Active Measures

Активные Мероприятия | Aktivnyye Meropriyatiya: Agent-operational measures aimed at exerting useful influence on aspects of the political life of a target country which are of interest, its foreign policy, the solution of international problems, misleading the adversary, undermining and weakening his positions, the disruption of his hostile plans, and the achievement of other aims. (Mitrokhin, Vasili (2013-01-11). KGB Lexicon: The Soviet Intelligence Officers Handbook (p. 13). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The necessary expertise

Published: 2019 January 28


With a little effort I can read this. From a book of poetry by Vladimir Mayakovsky, with design and typography by El Lissitzky. They were Communists. I'm not endorsing that. I find the lines and colors more pleasing than the words. Useless, but interesting. Learning the Cyrillic alphabet has actually been quite helpful, however.

It has become increasingly common for some Russia experts to complain that others lack the necessary expertise to understand or address the threat presented by Russian government efforts to subvert and degrade Western democracies. Meanwhile, it has recently been reported that German pro-Kremlin far right activist Manuel Ochsenreiter paid a Polish fascist to carry out an arson attack in Ukraine with the apparent intent of fueling conflict between Ukraine and Hungary. For the purpose of this discussion, we will assume the accusation against Ochsenreiter are substantially true, and that he was acting as a cut-out for a Russian intelligence agency. What manner of expertise is necessary to understand this event in order to be better able to identify - and ideally disrupt - similar efforts?

The facts of the matter

Western Ukraine is home to a sizable population of ethnic Hungarians. In February of 2018 a Hungarian community organization in Ukraine was firebombed. The perpetrators - three Polish fascists - were quickly identified and arrested. One of the perpetrators, Michal Prokopowicz, has told Polish authorities and testified in open court to the effect that he was recruited by Manuel Ochsenreiter to carry out the attack. Ochsenreiter is said to have directed how the attack should be conducted, and provided Prokopowicz with €1,500. These two communicated by cell phone and 'secure' messaging apps, and met to exchange money at an airport in Berlin.

The necessary expertise

Intimate familiarity with Russian language, culture, and history are not going to be particularly helpful here, except perhaps to serve as a reminder that not all Russians are Chekists. On the other hand, a working knowledge of current Russian, prior Soviet and Communist bloc, and Tsarist Russian intelligence activity will be extremely helpful. And happily, there is a vast body of literature - much of which is both quite good, and not in Russian - documenting such things.

While it is reasonable to suspect Ochsenreiter of serving as an agent of, and being directed by, a Russian intelligence officer, and while it is true and relevant to the case that Ochsenreiter has a great many Russian friends, fluency in one or more of the following languages will be of more immediate assistance: German, Polish, Serbian, and English. As for open sources of intelligence about the attack, the capture of the suspects, and now the trial of Prokopowicz, the best of the original reports in Ukrainian, Polish, and Hungarian have been translated to English or incorporated into English reports on the subject.

It will also be helpful to understand human social networks, particularly as they play a role in political extremism and clandestine activity. Familiarity with how those social networks manifest themselves online and how social media sites work will help take much of the mystery out of this event. People become involved in activity such as we are discussing here because they know other people involved in similar activity, and those relationships will be at least partly visible on Facebook, VKontact, and Twitter, (to name three online venues).

My fondness for Russian modern art of the early 20th Century, up to and including the early years of Bolshevik rule, is of no help when it comes to figuring out if Ochsenreiter even knows Prokopowicz. Ochsenreiter knows Prokopowicz. We know this because they're seen together in a photograph uploaded to Facebook.


From left to right: Falange leader Bekier, accused Russian agent Piskorski, currently jailed in Poland, Ochsenreiter, and Ochsenreiter's agent Prokopowicz.

On or before 20 June, 2015, a meeting was held jointly by the Polish Falanga organization of which Prokopowicz is a part, and the Polish think tank Europejskie Centrum Analiz Geopolitycznych, whose Secretary General Mateusz Piskorski (currently in a Polish jail accused of spying for Russia, coincidentally) is a known associate of both Ochsenreiter and Ochsenreiter's now-former employer, German AfD Party politician Markus Frohnmaier.

The Constitutional Crisis of 1993

If there is one event in recent Russian history that you should be more familiar with, it is the period in late September through early October of 1993, known commonly as the Constitutional Crisis. In short, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin dissolved the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet. Communist and ultra-nationalist activists attempted a coup. And finally the Russian army came down on the side of Yeltsin. While the event helped set Russia on a course that culminated in Putin's rule, the significance here is that those same far left and far right activists who had fought together on the barricades - following their release from jail, where they'd been sent after the coup was crushed - became involved in Russian efforts to destabilize neighboring countries, and they have been involved in such ever since. Ochsenreiter's Russian social network is directly tied to those same activists. Knowing that, Ochsenreiter's alleged involvement in the attack in Ukraine makes a great deal of sense.

This isn't about Russia

Active measures campaigns waged by the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation (a/k/a Kremlin) and Russian intelligence services are not about Russia. They are about what a small number of Russians are doing to other, non-Russian, countries. Where country expertise is needed is in and with regard to the targeted countries, because it is issues within the targeted countries that the Russians will seek to exploit (e.g. racism in the United States).

My own expertise

Identifying, delineating, and deconstructing the social and technological networks utilized by state and non-state actors as they produce and disseminate propaganda and disinformation. State and non-state actors of interest have included Hamas, Al Qaida, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (to include Hizballah), the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation (Kremlin), intelligence services of the Russian Federation, and organized criminal organizations associated with Hizballah and Kremlin. Additional activity and competency includes but is not limited to criminal and counterintelligence analysis, investigations, and operations, particularly as relates to illegal activity associated with the aforementioned state and non-state actors. I have a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and a Masters in Criminology, 17+ years experience working either for or in cooperation with, and also providing training to, Federal, state, and local law enforcement and intelligence officers directly related to the matters discussed above. Finally, I have a proven ability to befriend or recruit linguists and other subject matter experts as needed.

See previous entries here: