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13/02/2023 | Espionage allegations prompt sharp exchanges between ex-CIA officials

Joseph Fitsanakis

A BOOK BY A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) case officer, which alleges that a senior Agency official sabotaged American counterintelligence efforts on orders from Moscow, has prompted a series of fiery exchanges by retired CIA personnel.

 

The primary figures in the dispute are the book’s author, Robert Baer, and Paul J. Redmond, who served as the CIA’s Associate Deputy Director of Operations for Counterintelligence.

Baer’s book, The Fourth Man: The Hunt for a KGB Spy at the Top of the CIA and the Rise of Putin’s Russia (Hachette Books, May 2022), focuses on the period following the arrests of three American intelligence insiders, who were found to have spied for the Kremlin: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Robert Hanssen, and CIA officers Aldrich Ames and Edward Lee Howard. By 2002, Hanssen and Ames were serving life sentences for espionage, while Howard had died in Russia where he had fled while under investigation by the FBI. Collectively, these three had been responsible for some of the CIA’s gravest operational setbacks against the Soviet KGB and its Russian successor agencies.

Some in the CIA, however, remained convinced that not all of the CIA’s failures in the 1980s and 1990s could be explained away in this fashion. They held on to the suspicion that Moscow had been able to recruit a senior CIA executive, who —among other things— had sabotaged numerous probes by some of the Agency’s most committed spy-hunters. Baer’s book discusses how, in the mid-1990s, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations actively pursued those suspicions, by setting up a Special Investigations Unit (SIU). This new unit was led by one of the CIA’s most talented counterintelligence officers, Paul Redmond.

CONTROVERSY

This is precisely the point at which Baer’s book turns wildly controversial: it alleges that the missing spy, whom Baer refers to as “the fourth man”, is none other than Redmond himself. The retired CIA case officer further alleges that even the SIU eventually concluded that Redmond —i.e. its leading member— was a spy for Moscow. The author claims that the SIU presented those findings at a briefing with Redmond among the audience. The presentation prompted Redmond to storm out of the meeting, Baer alleges.

Importantly, Baer describes his case as “inconclusive”, and claims that he relies on information from some of his former CIA colleagues. He also admits that the very idea of a “fourth man” may be nothing more than a chimera. Nevertheless, the SIU probe did occur. It also appears that the FBI opened an investigation into the matter in 2006. Baer claims to have received a visit by two FBI agents in 2021, in which he was asked about what he knew about Raymond. This, he says, left him with the impression that some sort of counterintelligence effort to find the “fourth man” was “ongoing then and is continuing” now. Moreover, according to Baer, this counterintelligence investigation is no longer confined in-house at CIA; the FBI has now taken the lead.

REDMOND’S SIDE RESPONDS

Remarkably, Baer appears to have spoken to Redmond at least twice while preparing his book. On each occasion, the retired CIA senior executive fiercely rejected Baer’s claims that he was a spy for Moscow. In recent months, Redmond voiced his dismay at Baer’s claims publicly. As SpyTalk reports, the first time Redmond spoke publicly about Baer’s book was in November of last year, during an event held by the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

Then, on February 5, three retired CIA executives, Lucinda “Cindy” Webb, Michael Sulick and Mark Kelton, penned a sharply worded response to Baer’s claims, describing them as “false and ridiculous”. They disputed the reliability of Baer’s sources, opining that “true intelligence professionals would not, and should not, provide [Baer] with sensitive details on Russian operations and investigations”. They also critiqued Baer’s claims for resting on “incorrect assumptions, factual errors, and a confirmation bias” that is only magnified by his alleged lack of “experience in counterintelligence or Russian operations”.

The three retired CIA executives, all of them seasoned counterintelligence veterans, concluded their piece by prompting the United States Intelligence Community to “anticipate Russian disinformation and deception operations” that will seek to exploit the controversy caused by Baer’s book “to further cast false suspicion [and] confuse other legitimate espionage investigations” by the CIA and the FBI.

REDMOND RETORTS

Last week, Redmond himself issued a retort against Baer, penning a 2600-word opinion essay that appeared in the quarterly academic publication International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (IJIC). Founded in 1986 and published by Routledge, one of the world’s premier academic publishers, IJIC frequently hosts the writings of intelligence academics and practitioners —both current and former.

In his article, Redmond dismisses Baer’s work as “a book filled with falsehoods, distortions, incorrect assumptions, and misinterpretations”. According to Raymond, in some instances Baer’s information is outright inaccurate. For instance, he claims to have “no memory of […] a meeting” in which he was accused by SIU members of being a Russian spy. He adds that another retired CIA officer, Edward Curran, who, according to Baer’s account, supposedly attended the meeting, has no recollection of it either. Redmond also criticizes his former colleague for ignoring or downplaying “exculpatory factors which would indicate I am not a spy”.

Details aside, Redmond denounces Baer’s book in a broader sense, describing it as part of what he refers to as the “Angleton Syndrome” inside CIA. The term refers to James Jesus Angleton, who served as chief of the CIA’s counterintelligence staff from 1954 until his resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Redmond describes Angleton as a man led by “an almost religious belief that the KGB had penetrated the CIA”. Although there are some who view Angleton as a counterintelligence role model, Redmond subscribes to the predominant view of the CIA’s longtime counterintelligence chief as a malevolent disruptor, whose strong-arm tactics created a “Kafkaesque atmosphere” and hurt the Agency more than the KGB ever did, or could.

WILL BAER RETRACT?

Redmond’s supporters have called for Baer to “issue a retraction and apology” for his claims against Redmond. Will he do it? According to SpyTalk’s veteran intelligence reporter Jeff Stein, a retraction from Baer is “not likely”. When Stein asked Baer whether he is prepared to retract his claims, Baer reportedly responded: “I stand by the book”. The retired CIA case officer added that “the three surviving members of the SIU told the same story, and reviewed the draft manuscript” of the book. Moreover, Baer told Stein that his sources are “willing to discuss this” with Redmond and his CIA supporters. This is also unlikely to happen, as the opinion chasm between the two sides is far too deep to be bridged any time soon.

Intelnews.org (Estados Unidos)

 



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