‘America’s shame, Moscow’s gain, but little political impact’

The outing of a CIA agent in the heart of Moscow will certainly embarrass Washington, but the political impact will be minimal, British intelligence analyst Glenmore Trenear-Harvey argues.

On Tuesday, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) announced it had briefly detained a CIA agent who had been working out of the US embassy as the third secretary of the Political Section of the American embassy in Moscow.

The suspected agent, Ryan Christopher Fogle, was released and immediately ordered to leave the country, having been dubbed a persona non grata by the Russian Foreign Ministry. While Russia said that the capture of a foreign intelligence officer raised serious questions about its relationship with the United States Trenear-Harvey says it is all part and parcel of the great game of espionage which both countries are well acquainted with.

RT:  Do you think this American spy deserves all the ridicule he's getting from the media?

Glenmore Trenear-Harvey: No, not at all. The whole thing is that spying continues on both sides without any letup whatsoever. We saw…the case of the Moscow rock: at every time there is deniability. What this is is not so much a failure by the CIA. Unquestionably, this CIA officer, operating as the third political secretary – his cover at the US embassy –  he wasn’t particularly effective. It is a great success for the FSB – the Russian domestic security service – their counter-surveillance or counter-intelligence has been shown yet again to be remarkably effective. What Fogle failed to do is follow a set of rules which the CIA has always had: it’s called the ‘Moscow Rules’. It requires that you vary the pattern of your behavior. You’re constantly alert to what is happening. I don’t know enough about the young man in question. But it seems to me he was a little bit of a tyro. He would have been a Russian speaking intelligence officer assigned to the Moscow station of the CIA. The paraphernalia he had – the wig – which the media makes great fun of, it’s not so foolish after all [when] you’re trying to disguise your appearance.  

RT:The US still hasn't yet commented on the scandal. If Ryan Fogle IS a CIA spy, what does it tell us about their standards?

GTH: Spies are very effective until they get discovered. Then there’s huge embarrassment. The embarrassment, remember, is that Secretary of State John Kerry is currently meeting Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. This is going to be a most embarrassing encounter as far as the Americans are concerned. Lavrov will have a smile on his face, a smile he didn’t have when the suburban spies like Anna Chapman and Christopher Metsos and others were discovered three years ago; the illegals operating in America. As I say, it is one to the Russians, the FSB, and zero to the Americans. He has been declared persona non grata. He will be taken back to the United States and another CIA officer will replace him.

RT:The Russian Foreign Ministry has once again expressed its disappointment over the latest spying scandal, saying the CIA's actions undermine the governments' efforts to cooperate.
What political impact is it likely to have?

GTH: Very little indeed. President Putin for many, many years, both as a KGB intelligence officer operating in the former GDR [German Democratic Republic] and then as head of the FSB is absolutely wedded to the Russian security services. He is surrounded by the siloviki [Russian politicians from the military or security services]. He encourages his people all of the time. Espionage used to be described by [Joseph Rudyard] Kipling as the great game. Well in this particular instance, Russia has scored, America has lost. But make no bones about it, there’ll be a few ripples at the moment, and before we know it, relations will be back to normal. As I say, the CIA will replace Fogle with another intelligence officer, and the game will continue.