The Tsar’s Man in Tehran

The tragic and untimely death of Russian poet, playwright and diplomat Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboyedov (1795-1828) in Tehran was just one episode in a geopolitical duel, the Great Game, as Russia and Great Britain maneuvered for position in Central Asia throughout the 19th century. This official account from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), authored by A.N. Itskov, tells a story of diplomacy, espionage, and murder in Persia. Translated by Mark Hackard.

For the first third of the 19th century, Russia was engaged in bloody wars with Persia (1804-1813 and 1826-1828). Consequently Russia emerged victorious, and Persia was forced to recognize Russia’s annexation of Georgia, Dagestan, Northern Azerbaijan, and also the Yerevan and Nakhichevan khanates. In elaboration of the conditions of the Treaty of Turkmenchay, which legally formalized the results of the two wars and became the basis of relations between the two lands up to October of 1917, a most active participant was the diplomatic counsel under the Commander of the Russian Army of the Caucasus Ivan Paskevich, Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboyedov. Griboyedov had already worked in the Russian embassy in Persia between the two wars and had learned well the situation in the country. And when he journeyed to the camp of Abbas Mirza, the son of the Shah and commander of the Persian Army, to resolve political questions, at the same time he studied the state of the army and detected its low morale. Griboyedov also “probed” Abbas Mirza’s adjutant, Haji Mahmud Aga, regarding the latter’s possible future use as an agent, and was practically able to receive his consent on cooperating[i].

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007 Secrets: SPECTRE

The newest film in the 007 series will be titled SPECTRE, a fitting reference to the real cabals and cartels that rule the world. Indeed, SPECTRE is presented early on in From Russia with Love with this very feature – they are international, as opposed to SMERSH being Russian, and play nation states off against one another. Transitioning from the Soviet-affiliated SMERSH in the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, SMERSH transforms into SPECTRE, a formidable “terrorist” organization from the ambiguous East.

It is also telling that back in the 50s and 60s, Ian Fleming was already predicting the transition from the communist threat to the international terrorist threat – something that gave me the indication that Fleming novels are worth a deeper look. Even current media hysteria seems the product of a shrewd psychological operation: Sony claims to have been hacked by North Korea, with the SPECTRE script leaked, as well as Pyongyang supposedly threatening 9/11 style attacks on theaters that play Franco and Rogen’s The Interview. Such headlines might as well be ripped from the pages of Fleming’s books, since they’re truer to life than we might think.

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Dostoevsky & the Third Section

The following is a chapter from Russian author Eduard Makarevich’s book on espionage and subversion, Sekretnaya Agentura. Translation by Mark Hackard.

The great Russian writer Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky couldn’t avoid the temptation of revolution. He was already famous as the author of the short story “Poor Folk” when he had a meeting with a certain Mikhail Petrashevsky. The liberal views of the bureaucrat from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made an impression on the young Dostoevsky. He was only 26 years old at the time – an age of great hopes and desires for changing the world. It was with such intentions that the writer began to visit Petrashevsky’s secret club. Various people gathered there: intellectuals of non-noble birth, representatives of officialdom with liberal views, officers carried away with socialist ideas, etc.

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The Illegals: Russia’s Elite Spies

The FBI’s recent arrest of several alleged deep-cover Russian intelligence officers, also known as “illegals”, has provoked astonishment in the media. As if U.S. intelligence agencies would ever dream of carrying out covert work in Russia! Since the memory span of reporters and pundits rarely extends beyond a few weeks, perhaps this is understandable. But it should come as no surprise that spying remains an important tool of statecraft. As exemplified by the illegals, the Russians are top players in the game of human intelligence.

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