Evaluation: HUMINT insights from the Muller/Cherkasov case

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AIVD HollandAT A TIME WHEN dozens of nations are routinely expelling file numbers of Russian intelligence officers, information of the unmasking of one more Russian spy is barely newsworthy. Nonetheless, the case of Sergey Cherkasov/Victor Muller is completely different. That’s as a result of, not like the overwhelming majority of Russian spies with blown covers, he didn’t function underneath diplomatic safety. This isn’t essentially unusual —in reality, there are in all probability dozens of Russian case officers working internationally with out diplomatic cowl. What’s uncommon is that one among them has been publicly unmasked. What’s extra, the case provides some attention-grabbing pointers for these curious about up to date human intelligence (HUMINT).

The Details

Based on the Netherlands Common Intelligence and Safety Service (AIVD), which publicized the case final week, a person utilizing a Brazilian passport tried to enter Holland in April of this yr. His passport had been issued underneath the title Victor Muller Ferreira, allegedly born to an Irish father and a Spanish-speaking mom in Niteroi (close to Rio de Janeiro) on April 4, 1989. Nonetheless, based on the AIVD, the person’s actual title is Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, a citizen of Russia, who was born on September 11, 1985. Primarily based on the data launched by Dutch intelligence, Cherkasov is an intelligence officer of the Primary Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ Common Workers, which is often often known as the GRU.

The AIVD claims that the rationale for Cherkasov’s go to to the Netherlands was to affix the Worldwide Legal Court docket (ICC) in The Hague, as a paid intern. He finally deliberate to transition into full-time employment within the ICC, the place he “can be extremely useful to the Russian intelligence companies”. The AIVD reportedly notified the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service, which detained Cherkasov upon his arrival at Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol. The Dutch authorities declared the alleged GRU officer persona non grata and promptly expelled him again to Brazil “on the primary flight out”.

Cherkasov’s Cowl and Legend

Cherkasov arrived in Holland with a cowl, a time period that refers to a faux operational id used for functions of espionage. It’s unlikely that his cowl was pure, that means that he’s in all probability not Brazilian by start —although it’s doable that no less than one among his mother and father was/is just not Russian by start. What’s extra probably is that Cherkasov’s cowl is contractual, that means that it was crafted particularly for him by the GRU after he was employed as an intelligence officer. This probably occurred as many as 10 years in the past, when Cherkasov was in his early 20s.

The subsequent stage in Cherkasov’s profession required him to enter a cosmopolitan way of life, designed to introduce a level of opaqueness into his private historical past. Based on data launched by the AIVD, the alleged spy’s mother and father —certainly most of his prolonged household— had been allegedly lifeless by the point he was in his late 20s. That might have shielded his cowl with an additional layer of safety, since no members of the family can be round to contest his claims. Cherkasov labored as a journey agent in Brazil earlier than shifting to Eire in 2014, the place he majored in political science at Trinity Faculty Dublin. He then went on to finish a Grasp’s diploma at Johns Hopkins College’s Faculty of Superior Worldwide Research, which he acquired in 2020.

All through that point, Cherkasov muddled his background, constructed his faux persona of a motivated political science scholar, and severed all ties to Russia. He additionally rigorously curated his on-line profile through social media platforms comparable to Twitter and Fb, in addition to by running a blog on geopolitics. In doing so, he seems to have gone out of his solution to categorical views essential of the Kremlin, whereas on the similar time espousing pro-Western positions on a variety of subjects. It’s value noting that, primarily based on data that has surfaced since his unmasking, Cherkasov’s contacts in Eire, the USA and elsewhere didn’t suspect that he had any ties to Russia, not to mention Russian intelligence.

The explanation why Cherkasov managed to keep away from suspicion by these round him was that he was in a position to craft a multi-level legend. The time period refers to a whole universe of informational and bodily artefacts that assist one’s cowl. These embrace an operative’s digital profile, in addition to their biographical particulars, household life, academic historical past, private pursuits, and so on., that breathe life to their cowl. Moreover, constructing a legend encompasses the meticulous memorization of minute particulars, anecdotal tales and reminiscences of 1’s life, as these have the flexibility to strengthen the authenticity —and due to this fact credibility— of 1’s cowl. This may be seen in Cherkasov’s draft autobiographical word, which the AIVD by some means managed to amass, and which it publicized final week in Portuguese, Dutch and English.

Some observers referred to this doc as “extraordinary”. That’s true, however solely within the sense that it has been made out there to the general public. In actuality, this doc is typical of the type of detailed biographical sketches that deep-cover operatives are required to supply —often within the language of their cowl— whereas constructing their legend. The doc seems to be an early biographical sketch produced by Cherkasov within the course of of making his faux id. He would have shared this draft along with his assist operations officer, in search of detailed suggestions. He would then have repeated this course of till the data contained within the doc was convincing even to somebody who grew up within the very neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro that Cherkasov/Muller claims to have lived.

Remaining Questions

Simply how that AIVD got here to be in possession of this fascinating doc stays unknown. There’s additionally the query of simply how the AIVD grew to become conscious of Cherkasov’s hyperlinks with the GRU. Provided that the spy lived in Eire and the USA up to now a number of years, it’s probably that operational carelessness on his half may have raised suspicions amongst folks round him, thus triggering a counterintelligence investigation. It is usually doable —although not going— that his ICC internship software resulted in an in depth examination of his background by the AIVD, which is conscious of makes an attempt by international international locations to embed spies on Dutch soil by the ICC and different worldwide organizations primarily based in Holland.

Maybe the largest query, which additionally stays unanswered, is why the Dutch didn’t arrest Cherkasov, selecting as an alternative to ship him again to Brazil “on the primary flight out”. One would think about it’s not daily {that a} Western intelligence company will get its fingers on a deep-cover Russian operative. Cherkasov’s background, coaching and mission particulars would have been of curiosity to a bunch of Western authorities companies. Did the Dutch already know every little thing they wanted to learn about him? Would it not have been troublesome to legally justify Cherkasov’s detention with out exposing —and thus endangering— the supply or data that led to his unmasking? Or may it’s that the Dutch authorities didn’t want to enter into a protracted tit-for-tat contest of expulsions with Moscow, which could weaken its personal intelligence presence inside Russia? These questions are amongst a number of which can be unanswered, and are more likely to stay so for the foreseeable future.

* Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis is Professor of Intelligence and Safety Research at Coastal Carolina College. He makes a speciality of intelligence assortment involving SIGINT and HUMINT.

Writer: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 June 2022 | Permalink

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