Adding to the Controversy Storm: Shenanigans in Russia

So in the midst of several scandals (IRS targeting, AP phone records, and Benghazi) there’s another one may not get a whole lot of coverage. Over the last week some interesting things have happened in Russia.

A low level American diplomat was arrested by the FSB (think a blend of the KGB and FBI but more KGB) and accused of being a spy and attempting to recruit a new asset. He was apparently carrying a couple of wigs, a boat load of cash, a few pairs of glasses, map of Moscow, a very strange letter, an old brick of a Nokia, and a couple other things carried by your average Boy Scout. All of this would lead one to believe that the Russian accusations are somewhat believable and that Ryan Fogle was a CIA operative with a cover as a career diplomat.

Fogle was apparently trying to recruit a Russian Security official, with knowledge and experience of the Caucuses, as an asset to work with the US. Why the Caucuses? Well the two bombers from Boston hailed from the region, and we can always use more information about an unstable region.

So after the arrest and return of Fogle to the American Mission in Moscow, Fogle was declared persona non grata and ordered to leave Russia.  But now let’s get to the weird parts. If he really was a CIA operative, how did his mission go so poorly? Aren’t our guys better trained than this? And why is an agency that is able to launch drone strikes with extreme precision, sending an agent on a mission with a map and compass in Moscow like he’s a Boy Scout in the woods?

If Fogle wasn’t a CIA operative and merely a State department employee working his way up the ladder, why isn’t the State Department protesting a bit more about the framing of one of their own as a spy? So far they haven’t said a whole lot.

Then there’s the possibility that Fogle was CIA and better trained but still is getting a bad frame up job by the Russians. The Washington Post has a great write up on the three possibilities as well as all the strange coincidental events and intricacies of the case known so far.

With any of these as possibilities, which I’m not trying to suggest one as the exact scenario, more questions need to be asked. Mostly about if Fogle was a CIA operative then how could his training not be better than what we’ve seen in the news? If he’s not CIA then why isn’t the State Department having a very public conniption fit?  As the Washington Post has pointed out too many things don’t add up in this case and someone has some explaining to do. Though most likely if that happens with will be in closed door hearings.


As an aside, it turns out that one of my favorite scholars has commented on this too. Some of you may recognize one of Dan Drezner’s recent books International Politics and Zombies.


  1. xdog says:

    You shouldn’t assume the agent-to-be was necessarily CIA, nor that diplomatic silence indicates much of anything. Army, Navy, Air Force all have intelligence groups. Homeland Security, FBI, Defense, DEA are possibilities. Hell, the State Department itself has a Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

  2. Noway says:

    We spy on them. They spy on us. It’s the world’s second oldest profession. Happens every day. No big deal.

  3. pettifogger says:

    We’ve had a lot of international intelligence scandals over the last several years, but that is probably more attributable to developing technology and access to information than it is a decline in trade craft.

    Think Dubai assassination with Mossad, FOB Chapman, Raymond Davis, Beirut Pizza Hut, etc. Pretty perilous for them, although increased public knowledge may impact (perhaps for the better) how they are protected/treated after the fact.

    • Eric The Younger says:

      I’ll agree that tech is probably making the job more difficult in a few regions and with certain missions. Though I don’t think that was much of a factor in the Dubai assassination. That was down right sloppy, especially for Mossad.

      • pettifogger says:

        Agreed, but if you’re like me (and interested in the subject), it was fascinating. I’m sure there will be more of that. Bad for operations folks, but I won’t say I disliked being able to watch a Mossad operation on film.

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