US spies ‘are playing catch-up big time’ against Russia

After extensively focusing on the War on Terror both at home and abroad, it seems that the US’s spying capabilities against Russia have taken a drastic hit.

In a major directional shift, a senior US intelligence official interviewed by The Washington Post claimed that although terrorism was a top concern, the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had now prioritised Russia on their list of intelligence priorities — the first time since the collapse of the USSR.

The US officials stated that while their respective intelligence agencies focused on other matters for the last several years, Russia had been upping its intelligence and military capabilities. Russia’s international moves over the past two years, such as its annexation of Crimea and interference in Syria, have caught the US off-guard and served to highlight how far the US’s intelligence capabilities have slipped in regard to monitoring Moscow.

During the USSR’s heyday, US spy agencies had allocated at least 40% of their manpower to monitor the Soviet regime. US intelligence agencies now devote approximately 10% of their budgets towards Russia, and an intelligence official asserts that they “are playing catch-up big time.”

According to the Post’s source, in order to address this issue, the US also plans on increasing and reallocating their intelligence assets so that it returns to a status similar to that at the end of the Cold War. This would include mobilizing clandestine CIA operatives, cyber-espionage capabilities, and satellite systems.

But getting to that level of operational capability would be difficult, explained one of the many intelligence officials interviewed for the Post’s report. The dozens of recruits that are currently training to perform espionage operations against Russia have a limited knowledge of the Russian language. Overall, the training and shifting of recruits and operatives will take years.

“It is a pipeline process,” one of the former officials said to the Post. “It will be years before they can be used operationally.”

And during the time it takes to train and shift the US’s intelligence capabilities against Russia, the US remains greatly outnumbered by Russian operatives.

“The counterintelligence operation that [Moscow] runs against the US Embassy measured in the thousands,” Michael McFaul, a Stanford University professor and former US ambassador to Russia, told the Post. “It always felt, especially sitting in Moscow, of course, that we were in a counterintelligence and collection battle that was an asymmetric fight.”

CIA Director John Brennan recently addressed Russia’s “exceptionally capable and sophisticated” infiltration abilities.

“I think that we have to be very, very wary of what the Russians might be trying to do in terms of collecting information in a cyber realm, as well as what they might want to do with it,” Brennan explained on CBS.

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