A Double Game with Double Agents

 

In 2010 the FBI rolled up a network of Russian spies living illegally and undercover in the United States. Press coverage focused on one spy captured, the exceedingly attractive Anna Chapman. They portrayed the illegals as a gang of inept klutzes, caught through their own carelessness.

“Spy Swap: The Humiliation of Russia’s Intelligence Services,” by Nigel West, tells a different story. It reveals the circle taken down in 2010 was extremely professional and highly dangerous. They had been under observation for over a decade. It also reveals the real reason the FBI chose to act in 2010.

To understand the context for the take-down and what motivated it, West presents a brief overview of spying by the Soviet Union and the KGB, and the subsequent continuation of spying by Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and the KGB’s successor, the SVR. Readers of recent espionage history, like “Agent Sonya” and “Gray Day,” and others, will find mention of those activities in “Spy Swap.”

Those books are placed in a context that makes inexplicable parts of those books suddenly understandable. Early chapters provide a matrix for understanding the espionage game between the first and second worlds before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

More fascinating is West’s description of the struggle between the US and Russian espionage and counterespionage services after the Soviet Union dissolved. He reveals how the US repeatedly penetrated Russian secret services and rooting out traitors within US ranks through intelligence gained from Russians.

The 2010 takedown of the agents was the culmination of a 10-year surveillance code-named GHOST STORY. The FBI is revealed as a highly effective counterespionage service, patiently tracking a network of agents, to be rolled up at need.

The need proved surprising. The Russian convicted Gennadi Vasilenko, a Russian intelligence agent caught cooperating with the US. His imprisonment was sufficiently harsh the US feared he would not survive his term. The Russians did not understand how valuable he had been to the US. The GHOST STORY agents allowed the US to arrange a spy swap in which Vasilenko was included, but as if an afterthought.

“Spy Swap” reveals a time in which the US was loyal to its foreign human assets and going to extreme lengths to recover them. It documents a time when the US intelligence and counterintelligence dominated its Russian rivals, in a manner humiliating to their Russian counterparts.

“Spy Swap: The Humiliation of Russia’s Intelligence Services,” by Nigel West, Naval Institute Press, 2021, 248 pages, $42.95 (Hardcover)

This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Hard to buy the FBI as this component. Color me skeptical.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Hard to buy the FBI as this component. Color me skeptical.

    I think that by and large, the rank-and-file of the FBI do their jobs. 

    The leadership either plays Game of Thrones or Angry Birds.

    • #2
  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Percival (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Hard to buy the FBI as this component. Color me skeptical.

    I think that by and large, the rank-and-file of the FBI do their jobs.

    The leadership either plays Game of Thrones or Angry Birds.

    Yet they have not resigned in disgust. This sounds like a good book to read about the good old days when the FBI did not consider me an enemy of the state.

    • #3
  4. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Will we see histories and novels based upon Chinese spying?  Will they be permitted to be published?  Not expecting anything from the Disney universe. 

    • #4
  5. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Hard to buy the FBI as this component. Color me skeptical.

    The book ends a decade ago and GHOST STORY was run from 1999 to 2010. It was a significantly different FBI and CIA in this book. Obama had only two years to stock the FBI with his minions as the book ends. I doubt we could do something like this today, in the era of 10% for the Big Guy.

    An eerie foreshadowing of the rot permeating today’s  FBI is when a very junior Peter Strzok makes a one-line appearance on page 99.

    • #5
  6. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I remember that story. So they let these spies dally around for 10 years? They made a big deal about the girl and she was the toast of Russia. Given this was during the years that 9/11 happened, and they said it was five years in the making, I’m not sure that either agency was on the ball. Thank you for the review!

    • #6
  7. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    I remember that story. So they let these spies dally around for 10 years? They made a big deal about the girl and she was the toast of Russia. Given this was during the years that 9/11 happened, and they said it was five years in the making, I’m not sure that either agency was on the ball. Thank you for the review!

    I have largely forgotten but greatly enjoyed Legacy of Ashes, which puts a boot to the backside of the CIA.

    • #7
  8. David Carroll Thatcher
    David Carroll
    @DavidCarroll

    Here is a negative review on Amazon:

    This thing arrived in today’s mail and I quickly opened the box and starting reading, much to my disappointment.
    The author is unable to stay on topic for more than one long or two short paragraphs before moving on to another operation or person. Chronology does not exist in the narrative but is pathetically provided in a Timeline of Events on page 172.
    The author constantly skips backwards and forwards dropping names, aliases, code names, and operation names with gusto. It is almost as if he is trying to impress someone with the number of names he knows without giving the reader any substance. He probably single-handedly caused a shortage of index cards if he uses such in his files.
    I have read the first two paragraphs of this woefully short book and am doubting carrying on.
    The bulk of this book is based on other books already in my personal library. The author is not telling us anything new.

    I am interested in @seawriter‘s take on this contrary review.  Any truth to the comment? 

    • #8
  9. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    David Carroll (View Comment):

    Here is a negative review on Amazon:

    This thing arrived in today’s mail and I quickly opened the box and starting reading, much to my disappointment.
    The author is unable to stay on topic for more than one long or two short paragraphs before moving on to another operation or person. Chronology does not exist in the narrative but is pathetically provided in a Timeline of Events on page 172.
    The author constantly skips backwards and forwards dropping names, aliases, code names, and operation names with gusto. It is almost as if he is trying to impress someone with the number of names he knows without giving the reader any substance. He probably single-handedly caused a shortage of index cards if he uses such in his files.
    I have read the first two paragraphs of this woefully short book and am doubting carrying on.
    The bulk of this book is based on other books already in my personal library. The author is not telling us anything new.

    I am interested in @ seawriter‘s take on this contrary review. Any truth to the comment?

    Yeah. It doesn’t sound like the book I read. I’d bet someone doesn’t like the author. There is always one or two of those in Amazon reviews, especially if an author steps on a reviewer’s pet hobby horse. 

    • #9
  10. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Seawriter: A Double Game with Double Agents

    Why — why, that’s — a Quadruple Game!

    • #10