AMU Homeland Security Opinion

The Limits of Intelligence and the Excess of Conspiracy

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By William Tucker
Moscow rules number one – assume nothing.
General Yuri Ivanov, deputy head of Russia’s powerful military intelligence agency (GRU), died while swimming in Syria several weeks ago. According to the few reports available in the media his body was found four days later by Turkish fishermen. This is a strange incident for several reasons such as timing, lack of details in the press, his presence in Syria, and the length of time between his going missing and body recovery. Let’s look at these in reverse order for no other reason than to be confusing.


The GRU is the oldest functional intelligence branch in Russia having been founded in 1918 and was often seen as a rival to the other civilian agencies. The deputy head of the GRU is a powerful position and it is likely that Ivanov traveled with bodyguards and all the other trappings of a high ranking government bureaucrat. This makes his disappearance strange as we can assume his bodyguards would have been nearby and possibly members of the Syrian security. Another aspect to consider was his presence in Syria to begin with. Ivanov was reportedly handling militancy issues in the Caucasus and not on anything with Damascus. As a deputy head of the GRU he could have been handling weapons sales, but we don’t have any concrete details.
The Russian media has covered Ivanov’s death, but has offered no other details outside of the official press release from Moscow. In modern Russia revealing anything outside of the government realm is a good way for a journalist to get killed. That being said the Western media, which loves a good intelligence story, hasn’t covered this any better. It is possible that the two governments, both of which run a police state, are cooperating because they don’t know what happen and they are suspicious. We are left with little alternative but to let this play out.
The timing is a bit suspicious as well. Earlier this spring the US disrupted several cells setting up intelligence operations across the country. The announcement of the bust quickly caught the attention of the media, but lost in the coverage was the death of Sergei Tretyakov (known as ‘Comrade J’). Tretyakov was a Russian intelligence operative assigned to the UN and eventually defected to the US in 2000. According to Tretyakov’s wife he died of a heart attack, but she asked friends not to reveal his death until two weeks after. Furthermore, the FBI supervised the autopsy of Tretyakov – a full month after his death – but has not released any details. There have been rumors that Tretyakov tipped off the US to the operation; however evidence supporting that assertion is limited at best. Moscow may have retaliated against Tretyakov, but again we don’t have real evidence. The connection between these events in such a short period of time is suspect, and unfortunately that’s all we have.
There is a lot of suspicion and unknowns, but this is the world of intelligence and such things are not unexpected. If these events are connected, and someone ordered the killing of Ivanov, then that someone has dangerously escalated this conflict – whatever this conflict may be. What we can take away from this is not that a large conspiracy is afoot, because we just don’t know, but judging by the growing traffic of Ivanov’s death on the conspiracy websites one could be persuaded to think otherwise. The bottom line is that you must be careful of your sources and sometimes you may be forced to wait for further information in a time critical situation. It is maddening, but your reaction will be better suited to the clearer picture.
And just to fan the flames of conspiracy a little more.
Moscow rules number four – everyone is potentially under opposition control.

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