To recruit nuclear scientists from countries such as Iran and North Korea and persuade them to flee to the US, us intelligence agencies regularly send agents to scientific events — or even organize their own dummy conferences. A CIA agent quietly knocked on the door of the hotel room. Speeches,discussions and dinner were over, and the conference participants went to bed. Wiretapping and visual observation showed that people from the Islamic revolutionary guard Corps, overseeing the nuclear scientist, went to bed, but he was still awake. And he was alone in the room when he opened the door.
According to a well-informed source, this meeting, which took place about ten years ago, the scouts prepared a few months. Through a shell company, they funded and organized a conference at an unrelated international science center, invited participants and brought their people into the ranks of the maintenance staff — all in order to lure a nuclear worker from Iran, separate him from the guards for a few minutes and talk to him one-on-one. At the last moment, the plan almost fell through: the scientist changed the hotel, because the hotel offered by the conference cost 75 dollars more than the Iranians were willing to spend.
To demonstrate sincerity and goodwill, the agent had a hand to heart. “Salam, Habibi,’ he said. “I’m from the CIA and I want you to fly with me to the United States.” On the Iranian’s face was a mixture of surprise, fear and curiosity. The agent already had experience with defectors, so he understood well what questions swarmed in the head of the scientist: what will happen to my family? How will you protect me? Where will I live and for what? How do I obtain a visa? Will I have time to pack? What happens if I say no?
The scientist had already opened his mouth to ask something, but the interlocutor interrupted him: “first, take a bucket of ice.”
“If your guards Wake up, tell them you went for the ice.”
Carrying out probably the most daring and complex plan in its history to invade the academic world, the CIA secretly spent millions of dollars on the organization of scientific conferences in different countries. His goal was to lure Iranian nuclear scientists from Iran into a more favorable environment, where intelligence representatives could work individually with them and convince them to change sides. In other words, the Agency tried to delay the development of the Iranian nuclear program, using the international nature of the academic environment. To this end, it was forced to resort to large-scale deception and mislead both the structures that held these conferences and the scientists who spoke at them. Participants of scientific events did not even suspect that they were involved in the staging, only simulating reality. You can argue about how tasks national security to justify such manipulation of the professors, however, do not doubt that most scientists disagreed that the CIA may use them as “dummy”.
Conferences – the most convenient side of scientific life for espionage
Thanks to globalization, this social and intellectual ritual has become widespread. Like Golf and tennis tournaments, they are held wherever the climate is favorable enough — and in the same way attract a successful audience. Although scientists are constantly communicating with each other remotely, virtual communication is not a substitute for personal meetings, allowing you to make useful connections, look at new devices and read the report, which will later be released in the collection. “This engaging conference, wrote the English novelist David Lodge (David Lodge) in 1984, in his satire on academic life called “small World” — they allow you to combine useful with pleasant, that is, professional occupations in tourism, the money from someone else’s pocket. Wrote an article — see the world” (op.CIT. by lane O. E. Makarova).
The importance of the conference can now be measured not only by the number of Nobel laureates or Oxford professors who participate, but also by the number of spies. American and foreign intelligence are drawn to conferences for the same reasons that army recruiters are drawn to poor areas: there is most production. If a certain University can have only a couple of professors who are interested in the security services, then at the right conference-say, drones or ISIS (an organization banned in Russia — approx. TRANS.)- there may be dozens of them.
“Every intelligence Agency in the world works with conferences, sponsors conferences and looks for ways to send their people to conferences,” a former CIA officer told me.
“Recruitment is a long process of seduction,” says mark Galeotti, a senior researcher at the Prague Institute for international studies (Mark Galeotti), a former special adviser to the British Ministry of foreign Affairs. — First you need to be on the same partition with the object. Even if you just exchange a couple of meaningless remarks, next time you can already say, ” I think I saw you in Istanbul?”»
The FBI warned in 2011, American scientists to be cautious conferences, outlining this scenario: “the Researcher suddenly receives an invitation to send abstracts to an international conference. She sends them and receives an invitation. At the conference, a representative of the host party asks her for a presentation, attaches the flash drive to her laptop and quietly downloads all files and data from it.”
The FBI and the CIA also do not leave the conference without attention
According to a former FBI agent, at events in the United States, “foreign intelligence agents hunt for Americans, and we hunt for them.” The CIA works with conferences in several different ways: it sends its agents to them, it organizes them through Washington shell companies so that the intelligence community can access scientific knowledge, and it holds fake conferences to get in touch with potential defectors from hostile countries.
The CIA monitors upcoming conferences around the world and identifies those that may be of interest to him. Suppose, for example, Pakistan hosts an international conference on centrifuge. The CIA will either send their undercover agent there or contact the scientist who was going there anyway to write the report. If it finds out that there was someone from the Iranian nuclear industry, it will mark it as a potential target for recruitment at the next event.
Intelligence gathered at academic conferences, can influence policy
For example, they helped convince the George W. Bush administration that Saddam Hussein continued to develop weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (which proved to be untrue). “Our staff and informants, of course, noticed that Iraqi scientists involved in chemistry, biology and, to a lesser extent, nuclear physics, continued to appear at international symposia — wrote in 2009 in his memoirs, a former CIA officer John kiriaku (John Kiriaku), specializing in the fight against terrorism. “They made reports, listened to other people’s speeches, actively took notes and returned to Jordan, from where they went by land to Iraq.”
Perhaps the scouts sometimes making invalid conclusions, due to the fact that among them there were few professional chemists, biologists and nuclear physicists. Without specialized education can be misunderstood what is at stake. In addition, the stranger is more likely to get caught. At conferences held in Vienna International atomic energy Agency on topics such as isotope hydrology, and nuclear fusion, spies probably has more than scientists, says gene Coyle (Gene Coyle), who worked for the CIA from 1976 to 2006: “There is only one little problem. When you send an agent to a conference like this, he has to keep talking. A man with a degree in history is very difficult to pretend to be a specialist in plasma physics. In addition, it is a very small world. If an agent, for example, says that he works at the Chicago Fermi Institute, he will immediately be asked how Bob, Fred and Susie are doing.”
Therefore, according to Coyle, the office attracts people from the scientific world through the Sector of national resources — its secret internal service, “cooperating” with many scientists. “After learning, say, about a suitable conference in Vienna, they ask Professor Smith if he will be there.”
“Smith might say,’ Yes, I’m going there and then I’ll let you know who I’ve been in contact with. If I run into any Iranian, I will not run away from him.” If he says he would love to go, but the University doesn’t have the funds, the CIA or the FBI can say, “Well, maybe we can get you a ticket — in economy class.”
Recruitment of a scientist often begins with an allegedly random meeting — as experts say “first contact” – at the conference. One former CIA officer — let’s call him R. — explained to me how it works.
“I recruited a lot of people at conferences,” he says. – I was good at it — but, however, it’s easy.”
In between assignments, he studied the list of upcoming conferences, chose one of them and found out which of the interested scientists participated in it in the previous years at least twice, and therefore likely to visit it again. He then instructed interns from the CIA and the national security Agency to prepare a profile of the facility-where he studied, from whom, and so on. Then he telegraphed his superiors, asking for funding. The request had to be sufficiently persuasive for the office to allocate the money, but sufficiently unconvincing that other agents who would become familiar with it and who were closer to the conference venue would not hunt for the same object.
Then R. developed a cover. He used to be a businessman. He came up with the name of the company, built a standard website, printed business cards, created for a non-existent company documents, phone and credit card data. He also chose which of his several aliases he would use this time.
R. was not a scientist and could not easily start a conversation about the hypothesis of Riemann. Therefore, he, realizing that most scientists are introverts and have difficulty communicating, turned to the object before the reception: “you also do not like crowded events?”After that R. stepped aside. “The first contact should be fleeting,”he believes,” it is Important that your face is simply remembered.” In this case, no one should notice such contact. A typical beginner’s mistake is to start a conversation in the presence of people who may be observers assigned to the scientist by the authorities of his country. If they report this conversation, the security of the facility will be at risk, and he will not be able — and will not want — to go to further contacts.
The rest of the time R. “rushed like crazy”, trying to contact the scientist at every opportunity. With each interaction (in CIA jargon they are called “time at the object” and are taken into account when measuring the efficiency of work), he tried to win the sympathy of the object. This has been helped by the habit to get well prepared for recruitment. Let’s say he told the subject that he’d read an amazing article on a subject, but he couldn’t remember the author. He was embarrassed and admitted that this is his article.
After a couple of days, R. invited the scientist to lunch or dinner and threw a fishing rod — said that his company is extremely interested in the subject on which the object works, and would like to support his work. “All the scientists I know are constantly looking for grants to Finance their research. They only talk about it,” he says. They discussed the scientific project and the amount that varied depending on the country: “for Pakistanis it is usually from 1000 to 5000 dollars, for Koreans — more.” After the Professor receives money from the CIA, he, even if the source of funding is unknown to him, becomes dependent, because at home exposure can jeopardize his career — and sometimes life.
Scientific conference of so drawn to intelligence that the CIA almost first began to fear the intervention of the colleagues in office, chasing the same academic production. “We navodayam such actions,” — says a retired tsereushnik, writing under the pseudonym Ishmael Jones (@Ishmael Jones), in his book in 2008 called “the Human factor: inside look at ineffective intelligence culture of the CIA” (“The Human Factor: Inside the CIA”s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture”).
Jones writes that in 2005, having come to a conference in Paris, which seemed to him “a suitable feeder for weapons developers working for rogue States”, he fell in spirit when he noticed two other CIA agents (and part-time scientists) in the hall. This, however, did not prevent him, trying not to catch their eye, scour the room, consider the badges of participants and seek out “potential sources of information”, ideally — from North Korea, Iran, Libya, Russia or China.
“I am surprised how large the open presence of special services at such events — said Karsten Geier (Karsten Geier). – At every step you come across people from abbreviation offices”. We spoke with Geyer, who is responsible for cybersecurity policy at the German foreign Ministry, at the Sixth annual international conference on cybersecurity, which was held on April 26, 2016 at Georgetown University in Washington. On it, program reports on the confrontation of one of the main challenges of the 21st century — cyber attacks — were made by the leaders of the NSA and the FBI. Objects of religious art, stained glass Windows and classic quotes that adorn the Gaston hall, where it all happened, looked on this background something like a carefully designed cover.
Among the speakers were a former chief cryptanalyst from the NSA, a former Chairman of the National intelligence Council, Deputy Director of the Italian security service and Director of the center conducting classified research for Swedish intelligence. Judging by the badges of the participants (there were 700 of them), the vast majority of them worked for the American government, foreign embassies, contractors cooperating with the security services, and companies that produce products that are related to cybersecurity — or taught at universities.
Probably not all intelligence presence was open. 40 countries — from Brazil to Mauritius, from Serbia to Sri Lanka-but not Russia were officially represented at the conference. However, at the same time in the audience, in the gallery, a thin young man with a briefcase, listening to the reports, was spinning. He didn’t have a badge. I approached him, introduced myself and asked his name. “Alexander,” he said. Then, hesitated and added: “Belousov.
“How do you like the conference?»
“I don’t know,” he said, obviously trying to avoid further questioning. – I’m from the Russian Embassy, I’m not an expert, just trying to understand.”
I handed him a business card, but he refused to give me his, “I’ve only been here a month, my cards haven’t been printed yet.”
I did not lag behind and began to ask him about his position in the Embassy (later it turned out that in the diplomatic Handbook he is listed as “second Secretary”). In response, he only looked at his watch: “Sorry, I have to go.”
When the CIA wants to know the opinion of Professor John booth (John Booth), call him and ask if he could participate in the conference. At the same time, the name of the Department is not on the official invitation and in the program of the event, the formal sponsor of which is one of the Washington contractor companies.
Hiding his involvement, the CIA makes life easier for scientists
This allows them to indicate their participation in conferences on resumes without disclosing that they actually consulted with the CIA. Such information could not only incite some of their colleagues in science against them, but also damage their reputation in the countries in which they conduct research.
Booth, Professor Emeritus of political science at the University of North Texas, specializes in Latin America. In this region, historical experience has taught officials to be wary of the CIA. “If you’re going to travel to Latin America, it’s very important that you don’t have certain things in your biography,” Booth explained to me in March 2016. – When you go to such conference even if it is carried out by intelligence services or military, in the summary it isn’t reflected. Participants need such a Fig leaf also because there are still some biases in academic circles. For example, at the events of Latin Americans, I will not tell you that I recently participated in a conference organized by the CIA.”
The CIA holds conferences on foreign policy issues so that its analysts familiar with classified information can learn from researchers who see the picture as a whole and are familiar with open sources. Professors usually pay $ 1,000 in the idea of the fee and compensate for the costs. The events themselves look like an ordinary scientific conference with reports and questions to the speakers — minus the fact that many participants (as you can assume, CIA analysts) wear badges, which indicate only the name.
Of the ten intelligence conferences that Booth attended — the last of which was held in 2015 and was dedicated to the wave of refugee children from Central America that swept the United States-only two were held directly by the CIA and the Office of the Director of national intelligence [ADNR]. The rest was engaged in the company Centra Technology Inc-one of the leading Washington intermediary firms (“pads”, as they are called), which organize conferences for the CIA.
The CIA provides Centra with funding and tells us who to invite. The events themselves take place at the Centra Convention center in Arlington, Virginia. As reported on the company’s website, it is”an ideal place for conferences, meetings, games and joint events held by our customers.”
“Those who in the subject, when you see the Centra conference, you know that we are talking about the CIA or about the of the Academy, — said the Professor of international politics at Columbia University Robert Jervis (Robert Jervis), a long time consultant to the CIA. “They understand that some scientists benefit from formal cover.”
Centra, established in 1997, has since received more than $ 200 million in government contracts, including $ 40 million from the CIA for organizational support — in particular, for the selection and editing of classified dispatches for the Senate intelligence Committee, five years of studying the practice of torture Department. In 2015, the company’s management consisted of many retired high-ranking intelligence officers. Its founder and head of the Harold Rosenbaum (Harold Rosenbaum) was a scientific and technical consultant to the CIA. Senior Vice President Rick Bogusky (Rick Bogusky) headed the Korean Department in the Intelligence Department of the Ministry of defense. Vice President for research James Harris (James Harris) 22 years led the research projects of the CIA. Director of international Affairs Peggy Lyons (Peggy Lyons), has long been a CIA agent, several times sent to East Asia, held administrative positions in the office. David Kanin, Director of analytical work, worked for 31 years in the CIA as an analyst.
A political scientist from the University of Indiana. Sumit (Sumit Ganguly) spoke at several conferences Centra. “Everyone who cooperates with Centra knows that they are actually working for the us government,” he says. – If events were held by the CIA itself, some would be nervous. As for me, I’m not embarrassed in front of my colleagues. If they don’t like something, it’s their problem. I am an American citizen and I am always ready to give my government good advice.”
According to another political scientist, who made four reports at Centra events, he was told that the company represents some unnamed “clients”. He realized that we are talking about the us intelligence services, only when he saw in the audience of people with badges without names, with the same names. Then he met some of them at another academic conference. They did not have badges, and they did not appear in the program.
Centra’s trying to mask its ties to the CIA. In 2015, it has removed from its website the biography of leadership. Among the” leading customers ” on the site mentioned the Ministry of internal security, the FBI, Land forces and 16 Federal government agencies — but not the CIA. When I called Rosenbaum and asked him if Centra was holding a conference for the CIA, he said, ” That’s not where you’re calling. We have nothing to do with it,” and hung up.
Then I came to the office Centra, located in Burlington, Massachusetts, a Northern suburb of Boston. It is located on the fifth floor. In the logbook all visitors are asked to indicate citizenship and “type of visit” – secret or unclassified. The receptionist led the Director of human resources Diane Colpitts (Dianne Colpitts). She politely listened to me, contacted Rosenbaum, and said that Centra would not comment on anything. “To be honest,” she added, ” our customers prefer that we do not communicate with the press.”
For Iranian academics fleeing to the West, a scientific conference has turned into the modern equivalent of the underground railroad. The CIA is actively using it. As the head of the Institute of science and international security David Albright (David Albright) told me, since the time of President George W. Bush, the US government has allocated “unlimited funds” for covert operations to slow down Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons. In particular, the CIA organized an operation “brain Drain”, the purpose of which was to push the leading Iranian nuclear scientists to flee to America.
As a former intelligence officer explained to me, it was difficult to get to scientists in Iran itself, and so the CIA lured them to friendly and neutral countries at the conference. Management, in consultation with the Israelis, chose the object for development. Then it organized a conference at a famous scientific Institute. To do this, we used a “gasket” — usually some entrepreneur, allegedly allocated for the event (at the expense of the CIA) the amount of 500,000 dollars to 2 million dollars. It could be the owner of a technology company — or intelligence could specifically create a shell company for him, so that his sponsorship did not cause suspicion in the Institute, which should not have been aware of the involvement of the CIA. “The less you know, the scientists, the safer the situation for everyone,” says the former tsereushnik. The pads knew they were working for the CIA, but they didn’t know the purpose of the job — and the Agency only used them once.
The conference was to be devoted to one of the aspects of nuclear physics having peaceful application, as well as to correspond to the research interests of the facility. Iranian nuclear scientists usually work in universities at the same time. Like any Professor, they love to travel at someone else’s expense. The Iranian government has allowed them to occasionally attend conferences-even if under protection-to keep up with the latest research and to get acquainted with suppliers of modern technology. In addition, it was of propaganda value.
“From the Iranian point of view, it certainly made sense to send scientists to the conference on the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” Ronen Bergman (Ronen Bergman) told me. Bergman is a prominent Israeli journalist, published a book “the secret war with Iran: 30 years of a hidden struggle with the most dangerous terrorist country in the world” (“the secret war with Iran: the 30-year clandestine struggle against the most dangerous terrorist power”) and is now working on a political history of the Israeli intelligence — Mossad. “It was advantageous for them to say that they were sending their researchers to the conference to then use peaceful technologies for peaceful purposes.”
A CIA agent leading the operation, was able to impersonate a student, a technical consultant or representative of the company with an exhibition stand. His first task was to rid the scientist of the guards. Let’s say there was a case where a CIA-recruited kitchen staff poisoned the guards ‘ food with a drug that caused them to vomit and diarrhea. The calculation was that they will carry the disease at the expense of eaten on the plane lunch or unusual cuisine.
With some luck, the agent was able to catch the object alone for a few minutes and talk to him. Usually before that, the intelligence agent carefully studied the Iranian-read the file and talked with “access agents” who were in direct contact with him. As a result, if the scientist doubted whether he was really dealing with the CIA, the scout could say that he knew everything about it — and prove it. For example, one agent told a potential defector, “I know you had cancer and had your left testicle removed.”
Even after the scientist agreed to switch sides, he could change his mind and escape. “He had to constantly recruit, again and again,” explains the former intelligence agent. Even when he was already sitting in the car going to the airport, and the CIA together with allied intelligence services organized a visa and tickets. The CIA also made every effort to take his wife and children to the United States — but not his mistress, as one of the defectors demanded. The office provided him and his family with housing and certain long — term benefits-in particular, paid for the higher education of his children.
As I was told by a competent source from among the former employees of CIA, in the USA — through conferences and not only — scientists ran enough to seriously brake the Iranian nuclear program. According to him, the engineer who built centrifuges for the Iranians agreed to flee on one condition: that he would be allowed to defend his thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of technology. Unfortunately, the CIA took him out of Iran without documents – including without diplomas. Therefore, the MTI first, and then the CIA turned him down. However, in the end, the Agency insisted, and the famous engineering UNIVERSITY agreed to meet the scouts and cancel the formalities. To test the defector, a group of professors from different departments was assembled. He brilliantly passed the oral exam, was admitted to graduate school and defended himself.
MIT Administration claims that they know nothing about it. “I’ve never heard anything like it,” said the head of the Department of mechanical engineering, Gan Chen (Chen gang). However, two academic sources confirmed the credibility of the story at key points. Muhammad Sahimi, Professor of oil field studies at the University of southern California (Mohammad Sahimi), who studies Iranian policy in the nuclear industry, said that a defector who worked in the Iranian nuclear program defended his thesis at MIT on mechanical engineering. Professor of mechanical engineering from MIT Timothy gutovsky (Timothy Gutovsky), in turn, said: “in our laboratory worked one guy. One day I learned that in Iran he was dealing with centrifuges, and I wondered how we had it.”
Due to the fact that in 2015 Iran agreed to limit — in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions — the development of nuclear weapons, the issue of recruiting defectors from the Iranian nuclear program has partially lost importance for us intelligence. However, if President trump abandons this deal, which he condemned in his September speech to the UN General Assembly, or decides to revise it, the CIA can once again engage in a secret hunt for prominent Iranian nuclear scientists with the help of staged conferences.
This is an edited excerpt from the book of Daniel Golden, “Espionage in higher education: how the CIA, FBI and the foreign intelligence agencies secretly used by American universities” (“spy schools: how the CIA, FBI, and foreign intelligence secretly to exploit America’s universities”) opening November 1 in the publishing house of Henry Holt.