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The Shadow War

Aerial view of the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters.

Good account of what the CIA has been doing in Ukraine (hint: it’s not mobile bio-weapon labs):

The underground bunker, built to replace the destroyed command center in the months after Russia’s invasion, is a secret nerve center of Ukraine’s military.

There is also one more secret: The base is almost fully financed, and partly equipped, by the C.I.A.

“One hundred and ten percent,” Gen. Serhii Dvoretskiy, a top intelligence commander, said in an interview at the base.

Now entering the third year of a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the intelligence partnership between Washington and Kyiv is a linchpin of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. The C.I.A. and other American intelligence agencies provide intelligence for targeted missile strikes, track Russian troop movements and help support spy networks.

But the partnership is no wartime creation, nor is Ukraine the only beneficiary.

It took root a decade ago, coming together in fits and starts under three very different U.S. presidents, pushed forward by key individuals who often took daring risks. It has transformed Ukraine, whose intelligence agencies were long seen as thoroughly compromised by Russia, into one of Washington’s most important intelligence partners against the Kremlin today.

Plenty more at the link on the evolution of the operation and the expectations of participants on both sides. Folks are (rightly) suspicious of how professional intelligence organizations drive policy in ways that are dangerous and largely unaccountable to democratic constituents. My feeling is that intelligence services rarely (which is not a synonym for “never”) propel policy; with proper safeguards they are responsive to the desires of elected civilian policymakers. When the policy is good the intel agencies can do useful work; when the policy is bad things go the other way. I’d say that in general folks wildly overstate the influence of organizations like the CIA, and that the overstatement can sometimes reach all the way to the top:

Toward the end of 2021, according to a senior European official, Mr. Putin was weighing whether to launch his full-scale invasion when he met with the head of one of Russia’s main spy services, who told him that the C.I.A., together with Britain’s MI6, were controlling Ukraine and turning it into a beachhead for operations against Moscow.

But the Times investigation found that Mr. Putin and his advisers misread a critical dynamic. The C.I.A. didn’t push its way into Ukraine. U.S. officials were often reluctant to fully engage, fearing that Ukrainian officials could not be trusted, and worrying about provoking the Kremlin.

Certainly this article isn’t going to dispel concerns in Russia about the relationship between Ukraine and the United States, but so what? The relationship was critical to Washington’s ability to coherently warn of an impending Russian invasion in February 2022, and to identifying key vulnerabilities in Kyiv’s defenses (the failures of Russian intelligence organizations in the first week of the war were in some ways more decisive than the failures of its military organizations).

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