The Spying Game — Is ‘No Rules’ the New Rule? [2020 — POLL]

“Although no one had written them down, they were the precepts we all understood… By the time they got to Moscow, everyone knew these rules. They were dead simple and full of common sense…”

Tony Mendez  — The Master of Disguise

October 14 2020 — American and Russian intelligence services have long held a gentlemen’s agreement — often referred to as Moscow rules — that limited how they engaged with each other. Under these rules, they agreed not to attack each other physically and not to engage in certain types of activities. In the light of recent events (from Salisbury to Havana), one can only wonder if the spooks are still playing the old game by these rules? Several former CIA officers/agents kindly offered to explain their view on this important issue.  Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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During the Cold War, the spy game was played according to rules, such as the Vienna convention and the Moscow rules.

Today, an old and pardoned spy appears to have been targeted for assassination. US and Canadian diplomats seem to have been the victims of a mysterious and sophisticated attack. What is going on?

According to some observers, the spooks no longer play by these rules. Mark Galeotti, a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, argues that the ‘spy etiquette’ had broken down under Vladimir Putin.

“During the cold war, there was an understanding about what was and what was not acceptable.”

“The FSB works with impunity. They do not know the rules, and if they did, they do not care about them.”

CIA veteran Jack Devine believes that some of the unwritten conventions of spy-craft with Russia no longer apply.

“Russia today seems unconstrained by any norms.”

Others, such as Oleg Kalugin –a former major-general in the KGB now living in the US — believe that these rules never existed.

“I am not familiar with any such [spy] etiquette. (…)  There was only one rule: to win.”

Colonel Chris Costa, who until recently was the senior director for counter-terrorism on the White House national security council, is the executive director of the International Spy Museum in Washington DC.

Like Kalugin, he does not recognize the terms spy etiquette or spy rule-book.

“There are examples of people being beaten up, roughed up,” says Costa, who worked in intelligence for 30 years. “It would be very dangerous to make the assumption that there are rules.”

Let us be open-minded. Perhaps, we should also consider a third possibility. Current events — such as the Skripals’ case or the Havana attacks — may be misunderstood and/or incorrectly described.

Kalugin says he finds the poisoning attempt in Salisbury puzzling.

“Well, it is a really confusing picture. I do not see it as professional. I do not see a reason why he [Skripal] would be killed. He is not the kind of figure that would be dealt with in that way.”

Former CIA Jack Devine also agrees that the story of the Havana attacks is very sketchy at this point.

“To my knowledge, it (physical harm) has never been used against CIA personnel or U.S. citizens in general, with the possible exception of the bizarre case of U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba. Not enough is known yet about this case.”

INTEL TODAY would like to know what you think!

Intel Today asked former spies to give their opinion on this issue.

Robert Baer believes that some Intelligence Agencies no longer play by the rulebook.

 “They started throwing out the rules long ago.  If the Saudis get away with Istanbul it won’t be long before they start going after journalists inside our borders.”

Sabrina de Sousa believes that recent events may have been exceptional.

 “Rules have exceptions.”

John Kiriakou argues that the distinction between State and non-state actors is a confusing factor.

“Despite protestations to the contrary, there has indeed always been a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ for the United States and the USSR/Russia to not use violence against each other.

Spycraft is a chess game.  But with many primary targets now being non-state actors, the situation is very confusing.”

Dr Richard Fuisz is convinced that one must differentiate between spies with and without official cover.

“What has happened is that electronic techniques now dominate the more conventional aspects of spying……..the harder infiltrative aspects are still humint dependent. Sad to say but the quality of the agent in the field is directly dependent on the leadership quality at the top levels. But…..the top levels under recent past administrations have become political plums populated with mediocrity…….smart agents sense it and want out of dangerous postings.  Media is too superficial to handle the truth…..they make it simple for the public.  (…)

The reason poll is not answerable is because it does not differentiate between embassy affiliated agents with diplomatic passports and black, black with no protection what ever if outed (other than some inherently self generated risky options). Hollywood blends these two.”

Spy Game – “The Roof” sequence

Tom Bishop (Brad Pit) — Ah, Jesus Christ, you just… You don’t just trade these people like they’re baseball cards! It’s not a fucking game!

Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) —  Oh, yes it is. It’s exactly what it is. And it’s no kid’s game either. This is a whole other game. And it’s serious and it’s dangerous. And it’s not one you want to lose.


Commentary: The brutal new world of espionage and repression — Reuters

Moscow Rules — Spy Museum

Are Cold War Spy-Craft Norms Fading? — CFR


The Spying Game — Is ‘No Rules’ the New Rule?  [POLL]

The Spying Game — Is ‘No Rules’ the New Rule?  [UPDATE: Answers from Former CIA Agents]

The Spying Game — Is ‘No Rules’ the New Rule?  [2019 — POLL]

The Spying Game — Is ‘No Rules’ the New Rule? [2020 — POLL]

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