Spying’s Amateur Hour

America owes Russia a big apology for the embarrassing case of bumbling CIA spy Ryan Fogel caught red-handed in Moscow trying to recruit a Russian agent.

Shame on the US. What ever happened to professional respect? Russia has always been the grand master of espionage. In Russia, spying is a high art form, like ballet.

Having been given an exclusive visit to the KGB’s museum of espionage, I can heartily attest to Russia’s mastery of spying. Too bad most people don’t known how masterful and patient the Russian were – and continue to be.

Sending an amateur American spy on a ham-handed attempt to recruit a Russian agent was an insult to the profession. Russia deserves the top US agents, not bumblers from the backwoods.

Agent Fogel, under thin diplomatic cover as third secretary at the US Moscow Embassy, was certainly no James Bond. More like agent 000. According to the Ruskis, he even had a nifty little spy kit with a Swiss Army knife, map of Moscow, two wigs, and compass. And a letter offering a bribe of “up to” $1 million to work for CIA.

Why didn’t CIA just run a spy-wanted ad in Moscow’s Pravda newspaper?

A counter-story was immediately spread that the bumbling Fogel was somehow trying to glean information related to the recent Boston bombing.

Coming just before crucially important US-Soviet talks over Syria, the Fogel affair was either incredibly inept or a crude attempt to sabotage the peace talks.

Agent 000’s case underlines concerns of veteran US intelligence professionals that CIA has become too absorbed running its own paramilitary operations around the globe and hunting so-called terrorists to pay proper attention to its basic business of gathering information.

The Cold War is long over, but intelligence operations continue at a higher intensity than during the long US-Soviet confrontation. China’s spies are increasingly active across the globe, particularly so in the US and Canada, but also in Russia.

Even allies spy on one another, most often to acquire advanced technology. The venerable “honey trap” where an attractive female agent seduces a target remains a favorite of the Russians, French, Israel’s Mossad, and, yes, the prudish CIA.

I recall nights in my awful Moscow hotel waiting for lovely Soviet female agents called “swallows” to tempt my devotion to the Free World. Alas, none ever came.

This writer has closely followed Soviet, then Russian intelligence operations . In 1989, I was the first journalist ever allowed into KGB headquarters at Moscow’s dreaded Lubyanka Prison. I interviewed two senior KGB generals who told me the Soviet Union was about to collapse due to the ineptitude of the Communist Party.

“What we need,” said one, “is a leader who will make Russians work at bayonet point, like Chile’s Pinochet or South Korea’s Park Chung-hee.” A decade later, they got their wish in the form of a former tough KGB/FSB agent, Vladimir Putin.


In spite of America’s self-congratulation over its victory in the Cold War, there is little doubt in my mind that though Moscow’s empire collapse into ruins, the Soviet KGB bested America’s CIA and other western spy agencies.

KGB and GRU(military intelligence) put agents into President Roosevelt’s White House. At the infamous Yalta Conference that divided up Europe, I saw the palace where Roosevelt and the US delegation stayed that was bugged from basement to roof by the KGB. The naïve Americans didn’t even think to look for bugs. In the early 1990’s, I saw the new US Embassy in Moscow that was so filled with bugs it was a giant microphone. The US had given the construction contract to a Russian company!

Soviet moles Aldrich Ames and John Walker handed America’s most precious secrets to Moscow. KGB spies like Philby, Burgess, Lonsdale and Blake came very close to destroying Britain’s intelligence agency MI6, and wrecking France’s spy outfit, SDECE.

In the end, the Soviet KGB managed to survive the Soviet collapse, re-emerging as FSB and SVR foreign intelligence from the KGB’s elite First Directorate. While CIA and the 15 other US intelligence agencies enjoy leadership in electronic, air and space-based intelligence(ELINT), their human intelligence (HUMINT) has lagged way behind the Soviets/Russians. US HUMINT about the Mideast, Iran and especially North Korea is poor.