The Central Intelligence Agency has launched a new effort to take advantage of what US intelligence officials believe is an “unprecedented” opportunity to convince Russians that the war in Ukraine and life in Russia are unaffected. to share their secrets, posting a slow-paced, cinematic recruitment video online on Monday.
The push includes a new CIA channel on Telegram, the social media network that is a very popular source of unfiltered Russian news. The CIA first posted the video on Telegram, which ended with instructions on how to contact the CIA anonymously and securely. The video was also posted on other social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
CIA officials involved in the project said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine created a historic opening “for Russians to come to us and provide information that the United States needs.” It also comes after a previous recruitment drive following the launch of the invasion that officials said was successful, with “contact to come.”
The message, one official said, that they hope Russians working in sensitive fields with access to valuable information will now hear is: “We understand you, maybe better than you think.”
“We want to convey to the Russians in their own language that we know what they are going through,” added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive project.
The official insisted the video was “absolutely not” intended to be incendiary or fuel unrest among the wider population – where Russian President Vladimir Putin still enjoys high levels of support – but aimed at individuals who may be on the fence, and “demystifies” the process of contacting the CIA. It does not mention Putin or even the war in Ukraine, partly because it would be “too much,” but also because they argue that it draws on “eternal” themes that have long convinced the disaffected. that the Russians had reached the CIA.
“Ukraine is top of mind but that is more or less a symptom of something bigger,” one of the officials said. “There are always individuals in Russia who identify with what we have to say here.”
What the spy agency believes the Russians are going through – what they believe will convince the Russians to become assets – is doubt, lack of purpose and oppression. It appeals to their sense of patriotism and plays on Russian culture, quoting lines from Leo Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
“We will live with dignity, thanks to my actions,” says the narrator in Russian as a woman in her car uses her phone to contact the CIA, before seeing the agency’s logo and contact instructions.
The emotional two-minute video shows various Russians going about their lives, appearing to ponder big decisions. The theme of family runs throughout, showing a young woman in a hospital bed with a woman who appears to be her mother. The target audience is clear: a woman works on what appears to be a government computer and a man walks through a government building, flashing his ID before sitting down at a desk full of files.
Monday’s video mirrored a more outspoken social media outreach by the CIA a year ago, two months into the war in Ukraine. Those posts included similar step-by-step instructions for would-be Russian informants on how to avoid detection by Russian security services by using virtual private networks, or VPN, and the Tor web browser anonymously and through encryption contact the agency of the so-called Dark Web.
A lot has happened in a year of war, CIA officials said, noting the suppression of opposition voices, independent journalism and the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Russian men sent to the front.
“[Putin’s] the military continues to suffer heavy losses in manpower and material. When he did a partial mobilization late last year more Russians of military age fled the country than the Kremlin was able to gather and send to the front as cannon fodder,” CIA Director William Burns said. in a speech last month. “War disillusionment will continue to gnaw at the Russian leadership under a steady diet of state propaganda and artificial repression.”
The target of the video was a group of Russians the CIA believed to be in the thousands or even tens of thousands – in Russia and abroad – who might have valuable information to share. The individuals who are outside the daily “spy vs. spy” competition of the US and Russian security services and intelligence agencies, the officials said, work in fields such as cybersecurity, tech , finance, military and diplomacy.
Many of those people don’t know how to contact the CIA or may simply not know that what they know is of interest, officials said. The success they saw in their first effort last year to try to contact the Russians was enough to encourage them to make this now more aggressive video push.
“If this is not successful we will not attempt a similar effort,” an official said while refusing to offer any details about what or how many informants they have managed to recruit in the past 15 months.
Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine in February, the US intelligence community has been “open for business,” according to the CIA’s director of operations, David Marlowe.
“We’re looking around the world for Russians who are as angry as we are,” Marlowe said at George Mason University’s Hayden Center in November.
A former CIA head of counterintelligence, James Olson, praised the efforts of social media and agreed that now is “probably the best time to recruit Russians that we have.”
“There are many disaffected Russians today,” he said, “they are ashamed and disgusted with what [Putin is] did their brothers and sisters Slavs in Ukraine. He destroyed Russia. He killed Russian children. And there are good people in Russia, including intelligence officials, who want to fight back.
While the CIA was looking for Russians abroad, the FBI launched a similar project aimed at Russians in the United States, including specifically targeting the cell phones of those from the Washington embassy. This also happened before the war in Ukraine, as reported by CNN.
The FBI ad uses a Putin quote and tells readers, in Russian: “We are ready to listen.”
The embassy responded by Tweet who “attempted to sow confusion and organize division among the staff of [embassy] are funny.”
“We’re going to spread the net as wide as possible, we’re going to take everybody,” Olson added. “We can offer them protection. We can provide them with security. We can offer them completely anonymously. And we can offer them a package equal to the value of the information they provide. ”