Jack Devine is the president of The Arkin Group, an international risk consulting and intelligence firm. He formerly served as acting director and associate director of operations at the CIA and was in charge of the CIA’s largest and most successful covert action operation which drove the Russians out of Afghanistan. He is the author of Good Hunting: An American Spymaster’s Story and Spymaster’s Prism: The Fight Against Russian Aggression (Potomac Books, 2021). Jack Devine can be reached via his website or Twitter for more information about his books and work.
Few espionage operations trouble me more than the recent Russian cyber-attack on U.S. federal agencies in the last year. The SolarWinds hack is one of the largest and most potentially damaging cyber-attacks of all time—and equally significant, it represents a dangerous escalation in the spy v. spy struggle in which the intelligence world has engaged for decades.
I should know—I spent 32 years in the CIA and have spent a half-century closely watching the West struggle with the Russians. The fight against Russian aggression is the great intelligence struggle of our age, and for that reason, it is the topic of my new book Spymaster’s Prism.
I wrote Spymaster’s Prism to underscore the threat Russia continues to pose to U.S. national security. Since the end of World War II, Russia’s intelligence assault against the United States has been unrelenting. From the Cold War to the Trump era, Russia has worked against American interests and under President Vladimir Putin, Russians are even more unconstrained.As stated in my book, we cannot forget that Putin cut his teeth in the dark shadows of the Cold War as a KGB officer, then sharpened his skills running the KGB’s successor intelligence agency, the FSB. Putin’s perception of power dynamics and human nature are inextricably linked to this history. Putin has been trained to identify and create leverage against adversaries and then to control those levers to advance Russia’s and his own interests.
Russia’s intelligence activities have continued uninterrupted throughout modern history, and Putin has sought to use fundamentally identical policies and techniques against the West and to undermine our democracy. Indeed, intelligence has been modernized and weaponized through the power of the cyber world, and Russia is using this to its advantage against the United States and other Western nations. Following Russia’s 2016 interference in the U.S. elections, Russia has disrupted the internal affairs and elections of other Western countries, including Great Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Norway, and Spain. Russia has used cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns, funding for pro-Russian parties, and direct election interference. There is evidence suggesting Russia sought to continue its meddling in the 2020 U.S. elections as well.
With U.S. national security interests on the line and diplomatic tensions again rising between the West and Russia, it is all the more imperative to refresh our memories of our recent spy history with the Russians. I hope my accounts of past espionage cases and covert action can help inform our views on current and future threats by Russian intelligence and our collective understanding of the ongoing fight against Russian aggression. It is as relevant now as ever.