The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is offering cooperation to Russians who disagree with Putin’s policies and the current situation in the country. It encourages them to hand over secret information to the CIA, and it does so through… a patriotic social media video.
Do you have information on Russia? Call the CIA
According to CNN TV, the agency is targeting its message primarily at Russians who oppose the ongoing war with Ukraine. However, Putin’s name does not fall in the recruitment video. One can also look in vain for references to the conflict. These, if they appeared, would probably be perceived as provocation. So instead of them there are images from the everyday life of ordinary people who decided to cooperate with the Americans.
The narrative itself has patriotic overtones, to hit morale straight. Based on the disappointment and shame of Russian officials, the authors of the text turn their ideological motivations against Putin. Strong declarations, promises and even verses from Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are made.
“The CIA wants to know the truth about Russia. We are looking for credible people who know it and can tell us. Your information may be more valuable than you think. (…) We appreciate and respect people who want to contact us. It is our professional duty to protect everyone who works with us around the world. (….) People around you may not want to hear the truth. We do. (…) Thank you for your courage.”
Russia’s response to CIA recruitment spot
We did not have to wait long for a response from Russia. The Kremlin accuses the US of “interfering in its internal affairs and attempting to destabilize the country.” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mariya Zakharova announced that “such harmful activity, including the distribution of inflammatory materials, will not be without side effects.”
Just a week later, an analogous recruitment spot began circulating on pro-Kremlin social media channels. It urges servitude to Russian intelligence. It’s not clear whether it was created at the government’s behest, but there are many indications.
The protagonist of the video is a disillusioned Marine infantryman. An American asks: “Is this the life I dreamed of? The path I chose for myself? Why is the life of some more valuable than the life of others? And who decides that?”
This is followed by scenes of protests against racism and members of the Church of Satan, to show the instability and turmoil in the US. The spot closes with a frame featuring Joe Biden, with a gun sight superimposed on his head, followed immediately by the captions: “People around you may not want to know the truth. We want to. You are not powerless. Contact us.”
The CIA is not the only one recruiting
It is worth noting that this is not the first such action by US services. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also conducting its own recruitment campaign. In one video, deputy counterterrorism director Alan E. Kohler Jr. addresses Russian citizens with the words “Want to change your future? The FBI values you. The FBI can help you, but only you have the power to take the first step.”
Earlier, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the war in Ukraine (24.02.2023), the FBI published a post on Twitter written in Cyrillic letters:
“Celebrating the first anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the FBI invites Russian personnel with classified or unclassified information to join us. Want to change your future? Contact the FBI at Signal at +1-771-201-42101.”
Отмечая первую годовщину российского полномасштабного вторжения в Украину, ФБР приглашает к сотрудничеству сотрудников РФ, обладающих секретной или закрытой информацией. Вы хотите изменить своё будущее? Связаться с сотрудниками ФБР можно в Signal по номеру +1-771-201-4210.— FBI Washington Field (@FBIWFO) February 24, 2023
On the other hand, in 2019, recruitment promotion took place on Facebook. Trevor Noach, host of “The Daily Show,” joked that the banner that appears on the board while scrolling the screen must be shocking to Russian spies. This is because it depicts a man with an umbrella walking in the opposite direction of the viewer. The caption next to him reads “We build bridges.” “Oh my God, how did they know he needed a new umbrella with a poisoned tip,” the presenter laughed at the time.
Anonymous and safe, but not without risk
Activity on behalf of a foreign state is fraught with risk. A Russian who commits treason can be sent to the gulag or sentenced to death. And although communication with the CIA takes place over the secure TOR network, and the Agency claims to provide adequate protection, the danger still exists.
Is there a shortage of willing collaborators then? Apparently not. The CIA is counting on a response from thousands and perhaps even tens of thousands of people from Russia and elsewhere who work in fields such as cyber security, technology, finance, military and diplomacy.
“If it had failed, we would not have undertaken similar projects,” he said. – one official commented on the initiative, while refusing to give any details.
Telegram and Putin’s media censorship
The success of online recruitment, moreover, is influenced by another advantage – contacting the CIA does not require visiting an embassy and meeting another agent. Nowadays it is enough to send a text message or use the previously mentioned TOR network. This is a faster, easier solution, and for the recruiter himself – less costly.
And how does the Kremlin’s online censorship relate to this? In 2022, the government in Russia banned Meta platforms because it deemed them “extremist activities.” After the blockade, Telegram saw a surge in users (up 48% in the month following the aggression in Ukraine). The messenger has become a primary tool for Russians to send messages outside the country and avoid service vetting.
“Our global mission requires that individual people can contact us securely from anywhere. Telegram is an additional tool to communicate with people no matter where they are,” said Tammy Kuppers Thorp, CIA public affairs director.
The former FBI agent and deputy director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division added, “If you get any benefit, it’s worth doing,” and online recruiting is “a good, innovative use of social media.”
Sources: cia.gov, washingtonian.com