They refine information gathered for years on the Russian army, decipher countless data and images, prepare for the future: Western intelligence services see the war in Ukraine as a unique opportunity to progress on their knowledge of the arsenal Russian. The invasion of Ukraine constitutes a colossal deployment of Russian forces, exposing materials, methods, principles and weaknesses such as no spy stationed in the east has ever dared to dream of.
Services “capitalize enormously. Rare are such massive military deployments, especially of this army,” notes Alexandre Papaemmanuel, professor at the Institute of Political Studies (IEP) in Paris. “We realize that what was imagined does not correspond to the reality of this deployment, which is tedious, with logistics that are not on time, coordination that is not effective,” he adds. AFP.
The conflict in Ukraine is certainly modern, with a strong informational component. The Ukrainian resistance floods social networks with images, informing the public of the abuses of Russian soldiers as well as their equipment. Satellite images from private companies are used day and night, in near real time. The war in Syria, faced with the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group, had already shown this, Ukraine confirms it on a larger scale.
Unclassified like those of the staffs, these images provide an incredible windfall for analysts and other experts in what the jargon calls “open sources” (OSINT, for “open source intelligence”), therefore accessible to all.
“In the History Books”
For spies, even those sheltered in front of their computers, the breeding ground is inexhaustible. “The type of targets targeted by Western and Ukrainian services are much more visible and accessible, whether through image, electromagnetic intelligence, and probably also intelligence of human origin”, notes Damien Van Puyvelde, intelligence specialist at the University of Glasgow.
This publicity of the fighting was accompanied by a real coup: a few weeks ago, the Americans chose to publish the information that justified their alarmism about Russian intentions. A decision that “took the risk of compromising sensitive intelligence sources and methods, but political decision-makers calculated that it was worth exposing the lies of the Kremlin”, decrypts the former American ambassador Nathan Sales, today today at the Soufan Group think tank in New York. Confirmation from a European diplomat: “It will be in the history books. The American machine made a decision of a political and strategic nature” by releasing its information on the Russian deployments.
The master of the Kremlin did not back down, however. But within a few days, he was exposed. And it seems – this is in any case the Western thesis – that he underestimated the ability of his adversaries to work together.
The services certainly did not put the cards on the table indiscriminately. The rule of thirds – I give you information but you don’t give it to someone else – remains the law. But the rapprochement of the chancelleries weighed on the agencies.
“We are surprised by a form of consolidation (of certain information), of the efforts of the European Union, the United States, other countries, individually and collectively”, assures AFP Yoram Schweitzer, a former official. Israeli services. “There is a political decision that clearly influences the intelligence services to try to be aware of Russian intentions and to obstruct them in a much more collective way”.
Washington and its allies in Central and Eastern Europe, former members of the Soviet bloc with well-filled Russian address books, have shared information, says Nathan Sales. “But we can and must do better”, he claims, “especially on Russian military activities to help Ukraine, ideally in real time”. All these countries will, on the other hand, enjoy first-hand information on Russia on Thursday.
“Despite the change of generation with the retirement of the ‘cold warriors’ (Cold War spies, editor’s note), we can expect that Western collection and evaluation capacities will remain considerable”, predicts Damien Van Puyvelde. It is to be hoped that the costs of this war and the international sanctions imposed on Russia “will eventually act as levers for recruiting human resources within the Russian state apparatus” to the benefit of Western services.