TIT FOR TAT: Russia Retaliates, Boots 60 American Agents

Proving yet again that international relations can often resemble schoolyard taunts and retaliations, Russia has responded to the U.S. expulsion of 60 Russian agents and the closure of a Russian consulate in Seattle with an expulsion of exactly 60 American diplomats and the shuttering of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced this week.

More than 20 countries have expelled Russian envoys, in solidarity with the UK, which has blamed Moscow for the [March poisoning of former British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil].

Russia has vehemently denied any role. Mr Skripal remains in a critical but stable condition. His daughter’s condition is said to be improving.

Mr Lavrov said that the US ambassador had been informed of “retaliatory measures”.

While some in traditional and on social media seemed to suggest the closure of the Seattle consulate was little more than a distraction to steer eyes away from the possible scandal surrounding the former adult film actress Stormy Daniels and the nature of her relationship with President Donald Trump, Task and Purpose has an interesting piece out that dispels that myth by asserting that FBI agents monitoring Russian agents for evidence of espionage has never stopped. In fact, the piece asserts, “it may have intensified amid growing tensions between Moscow and the West.”

“It’s no secret that consulates serve as a potential platform for covert activities,” said Charles Mandigo, a former special agent in charge of the FBI Seattle office, “just as consulate personnel and embassy staff provide the country with the opportunity to insert a spy onto U.S. soil.”

Seattle has everything to attract espionage interests from Russia, or any number of other countries, he said.

“Think about it. There’s Boeing, which runs all kinds of black operations,” said Mandigo, referring to the giant defense contractor’s secret work with the Pentagon. “There’s the University of Washington, which gets all kinds of government contracts. There’s Microsoft. There’s proximity from a military point of view, particularly Bangor.”

Naval Base Kitsap, near Bremerton, includes the submarine base at Bangor, home to the West Coast fleet of Trident submarines, part of America’s triad of land-, air- and sea-based nuclear arsenal. It’s estimated that within the past decade, up to a quarter of the country’s nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons have been stored there.

One source for the Task and Purpose piece who is involved with the  CI Centre, a counterintelligence training and education center, estimates that as much as a third of Russian consulate employees may be involved in covert intelligence work.

While no specific incidents of spying were mentioned by the Trump administration when they announced the expulsion of the Russian agents and the closing of the consulate Monday, they noted that the move was part of a longer term strategy of “degrading” the Russian ability to engage in espionage.

Task and Purpose notes that Russian espionage interests on the West Coast is anything but new, dating back for decades and predating the opening of the Seattle consulate opening by years.

In 1987, even amid the glasnost thaw, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer broke a story that Soviet submarines — using intelligence garnered from the spy ring formed by John Walker — had penetrated the Strait of Juan de Fuca through the 1980s. Walker served many years in the U.S. Navy, and the leaked information helped Russians slip past U.S. anti-sub defenses.

A decade later, in 1998, Jack Daly, then a Navy lieutenant and intelligence officer, was dispatched on a Canadian helicopter to take surveillance photographs of a Russian cargo ship in the Strait of Juan de Fuca that was suspected of spying on the Trident submarines. He says the ship fired a laser that singed his retinas. He sued in U.S. District Court over the laser attack and his injury, but in 2002, a jury rejected his claim.

Framing all of this real-life U.S.-Russia espionage and counter-espionage is the popularity of the FX series “The Americans”, which has reportedly taken cues for its final season, which began Wednesday, from real-life Cold War behavior between the two nations prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In “Dead Hand,” Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is sent on a covert mission to Mexico City, where she is informed of the real-life Dead Hand, the doomsday machine engineered by Russians to automatically fire its nuclear arsenal if Russian military commanders were wiped out during the Cold War. The computerized system is such a consequential secret that Elizabeth is commanded to keep the intel from husband Philip (Matthew Rhys) and given a suicide pill in the event that she is arrested. But just how frightening was this system?

When an expert on the Russian military reported the existence of the machine in 1993, The New York Times described it as a “chilling” system that “would seem to bring to life one of the darkest fears of the nuclear era—that machines could instigate a nuclear holocaust.” William E. Odom, the former head of the National Security Agency, commented that Dead Hand—if it did really exist—would be “a machine out of control.”

Life imitates art imitating life. And so on.