The FBI’s recent arrest of several alleged deep-cover Russian intelligence officers, also known as “illegals”, has provoked astonishment in the media. As if U.S. intelligence agencies would never dream of carrying out covert work in Russia! Since the memory span of reporters and pundits rarely extends beyond a few weeks, perhaps this is understandable. But it should come as no surprise that spying remains an important tool of statecraft. As exemplified by the illegals, the Russians are top players in the game of human intelligence.
Since the Bolshevik Revolution, Russia has been an espionage superpower. The reasons for Russian excellence at spying lie deep in the nation’s culture and history, factors which suited the eventual development of a world-class intelligence service. Centuries of dynastic rule, the Byzantine nature of the Russian state and attendant intrigue sharpened the skills of deception necessary in the struggle for power.
The mobilization political culture that led to the creation…
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