Vladimir Putin and the Art of Intelligence

By Daniel Hoffman

Daniel Hoffman is a former senior officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, where he served as a three-time station chief and a senior executive Clandestine Services officer. Hoffman also led large-scale HUMINT (human intelligence gathering) and technical programs and his assignments included tours of duty in the former Soviet Union, Europe, and war zones in the Middle East and South Asia. Hoffman also served as director of the CIA Middle East and North Africa Division. He is currently a national security analyst with Fox News.

Russians are fond of their aphorism, v chuzhoi monastir so svoim ustavom, ne khodyat – “No-one goes to another monastery with their own charter,” the Russian equivalent to “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Soviet leaders and their Russian successors have sought to exploit Russians’ appreciation for their special historical and cultural identity by propagating a xenophobic, nationalist aversion to Western ideals. President Vladimir Putin has sought to counter what he views as Western attempts to invade Russian space with liberal (anti-Russian) ideas, election monitoring, and support for “color revolutions.”  

For Russian intelligence officers serving overseas however, freedom from bias while being immersed in a foreign culture is a basic requirement for effectively practicing human intelligence (HUMINT) – the art of engaging with individuals, gaining their trust, and gleaning protected information from them. Evincing knowledge and respect for the foreign “monastery,” Russian intelligence officers exploit Russia’s soft power – language, culture, religion, sports – to find common interests with their targeted persons of interest and enable the ongoing personal interaction essential for HUMINT collection.   

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