The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—the principal foreign intelligence and counterintelligence agency of the US government—is reportedly using social media to reach out to Russians who might act as informants amid President Putin’s recent invasion of Ukraine.
On Tuesday 3 May 2022, the agency’s official Instagram account shared a post written in Russian which, according to Business Insider, translated to a set of instructions on how to make “secure virtual contact” with the CIA. The post said it was targeting “those who feel compelled by the Russian Government’s unjust war.”
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By accessing the online browser Tor—an open-source privacy network that enables anonymous web browsing—Russian citizens who wish to speak with the counterintelligence agency are assured they will be able to do so in a safe and secure manner.
The CIA’s post also said that, to get Tor, potential informants shouldn’t use their personal or work computer and should instead prefer an internet connection or computer not associated with their identity. The post further noted that they should make sure their browsers like Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari are updated and in ‘private browsing’ mode (also known as ‘Incognito Mode’).
Alternatively, the agency wrote it was “imperative” that Russian individuals use a virtual private network (VPN) before reaching out with any intel. “Do not use a VPN whose provider is based in Russia, China, or any other countries that are considered unfriendly to the United States,” it additionally warned.
Unsurprisingly, since the beginning of the country’s latest invasion of Ukraine, Russian demand for VPNs has skyrocketed—more specifically since the Kremlin started blocking its citizens’ access to social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as well as countless news websites. According to the analysis site AppFigures, it is estimated that daily downloads for the ten most popular VPN apps on Google Play and App Store increased by at least 4,275 per cent during the first week of the invasion.
Last but not least, the CIA’s post also provided users with a link to a dedicated channel set up by the agency asking informants to send their full name, job description and the kind of information in their possession. “We urge you to take all the proper precautions to keep yourself safe,” the post read. “Your safety is of first priority,” it concluded.
Speaking to The Mirror, a source claiming to be the personal assistant to several sanctioned Russian oligarchs said they had witnessed the men break down “in tears” due to their assets being frozen. After President Vladimir Putin took the decision to invade Ukraine (once again) in February 2022, he was shortly met with Western countries taking strategic action against Russia, including the targeting of his allies—some of the country’s wealthiest businessmen.
“I have had to endure hearing them in tears because they can’t get on board a private jet or book a holiday or even get an Uber anymore,” the personal assistant, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, told The Mirror.
According to the publication, the assistant works for the oligarchs who live in Surrey’s St George’s Estate, located in the UK. It is a gated community where a third of the residents are said to be Russian. It’s also considered to be one of the most exclusive private residential addresses outside of London, according to property finder Garrington South.
The Mirror report added that some of the oligarchs in question had to ask staff to pay for their taxis after the Uber executive accounts linked to their cards had been closed. “It’s hard to have any sympathy. It doesn’t matter to them if people are dying in Ukraine,” shared the anonymous assistant, adding that an oligarch’s wife collapsed in tears after bespoke electrical fittings ordered for her £10 million mansion were blocked.
Another Surrey pair were stranded in Dubai when their first-class flight was cancelled.
Sanctions have also targeted oligarchs’ families, such as in the case of billionaire businessman Gennady Timchenko—whose wife and daughters have been impacted by the restrictions. Timchenko has been close friends with President Putin since the early 1990s.
Speaking about oligarch families in general, the assistant said, “They care only about themselves and how the sanctions are starting to affect their champagne lifestyle. But that’s all changing now and it’s good to see them having to adjust to their new place in the world.”
Hopefully, this will teach them a thing or two about caring for others, and the impact of war, rather than their precious light fittings. As the assistant initially told The Mirror, “They care only about themselves and how the sanctions are starting to affect their champagne lifestyle.” They went as far as to reveal that “just before the war one of the wealthy Russian families I know in Surrey paid £24,000 to fly a live crab and some black caviar from Moscow on a private jet for a party.” Sickening.