Fogle Fiasco Underscores America's Intelligence Problem

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- Given that no one is officially denying it, it's fairly safe to say that Russia's domestic security service recently slammed America's foreign spy service face-first into the Moscow pavement -- blond wig and all -- in the person of diplomatic staffer and unconfirmed CIA case officer Ryan Fogle.

When you're benefiting from official diplomatic cover and find yourself tucking your hair into a blond wig and heading out with your compass and a written cash-for-treason offer for your target, perhaps you should revise your plan. The asset you recruit should be the one getting his skirt blown up by sales at the House of Wigs -- not you. As it turned out, the "asset" in this instance was carrying handcuffs. How did it all go so wrong?

If Fogle had spent sufficient time immersing himself in the Moscow culture, he would have learned that every guy you sit next to at the local bar is either affiliated in some way with the security services or knows someone who is. Until you're able to confidently ascertain the difference -- which Fogle clearly couldn't -- then you shouldn't be out trying to recruit anyone to spy for America, particularly as brazenly as Fogle did.

It's a safe assumption that someone on an official mission to a foreign country, like Fogle, would have both the means and motive for gathering and transmitting intelligence. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has even been applying the same presumption of cover to foreign-funded NGOs, targeting them for investigation and audit. Against this backdrop, why would you just go royally Fogle yourself like that? Unless you were unaware of your surroundings because you were busy inside the embassy picking the lint out of your navel.

In his book, "The Human Factor," the pseudonymous Ishmael Jones noted that 90 percent of CIA personnel live and work in America. So only a small percentage of CIA personnel are actually out talking to the locals and cultivating sources in foreign countries. Instead of focusing on human intelligence, we rely too heavily on technological intelligence. Drone hits are based on cell phone traffic and other technological data, which explains why in some instances, news reports have some terrorists "dying" more than once.

Seduction in spying -- that human factor -- has been replaced by technology. Just look at the photo of Fogle kissing the pavement after being apprehended by Russian agents. Is that sexy? Guys like Fogle have had the sexy sucked out of them by agencies that have focused on building massive data centers in an attempt to ascertain what's going on in the world.

The shift is out of proportion to reality. Even in Washington, D.C., a person would have to spend a few years on the cocktail circuit to have any real clue about what's really going on: who talks nonsense, who liberally drops the names of people who never return his calls, who would like to backstab whom, who shares the same chauffeurs, whose kids play soccer together, etc. No technological intel can discern that.

A person who wanted something important done in Washington -- and I'm not even talking about anything involving outright treason -- would have to be close enough to the person providing the favor to go on vacation with him. That's what Russian spies in America understand and what American spies in Russia apparently don't -- at least if Agent Double-Zero-Fogle is any indication.

Remember the 10 Russian "sleeper" agents who were rounded up in 2010 while working under deep cover in America for the SVR (the Russian CIA)? The most famous of those spies was my former New York City neighbor, Anya Kushchenko (alias: Anna Chapman). Kushchenko made her way westward over several years, first marrying a Brit and obtaining British citizenship, then networking her way up the chain of influence in America as a legitimate businesswoman. She ran an online real estate business out of her apartment in the Wall Street district and would occasionally transmit short-burst radiograms to handlers.

Another of those Russian agents, Lidiya Guryev (alias: Cynthia Murphy), had earned an MBA from Columbia Business School and worked at a Manhattan accounting firm, which put her in contact with white-collar clients, including a venture capitalist friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

No blond wigs were involved.

Compare this level of persistence and infiltration with the recorded telephone conversation that Fogle allegedly had with his target: "We have to meet today -- it's impossible tomorrow, only today. ... As I said, you can make up to $1 million a year, or I have $100,000 with me. But it's definitely now. Yes or no? Now."

Whoa, I think I need a cold shower. Next time, Fogle should get the CIA to foot the bill for a bro vacation where he can make his moves more discreetly.