Leopard Spotted

A few months ago (September 2015) Salon.com published a brief article by Jonathan Haslam that summarized some basic counterintelligence analysis employed by the KGB back in the day (the 1970’s):

[CIA] officers in the field stationed across the globe under diplomatic and deep cover were readily identified by the KGB.  As a consequence, covert operations had to be aborted as local agents were pinpointed and CIA personnel compromised or, indeed, had their lives thrown into jeopardy. … How could these disasters have happened with such regularity if the agency had not been penetrated by Soviet moles?

[Instead, KGB officer Yuri Trotov‘s method was] a clever combination of insight into human behavior, common sense and strict logic.  Bureaucracies … are fundamentally creatures of habit and, as any analyst knows, the key to breaking the adversary’s [operational security] is to find patterns and repetitions.  From the late 1950s at the Soviet mission in Thailand and later Japan, Trotov first applied his methods to identifying U.S. intelligence officers in the field.  He began systematically combing the KGB archives for consistent patterns observable in the postings of CIA counterparts. What Trotov came up with were 26 unchanging indicators as a model for identifying U.S. intelligence officers overseas.  Why? Because the CIA personnel office in Langley shuffled and dealt overseas postings with as little effort as required.

Some indicators were based on long-standing U.S. government practices established as a result of the ambivalence with which the State Department treated its colleagues in intelligence [who operated under diplomatic cover]. These “structural defects” in the relationship between the United States’ key operational departments responsible for foreign policy [allowed] Trotov to produce telephone book-size volumes listing U.S. intelligence officers for KGB chief Yuri Andropov.


Here are a few of Trotov’s indicators:

  • published biographies of CIA officers contained obvious gaps
  • entry-level pay scale was much higher for a CIA officer than for a State Department Foreign Service Officer (FSO)
  • genuine FSOs had to attend the Institute of Foreign Service for three months before entering the diplomatic service, CIA officers did not
  • after three to four years abroad an FSO could return home, whereas a CIA employee could not
  • when CIA officers returned to the US, they did not normally appear in State Department listings, but when they did, they were classified as research and planning, research and intelligence, consular or chancery for security affairs
  • CIA officers could be relocated within the country to which they were posted, FSOs were not
  • CIA officers usually had more than one working foreign language
  • Their cover was usually as a “political” or “consular” official
  • internal embassy reorganizations usually did not change the rank, office assignments or telephone numbers of CIA personnel
  • CIA agents’ offices were located in restricted zones within the embassy building
  • CIA officers replacing one another [at a foreign station] tended to fill the same post within the embassy hierarchy, drive the same make of vehicle, rent the same apartment, etc.


What & So What

Okay, so the U.S. intelligence community eventually figured out how the Soviets/ Russians and their allies can spot a spook. Surely “we” have made the necessary adjustments, right?  Not exactly.

A while back I saw a article on the website of an overseas newspaper in a certain allied nation.  The article announced the arrival of a new U.S. consul in town, illustrated with the official State Department photo portrait of the diplomat in question (U.S. flag in the background, of course).  A brief biography followed, outlining the FSO’s background, education and career.  If I were Yuri Trotov (I’m not), I’d immediately be paying closer attention to this guy, because several of my indicators were there in plain sight:

  • Graduate of a state university in a state with a significant military presence
  • Therefore … possible childhood experiences living in Europe or Asia as a military dependent (see subsequent career)
  • Travel in {Europe1}, {Europe2} and Canada during university
  • Two-year gap between university graduation and entry into State Department: possible military service … or intell training
  • Speaks {European}, Arabic, {Asian}
  • State Dept. career (moderately scrambled/ altered to protect the officer’s identity from less-imaginative “analysts”):

political officer in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
assistant cultural attaché in {capital, Asian nation}
public diplomacy officer in Baghdad, Iraq
consular official in Islamabad, Pakistan
consul in {city, Europe1}

In assessing these indicators, I would draw the conclusion that this particular “FSO” is likely to be a counterterrorism specialist focused on Islamist militant groups, and that the consular posting to {Europe1} is either (1) an R & R assignment after years of service in dangerous third-world nations, or (2) a counterterrorism liaison slot in a country worried about terrorist attacks from returning ISIS jihadis masquerading as refugees.  Perhaps both.

Either way, I wish ya the best of luck.  But in any case, stay out of Russia.





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