Kremlin reacts to CIA video aimed at recruiting frustrated Russians as spies
(WASHINGTON) — The Kremlin has responded forcefully to the CIA launching an official channel on Telegram, the encrypted messaging app favored by Russians, featuring a dramatized video aimed at recruiting frustrated Russian civilians as spies.
The video invites them to engage with the agency on Telegram and share information it says could be critical to United States intelligence efforts.
The recruitment pitch is geared toward those whose knowledge of industry, science, technology or diplomacy, could be useful to the CIA — communicated by using a secure conduit on the internet.
“Contact us. Perhaps the people around you don’t want to hear the truth. We want to,” says text of the Russian-language video, which shows actors depicting Russians at home and at work, living quietly, as the voiceover of a Russian man contemplates telling truths the video suggests have been suppressed by the state.
“The CIA wants to know the truth about #Russia, and we are looking for reliable people who know and can tell us this truth,” the text of the video says. “Your information may be more valuable than you think.”
The Russian narrator acknowledges the “reality we speak about in a whisper” and laments “why the lives of some are worth more than others.” At the conclusion of the video, he’s decides to speak up: “This is my Russia. This will always be my Russia. I will endure. My family will endure. We will live with dignity because of my actions.”
The Kremlin has accused the U.S. of “attempts to interfere in our internal affairs, and attempts to destabilize the situation in our country.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned Tuesday that “such malicious activity, including the distribution of inflammatory materials, will not remain without a proper effective response.”
A CIA official told ABC News the Telegram channel and the accompanying video production could draw Russian nationals to communicate with the U.S. by appealing to their sense of wanting to do the right thing.
“They’re feeling compelled by the Russian government’s unjust war right now to reach us, but we just want them to do so as securely as possible…[The video] is meant to convey more emotion,” the official said on condition of not being named.
The character’s voiceover, however, says clearly in Russian, “I don’t believe in revolution.” The CIA official said the video’s intention is to connect with Russians who are willing to speak but not to ignite political change on the ground.
“Many Russians may be ready to [contact us],” the official said. “They just need direction on how to do it.”
Darrell Blocker, a former CIA deputy director of its counterterrorism unit and ABC News contributor, called the agency’s outreach on Telegram “a stroke of genius.” In intelligence circles, this mode by which citizens can come forward to share what they know with foreign officials is known as a “walk-in” program – essentially an open door.
“Walk-ins are absolutely some of the most lucrative intelligence cases in the history of the agency. It’s one of those quiet success stories that no one on the outside ever really knows about,” Blocker said.
The CIA had already released instructions on social media for contacting the agency via the Dark Web. The Telegram video launch, which comes a year later, represents the agency’s expanding toolkit that includes open-source analysis.
“So, this is just the CIA, the modern CIA, so to speak, using long established and successful programs and in a different way,” Blocker said.
But the war in Ukraine is not specifically referred to in the CIA video. “I think mentioning it specifically in a video coming from CIA could be seen as a provocation,” Blocker said.
The video is a more tactical approach to build intelligence over time. “There’s always an audience for information, whether it’s going to be applicable a week from now or 10 years from now, you just never know.”
The vetting process is intense and continuous, Blocker says, and the CIA’s expertise and process, which the agency couldn’t discuss publicly, serve to root out people who might look to exploit the channel by providing a false identity or information.
The CIA official said the program has already yielded results, receiving contacts from the broad set of people in industries from which it solicited information. It launched the program after Russians expressed interest in coming forward, the official said.
Inside and outside of the country, Blocker said Russians would likely have interest in sharing what they know but are unaware of a secure way to do so. It’s often these ordinary people that initiate major intelligence gathering.
“It’s said in the CIA that CIA officers don’t recruit the Russians, the Russians recruit the CIA officer,” he said.
ABC News’ Tayna Stukalova contributed to this report.
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