Hrytsak – “Moles” (of the espionage variety)

Ukraine watchers will be used to regular statements, some perhaps exaggerated, some perhaps relating to staged events/dubious claims from the SBU – there is a propaganda (and annual and institutional budgetary) war going on after all in which a fairly high profile for a domestic secret service will play a role.  As such Ukraine watchers are now used to “success stories” or “no leads” media releases.

Therefore the recent statement of the SBU Chief, Vasil Hrytsak is somewhat unusual, devoid of the usual detail relating to “success” or the shrugging of shoulders “failures” when pressed by the media.

“We found in our ranks, so to speak, a “mole”.  This “mole” was identified, detained, and documented. The precautionary measure chosen is to be held in custody. We have a lot of work to do, unfortunately, we are checking for possible involvement of the Russian special services as employees of the Security Service, as well as other Ukrainian citizens who work or serve in other institutions and paramilitaries.”

There are obvious questions as to why this statement was made at all.  What operational matters required such a statement being made to the public?

It unambiguously infers that if there is any network associated with the SBU member detained, that this network has not yet been rolled up.  A reader will naturally expect that any such network would be on its toes and possibly heading out of Ukraine following the SBU Chief’s statement (perhaps regardless of any Kremlin instruction to stay put and ride out the investigative storm that will now occur – personal survival instinct overriding discipline and instructions and all that).

It also infers that Russian infiltrators within the SBU may also still be within the SBU ranks – which is unsurprising as it is to be expected that infiltration there are – and will continue to be, even if some individuals are successfully rolled up.

Likewise any “Ukrainian citizens who work in other institutions and paramilitaries” will also now be on their toes and making exfiltration or self made escape plans.

What prompted such a statement if the SBU is apparently somewhat unready to efficiently roll up treasonous citizens and/or infiltration agents?

Perhaps there was an expectation that the detention of the “mole” was about to leak and the boilerplate “no comment”, “neither confirm nor deny” media stalling would prevent or delay any damage.

Further as this individual was detained on 18th August, perhaps it was felt that he would have already been missed for too long, sending up the balloon among his cohorts already.

Perhaps this individual had a public profile and their absence would be noticed by the media.

Perhaps there are other operational reasons that have forced this statement to be made, or an inability to keep the matter off of the public court case records.  Perhaps there is no ability for a case to be heard “in camera” and thus those proceedings will be public very soon.

Alternatively, a more cynical reader may ponder certain political issues to be faced by the SBU in the immediate future.  The 2019 budget will soon be thrashed out.  A new/majorly amended law on the role and parameters of the SBU is likely to be in place before the New Year.  The outcome of the latter may well affect the former.

There is also a presidential election in March 2019 and the Russian threat will feature as part of a Poroshenko electoral platform.  The SBU unmasking Kremlin “moles” will help insure the population remains aware the war exists not only on the front line in Donbas.

Naturally some may add all of that together and question the timing of the “mole” being detained when the SBU was seemingly not prepared to roll up the network prior to making the arrest – if indeed that is the case.  Perhaps the SBU were/are prepared but are inferring otherwise for operational or political reasons with headlines of a network roll up to follow shortly/at a politically convenient time.

The SBU will still be playing “Whack-a (Russian)-mole” for years (and decades) to come, but whatever the case, this is a public statement behind which the operational reasons are interesting and currently unclear.