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Monday, January 21, 2008

Is the Top UN Nuclear Arms Inspector a Russian Spy?

CQ Politics reports:

The top U.N. official responsible for monitoring the clandestine nuclear programs of Iran and Pakistan is a Russian spy, according to a new book on Moscow’s espionage operations in the United States and Canada.

The official is identified only by his Russian code name, ARTHUR, but other sources identified him as Tariq Rauf, 54, a Pakistani-born Canadian who is chief of verification and security-policy coordination at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The job “puts him in direct contact with both inspectors and countries around the globe,” a Canadian online magazine reported last year. “Rauf is responsible for ensuring IAEA scientists get into countries such as Iran and negotiating the access they need to completely verify the use of nuclear material.”

The allegations appear in “Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War” by former Washington Post reporter Pete Earley, author of two previous books on Russian spying in the United States. The book amounts to a blistering memoir by Sergei Tretyakov, a former top Russian intelligence operative stationed in New York and Canada during the 1990s, first with the communist-era KGB and then its successor, the SVR. Earley writes, but Tretyakov does not confirm in the book, that he worked as a double agent for the FBI for three years before he defected to the United States in 2000. Rauf called Tretyakov’s allegation “nonsense.” He had “never” worked “for any intel types whatsoever. I am a impartial loyal international civil servant,” he said by e-mail from the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna on Friday.

But in the first of two telephone conversations earlier in the day, Rauf was far less dismissive, declining an opportunity to flatly deny the allegations. He refused to say whether he knew or had ever met Tretyakov, who worked under diplomatic cover.

“Comrade J” describes several other alleged Russian spies in Canada only by code name, but in such rich detail that it’s not hard to figure out who they are. Tretyakov’s description of ARTHUR all but names Rauf as his spy. “When Sergei had recruited ARTHUR [in 1990],” Earley writes, “he worked at the Canadian Centre for Arms Control,” a think tank for experts on nuclear weapons. Later, ARTHUR was “a project director at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, part of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, a California think tank,” he relates.

A few years later, when Tretyakov became deputy chief of Russian intelligence in New York, he renewed his relationship with ARTHUR, who had become “a U.N. senior verification expert,” who specialized in the clandestine weapons programs of “rogue states” such as Iran, Libya and his native Pakistan. “I know that he is still employed at the agency and I have no reason to believe he has stopped working for Russian intelligence,” the one-time master spy says in the book. “He hated America.”

Rauf’s résumé is identical to Tretyakov’s description of ARTHUR’S career. They are one and the same, according to multiple sources. A former Russian diplomat and arms control specialist who knew Tretyakov well in New York, reviewed the description of ARTHUR and said it appeared to describe Rauf. “The fingered Canadian guy, well, you know only too well who could theoretically fit this reference,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Another former Monterey arms expert, when asked whether Rauf might be the spy code-named ARTHUR, said, “Yes, the name you provided is correct.” When contacted for this story, Rauf said a Canadian newspaper reporter had presented him with the same allegations days earlier. He said he had not decided whether to contest the allegations in court. Author Earley said he had examined Tretyakov’s records — photographs, e-mail, even a restaurant napkin on which ARTHUR scribbled notes about Ukrainian missiles — to back up every allegation. “If they want to sue us, fine,” said Earley of all the Canadians that Tretyakov describes as spies. “We’ll just run Sergei up there with our stuff and see what happens.”

Talking Talbott

Tretyakov has other sensational allegations in his book, which officially goes on sale Jan. 24 but is available now online. Tretyakov says Russian intelligence considered Strobe Talbott, the Clinton administration’s top Moscow hand, such a valuable source of inside information, and so vulnerable to its manipulation, that it classified him as a SPECIAL UNOFFICIAL CONTACT.

“I want to underline that he was not a Russian spy,” Tretyakov says of Talbott, who was a Rhodes Scholar with future president Bill Clinton at Oxford and a highly respected Time magazine correspondent before turning to diplomacy. “In fact, I suspect he was the opposite — an ardent American patriot.” But a Russian official under the control of the SVR, then-Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Mamedov, Tretyakov alleges, was able to get inside information from Talbott by massaging his considerable ego. “He became a valuable intelligence source,” Tretyakov says.

Talbott, who now heads the Brookings Institution, called the book’s “interpretation of events erroneous and/or misleading in several fundamental aspects.”

“[T]here was never a presumption” during his meetings with Mamedov “that what we said to each other in our one-to-one sessions would remain private,” Talbott said.

Tretyakov “offers no amplification or corroboration” on his allegations that Mamedov, whom he socialized with, was able to manipulate his views on Russia. “There can be none,” Talbott said. He further pointed to several U.S. diplomatic accomplishments after the collapse of communism in Russia, which included “getting Russian troops to leave the Baltic states, getting the Russians to accept NATO enlargement . . . to support us in Bosnia and . . . to help in ending the Kosovo war on NATO’s terms.”

Mamedov, now ambassador to Canada, also dismissed the allegations, calling them “rubbish, an attempt to smear a fine American patriot . . . who was always tough as nails in nuclear arms negotiations with us.”

Unanswered Questions

Earley describes in the book how the CIA and FBI introduced him to Tretyakov in a hotel room at the Ritz Tyson’s Corner, near the Washington Beltway, with the idea that they do a book together. Other than that, Earley says, the CIA and FBI had no role in the book, other than vouching for the Russian’s credibility. “The fact that this defector was given a financial package significantly higher than what any other previous Russian spy has ever received is a strong indication of how valuable he has been to us and how much the U.S. appreciates what he did,” an unnamed FBI official told Earley.

The book’s sensational allegations, however, conveniently allow U.S. intelligence to showcase old news — that the Russians have been spying and pulling “dirty tricks” on the United States and its allies as much, if not more, than they were during the Cold War — on a new platform. Likewise, some see the hand of the Bush administration in Tretyakov’s allegation that the IAEA’s top nuclear verification official is a Russian spy. It could be used to taint IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who drew the wrath and scorn of the White House by contradicting its claims that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has also opposed administration threats to attack Iran.

But if Tretyakov is right about Moscow’s spies, how come nobody he’s fingered has been charged, much less arrested? (He gave the names of his alleged spies to Canadian security officials years ago.) Because he’s making it up, suggests James M. Olson, a former CIA chief of counterintelligence who now lectures on intelligence issues at Texas A&M University. “Tretyakov, obviously egged on by his publisher, needed something sensational to sell his book,” says Olson, who worked against the Russians for three decades.

“The Strobe Talbott allegation is patent nonsense. If there were anything to it, the U.S. government would have acted on it long ago,” said Olson, author of “Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying,” a 2007 book. “Sadly, there’s not much honor among spies,” he said. “The CIA can’t control what defectors do and say once they’re settled and on their own.” But a former FBI official offers an alternate explanation: You can’t arrest somebody for espionage on the mere word of a defector (unlike the administration’s policy on suspected terrorists). You’ve got to catch them doing it, which can take years. “You’ve got to have the evidence to go along with it to make a case stand up in court,” says Harry B. “Skip” Brandon, a former deputy assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI.

In addition, Brandon says, Canadian security officials might have “thought Tretyakov was a disinformation agent,” sent by Moscow to plant misleading information about its secret operations in Canada. “Maybe the Canadians viewed it that way,“ said Brandon, who now runs a global intelligence and security firm in Washington, in partnership with former CIA agent Gene M. Smith. The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service isn’t talking, Spokesperson Manon Bérubé said she was familiar with the book but, “We are not commenting on questions about our operations.”

Nobody Can Be Trusted

“Comrade J” has plenty more sensational spy stories, all of which will be chewed over and debated by national security analysts. President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy himself, personally approved of Russian agents stealing millions of dollars worth of U.N. oil-for-food funds during the pre-war Iraq sanctions, Tretyakov says. The notion that “Nuclear Winter” would follow a nuclear exchange was “a myth” promoted by Russian agents to derail the deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe, he says.

But it’s not all bad news.

Russian intelligence, Tretyakov says, got some of its best ideas from American books and movies — mostly thrillers, of course. “Three Days of the Condor,” the 1975 CIA thriller starring Robert Redford, spurred Moscow Center to launch a major new program, he says. “It stuns the hell out of me,” says James Grady, author of the novel the movie was based on, “Six Days of the Condor”, which portrays a CIA unit tasked to find ideas for spy operations in books. “Here we have reality aping fiction, which apes reality, which apes fiction,” Grady said Friday night. “It really closes the loop.”

One of Condor’s major themes: Nobody can be trusted.

Certainly not a defector, Grady says.

“If you burn people you convinced to trust you with their lives,” Grady says, “ultimately you burn any reason to trust you.”

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