The CIA is using a European NATO ally’s spy service to conduct a covert sabotage campaign inside Russia under the agency’s direction, according to former U.S. intelligence and military officials

Jack Murphy

The campaign involves long standing sleeper cells that the allied spy service has activated to hinder Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine by waging a secret war behind Russian lines. 

Years in the planning, the campaign is responsible for many of the unexplained explosions and other mishaps that have befallen the Russian military industrial complex since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, according to three former U.S. intelligence officials, two former U.S. military officials and a U.S. person who has been briefed on the campaign. The former officials declined to identify specific targets for the CIA-directed campaign, but railway bridges, fuel depots and power plants in Russia have all been damaged in unexplained incidents since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

While no American personnel are involved on the ground in Russia in the execution of these missions, agency paramilitary officers are commanding and controlling the operations, according to two former intelligence officials and a former military official. The paramilitary officers are assigned to the CIA’s Special Activities Center but detailed to the agency’s European Mission Center, said the two former intelligence officials. Using an allied intelligence service to give the CIA an added layer of plausible deniability was an essential factor in U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to approve the strikes, according to a former U.S. special operations official.

While command and control over the sabotage program resides with the CIA for legal reasons, the NATO ally has a strong say in which operations go forward since it is their people taking the risks. Sources repeatedly pushed back against any notion that the NATO ally was a CIA proxy, describing it is a close partnership. The European ally whose operatives are conducting the sabotage campaign is not being named here  because doing so might endanger the operational security of cells that are still operational inside of Russia.

Any covert action undertaken by U.S. agencies must be authorized by a presidential finding. After the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia had interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, President Barack Obama signed such a finding for covert action against Russia before he left office, according to The Washington Post. The finding involved the National Security Agency and the military’s Cyber Command in addition to the CIA and included a scheme to plant “cyberweapons in Russia’s infrastructure,” according to the Post.

That 2016 finding also included language about sabotage operations, according to a former CIA official. Other former officials said that the current sabotage campaign would have required either an entirely new finding or an amendment to a pre-existing finding on Russia.

CIA spokesperson Tammy Thorp denied any agency involvement in the wave of mysterious explosions that have struck Russia’s defense and transportation infrastructure in 2022. “The allegation that CIA is somehow supporting saboteur networks in Russia is categorically false,” the spokesperson said. Under Title 50 of the U.S. Code which authorizes covert actions, the CIA can lawfully deny the existence of these operations to everyone except the so-called “Gang of Eight” – the chairmen and ranking minority members of the congressional intelligence committees, the speaker and minority leader of the House of Representatives, and the majority and minority leaders of the Senate.

The NATO ally’s campaign overseen by the CIA is only one of several covert operations efforts being undertaken by Western nations in Russia, according to two former U.S. special operations officials. Alarmed by Russia’s February invasion, other European intelligence services have activated long-dormant resistance networks in their own countries, who in turn have been running operatives into Russia to create chaos without CIA help, according to a former U.S. military official. In addition, as has been widely reported, Ukrainian intelligence and special operations forces are running their own operations behind Russian lines.

The multiple sabotage campaigns are having an impact, according to Mick Mulroy, a former CIA paramilitary officer. “I do not know who is behind these attacks, but their value is substantial and serves multiple purposes,” he said. “Russia has had a significant problem keeping up with its logistical supply lines. These attacks further complicate its effort to supply its forces.”

They also serve to sow doubt in Kremlin minds, because they show that Russian President Vladimir Putin “does not have control over what is happening in his own country,” said Mulroy. “Is it a covert program, is it disgruntled Russians sabotaging their own plant, or is it pure incompetence of the workers? I don’t know, and perhaps the Kremlin doesn’t either. This matters to paranoid autocrats.”

Indeed, by refusing to take credit for individual acts of sabotage committed by the European spy service under the CIA’s direction the two agencies hope to send the Kremlin a message while sending Russia security services scrambling in all directions to find the culprits, according to a former U.S. military official. “With sabotage and subversion, there is a psychological component,” the former official said.

“There have been many fires across Russia over the past few months, particularly in weapons-manufacturing plants and other crucial sites,” said Russia analyst Olga Lautman, a non-resident fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. “Russian media has reported on these fires as separate incidents. They have not created any propaganda around these incidents and treat them as accidents.”

For instance, when a Russian Aerospace Defense Forces building burned down in late April, killing more than 20 people, Russian state media reported that the blaze was caused by faulty wiring. But the Kremlin understands that these are not just accidental fires and industrial accidents, despite what official media broadcast, according to a former U.S. intelligence official.

The overlapping nature of the various covert action campaigns behind Russian lines has created problems for the Western spy services running those missions. Over the summer, it became clear to CIA officers that there was increasingly a need for deconfliction amongst their own surrogate forces in Russia, according to two former military officials. Numerous incidents took place in which rail lines or power lines were cut that unintentionally interfered with other missions, one of them said.

Worse yet, two sabotage cells compromised each other while casing the same target, according to the two former military officials. One operative died and another was captured in the resulting firefight with Russian security services, they said. A lot of work has been done since then to prevent a repeat of such incidents, according to one of the former special operations officials.

See the pics and read the rest here:

One thought on “The CIA is using a European NATO ally’s spy service to conduct a covert sabotage campaign inside Russia under the agency’s direction, according to former U.S. intelligence and military officials

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *