Ukraine’s Spies Touting Their Worth

With US Aid in Peril, Kyiv's intelligence agencies open up to the Times

1 min read
Valeriy Kondratiuk, a former commander of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency. (Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times)

In the summer of 1967 I spent hours roaming Baltimore looking for dead drop sites, practicing brush passes and learning how to chat up a stranger who might make a good spy. It was all part of the U.S. Army’s attempt to turn me into a case officer, aka spy recruiter and handler. It was all very hush-hush, but it was a course not much different than what’s been taught forever at the CIA’s “farm” in Virginia—as well by any intelligence outfit worth a name.

Or as retired former CIA operations officer Douglas London put it to me, “The tradecraft, principles and core training is largely the same, only the equipment evolves with technology.”  Thus beginning a few years back, according to a fascinating story this week in the New York Times, the CIA “oversaw a training program, carried out in two European cities, to teach Ukrainian intelligence officers how to convincingly assume fake personas and steal secrets in Russia and other countries that are adept at rooting out spies.”

Plus ça change.

You wouldn’t think the Ukrainian spy services, longtime vassals of the KGB, would need much training, but of course that was a generation ago and a lot has changed since then. A major task of Volodymyr Zelensky and his elected government has been to root out Russian agents in the woodwork—if only to prove that they were worthy partners of the CIA. By all accounts, it’s worked out well, especially since the Russian invasion two years ago this month, during which Kyiv was expected to quickly fall. The partnership had grown so trusting that the CIA’s station merely moved west of Kyiv while the rest of the U.S. embassy evacuated when Russian troops threatened to take the capital.

“But the partnership is no wartime creation, nor is Ukraine the only beneficiary,” wrote Times reporters Adam Entous and Michael Schwirtz. It’s gone global.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the editor-in-chief of SpyTalk, a newsletter covering U.S. intelligence, defense and foreign policy, on the Substack platform. Previously, he was the SpyTalk columnist (and national security correspondent) at Newsweek, and before that, the SpyTalk blogger at The Washington Post.

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