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Thursday, September 25, 2014

60: BLACKMAIL, VODKA AND THREAT TO KILL






2008


Soon after Vladimir Putin assumed the presidency of Russia, he surrounded himself at the Kremlin with colleagues from his former place of employment, the KGB, just as former KGB Colonel Igor Prelin had forecast. 

In fact, Prelin was one of those Putin installed in a Kremlin job, along with their old chief, Vladimir Kryuchkov.  The pair became “security consultants,” and their placement did not bode well for what Russia would soon become.

If I was left with any distinct impression from Edward Lee Howard and his KGB friends, it was this: 

The old crowd was out to settle scores.  And now they were the in crowd.

Putin, who has a penchant for viewing sadistic videos, especially of Chechen captives being tortured, had three priorities:

Put the oligarchs out of business and consolidate the energy sector as an instrument of Russian foreign policy, then use it to blackmail foes into submission, especially the former Soviet republics.

Siphon billions of dollars for himself through several trusted bankers and money-launderers from the Ta’ambov criminal organization of St. Petersburg. who have created a complex network of oil trading and distribution companies throughout Europe to this end.

Strike back at those who were perceived to have betrayed the Motherland.

Regarding point three, top priority was given to those who had compromised Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen.  

Although Boris Yeltsin had refused to exfiltrate Ames from harm’s way when he had the chance, the former president was untouchable – part of a secret immunity deal that was orchestrated to replace him with Putin.

When my association with Clair Goerge, the CIA’s former spymaster, surfaced on the Internet in September 2001, it would have been standard procedure for the Russian FSB to conduct a damage-control assessment of my regular dealings with Ed Howard, and by extension, Prelin, Kryuchkov, Batamirov, et al.

One hypothesis they would naturally develop is that Howard knew all along that I was working for U.S. intelligence and that he was a witting participant, fulfilling requests to introduce me to others, and keeping me updated on Russian intelligence gossip.

They knew he was desperately unhappy in their country; that he would do anything to be able to return to live in the United States without threat of imprisonment, including sell them out.

Question:  How could Howard be privy to information the Russians would consider sensitive to their national security?
   
Answer:  Often in the intelligence business, need-to- know devolves into corridor chit-chat or after-work boozy boasting. 

(As the late former CIA official Miles Copeland used to joke, “You can trust me with any secret that doesn’t have entertainment value.”)

Howard’s information, among many other things, established that another mole was at work on a senior level in the U.S. intelligence community after Ames was arrested.

If the FSB concluded that Howard was not a witting participant, they would see his involvement with me as a screw-up that embarrassed and compromised them, including the much-revered chairman of their service.

Either way, it meant trouble for Howard. 

In mid-July 2002 he was quite likely the first casualty of Putin’s campaign to get even.

Soon, the oligarch Boris Berezovsky fled to exile in the UK. 

Another prominent, if less fortunate oligarch, Mikhail Khodokovsky, was arrested, tried, convicted and sent to prison in Siberia.  Both had stood in the way of Putin’s energy interests.

But what came next was truly brazen:

The systematic assassination of Russian investigative reporters who are slowly piecing together evidence of Putin’s corruption and laundering of state money for his own personal coffers and eventual safety net. 

The man who once pledged to crack down on oligarchs that exploited privatization in Russia has himself become Number One Oligarch.

The best known of these journalists is Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot to death in the elevator of her apartment building in 2006 on Putin’s birthday, October 7th.

A reporter named Yuri Shchekochikhin was poisoned to death with Thallium, on July 3rd, 2003, one year after Edward Lee Howard’s death, following publication of a book he authored entitled Slaves of the KGB

Arytom Borovin, another high-powered investigative reporter, died in the mysterious crash of a small private plane (March 9th, 2000).

Putin’s purge has not been limited to journalists.

Russian politicians who dare to speak out about Putin’s massive corruption have been threatened, harassed, physically attacked, beaten into submission and murdered.

On February 2nd, 2004, Ivan Rybkin, formerly Speaker of the Duma and Liberal Russia’s presidential candidate, published a full page ad in Kommersant that accused Putin of shady financial dealings and also identified by name a mysterious ex-KGB officer from St. Petersburg who is Putin’s personal banker/money-launderer. 

Three days later, In what has all the hallmarks of an intelligence operation, Rybkin was lured to Kiev under false pretenses and given tea laced with drugs.  He awakened four days later in another location and was shown a compromising, perverse video of himself.  Soon after, Rybkin all but abandoned his candidacy.  Moreover, he never again mentioned Putin’s plunder -- nor his partner-in-pillaging.

Eighteen months earlier, on August 21st, 2002, Liberal Russia’s co-chairman, Vladimir Golovlyov was shot and killed on a Moscow street.

On April 17th, 2003, within hours of officially registering Liberal Russia to participate in parliamentary elections, Sergei Yushenkov, a democratic politician, was shot dead near his home.

Even American reporters are not immune from Putin’s purge:

Paul Klebnikov, Moscow correspondent for Forbes magazine, was shot dead in the Russian capital on July 9th, 2004.  At the time of his death, Klebnikov was in hot pursuit of a story about Putin’s mystery banker – the same man Ivan Rybkin revealed as Putin’s shady business partner before he was drugged and compromised five months earlier.

(It seems that anyone and everyone who delves into Putin’s get-rich relationship with Geneva-based moneyman Gennady Nikolayevich Timchenko puts him/herself at enormous personal risk.)
And if all the above were not quite enough, this Putin-inspired campaign to murder and terrorize would soon be followed by a Russian state-sponsored assassination of Alexandre Litvinenko, a UK-national on UK territory, resulting in radioactive contamination on UK soil. 

Quite aside from breaking international law, this FSB operation broke the unspoken rules by which professional intelligence services normally adhere to with one another.

For all the theories and political spin, it is clear that the FSB as an institution, not some rogue element, executed Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who quit and exiled himself to Britain.

FSB Chairman Nikolai Patrushev personally approved the operation, and it was sanctioned at the very top, by his boss, President Putin. 

(Contrary to movie culture, professional intelligence services do not make policy, but implement the policies of the executive, even if it is part of their brief to provide their leader with plausible deniability.)

The FSB bungled the operation, using ten times the lethal dose of Polonium-210, and thereby left an unplanned trail of publicity, furor and the radiation poisoning of, among others, their own agents/assassins.

When Igor Prelin told me over dinner in London that he and KGB-in-exile crowd would like to kill Oleg Kalugin, this was no idle threat.  Had Kalugin chosen to exile himself in Western Europe instead of the United States, he quite likely would no longer be alive.

So far as recreating the Soviet Union goes, Putin and his cronies now understand that they do not need to achieve this politically or militarily.  That’s what Gazprom is for. 

Ukraine, Belarus, and the other former republics are learning that if they want to fuel their cars and heat their homes, they’d better cooperate with Moscow.

And multinational oil companies are discovering that ironclad contracts to build multi-billion dollar refineries in places like Sakhalin Island are not so ironclad after all.  When one such oil company’s top brass threatened to take legal action after their refinery was arbitrarily confiscated and turned over to Gazprom, they were told by Putin’s regime:  If you sue us, we’ll charge you with criminal offenses for violating our environmental laws and, when you come to Moscow, you’ll be arrested and thrown into jail.

In Vladimir Putin’s own words:  “The only way to influence people is blackmail, vodka and threat to kill.”

Not unlike 9/11, the bold, brutal regime of Putin was foreseeable—but only to those who cared enough to pay attention.

The Cold War was over, so the intelligence community paid scant attention to Russia in the years leading up to 9/11, preferring to appease and make allowances for the Russian leadership while ignoring signals that all was not well, to our detriment. 

And we’ve paid too little attention to Russia’s intelligence offensive since 9/11 because we devote most of our resources to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and on terrorism only as it applies to Islamic fanatics. 

We have ignored, and continue to ignore, state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Russia, hoping that this big bully will get tired and leave us alone. 

Bullies do not tire from acquiescence; they grow stronger and more monstrous.

Edward Lee Howard was likely one of the first to feel Putin’s wrath.

Alexandre Litvinenko will not be the last.



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