PARIS -- A Cold War is purely an intelligence war. If you go on a Ukrainian geopolitical bender in front of a former KGB chief like Russian President Vladimir Putin without having a firm grasp of the opposition's mind-set, you risk launching yourself into a wall like some kind of drunken frat bro on a Slip 'n Slide.
Here are a few handy tips for understanding the Russian intelligence modus operandi and how it differs from America's.
HUMINT vs. OSINT: Russia has higher standards and capacity for espionage and intelligence operations than the West, placing a greater value on reliable human intelligence (HUMINT) than on the collection and analysis of information derived from open sources (OSINT). In other words, the Russians don't believe that sitting around Googling things all day is the epitome of intelligence work. They want information "procured by undercover agents and secret informants in defiance of the laws of the foreign country in which they operate," as one former Soviet intelligence insider put it.
Unlike the U.S., Russia and its key ally, China, consider every expat to be a human intelligence asset (or "cutout," as they're called in the business). Granted, open-source information can be useful in the hands of an exceptional operational analyst who has the experience, knowledge and top-tier contacts needed to reliably connect disparate points not previously connected, but this describes an overlapping of CIA operational and analytical roles that doesn't exist in the real world. To wit, a former CIA senior official told the Los Angeles Times last year that the agency's $3 billion program for these kinds of non-official cover (NOC) intelligence officers was a "colossal flop," citing "inexperience, bureaucratic hurdles, lack of language skills and other problems."
Permanent Networks Over Ad-Hoc Networks: Regardless of whether the focus is on peacetime political intelligence or the military intelligence that takes center stage when conflict breaks out, the Russian source network is the same, and every citizen or expat is a potential asset. By contrast, in times of conflict and unrest, the U.S. is largely dependent on covertly funded ad-hoc surges -- groups conspicuous by their very presence, with specific missions to disrupt or subvert opposition activities, or to provide mission-specific local intelligence.