Russia routinely exploited a US policy of increased information sharing to target Chechen dissidents, according to three law-enforcement and intelligence officials in Europe.
The practice emerged after the Trump administration backed a policy of sharing more secret information with Russia, in hope of strengthening relations.
Sources told Insider Russia routinely sought information on its targets of choice — dissidents who fled the rule of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. The US appears to have received little in return.
It is an open secret that Russia pursues Chechen dissidents and kills them, and sometimes seeks Western help in doing so.
The officials Insider spoke with confirmed the existence of the modern-day US-Russian arrangement after a former US intelligence official described it on the JustSecurity blog.
He said intelligence officials considered it pointless but pursued it anyway on the orders of the Trump administration.
“There was a consistent push for CT cooperation with Moscow, coming from the White House, despite near universal belief within the IC that this effort would be one sided and end up being a waste of time and energy,” the former US official, Marc Polymeropoulos, said, referring to counterterrorism and the intelligence community as CT and IC, respectively.
However, Insider’s sources said Russia’s attempt to uphold its side of the bargain was one-sided and self-serving.
All three sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to discuss the subject publicly. Insider knows their identities.
The sources said most of the information that came from the Russians as “help” were thinly veiled requests for information on the whereabouts of Chechen and other Muslim Russian dissidents.
The dissidents in question had fled the decadelong wars in and around Chechnya to claim asylum in Europe.
A French police source told Insider: “The Russians regularly abuse the process of sharing information by spamming us with notices about people they know perfectly well are under police protection because of their threats.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to brief the media, is investigating the stabbing death of Imran Aliev, an anti-Putin and anti-Kadyrov blogger who lived under police protection in Belgium.
He said: “The Russian mentality is that any Chechen who wants independence from Moscow or opposes Kadyrov is an Islamic extremist terrorist just the same as ISIS and needs to be killed.
“It’s a mix of fishing, intimidation, and setting an atmosphere to make it easier to pressure someone else to turn them over later. It also allows an alibi for them to shrug when they end up murdered.”
More than a dozen Chechen activists have been killed in Europe since 2004, with Russian or Chechen suspects linked to either Russian intelligence or Kadyrov’s forces in multiple cases.
Another NATO military intelligence official who regularly deals with Russian intelligence matters confirmed the nature of Russia’s activity.
He said NATO had limited some parts of its relationship with the US because of its closeness to Russia. Specifically some worried that US officials would send them its intelligence.
The official also spoke anonymously because he lacked permission to speak publicly. He said: “I don’t want to say we locked the Americans out, but we certainly noticed the very public leak of intelligence to the Russians in 2017.
“This is why key protections of intelligence information are in place. You can’t always count on your friends to keep secrets.”
The NATO official said Russia volunteered little useful information on Russians fighting in Syria, despite more of its citizens fighting in that war than any non-Arab nation.
He said Russia instead focused its energies on Chechen targets.
“If we have this good information-sharing relationship, and there’s all these Chechen terrorists out there, why do we only get info and requests on bloggers and retired fighters from the 1990s?” the official said. “What about all these Chechens and Dagestanis in Idlib? Lots of these guys seem to have military training; the Russians must have something on them. What about Malhama Tactical?”
A third source, an intelligence official with a central European NATO member, also confirmed Russia’s requests focus on Chechens.
“They use the intelligence-sharing system like they used Interpol: It’s a threat,” he said. “It’s like the movie ‘The Godfather.’ You have to spread the rumor to everyone that he’s dirty before you kill him. That way everyone thinks he probably had it coming.”