Premium Content: A Deep Dive Into Moles And The Game Of Espionage
(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a continuing series of articles designed to give readers the perspective to analyze the threat to this nation posed by foreign intelligence services and the assets they already have in place inside our government.)
Most people with even a passing familiarity with the history of espionage are aware of the story of the Berlin Tunnel. At the height of the Cold War, the Americans and their allies dug a tunnel under the Berlin Wall, tapped into a top-secret Russian communications cable, and for 11 months thereafter read critical Russian military message traffic. What many do not realize, though, is that the Russians knew about the operation even before it really began and deliberately allowed it to proceed.
Why would the Russians do that? Why would they allow their enemies to access what was very real and potentially very damaging information?
They did it to protect a highly placed human asset, George Blake. Blake was a senior British intelligence officer in what we call MI6. Blake was a spy for the Russians and warned them of the plans for the tunnel operation. The Russians considered Blake invaluable. They even had hopes he would be promoted to be the chief of MI6 and be able to hand them – in effect – the crown jewels. MI6 had then and still has a very close relationship with the CIA and all American intelligence agencies. If the Russians could put their man in the top spot at MI6 they would have unprecedented access to NATO’s greatest secrets.
The Russians could not know exactly how many people knew of the tunnel operation. They certainly understood that it was highly compartmented and that only a relative handful of individuals had access to information about the project. In Moscow, they rightly believed that if they stepped in and blocked the tunnel from proceeding it would set off a mole hunt in the West and Blake would be found out.
The calculation was made that keeping Blake intact and in-place was more important than protecting the information being transmitted on the cable in East Berlin. The Russians let the operation proceed and allowed it to run unimpeded for months before they staged an event and pretended to have accidentally discovered the tunnel.
Blake was what is known as a mole. He was an asset who had burrowed deep inside his target agency and was being handled with an eye toward his long-term strategic utility. We ought to consider his case in taking a look at our own counterintelligence posture and thinking about what is really going on in the current administration.
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