Russia uses dirty tricks despite U.S. ‘reset’

Intelligence agents tell of intimidation, smears of American officials, diplomats

In the past four years, Russia’s intelligence services have stepped up a campaign of intimidation and dirty tricks against U.S. officials and diplomats in Russia and the countries that used to form the Soviet Union.

U.S. diplomats and officials have found their homes broken into and vandalized, or altered in ways as trivial as bathroom use; faced anonymous or veiled threats; and in some cases found themselves set up in compromising photos or videos that are later leaked to the local press and presented as a sex scandal.

“The point was to show that ‘we can get to you where you sleep,’ ” one U.S. intelligence officer told The Washington Times. “It’s a psychological kind of attack.”

Despite a stated policy from President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev of warm U.S.-Russian ties, the campaign of intelligence intimidation - or what the CIA calls “direct action” - has persisted throughout what both sides have called a “reset” in the relations.

They have become worse in just the past year, some U.S. officials said. Also, their targets are broadening to include human rights workers and nongovernmental organizations as well as embassy staff.

The most brazen example of this kind of intimidation was the Sept. 22 bombing attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia. A National Intelligence Council assessment sent to Congress last week confirmed that the bombing was ordered by Maj. Yevgeny Borisov of Russian military intelligence, said four U.S. officials who have read the report.

False rape charge

One example of such intimidation occurred in 2009 against a senior U.S. official in the Moscow office of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the congressionally funded nongovernmental organization that promotes democracy throughout the world. The Times has withheld the name of the official at the request of NDI.

According to a Jan. 30, 2009, cable from U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle disclosed by WikiLeaks, USAID employees received an email with a doctored photo of the NDI official reclining with an underage girl.

The email from someone purporting to be a Russian citizen accused the official of raping her 9-year-old daughter.

In the cable, Mr. Beyrle said the embassy thought the Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind the smear attack, which also appeared in Russian newspapers. The FSB is the successor agency of the Soviet-era KGB.

Kathy Gest, the NDI director of public affairs, said, “The allegations recounted in the WikiLeaks memo are all false and were protested at the time. We consider the matter closed and NDI, which is legally registered in Russia, continues its programs.”

Former Sen. Christopher S. Bond, who served as the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence between 2007 and 2010, said he had raised the issue of Russian intimidation of U.S. diplomats with the Obama administration.

“We are concerned about the acts of intimidation as well as their record on previous agreements and other activities,” Mr. Bond said. “It’s a real concern, I’ve raised it. It’s not the intelligence committee that fails to understand the problem. It’s the Obama administration.”

Yevgeny Khorishko, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, said accusations that Russian diplomats have stepped up intimidation of U.S. officials were false.

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