Uncle Sam Having a Harder Time Recruiting Russians

This has apparently been getting harder (h/t Betlo):

The panel also noted that it is now more difficult to recruit intelligence sources inside Russia than it was during the Soviet era. During the Soviet era, the CIA relied upon “volunteers” who would approach American intelligence officers, Bearden said, but the pool of Russians willing to betray their government largely has dried up. It is not entirely clear why this is the case, but Bearden suggested that given previous Soviet and Russian penetration of American intelligence services, it is possible that the fear of compromise has driven away many potential sources.

Clement suggested that Russian perceptions of the United States have deteriorated so badly that even educated Russian liberals take a dim view of Washington—making the recruitment of spies extremely difficult. Moreover, many Russians who might have betrayed their government in previous eras no longer feel compelled to risk imprisonment or death by working for the CIA. Instead, those dissidents can simply leave Russia for the West—which was not an option during the Soviet era.

Beebe, however, suggested that in the information age—where biometrics and social media are prevalent—the age of recruiting traditional human intelligence sources is over. “Biometric data means essentially that you can’t put someone under cover here in Washington and then have them travel around the world, pose under diplomatic cover and recruit people,” Beebe said. “Doesn’t work. Who they are, their identity is instantly known to governments that want to know who they are.”

Other reasons:

  1. The Russian Federation is 85% Russian, not 50% like the USSR. The guy who revealed the Soviet biological weapons program to the US was called Kanatzhan Alibekov.

  2. Internal Russophobia is on the decline. This can even be seen amongst the liberals, where the most odious of that lot have been utterly marginalized, and are demographically dying off (e.g. Novodvorskaya) and/or have moved abroad (e.g. Kasparov).

When the Soviet system existed, there were plenty of people with a strong ideological opposition to the regime, such as Vasily Mitrokhin, who secreted away huge chunks of the KGB archives and later transferred them to the UK. When it collapsed, and in the absence of any other positive (nationalist) values – indeed, bearing in mind their suppression under the old regime – it was replaced by pure materialism, so you had a vast upsurge in treason during the late 1980s and 1990s.

  1. This materialism factor was accentuated by the sheer material poverty Russia fell into during the 1990s. Selling secrets for a nice suburban house in California makes much more sense when you are an impoverished civil servant who lives in a khrushchevka and hasn’t been paid for months than when you are getting a PPP-adjusted salary of $2,000, live in a nice modern apartment, and possess a car and can travel to Turkey or Crimea a couple of times a year.

4. Conversely, whereas anti-Soviet dissidents could plausibly imagine that they were betraying an ideology, not their own people, this has become more and more implausible as the gradient of Western ethno-Russophobia veers ever upwards.

  1. Another factor could be declining competence amongst Western spooks focusing on Russia. The intelligence services have never attracted the very best – far from the James Bond stereotype of them being suave, well-informed mystery men, in reality they tend to be mediocre, and idiotic conspiracy theories run rife amongst among them – and this should be even more true today, when the best talent is sucked up by Big Finance and Big Tech to an extent unparalleled during the Cold War. Russia Studies have also been neglected and underfinanced since the end of the Cold War until recently, with bigger and bigger jokers taking the limelight with every passing year (from Edward Lucas to Molly McNew). Combine the two trends, and this too would explain a collapse in Russia recruitment.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Felix Keverich says

    This sounds implausible to me. Thousands of Russian government officials and oligarchs have homes in the West, keep their money in the West etc. I’d expect this to give CIA plenty of leverage.

    Someone like Kostin would probably jump at the opportunity to become an informer for the CIA. All they would have to do is promise to keep him off the sanctions list.

    Another factor could be declining competence amongst Western spooks focusing on Russia.

    Yes, this probably has more to do with declining competence of our enemies. In truth CIA has plenty of options for espionage in Russia. Perhaps, relying on SIGINT too much made them lazy.

  2. Lemurmaniac says

    I wonder how good GRU and the SVR are in their recruitment operations?

  3. Anonymous says

    Today CIA officers are more likely to have bullshit degrees from Penn State or Cedarville University* in Ohio than the CIA officers of the previous generations who were recruited from Skull and Bones at Yale (i.e., the power elite). Steve Sailer often mentions an anecdote from Walter Winchell about when Winchell took a test for the CIA back in the 1950’s (?). Winchell said the questions involved sailing, premier golf courses, fine dining, etc. All the stuff a Boston Brahmin Ivy Leaguer type would know.

    Here’s are some brief bios of modern CIA officers, taken from the CIA people killed at Camp Chapman in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber whom the CIA recruited as an informant.

    *The CIA Chief of Base at Camp Chapman, where a deadly suicide bombing by an informant took place in 2009, was career CIA Officer Jennifer Lynne Matthews. From the WP:


    Jennifer Matthews hadn’t always aspired to be a CIA operative. In 1986, she graduated with degrees in broadcast journalism and political science from Cedarville University, a small Christian college in Ohio where she met Anderson. Back then, she was an avid runner with auburn hair who believed deeply in God but also reveled in arguing about theology and politics.

    The CIA officer at Camp Chapman was Harold Brown Jr.:


    Brown, who grew up in Massachusetts, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from George Washington University and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Phoenix.

    Darren James LaBonte, was the CIA Amman Station case officer who recruited the Al Qaeda double agent suicide bomber, and was also killed that day at Camp Chapman:


    LaBonte decided not to re-enlist in the Army, choosing to pursue an education and a career in law enforcement. He graduated from Columbia College of Missouri and received a master’s degree in May 2006 from Boston University, where he studied criminal justice.
    Along the way, he had worked as a police officer in Libertyville, Ill., and as a U.S. marshal before joining the FBI. The family said LaBonte won a leadership and shooting award at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., then landed in the FBI’s New York field office…

    The CIA recruited him, and he resigned from the FBI in late 2006, moving with his wife to the Washington, D.C., area. His father had reservations about the CIA, but his son had always steered his own course.

    This is the modern, highly sophisticated CIA cloak and dagger stuff in Russia:

  4. Frederic Bastiat says

    When the Soviet system existed, there were plenty of people with a strong ideological opposition to the regime, such as Vasily Mitrokhin, who secreted away huge chunks of the KGB archives and later transferred them to the UK.

    This is a good point. Russias ideological footing is more solid today than in its communist past. You can do nothing wrong with traditional family values and moderately-liberal (European sense) nationalism. It feels natural, is healthy for the development of society and a good basis for soft power projection (sizeable parts of Western societies are discontent social-conservatives). Logically, your geopolitical enemies will then be ideologically portrayed as open-border-globalist degenerates (as epitomized by George Soros and Conchita Wurst). Who in Russia wants to support these?

  5. Mr. Hack says

    This is a good point. Russias ideological footing is more solid today than in its communist past.

    I don’t believe this for a moment. The communists spent a great deal of their time creating and implementing ideology that served as a strict code of rules that covered all phases of life. Communist ideology was crystal clear and served as a map governing how everybody was to think, sleep and eat.

    What about today? A photo opp of the top oligarch with the head of the ROC pretty much sums it all up. Building a few glitzy churches and continuing the soviet tradition of having military parades looks good in the media. But beyond this and bashing ‘Fagropa’ and the ‘Nazi Junta’ in Ukraine what is left?

    ‘Let’s enrich the oligarchs that are loyal to Putin?’

    Kill the UkropNazis and open the gates to our Asian brothers to the East’

    Am I missing something?

  6. reiner Tor says

    I guess they are mostly based on money only. But a lot of values (especially patriotic values) collapsed in the US, replaced by empty materialism, while some people are making enormous amounts in the private sector, so probably a lot of people on civil servant salaries are envious and want more.

    There might also be some Snowden-like idealists who are willing to overlook the faults of Russia (like many alt-right(ish) commenters here), so maybe some ideological recruitment has resumed. But probably nothing on the scale of commies in the 1940s or 1950s.

  7. All of that is feature, not bug.

    Communism was a materialist ideology with an overriding eschatological imperative that necessitated a final victory over capitalism. Both points were definitively “disproven” by the 1970s.

    There is nothing in particular to “disprove” about family values, patriotic fluff, and nice looking churches to break up the commieblock monotonicity.

  8. I remember playing a board game where one is supposed to guess the other players reaction to various scenarios. One such scenario was that you find out that a member of your family is selling state secrets to another foreign power – do you report them or not? I went for the not to report them option, I thought this was the obvious answer that everyone would pick, I was shocked to find out that others were shocked that I would not report such “traitorous” activity.

    This was an easy pick for me as I live in a land where being pro white pretty much makes you an enemy of the state, what would the average Russian do if they found out a family member was being paid $1 million by the CIA to spy against Russia?

  9. songbird says

    This is one of the essential weaknesses of diversity. Diversity means that you have a abundance of potential spies in your own country, but you can’t recruit them and send them overseas because they are not interested in betraying their ethnic mother country.

    Many of them don’t see a problem in helping out the mother country. Many have even come purely for the economic opportunity.

    The only check on it is human capital. Somalia isn’t a threat because it is an anarchy; Somali’s are not intelligent enough to be spies, although they are still willing to betray and do so on other matters, like politics, where they form alliances and commit acts of sabotage.

  10. Mr. Hack says

    There is nothing in particular to “disprove” about family values, patriotic fluff, and nice looking churches to break up the commieblock monotonicity.

    Oh, I fullheartedly agree with you. The problem is that this is just window dressing for the more unseemly side of the true ideology that seems to be guiding Russia today (two examples that I’ve already provided). Even you seem to be having great difficulties in countering this nonsense with your own feeble attempts to be a proponent of the ‘Triune Theory’ that you like to dust off and briefly parade to your readers here, without ever providing it with the type of definition and prominence that it deserves?

  11. reiner Tor says

    Russia is a country, not a supposedly universalistic ideological empire anymore. It doesn’t care for your everyday life much, which makes it easier for various people to identify with it.

  12. anonymous coward says

    Thousands of Russian government officials and oligarchs have homes in the West, keep their money in the West etc.

    Citation, as they say, needed. Reality is not the crooked-mirror image you see online. (Sometimes worse, to be sure.)

  13. Mitleser says

    As expected of Negro spies.


  14. Mr. Hack says

    Russia is a country, not a supposedly universalistic ideological empire anymore. It doesn’t care for your everyday life much, which makes it easier for various people to identify with it.

    This is precisely why Russia will never again really become an important world player. It’s still an empire though, large and encompassing several hundred national and ethnic groups. Its fate seems sealed as a ‘gas station’ to the world, and will always be dependent on oil prices set in the West (this has been proven over the last 10 years).

  15. songbird says

    I think there is another excerpt where Nixon acknowledges that blacks are stupid but also that he can’t say it publicly. Certainly something that should go into future history books.

    It is really a shame that the tape recorder was torn out of the Oval Office. The Obama tapes would have made for some interesting listening.

  16. You are definitely missing the essence here Mr. Hack

    The difference between the Soviet Union and the Russia of today was that the later was a top-down system while the later is a bottom-up society, ideologically and increasingly in many other ways.

    Hence when the discrepancy between the party’s ideology projected from above and the reality on the ground became to large it disillusioned many common people like Mitrokhin opted out while the top brass in the party were the last to realize what was happening.

    Russia of today is precisely the opposite: The common man in Russia is constantly bombarded with stories from western MSM and Russias own liberal traitors how horrible life in Russia under Putin is, economically, political and socially.

    Yet salaries and the social environment have improved tremendously up to the point that Russia probably is a better place to live in then not only then basket cases as Ukraine but also Hungary and Cezh republic.

    So the common man in Russia realizes that the horror stories that western MSM is peddling about his country are just bad fairy tales. Not only that…. as a counter reaction to all the lies and spin he is getting more patriotic.

  17. Mr. Hack says

    I’ve never relied on the ‘horror stories’ emanating from the West regarding Russia’s standard of living, anymore than I buy your own rosy picture of things there. Poverty there has been increasing again at a steady rate (after declining until 2012), the discrepancy in income is getting wider too, and let’s face it, the economy is still bumbling along barely squeaking out of the long recession. Wages are pretty much frozen. I realize that some of this is endemic throughout the world too.


  18. Anonymous says

    It is really a shame that the tape recorder was torn out of the Oval Office. The Obama tapes would have made for some interesting listening.

    “Hey, uh, Dave, uh, this is Barack. Uh, whazzup. We got a problem. That, uh, ass-clown reality show Donald Trump is making waves about me being born in, uh, Kenya. So, uh, I need your boys over there at The Agency to, uh, whip me up a realistic-looking Hawaiian birth document. Yeah, uh, make it even more, uh, authoritative and call it something like, uh, ‘certificate of, uh, live birth’.”

    “Hey, uh, James. Whazzup my man. This is Barack. Yeah, uh, we got a problem. That reality-show buffoon Donald Trump is making, uh, a big deal outa me being born in Kenya. I need for your boys over there to, uh, make his life difficult. [Inaudible]. Yeah, uh, make him a Russian or Chinese spy, uh, I don’t care, just, uh, get him off my ass with this, uh, issue of me being born in Kenya. Uh, thanks brother.”


  19. LondonBob says

    Nixon’s tapes are classic.


  20. Philip Owen says

    In the USSR, failing to excel academically meant the end of your aspirations. Your position was fixed for life. That is no longer so final a conclusion. The ranks of those fixed in their path in life are no longer so rigid.

    That said, the students at the gymnasium all expect to do well in business or government bureaucracies (a choice of bureaucracies did not previously exist) so they are perhaps more loyal than before. The youth wing of United Russia. If they want to emigrate, they want to go to Europe.

    Meanwhile, the Bad Boys in the Yard all want to go to America where they will own a big SUV and buy a gun but they aren’t much good as spies. They have no access to anything worth knowing and they can’t speak English.

    Some subjects and answers naturally repeat themselves.

  21. Philip Owen says

    There are about 1,700 Russians with investors visas in the UK. Let us say similar numbers in Nice, New York, Miami, Geneva and Tel Aviv. Let us say, 10,000 people. Most are not oligarchs or state officials. Once you have as little as $10m in Russia, you start looking for a foreign nest to protect your children from kidnapping and yourself from extortion. These guys remember the 1990’s. Tax and wealth preservation can come into it too.

  22. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”


    The discrepancy in income have been reduced…. Russia is pretty close to major European countries and certainly better of then US. Comparing with eastern European countries that count like Poland and Hungary is meaningless. On a pure statistical basis Poland is a bit more equal considering income but only because its economy is colonial: In Poland the largest companies are owned by Germans – in Russia by Russians.

    Poverty took a hit for the worse in 2015 but have stayed at that level or slowly started to improve.

    Considering economic growth it is a nuanced story:

    -From 2014 to 2015 Russia was hit simultaneously with sanctions and a dramatic fall in the price of oil: All that achieved was a dent in GPD by 2 -4%. If anything the ability of taking 2 massive blows and shrug them of so lightly is a major show of strength for the Russian economy.

    -Official numbers have been lacklustre but they are hiding a massive case of import substitution: In sector after sector ranging from agriculture to aerospace and tourism (thanks Putin for Crime 😉 ) Russians are buying and using Russian made commodities and services instead of western.

    -Moreover, inflation have been tamed down to 3% in 2017 (something that you failed to notice and definitely should be taken into account).

    -Russia have a minuscule government debt in difference from most western countries which have inflated their GDP into the absurd once again showing that official statistic have its faults.

    -As you so astutely pointed out “I realize that some of this is endemic throughout the world too”, I would say that most of these problems are far worse in the countries surrounding Russia and in the world.

    So all in all Russia is doing well although there is ample space for improvement to excel.

  23. Mr. Hack says

    It’s interesting to note that even though Russia is financing two war operations, little is said about the effects of the military spending on inflation? Usually, large outlays in military spending spells trouble for an increasing inflation rate. Also, inflation has started to rise since last month, and looks to increase some more, perhaps as high as in the 4% range:

    With the sluggish recovery gaining traction and wage pressure on the rise, little now stands in the way of an upswing in consumer prices. Adding to the mix, the ruble lost over 9 percent against the dollar in the world’s second-worst performance in April, threatening to fan the cost of imported goods. A depreciation of 10 percent may add a percentage point to inflation, according to the central bank’s research and forecasting department.


    I think that it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of uncertainty with regards to the recovery and with the Russian economy in general. Undoubtedly, my view is a bit fogged with the overall robust nature of the US economy and the markets here.

  24. Mightypeon says

    Reasons why CIA is not a popular employer in Russia:

    1: Widespread perception of incompetence of the CIA, vs. widespread perception of Putin competence in bringing down traitors.

    2: The internal overton window of Russias elites is pretty broad. One has to have well, seriously marginal ideas (like eternally kowtowing before the west) to be actually marginalized. Less people who feel strongly marginalized, less recruitment opportunities. Russian nationalists perhaps represent the largest demographic of persons who are politically marginalized in Russia, but their leaning render them somewhat less likely to seek CIA employment. In contrast to Ukrainian Nationalist, there is no “greater evil then the CIA” against whom they would be willing to hold their noses and cooperate with Langley.

    3: Many things or careers that previously required CIA cover are now available for normal money.

    4: People who are competent but also seriously displeased with Russia can, and do, leave instead of turning active traitor.

    5: Russian elites in a position where betrayal would be interesting for the CIA now tend to be reasonably rich anyway. Much less harder to bribe because of that. There are supposedly limits on how much bribe money CIA pays out. The limit for Russia is somewhere around 50K or so, and for many this is not worth the risk. Simple math. If you make 50K per year anyway (which is not unreasonable for some Moscow apparatschik), then CIA bribe money is just a yearly salary. Espionage gets you in prison for a lot more then one year. Lets assume that the Apparatschik is a massive optimist, and assumes that he has a 75% chance of getting away with given things to the CIA in return for money. Punishment is 10-20 years of prison. 25% (percentage of getting cought) by that is 2.5-5 years. Effectively, CIA bribe money is far below what the apparatschik could get otherwise by just working. Furthermore, the Apparatschik can just report the conversation to FSB, and hope to get the CIA bribe money without any risk whatsorever (FSB will prepare stuff for him to sell to the CIA).
    In addition, apparatschiks with sufficent criminal energy to consider going traitor will also have sufficient criminal energy to have some type of semi legal enterprise on the side. If they have such enterprises, and these enterprises are working, then the last thing they want is any attention whatsorever from any intelligence agency.
    From what I get, the FSB will take a cut, but advise the apparatschick on how to maximize his (and due to the FSB cut the FSBs) CIA based revenue. Added bonus “heroically bamboozled the CIA” is a good point of the Apparatschicks internal resume.

    If you think that this is too intelligent for the FSB. Please consider the following thing:
    FSB trains most of its people, but some join the FSB because they were the nephews of important persons. These some are typically barely useful morons. Even worse, the important person will get very irate if these morons are used in the typical way, as bait/distraction. As such, Russian intel has a steady supply of morons whom they cannot use as bait/distraction. So, what of the tasks requires the least skill and is also completely safe? Yeap, “repressing liberals”.
    Extrapolating Russian intel capability from Russian liberal encounters with Russian intel assets is not a good idea.

  25. anonymous coward says

    In the USSR, failing to excel academically meant the end of your aspirations.

    What kind of aspirations? Making big money in the USSR didn’t involve intellectual work. The people who scored big bucks were the blue-collar dudes, especially ones who were willing to do the crappiest jobs. (E.g., panhandling gold in the frozen tundra.)

    People forget that a chunk of USSR’s economy was free (or freeish) enterprise — things like gold digging, construction, agriculture.

    (In fact USSR’s problem was the opposite — only rough blue-collar people had a chance to become rich. I think the only intellectual profession that paid big money was painting and graphic design.)

  26. Anonymous says

    Edward Lucas is a complete fucking idiot.
    A pompous self important idiot at that.

    Can’t formulate a sentence without inserting a stupid and pompous ‘the bear’ in it somewhere.

    That this cunt is a senior Economist writer should come as no surprise.

    The only real mystery is how much this shit-cunt is being paid – and by whom.

  27. I am not sure at what you are meaning with “two war operations” and even more important “large outlays in military spending”… because there isnt any conflict that Russia participates in fitting the last criteria:

    -The only conflict that Russian armed forces are participating in today is the civil war in Syria: Yet the spending are approximately of 1 billion usd/year – substantial but not large. Moreover they have primary been allocated from the military budget for training, so this isnt any out of budget expense. The reason for this (relatively small expenses compared to US in Irak and Afghanistan) is that Russia’s footprint on the ground in Syria is minimal: A few Spetznas teams, some infantry to guard the 2 bases. The rest are technical personal, ground crews and pilots in Russain air-forces or experts and advisor helping to coordinate the Syrian army. All in all probably never exceeding 5 thousand men at a time, probably less.

    -If you are implying that Russian armed forces are engaged in Easten Ukraine you are fundamentally wrong: All the fighting there is done by local forces from the area, a couple of Russian volunteers may still be present but thats all. However Russia is certainly supporting the two republics financially but it would be another 1 billion usd max.

    -All in all military spending have probably no ore negligible effect on Russian inflation.

    -Finally, not entirely sure but i have read somewhere that inflation in Russia is strongly seasonally correlated: the first summer month tend to see a spike in it, falling of during autumn.