Magazine article The Spectator

New Cloak and Dagger in the Vodka Zone

Magazine article The Spectator

New Cloak and Dagger in the Vodka Zone

Article excerpt

CANNY OLD MI6 has so far chosen not to follow its domestic sister service MI5 into the uncertain territory of a graduate recruitment drive complete with application forms, telephone hotlines and an advertisement in the Guardian. That does not mean, however, that it is short of vacancies. Western intelligence services like to give the impression that they are oversubscribed. In fact, the need for new officers, agents and moles is greater now than at any time during the Cold War.

This week, while heads of government at the Nato summit in Madrid patched up deals to sweeten the temper of France (which has lost its attempt to bring Romania and Slovenia into the Alliance and thus dilute the American influence in Europe) and saluted the entry of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, the Western intelligence services were planning their next great adventure - a new and frantic bout of intelligence-gathering in the wake of Nato's Eastern implant.

Western secret services have not, on the whole, shared their political masters' enthusiasm for Nato enlargement. They point out that the military establishments of Eastern bloc countries are so stuffed with people either formally or informally recruited by the KGB and GRU (Soviet military intelligence) that Nato's secrets will no longer be safe. The successor secret services in Moscow have preserved the same organisational structures at home and, to a large extent, the same contacts in the defence industries and civil service abroad in Eastern Europe as during the Soviet era. While Russian diplomats have learned to avoid using language which suggests that they still consider Eastern Europe a sphere of influence, the prevailing belief within the FSB (the renamed KGB) is that a foothold can and should be preserved in the former satellites. A former Washington station chief of Russian intelligence agreed to meet me in Moscow, where I was subjected to a vodka-soaked afternoon during which the 'betrayal' (i.e. withdrawal of troops) by Moscow of Eastern Europe was lamented and toasts drunk to a revival of Soviet power.

It was the classically Russian mixture of raw emotion with a theatrical edge, adopted for the benefit of an outsider. Russian spies assume that Western journalists are in the pay of their home intelligence services. The message that this man intended to send was that his service was not cowed by the mere disappearance of the Soviet Union. A meeting with a senior Russian diplomat who has lobbied European governments against enlarging Nato showed similar traits. 'Why are you doing this to us?' cried the diplomat. `Don't you see that your government's policy is brutal? It will make Russia behave worse. We are weak, weak, weak. . !'

Despite this bizarre outburst from a Kremlin emissary who had spent the first half of his professional life telling the West that his country was strong, strong, strong, the Russian diplomatic response has been finely calibrated. Moscow has used Western uncertainty about the new security order to gain discreet leverage over the terms of enlargement. No matter how grave the surrounding economic and political chaos, Russian diplomacy always assesses its long-term interests well. The intention is to use the consultation rights granted by Nato to President Yeltsin in order to help him sell the deal to a disgruntled political establishment to slow down Nato decision-making during times of crisis.

'The Russians have made a grand and loud fuss,' chuckles one American intelligence official. `But a lot of that is done to increase Western jitters and to stir up dissent within the West about enlargement. Read the letters page of any serious British, German or American newspaper and you'll see that they have succeeded. The spread of Nato to the East is good for Russian intelligence interests. They will be able to reactivate old channels which will be in possession of entirely new information shared between Nato allies.'

In two of the three new Nato countries -- Poland and Hungary - ex-communists are back in power, which means that their networks of business/intelligence/political relations are back too. …

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