Mr. Galeotti, the Russian security expert, said that Mr. Smolenkov's position, although quite low, would probably have given him "significant access." As he said, he added, "the Russians run" departmental information "based on need to know, and I would be skeptical that he would have any view on operating material. "
As in many governments, Russia's foreign policy professionals have cautious relations with their country's intelligence services, in particular the military intelligence service GRU, which has been accused of spinning the leadership of Moscow's electoral missile. This makes it highly unlikely," said experts, Mr. Smolenkov or even Mr. Ushakov would have had detailed knowledge of a secret program to disrupt American democracy hatched by Russian spies.
But such speculation may in itself be disinformation, as there is no slightly easier way to prevent the operation of a country's und execution apparatus than planting seeds of suspicion for hidden traitors. In the 1960s and 1970s, C.I.A. was paralyzed by an endless hunt for turncoats run by James Jesus Angleton, the agency's deeply paranoid counterintelligence manager.
The Russian and American stories about Mr. Smolenkov's activities diverge so sharply that even the way of his escape from Russia is confused by contradiction. US officials describe a secret operation in 2017 to "exfiltrate" – spy talk for extracts – to safety him. However, Russia has described a much more mundane exit and says that Smolenkov took his second wife and their three children on vacation to Montenegro, a popular tourist destination for Russians on the Adriatic coast, and then traveled to the United States, where he bought a house under his own name. in Virginia for $ 925,000 in 2018.
The only certainty is that he and his family disappeared. The Russian opened a murder case after they disappeared but closed it when no bodies were found. In the fall of 2017, friends of his son, Ivan, exchanged troubled messages on VKontakte, a Russian social networking site. "Is he dead or what?" Asked one of Ivan's friends. When this got a flippant response, the friend tried again: "Seriously, what happened to him?"
"God only knows," replied another friend.