greater pool.
The paper added:
“Concerned Russians are trying to engage CIA, and we wanted to provide a way to safely contact us,” said a CIA official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive intelligence issues.
In Russian language messages on social media sites like Instagram, the CIA published instructions on how to covertly volunteer information.
A CIA spokesperson told The Post in an email that the new instructions are aimed at “those who feel compelled to reach us because of the Russian government’s unjust war,” adding, “Our global mission demands that individuals can contact us securely from anywhere.”
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Shane Harris of The Post explains:
To ensure the would-be informants are not caught by Russian state security, the CIA spelled out detailed Russian-language instructions in three social media posts on how to use the Tor Internet browser, which lets users move online anonymously, as well as virtual private networks, or VPNs. The steps will open a dedicated channel to the CIA that is more secure than navigating to the agency using an ordinary Web browser or Internet connection.
“Do not use your home or office computer to get in touch with us,” the agency cautions in its step-by-step guide. To circumvent online monitors, Russians should use a VPN that is not based in Russia, China or other countries considered “unfriendly” to the United States. Free VPNs are generally inferior to paid services, the CIA advises, encouraging its contacts to spring for a premium version.
The agency asks digital walk-ins to provide their full name, the country from which they are corresponding, their official position and “what access you have to information of interest to our organization.”
There is no guarantee that the information Russians pass over the transom will be useful. But the fact the CIA looked for a way to make it easier for motivated Russians to make contact suggests there are many potential recruits queuing up, intelligence veterans said.
“It is a signal that they are being overwhelmed by people trying to contact U.S. intelligence in ways that are less than secure,” said John Sipher, a former CIA officer who served for nearly 30 years, including in Russia. “In this day and age, I think it is appropriate to offer means for initial contact that are safer than walking into an embassy or approaching an American on the street.”
However, Russian security services won’t just allow this to happen without attempting to counter it in some way. The Post notes: “Dan Hoffman, a retired intelligence officer who served as the CIA’s top official in Moscow, said Russian counterintelligence will be on heightened alert for those looking to spill secrets.”
“You want to be really careful with Russians who are seeking to provide information. The FSB [successor to the KGB] in particular will be watching for people,” Hoffman said.
Still, this effort clearly shows that the Agency believes the number of well-placed, disaffected Russians with valuable information is more than worth any risks. ADN