Tradecraft

   Tradecraft can best be defined as the art or science of spying. The Russian word konspiratsiya is usually rendered as “tradecraft.” Russian intelligence from the late 19th century on has generally practiced outstanding tradecraft. In the last decades of the tsarist regime, the Okhrana developed more sophisticated intelligence tradecraft than any other intelligence service. In matters of cover, surveillance, safe houses, and clandestine communications, the tsarist service was light-years ahead of the rest of the world. Agents were bought or frightened into collaborating with the service, but then were run with care and were paid well. The Okhrana ran as an agent Roman Malinovskiy, the leader of the Bolshevik faction in the Duma, for several years. So sure were the Okhrana of Malinovskiy’s bona fides that they allowed him to travel abroad to meet with a journalist whose specialty was “outing” tsarist agents in the revolutionary parties.
   Soviet intelligence tradecraft was derived in part from the underground activities of the Bolshevik Party and in part from the Okhrana. Many of the initial Cheka, GPU, and OGPU illegals had served as couriers and political agents in radical underground movements. They had studied the activities of the Okhrana and other European services and developed a style of konspiratsiya that allowed them to survive on the streets of Europe, Asia, and the United States. Many of these men and women had served time in tsarist prisons and were not intimidated by the counterintelligence services of the West. A critical strength of Soviet tradecraft was mastery of “the street.” Soviet case officers were drilled in the arts of surveillance and countersurveillance. When one young Soviet intelligence officer arrived in New York in the 1940s, he was told to look for drugstores with two entrances that would allow him to lose possible surveillance. The same case officer often met his contacts in movie theaters, where it was possible for an agent and case officer to arrive and depart separately and to meet in the dark. When Yuri Modin was running agents in London in the late 1940s, he took five hours to make sure that he had no surveillance before he met with agents.
   The creation of effective covers was another strength. Intelligence officers, especially illegals, were expected to live their covers. In the United States, Joseph Golos operated a tourist company. Decades later, Morris and Lona Cohen ran a bookshop in a London suburb. Lona was remembered by her English neighbors as an eccentric New Zealander with a love for gin and an interest in cricket. Patience and study were also crucial. Potential agents were investigated for years before they were approached by the service.
   NKVD cables from the 1930s showed a great deal of understanding of the motivation that led young British aristocrats to betray their country. In the reports are comments about their parents, their education, and their sexuality. NKVD case officers often demanded that agents write a detailed autobiography to get a better understanding of their personality. This autobiography was used extensively in Moscow as well. The Soviet services also gave their case officers time to develop and work with their agents. Ruth Werner, the GRU officer who ran Klaus Fuchs, noted in her biography: “they always gave me plenty of time.”
   Agents were to be run with care. Ideological spies like John Carincross received Soviet military combat medals. Elizabeth Bentley received the Order of the Red Star. Oleg Kalugin and his colleagues in the Washington rezidentura ran John Walker, a U.S. Navy warrant officer who was in espionage for money, with great interpersonal skills. They treated Walker as an equal and made sure that he knew he could retire in the Soviet Union with the rank of admiral. Viktor Cherkashin persuaded Aldrich Ames that it was time for him to reveal all the secrets he knew. Ames had already provided the KGB with the names of two agents, so Cherkashin argued persuasively that Ames had crossed the Rubicon, and it was time for him to provide the KGB with all the information he had. The result was the “Big Dump”: Ames turned over the names of 10 important agents. Another factor was the service’s willingness to spend money when necessary. The OGPU paid Italian agents well to burgle the British ambassador’s safe in Rome in the 1930s. The KGB provided Aldrich Ames with more than $2 million. Soviet intelligence officers paid Clyde Conrad and James Hall hundreds of thousands of dollars. Willingness to take a risk was also important. All the major KGB successes in the 1980s came out of a willingness to risk meeting and running agents who could have been double agents. The decisions to run John Walker and Aldrich Ames took no small amount of physical and bureaucratic courage.
   Moscow closely vetted KGB and GRU operations. The Venona cables show how carefully operations were managed from Moscow. Agents were investigated and reinvestigated; in 1943 when the Ring of Five members were providing thousands of reports on the German army, Moscow carefully considered whether they were controlled by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). The intelligence managers were too aware of the consequences of having SIS manage Soviet policy through its agents. The corollary to this carefulness was a willingness to act on intelligence. Scientific and technical information allowed the Soviet Union to build weapons and develop industries. Information from Ames led to the arrest of CIA and SIS agents-in-place.
   KGB defectors since the 1980s have claimed that the KGB’s First Chief Directorate became more and more risk averse. They claim that the leadership of the KGB gave only lip service to the principles that had made the service so successful in previous decades. While some of this criticism is true, the KGB was able to run important agents like James Hall and Clyde Conrad in West Germany, as well as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen in the United States.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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