CIA Director William Burns believes negative attitudes toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led to a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for the US to recruit Russian spies.
“Disaffection with the war will continue to gnaw away at the Russian leadership, beneath the steady diet of state propaganda and practiced repression,” Burns said during a lecture at the Ditchley Foundation in London on Saturday.
“That disaffection creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us at CIA, at our core a human intelligence service,” he said.
Burns, 67, added that the intelligence agency is “open for business” when it comes to recruiting new Russian moles.
“We’re not letting it go to waste. We recently used social media — our first video post to Telegram, in fact — to let brave Russians know how to contact us safely on the dark web. We had 2.5 million views in the first week, and we’re very much open for business,” Burns said.
In May, the CIA established a presence on the social media platform Telegram in an effort to reach Russians disaffected with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine.
The agency’s inaugural post on the Telegram included a dramatic video in Russian titled, “Why I contacted the CIA: My decision,” which shows individuals making the choice to contact the US spy agency.
Burns, a former ambassador to Russia, praised the work of the US intelligence community in the leadup to and after the Kremlin’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
“Good intelligence has helped President Biden mobilize and sustain a strong coalition of countries in support of Ukraine. Good intelligence has helped Ukraine defend itself with such remarkable bravery and resolve, and to launch the crucial counter-offensive that is now underway,” Burns said.
“And the careful declassification of some of our secrets, part of a novel and effective strategy shaped by the President and senior policymakers, has helped deny Putin the false narratives that I have watched him so often invent in the past – putting him in the uncomfortable and unaccustomed position of being on his back foot,” he added.
The spy chief told the audience that last month’s armed mutiny by Wagner Group mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin shows the “corrosive effect” Putin’s war is having in Russia.
“It is striking that Prigozhin preceded his actions with a scathing indictment of the Kremlin’s mendacious rationale for the invasion of Ukraine and of the Russian military leadership’s conduct of the war,” Burns said in his lecture.
“The impact of those words and those actions will play out for some time – a vivid reminder of the corrosive effect of Putin’s war on his own society and his own regime,” he added.
Burns’ comments follow a secret visit to the embattled former Soviet state in June, where Ukrainian officials told him they have a plan to end the war and retake Moscow-occupied territory by the end of the year.