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Posted at 9:30 AM ET, 11/12/2010

Ex-KGB and CIA officials mull Russian defector

By Jeff Stein

His name is Aleksandr Vasilyevich Shcherbakov.

Or maybe not. The true name of the Russian spymaster who allegedly defected last summer is just one of the mysteries in the far-from-finished spy story that broke in a Moscow newspaper Thursday.

But two longtime spies, a Russian and an American, both retired, think they know who he is.

The Kommersant newspaper identified him only as “Colonel Shcherbakov,” chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service’s American operations, who it said fled to the United States in June, after fingering the 10 Russian agents arrested by the FBI this summer.

The CIA is not talking.

But a retired CIA operations officer who specialized in thwarting Russian intelligence said he was “90 to 100 percent confident” that the spymaster named by Kommersant was the same Aleksandr Vasilyevich Shcherbakov who was among other Russian security officials he met with in Moscow “nine or 10 years ago.”

Oleg Kalugin, who headed the Russian KGB’s foreign espionage operations during the Cold War, also said the name sounded familiar.

“I remember a young guy by that name who worked for me in foreign counterintelligence, and later, with illegals,” said Kalugin, referring to deep-cover spies who burrow into foreign societies under false identities.

“I remember his name, but I would not recognize him on the street,” Kalugin added.

Kommersant quoted Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s security committee, as saying “There has never been such a failure by Section S, the American department that Shcherbakov directed.”

But a number of observers, particularly Russians, considered the newspaper’s story fishy on several counts.

Kommersant, said Dimtry Sidirov, the paper’s former Washington bureau chief, “is very close to the Kremlin.” Its story, he speculated, was “an intentional leak,” most likely a thinly-veiled attack on Mikhail Fradkov, head of the SVR, as the foreign intelligence service is known, since 2007, who had recently been “very much under attack” by rivals.

“The whole point of the story was to make the SVR a joke,” Sidirov said.

Its likely beneficiary, he added, would be Sergey Naryshkin, the Kremlin’s chief administrator and “right-hand man” to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“There’s nothing for him in the Kremlin after 2012,” when Medvedev’s term ends, Sidirov said. Replacing Fradkov could extend Medvedev’s control of the powerful spy service.

The Kommersant article pointed to several security lapses by the SVR, the most “inexplicable” being its allowing Shcherbakov to run its U.S. spying operations while his daughter lived in this country.

Officials had been removed for less in agencies far less sensitive, Kommersant said.

“A man was once fired from the Security Council because some distant relative of his merely intended to marry a foreigner. And the Foreign Intelligence Service is supposed to be even more attentive to matters like that," it said.

The paper also said that “nobody paid attention when Shcherbakov's son (an officer of the Federal Drug Enforcement Service) suddenly left Russia for America not long before” the FBI rounded up Moscow’s sleeper spies here in late June.

The SVR’s defenders quickly struck back, casting doubt on the Kommersant account in other media, said Andrei Soldatov, a prominent Russian journalist and co-editor of a Web site that tracks domestic and foreign security services.

“It was said by sources inside that Shcherbakov is even not a real name,” said Soldatov, who is also co-author of “The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB.”

“I have some doubts about that because the allegation that Shcherbakov is a fake name appeared only after the publication and it was aired by sources inside the SVR…who might think it's a good way of compromising the story to say such things.”

But Soldatov said he had “some doubts about the Kommersant story as well,” pointing to its allegation that one of the SVR spies arrested last summer “was beaten in an American prison,” which he called “ridiculous.”

Kommersant's report that the Kremlin might dispatch a "hit team" to assassinate Shcherbakov also seemed far-fetched, but a CIA counterintelligence veteran called it "nothing to trifle over."

The CIA declined to comment, as did a senior White House National Security Council official and a spokesman for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“I think that the only real fact we have," said Soldatov, "is that someone with the name Shcherbakov fled to the U.S., and that's all we have for sure.”

*See more on this from SpyTalk on PBS Newshour.

By Jeff Stein  | November 12, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy, Intelligence  
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I doubt if they would send over a hit team on a publicized mission to kill someone on US soil. Why would they want to make a personal insult to President Obama after such cordial relations have been developed between himself and his Russian counterparts? It would become a very political issue for Obama if it were to happen.

Posted by: JustSayNoToOil | November 12, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Since the people arrested in late June as inactive agents were the most likely people to kill the recently defected chief, I guess it was good they nabbed them then. Maybe they got them all.

They looked like bumblers and tramps, but they are the folk who can become assassins, terrorists, and sabatours overnight, literally.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 12, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

The CIA recruited these Russian spies to teach Janet Napolitano and her crew from DHS how we should treat our citizens, just like the former KGB of the Kremlin and Stasi from the former DDK. These Russian spies know all about concentration camps, barbed wire fences and neighbor spying on neighbor.

We are from the government and are here to help. Now, hands against the wall and spread them. Our government is treating us like criminals.

Posted by: alance | November 12, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

anyone commenting know ANYTHING about the art of intelligence?

Posted by: pofinpa | November 12, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

The worship of the cold war CIA/KGB and the singing the praises of the immoral music of greatest hits is growing very old. The human race could do without it and get on with learning how to live within the means of our planet without being mean and without the inhumane moral relativism that is leading us on a warpath toward causing our own extinction.

Posted by: Wildthing1 | November 12, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Whoever 'they' are, it smells like a PLANT !!!

Posted by: | November 13, 2010 2:20 AM | Report abuse

I read that the FSB already has reconstituted its own foreign intelligence service. What do you know about that?

I can't find my source, but this was in connection to the Kommersant leak.

Posted by: crascal | November 14, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

I found the citation.

Andrei Soldatov, whom you quoted in your article, claims that "the FSB [is already] building its own foreign intelligence arm." That is by far the most interesting tidbit I have heard in connection with this story.

I would be interested in information about that.

Posted by: crascal | November 14, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Journalists often call Kommersant by the stock epithet "respected Kommersant."

This paper is owned by Alisher Usmanov, a billionaire Russian gangster who is involved with Gazprom-related holdings.

Kommersant also trashed the British climate scientists, probably because of the Gazprom connection--Gazprom isn't on board with global warming. RIA Novosti published an English version of that story.

Attorney General Cuccinelli has cited that Novosti version of the Kommersant story in his lawsuit against the EPA.

It's incredible that our Attorney General cites these Gazprom hoods as evidence of anything. The "expert" was the IEA. That is Andrei Illarionov. He is a global warming denialist at the Cato, but he also has the Institute for Economic Analysis in Russia. Illarionov used to work for Putin and Chernomyrdin, who was head of the Soviet Gas Ministry and it's reincarnation as Gazprom.

Our Attorney General is trying to sue the EPA with "evidence" from Kommersant-Gazprom!

Cuccinelli's dad is also a big gas lobbyist. He used to work for the American Gas Association and now has two companies. One gave Cuccinelli 96,000 dollars.

I read that Cuccinelli's dad has "European" clients. Since Cuccinelli persecutes those climate scientists and quotes Kommersant-Gazprom propaganda about those climate scientists, I wonder if the father's clients are Russian gas companies and/or companies associated with Gazprom.

I think maybe the father gets paid formally for his services but perhaps really to provide his clients with the services of our Attorney General Cuccinelli.

I voted for him, but now I see he seems to be linked to these Russian gas interests and their persecution of the climate scientists.

I write to the AG office with my questions about the father's clients, but they don't respond.
Please, can the Washington Post investigate this? Can you make Cuccinelli tell who his dad's clients are. Are they connected with Gazprom?

Here are some links to my sources, but I have a lot more.

Posted by: crascal | November 14, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

The Russians are subverting people with all their oil money:

"In Western Europe, Moscow has operated by making lucrative arrangements with foreign energy companies that become de facto lobbyists for the Kremlin within their own countries."---"Why The Russia Spy Story Really Matters" (RFE/RL, 7-9-10)

Cuccinelli's brief against the EPA claims:

On December 15, 2009---the very day that EPA announced the Endangerment Finding---the Russian Institute of Economic Analysis ("IEA") reported that CRU probably tampered with Russian climate data and that the Russian meteorological station data do not support human-caused global warming. It was well established that CRU had dropped many Russian stations in the colder regions of the country supposedly because these stations were no longer maintained. The IEA stated that, on the contrary, the stations still report temperatures but that CRU ignores the results.

The Russian IEA never said any such thing about the CRU. Cuccinelli’s brief is not very reliable because he bases his evidence on a Russian political operative who accused the Hadley Center of ignoring weather stations, while Cuccinelli---who claims he is citing this Russian---blames the CRU for tampering with weather station data. It is strange that the Russian "experts" cited by RIA Novosti accused the Hadley Center of dropping Russian weather stations because the Hadley Center records sea-surface temperatures (SST) while the CRU records land temperatures.

I think that is why when Cuccinelli "quotes" the RIA Novosti source, he actually mischaracterizes it--he had to "fix" what Novosti actually wrote because the Hadley Center that Novosti attacks collects sea-surface temperatures, but Novosti was attacking the Hadley for ignoring land temperature stations.

I think maybe the Russian propagandist didn't really know what he was talking about, so he messed up.

In any case, why should anyone believe an RIA Novosti article adapted from a Kommersant article.

RIA Novosti is the official press agency of the Russian government.
Kommersant is owned by a Gazprom thug, and the "expert" is Andrei Illarionov, who was a Putin adviser and worked for Chernomyrdian--the Russian gas chief of the Soviet Gas Ministry and later of Gazprom--which is owned mostly by the Russian government.

I think the Russians are using our Attorney General to persecute our great scientists.

These Libertarians say they don't want much government, but they seem to be pretty tight with the Russian government.

These denialists are suing NASA because the scientists are blogger-ativists on the government's dime, but these denialist are working on the government's dime too---just not OUR government's.

I am really furious with Cuccinelli for this betrayal!
He is supposed to be for Virginians, not for "European" tyrants with the big gas companies!

Posted by: crascal | November 14, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

What about "Kommersant" blame that USA officials broke leg for one Russian SPY. Is it falce ? The VOA doesn't answer for my question.

Posted by: bignycom | November 15, 2010 12:14 AM | Report abuse

No one should be surprised that Russia still believes in spying. It is known that Russia's leaders have spying in their DNA. The appearance of civility may change but Russia does not bel;ieve that it has to abandon its drive to return to a position of power in the world arena. They operate on the beliee that their oil and natural gas powers must be used to restore their power. Stay alert USA.

Posted by: eternalvigilance | November 16, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Attorney General Cucinelli’s father, a gas lobbyist, has “European” clients. The public needs to have transparency about who these clients are because in his suit to the EPA, Attorney General Cuccinelli is promoting disinformation from Kommersant, a newspaper owned by Alisher Usmanov, a notorious, Russian-based, Uzbek Gazprom official with close ties to Putin.

This newspaper is so powerful that it not only mounts disinformation campaigns against climate scientists for the Kremlin, it also mounts attacks the Russian foreign intelligence service on behalf of the domestic state security.

Perhaps the Cuccenelli men should be registered with FARA.

Attorney General Cuccinelli cites a December 2009 article in RIA Novosti in his suit against the EPA. Cuccinelli'b brief cites "experts" at the Russian Institute for Economic Analysis (IEA).

Novosti is the official press agency of the Russian government. This article accuses the British scientists at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of fudging data from Russian climate stations. Cuccinelli actually mischaracterizes what the Russian article says in his brief to the EPA. I think this is because the Russian writer didn't understand his subject and made some obvious factual errors.

The RIA Novosti article is in English, but Novosti notes that it was based on an article in Kommersant that identifies the Russian Institute for Economic Analysis (IEA) “expert” as the economist Andrei Illarionov. This Russian economist is a “former” adviser to Putin who also worked for Chernomyrdin, the head of the Soviet Gas Ministry and the creator of its post-Soviet reincarnation Gazprom. Illarionov works for the Cato, now and also runs an organization called the Institute for Economic Analysis in Russia (IEA).

Libertarians don’t like U.S. government agencies but they seem to collaborate closely with state-controlled Russian agencies.

Illarionov is not personally cited in the RIA Novosti version of the Kommersant article, but the IEA is cited. Novosti notes that its article is based on the Kommersant article, but it’s not an exact translation.

Gazprom is majority-owned by the Russian government and includes many other commodities, telecommunications, Internet, newspapers, etc.

It is a huge conglomerate that the Russian government controls.

Kommersant is owned by a Gazprom-connected Russian-based Uzbek gangster named Alisher Usmanov. He is the 100th richest man In the world.

Usmanov is close to Putin.

I don't think that Cuccinelli is promoting scientific information; I think he is promoting the Russian petrostate's propaganda.

I wonder if this is because of his gas-lobbyist father's relationships with his "European" clients.

Posted by: crascal | November 17, 2010 6:32 AM | Report abuse

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