Welcome, Col. Shcherbakov

by Daniel Foster

What a break, if true:

Russia’s foreign intelligence service has been roiling with internal recriminations for months over the defection of the official responsible for its American operations, so much so that it has sabotaged progress on missile talks with Washington, a Moscow newspaper is reporting.

The Kommersant newspaper said questions were being raised about why top intelligence officials allowed Col. Shcherbakov (his full name was not supplied) to stay in his job as boss of Moscow’s deep-cover spies in the United States even while his daughter was living here — an inexplicable security lapse.

[. . .]

“For some inexplicable reason, the Foreign Intelligence Service entirely missed the importance of the fact that Scherbakov’s daughter lived in the United States,” Kommersant said.

It also said “nobody paid attention when Scherbakov’s son (an officer of the Federal Drug Enforcement Service) suddenly left Russia for America not long before the outbreak of the scandal .”

Col. Shcherbakov’s defection coincided neatly with the arrest of the Russian spy ring in June:

“There has never been such a failure by Section S, the American department that Shcherbakov directed,” Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s security committee, was quoted as saying by Kommersant.

Interestingly, the report claims that the defection has so vexed the Kremlin that it has affected New START negotiations:

The Russians appreciated the fact that Washington — and in particular the CIA — never crowed about Shcherbakov’s defection, the paper said. But the spy service’s top officials remained so bitter over the defection that they sabotaged U.S.-Russia talks on antiballistic missiles.

“The Foreign Intelligence Service is so enraged that it keeps torpedoing all and any work with the Americans, even including ABM projects,” a senior Russian diplomat was quoted as saying.

“’Scherbakov is like a curse within the Foreign Intelligence Service nowadays,” it said.

But I wonder if the Russians are protesting too much here. I know this is the second time I’m getting conspiratorial here this week (the Air Force One flyby in Lower Manhattan was an inside job!), but consider:

1) Has the successor to the KGB really fallen so far that the American directorate chief’s children living in America went unnoticed?

2) The Russian “spies” outed shortly after Shcherbakov’s alleged defection. Though the ring was supposedly under investigation for years, the good colonel presumably gave the corroborating intel necessary to move on them. But those spies are absolutely useless. By all accounts, not a real loss for the Russians.

3) Kommersant is writing freely about an unprecedented embarrassment for Putin’s intelligence agency? The same Kommersant that just saw one of its muckrakers beaten into a coma? In a country where at least 300 journalists have been murdered since 1991?