Was Kremlin tipped off about the moles in FSB?

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A wave of sudden arrests of the highest intelligence officers responsible for cybersecurity in Russia has provoked international observers to wonder whether the stoic expression on the face of Vladimir Putin is only a pose that covers an ongoing battle for power in the country.

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In December of 2016 Russian FSB arrested its top General, Sergei Mikhailov, head of the FSB’s Center of Information Security, and his subordinate Major Dmitry Dokuchayev. The Center of Information Security controls all of e-financial transactions of Russian citizens in the country and abroad might have been compromised. The Director of the Center for Information Security General Andrei Gerasimov was fired.

In the center of a scandal there is also a well-known Russian cybersecurity company founded by former KGB officer. FSB arrested Ruslan Stoyanov, the company’s director of the department responsible for dealing with cyber attacks.

Russian authorities charged Mr. Stoyanov with the subversion of the state.

Allegedly three of them had strong links with the group of hackers who broke into the Twitter of Russian Prime Minister Sergei Medvedvev and Russian politicians close to Kremlin. Although none of the evidence support this allegation. According to some Russian media Mikhailov was in talks with the largest Russian (state) Bank Sberbank about the creation of the Russian equivalent agency to NSA with electronic surveillance of Russian netizens.

Investigation to the case started before President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russian companies and individuals in the United States in reaction to alleged Kremlin’s inspired intrusions into the servers of the American political institutions, including Democratic Party during recent Presidential elections. But it took off at higher speed after FSB debriefing of Russians who, under sanctions, were forced to return from the United States.

It is unclear whether three top-officials responsible for cybersecurity in Russia were in fact sources for any Western intelligence or to the contrary for the hacker attacks against American political institutions.

It is clear that the arrest of such high-ranking intelligence officials takes first time since the transformation of Soviet Union into Russian Federation.

It is probably too early to make any decisive conclusions but information already revealed and reaction to the arrest from the pro-Kremlin circles indicate the former. The arrested cybersecurity officials might have been assets of Western intelligences, perhaps more NATO than US, that were tasked with infiltration of the entourage of current ruler of Russia. It is rather unlikely that they had any other tasks which the Russian traditionalist television channel suggested. They were probably sources of information.

However, it is worthy to remind readers that the majority of investigations of the spy scandals had been usually enabled by the information leaked from outside source. Unfortunately after the Cold War Western intelligence services did not clean out their house from the Soviet spies even though many Russian defectors including KGB archivist Vasily Mitrokhin provided plenty of evidence for their infiltration with KGB and its satellite states-services.

It is a very rare occurrence when any intelligence service detects mole by itself. Unfortunately the counterintelligence services proved to be ineffective without being tipped off. Historic cases of intelligence compromise from Sydney Reilly to Robert Hansen suggest that it seems to be a rule not an exception.

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