The Cold War is long finished, but Russian intelligence has been all over the American news.
Russia is accused of hacking the DNC’s emails and engaging in other forms of cyber subversion in order to throw the race in favor of now-US President Donald Trump. A series of politically charged social media groups and advertising campaigns have been traced back to Russia, and special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, allegedly for potential collusion with Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that his country is involved in a cyber war with the US.
At the same time, he’s also expressed his pride in the “unique people” of Russia’s intelligence community, according to the AFP. Putin’s soft spot for spies comes as no surprise: His previously was a KGB operative.
Here’s a look into Putin’s early career as a spy:
As a teenager, Putin was captivated by the novel and film series “The Shield and the Sword.” The story focuses on a brave Soviet secret agent who helps thwart the Nazis. Putin later said he was struck by how “one spy could decide the fate of thousands of people.”
Putin went to school at Saint Petersburg State University, where he studied law. His undergraduate thesis focused on international law and trade.
After initially considering going into law, Putin was recruited into the KGB upon graduating in 1975.
After getting the good news, Putin and a friend headed to a nearby Georgian restaurant. They celebrated over satsivi — grilled chicken prepared with walnut sauce — and downed shots of sweet liqueur.
He trained at the Red Banner Institute in Moscow. Putin’s former chief of staff and fellow KGB trainee Sergei Ivanov told the Telegraph that some lessons from senior spies amounted to little more than “idiocy.”
Putin belonged to the “cohort of outsiders” KGB chairman Yuri Andropov pumped into the intelligence agency in the 1970s. Andropov’s goal was to improve the institution by recruiting younger, more critical KGB officers.
Putin’s spy career was far from glamorous, according to Steve Lee Meyers’ “The New Tsar.” His early years consisted of working in a gloomy office filled with aging staffers, “pushing papers at work and still living at home with his parents without a room of his own.”
He attended training at the heavily fortified School No. 401 in Saint Petersburg, where prospective officers learned intelligence tactics and interrogation techniques, and trained physically. In 1976, he became a first lieutenant.
Saint Petersburg is the home of School 401. (image)
Putin’s focus may have included counter-intelligence and monitoring foreigners. According to Meyers, Putin may have also worked with the KGB’s Fifth Chief Directorate, which was dedicated to crushing political dissidents.
The 33rd Anniversary of the KGB in 1987. (image)
In 1985, Putin adopted the cover identity of a translator and transferred to Dresden, Germany. In “Mr. Putin,” Fiona Hill and Cliff Gaddy speculate his mission may have been to recruit top East German Communist Party and Stasi officials, steal technological secrets, compromise visiting Westerners, or travel undercover to West Germany.
Hill and Gaddy conclude that the “most likely answer to which of these was Putin’s actual mission in Dresden is: ‘all of the above.'”
Putin has said that his time in the KGB — and speaking with older agents — caused him to question the direction of the USSR. “In intelligence at that time, we permitted ourselves to think differently and to say things that few others could permit themselves,” he said.
At one point, crowds mobbed the KGB’s Dresden location after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Putin has claimed to have brandished a pistol to scare looters from the office.
The future Russian president didn’t return home till 1990s. It’s believed that Putin’s tenure in the KGB, which occurred during a time when the USSR’s power crumbled on the international stage, helped to shape his worldview.
“It was clear the Union was ailing,” Putin said, of his time abroad. “And it had a terminal, incurable illness under the title of paralysis. A paralysis of power.”
Putin ultimately quit the KGB in 1991, during a hard-liner coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. He became an official in Boris Yeltsin’s subsequent administration, took over for him upon his resignation, and was ultimately elected president for the first time in 2000.