Seeking to ensure their national interests, states have traditionally taken advantage of opportunities offered by what is known as intelligence diplomacy, involving official bilateral or multilateral collaboration between foreign intelligence services.
Foreign intelligence services have accumulated considerable experience in working together in various areas, and this applies not only to allied countries. This experience conclusively proves that partnership makes it possible to solve many problems – those related to intelligence and those outside the bounds of “classic” intelligence operations.
The experience of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, which is currently marking its 100th anniversary, is interesting and instructive. Created on December 20, 1920, the Foreign Department of the Cheka, the original predecessor of Russia’s foreign intelligence services (the Foreign Department-the First Main Directorate-the SVR), established first official contacts with several intelligence services of other countries.
Fair partnership agreements at that time were signed on the initiative of other countries’ intelligence services. This clearly shows that right from the start Russia’s intelligence service had a reputation as a strong, useful and reliable partner.
The high reputation of the Soviet intelligence service was also evidenced by the U.S. proposal that the Soviet and U.S. intelligence services join forces during World War II to defeat a common enemy. In less than a year and a half (between 1944 and the first half of 1945), the Soviet Union and the United States exchanged a significant amount of highly valuable secret information that helped save tens and even hundreds of thousands of human lives.
The historic significance of this example is that despite the political differences between the two countries, their intelligence services, faced with a mortal danger, were able to agree on joint efforts, working together to implement joint plans and showing good will and a constructive approach. The evaluation of that cooperation by William Donovan, then-head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency), is telling, albeit somewhat unusual for the present stage of Russian-U.S. relations.
In his letter to Pavel Fitin, the head of the First Directorate of the People’s Commissariat for State Security of the USSR (the official name of the Soviet intelligence service during the war), Donovan wrote that the successful cooperation between the two countries’ intelligence services showed what the allies were able to do through joint efforts, at least when it came to intelligence operations.
Even though these facts are history now, they are highly relevant and significant in the context of current problems related to collaboration between intelligence services. It is always useful to remember past lessons. It is vital to take them into account amid intensifying destructive tendencies and growing global instability.
The SVR is convinced that the existing and potential threats to world peace are a strategic challenge to intelligence services. The Russian intelligence service is ready to respond to this challenge promptly and effectively by leveraging its entire analytical and operational capabilities, as well as corresponding infrastructure for maintaining contacts with its foreign partners.
These days, the SVR collaborates to some degree or other with almost all major intelligence and counterintelligence services in the CIS member countries, as well as in the West, Central and Eastern Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the Far East, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. The forms and methods of cooperation with each partner vary depending on Russia’s foreign policy priorities, the international situation and the general context and state of relations with a specific country.
It has to be acknowledged that current tensions between Russia and the West are affecting the SVR’s relations with intelligence agencies in other countries, primarily in the U.S. and Western Europe, among others. We are aware of the intense anti-Russian pressure that Washington and London are exerting on certain capitals over their cooperation with the SVR. Despite this “ungentlemanly” behavior, we have recently noted unprecedented progress in relations with intelligence services in most countries, including those in the West.
Many of our partners are clearly annoyed by the intrusive attention of their Anglo-Saxon allies, are searching for objectivity and acknowledging that right now the SVR is not just a major player in the process of collaboration between intelligence services of different countries, but to a very large extent shapes the vectors, substance and forms of this process. In light of this, it is noteworthy that the basic principles of partnership that the SVR proposed back in the early 1990s, such as equality, mutual benefit, noninterference in each other’s domestic affairs, and confidentiality, have proved universal and are being actively used on a practical level today.
The international intelligence community has long recognized the global nature of the threat of international terrorism and its formidable destructive potential. Terrorism has spun its web over virtually every part of the world. Its components can quickly change tactics, adapting to the environment, including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. So, we still regard terrorism as a main threat to civilization and therefore consider the fight against terrorism a top priority for national intelligence services at present.
In this context, it may be recalled that after the large-scale terrorist attacks in the U.S. in September 2001, cooperation between the intelligence services of various countries dramatically improved. Overall, the SVR proved well-prepared for such a turn of events, and, using its experience in counterterrorism operations in Russia that it had accumulated by then, it made a major contribution to cooperation between the intelligence services of various countries.
The SVR cooperates especially closely and productively in counterterrorism efforts, as well as in other areas, with the intelligence agencies of the CIS and SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization] countries. Suffice it to mention that this issue is always given priority at annual meetings of senior officials of CIS countries’ security and intelligence services. This approach is only natural. Following the military defeat suffered by terrorist groups (ISIS, etc.) in the Middle East and the dispersal of jihadist elements all over the world, CIS countries have ended up in a high-risk zone. So, we consider ensuring their security the most important objective.
The existing format of cooperation between Russian, Chinese and Indian intelligence services, including regular trilateral meetings of their intelligence chiefs, is especially valuable for strengthening regional security and countering terrorist threats.
The effectiveness of counterterrorism cooperation between Russia’s intelligence services and its foreign partners was clearly evidenced by the events in Syria. The SVR regularly receives a significant volume of preemptive information from its partners, which facilitates the successful operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria. A considerable amount of such data comes in near real time in the course of joint operations with our partners.
The SVR’s counterterrorism cooperation with its counterparts in other Arab countries, as well as those in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, is also fairly effective.
Despite the differences in our approaches toward major international issues, the SVR has managed to maintain counterterrorism cooperation with intelligence services in the U.S., as well as in EU countries.
Regrettably, the effectiveness of this cooperation is greatly impaired by the unconstructive, at times even reckless stance of our Western partners, primarily in the U.S. They recognize the transborder nature of the terrorist threat and the importance of joining forces in fighting it only in words, but in reality, they often supply radical groups with money and weapons, providing them political cover and using the so-called moderate jihadist terrorists in operations to remove regimes that are undesirable to Washington.
The SVR believes that the continuing spread of well-trained, experienced militants to various parts of the world; the noticeable activation of sleeper cells in some countries recently; the increasing use of covert forms and methods of terrorist activity, and their rising profile on the Internet indicate that international terrorism remains a long-term threat, and so there is no alternative to stepping up joint efforts to fight it.
Time itself demands not only new forms and methods of intelligence cooperation, but also the decisive abandonment of any politicization and double standards in dealing with this problem. We hope that our partners, who are still encumbered by old dogmas, will have enough wisdom to engage in honest and constructive cooperation.
Illegal migration, gun running and drug smuggling are among the most daunting challenges today – not only in and of themselves, but also due to their close interconnection with terrorism issues throughout the world.
The uncontrolled flows of refugees and colossal amounts of drug money have until recently enabled ISIS jihadists to consider forming a world caliphate on a practical level. These are intrinsically transborder issues, and they require consolidated efforts by intelligence services and agencies in various countries.
In recent years, cybersecurity has taken center stage in the collaborative efforts of foreign intelligence services across the world. According to the World Economic Forum, illegal online activity is currently among the five most serious global risks. The intelligence services’ focus on this problem is based, among other things, on the fact that information and communications technologies are often used to meddle in domestic affairs of sovereign states. The problem is especially pressing because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has stimulated terrorist activity on the Internet.
Discussions of this issue with our partners show that practical collaboration in this sphere is impeded by the lack of a necessary legal framework at both the national and international levels. Russia’s efforts to accelerate its development to avoid conflicts in the information space are being blocked by countries seeking to leverage their technological advantages to ensure their domination in this sphere and impose their own rules.
The SVR, like many other intelligence services, is fully convinced that the only way to radically improve the international situation is through a political settlement in crisis-stricken regions, primarily in the Middle East and North Africa. As we know, hot spots everywhere are always a source of major new challenges and threats.
Back in the early 1990s, when the SVR formulated its conceptual approaches toward international cooperation with intelligence services in various countries, joint crisis management was defined as a key issue. Since then, the SVR has done its utmost, along with its partners, to find solutions to the most complex and long-running conflicts.
Success has often hinged on intelligence service professionals, most of whom are cool-headed, hands-on pragmatists, who know all the nuances of the situation on the ground. In this context, there is good reason to say that collaboration between intelligence services in the present-day world is emerging as an increasingly important element of interstate relations, as evidenced by the fact that some conflict resolution formats, which, incidentally, were developed under the auspices of the SVR, have long proved their worth.
It is also important to note the SVR’s efforts to ensure the release of Russian citizens, as well as foreign nationals, who were taken hostage or prisoner. The fact that such hideous crimes as sea piracy and human trafficking still exist in the 21st century makes it necessary to step up joint intelligence efforts to fight them.
The time we live in is often characterized as an era of global changes. The modern world order is going through a most profound crisis. Old centers of power are disappearing, and new ones are emerging, bringing new challenges and threats to humanity. This poses a truly strategic challenge to all intelligence services in ensuring the security of their respective states.
Despite the efforts by the U.S. and its closest allies to preserve the monocentric world order, covert and overt processes in support of multipolarity are strengthening within the intelligence community. This is a long, complex and often contradictory process. The SVR is absolutely convinced that there is no alternative to this world order and is ready to help make the world safer and more equitable, not least through cooperation with intelligence services in other countries.