US mired in impunity and corruption, SVR veteran says in open letter

Dear Mr. Burns, I have read with interest your article named “Spycraft and Statecraft: Transforming the CIA for an Age of Competition” publi...

Dear Mr. Burns,

I have read with interest your article named “Spycraft and Statecraft: Transforming the CIA for an Age of Competition” published by Foreign Affairs Magazine on January 30, 2024. I have worked myself for a long time in the system of Soviet, later Russian foreign intelligence, and I still keep in close touch with my SVR colleagues. I would like to give my assessment to the ideas you have presented.

I must admit that American and Russian understanding of the status of intelligence in the modern – transitional – period of international relations is much the same. Thus, I take as quite reasonable the assertion that the weight of intelligence services in the system of foreign policy has generally increased, including through maintaining specific confidential channels of interstate communication in case an official dialogue is difficult or impossible. The “strategic declassification” tool to undercut rivals without jeopardizing sources also plays a significant role in the activities of intelligence services. One cannot leave out the topicality of challenges and possibilities associated with development of the newest digital and artificial intelligence technologies.

Moreover, it is hard to overestimate the political importance of intelligence partnerships. But you, Mr. Burns, for some reason argue that the United States’ “lonelier”, as you say, rivals lack this asset. I could say I stood at the origins of establishing partnerships between the SVR and foreign intelligence services, and I can assure you, our Service had and, as far as I know, has contacts not with Western colleagues alone. Russian foreign intelligence interacts with special services of most of Asian, African and Latin American states. Of course, the closest and most fruitful cooperation has been established with intelligence services of the post-Soviet countries. Our states work together to counter national security threats caused – let’s call things by their true names – first of all by constant and blatant US interference into Eurasian affairs.

Russian intelligence services see, and, as the phrase is, give due credit to, the CIA progress in adapting field officers and analysts to modern, above all technological, shifts. It makes me wonder, though, that having such a rich arsenal the American intelligence still has such a narrow outlook on the world. Complex international processes in your article in effect boil down to confrontation of so called democracies, which a priori include United States and their allies, and “autocracies” represented mainly by Russia, China and Iran, i.e. states that openly, consistently and effectively uphold their sovereignty.

The evident tendency towards shaping a multipolar world order – expressed, among other things, by an increase in international influence of non-western actors and by the development in all regions of the planet of independent integration formats holding liberal totalitarism as unacceptable – is totally ignored. The blossoming diversity of the world is substituted with a conflict of two models of governance existent only in American fantasies. Behind all that, there is a poorly hidden US aspiration to retain global hegemony at all costs.

Such an ideologically biased, one-dimensional approach would seem to be counterproductive even in the times of bipolar world order. And what’s more, in my opinion, this very approach created preconditions for the US to lose the “uncontested primacy” the White House is longing for. However, in today’s reality such a manichean outlook on the world verges on perception inadequacy inexcusable for the head of one of the most influential intelligence agencies. Tellingly, Mr. Burns, on your “chessboard” you have failed to find a place for most countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America that constitute the global majority. For you it is some kind of a shapeless “hedging middle” to keep an eye on in order not to let conflicts between “major  powers” get out of hand.

The situation in the Middle East that retains its strategic importance for Washington is viewed through the prism of confrontation between the USA and Iran which is, in fact, blamed to be responsible for the current escalation. At the same time, it is evident the Americans are absolutely unprepared to offer “workable approaches” to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is not even a mention of a two-state formula. What kind of a “day after” for Gaza can be discussed? It doesn’t look like an “active leadership in resolving the Middle East’s vexing problems”, as the article says, but an imitation of it, and while it continues, people in the region are dying in large numbers. The simulated nature of the USA’s peace process in the Middle East settlement is seen and condemned throughout the Global South and beyond, and therefore, in the CIA analysts’ place, I wouldn’t attribute the rise of anti-American sentiment in the world to “schemes” of Tehran, Moscow or Beijing.

China causes serious concern in the United States as “the only rival with both the intention to reshape the international order and the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do so.” That is where the honest analysis of the Chinese-American relations ends, giving way to vilification of China’s domestic and foreign policy. In response to allegations of Beijing’s “aggressiveness abroad”, I’d like to remind the Washington establishment those were not Chinese planes that bombed Yugoslavia and Libya and not Chinese troops that invaded Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. As for the accusations of destabilizing the situation in Taiwan, the Americans must give themselves a thick ear. It is them who, while declaring a commitment to “One-China policy”, systematically take provocative actions to undermine China’s efforts aimed at a peaceful reintegration of the island. The recent presidential elections in Taiwan are the best proof.

Regarding the assessment of the situation in and around our country, one gets a strong impression that there is some kind of unhealthy affectation in Washington in that respect. In your article which is, in fact, a policy essay Russia is represented as the product of a bizarre mixture of Anglo-Saxon caricatures and nightmares, looking absolutely clichéd and flat. Moreover, the Americans are always trying to project their own foreign policy attitudes onto Moscow. This is particularly clear in the example of the conflict in Ukraine. Crossing, I emphasize that, all the boundaries of diplomatic decency, you, Mr.Burns, attribute some kind of “fixation on Ukraine” to Russia and the Russian president. Wasn’t it the American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski who once stated, “Without Ukraine Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine… Russia automatically becomes an empire”? Neither our president, nor anyone in the leadership of the Russian Federation, I’ll stress it, has ever made such statements.

George Friedman, who is well-known in intelligence circles, pointed out, that Ukraine “represents the minimal security buffer Russia had to have in order to absorb western attacks”. Weren’t you, Mr. Burns, the one who claimed in an interview for PBS in June, 2017, that, I quote, Ukraine is “the reddest of red lines” for Russia? In your book “The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for its Renewal” published in 2019, you yourself admitted that the US - literally –“made a serious strategic mistake” by pushing for NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, despite Russia’s deep historical ties to both states and strong protestations of  Moscow.

Taking into account the above said, it appears that “fixation on controlling Ukraine” exists primarily in the White House. And it stems, in its turn, from Washington’s “fixation” on greatpowerness and globalism. Based on that, the US started to tear this ill-fated post-Soviet republic away from Russia, from the Russian Orthodox Church, pump the country with western weapons, send military instructors there, launch de-Russification process and brainwash the population with nationalist propaganda. Let’s be honest, the Russophobic clique in Kyiv is a brainchild of Washington’s deliberate policy of turning Ukraine into an anti-Russian beachhead in Europe. And the United States will be held responsible for that.

On the contrary, Russian leadership proceeds from the need to prevent a split in the Russian world, because for us, it is not just an abstraction or a slogan. It is our land, faith and history, the fate line running through the heart of every Russian family, connecting the past, the present and the future. The special military operation is our natural defensive reaction to aggressive attempts of the US to create right at our borders, in our sister state a hostile regime, that builds its identity on hatred to all that is Russian.

The White House believes that Moscow “miscalculated”, having launched the special military operation, and predicts a bleak future for us. In response I’d like to tell the Americans: take a look around! The US is mired down in impunity, corruption and civil strife. Endless flows of migrants storm the southern borders of the United States. And many of them aren’t Latin Americans at all, they come from regions that fell victim to the neo-imperialist wars unleashed by Washington. Yemeni Houthis shatter the freedom of global trade which the Anglo-Saxon hegemony is based on. The vaunted Euro-Atlantic unity rests solely upon the system built after the end of the World War II – a system of strict subordination of the West European establishment to the will of their overseas “defender” against the intensively fueled first Soviet, then  Russian threat. But despite the well-oiled propaganda machine, it is getting increasingly harder for politicians to explain to the population why they have to bear all the hardships and privations related to the Ukrainian conflict in the name of elites’ geopolitical aspirations. Just like it was at the feast at Babylonian King Belshazzar’s house, a hand is writing in Aramaic on the wall of the White House: “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it. You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.” (Daniel 5: 25-27) No reasoning, shifting responsibility and labeling are able to change this state of affairs.

Mr. Director of the CIA, your reasoning is a striking combination of cynicism, neo-imperialism, and detachment from international realities. While recognizing the need to take into account the historical, revolutionary nature of the changes taking place in the world ("that come along only a few times each century"), you refuse to notice the main direction of these transformations and insist on making Washington's wishful thinking look like an actual reality. It seems that the CIA, obsessed with the task of restoring at all costs the U.S. ability to "enjoy uncontested primacy," despite all that has been said, is increasingly unable to keep up with the times.

If the published article is a "propaganda pamphlet," then you, as Director of the CIA, should not have taken authorship of it and placed it in a respectable magazine. The best thing would be to hand it out as a flier on the subway or scatter it in the air over the territory of enemies (and allies) of the US. If this is a claim to a thorough and comprehensive analysis, there is not a hint of it. One can see that without Brzezinski and Kissinger, the US strategic thinking is gone. However, I don't rule out the possibility that you, Mr. Burns, believe that the Democratic administration is living out its last months, and seek to secure your place in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency by presenting your own failures and blunders as achievements and clever traps. (I should note that wherever you came on a "mission" - to Afghanistan, Russia or Ukraine - after your visit the situation there started to develop in a direction being far from favorable for the strategic interests of the United States).

If my impression is correct, and your article, Mr. Burns, is in some sense a farewell one, I can only wish you good luck in your future work. All that matters is that work should contribute to peace and stability in the world.

L. Reshetnikov

Lieutenant General (Retired),

Veteran of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia

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Local Glob: US mired in impunity and corruption, SVR veteran says in open letter
US mired in impunity and corruption, SVR veteran says in open letter
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