On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry announced that General-Lieutenant Igor Valentinovich Korobov (KOR-uh-buv) is the new chief of Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU.
Mil.ru carried a sparse press release.
News agencies didn’t have much beyond that. But TASS provided an official photo of Defense Minister Shoygu and Korobov with the GRU standard.
It’s clear General-Lieutenant Korobov is no spring chicken. He’s experienced. And he’s a career (кадровый) intelligence officer.
We don’t know how long he will head the GRU or when the next transition will occur. Few can say what (if any) difference it makes who’s in charge. Fears an outsider from a rival “power” ministry or intelligence service would take over the GRU were apparently exaggerated.
TASS, and a couple other press services, carried one additional note. They reported Korobov was previously first deputy chief, or second-in-command, of the GRU and chief of strategic intelligence.
The chief of strategic intelligence is in charge of collection, fusion, and reporting of intelligence on military threats to the security and survival of the Russian Federation. But it’s like one word is so implicit, or regarded as so secret, that it’s left out — agent. Chief of strategic agent intelligence.
So Korobov managed all GRU human intelligence (HUMINT) collection resources, except its most critical and productive “illegals” and their agents which the Chief of the GRU personally controls, according to Viktor Suvorov (Vladimir Rezun).
While it has capable technical intelligence-gathering means, the GRU relies on HUMINT. It is focused on information collected from agent operations abroad. That’s its tradition and its forte.
At its best, Soviet / Russian HUMINT means GRU “illegal” Richard Sorge practically handing Stalin the date of Hitler’s invasion of the USSR months before Operation Barbarossa began. At its worst, Stalin, for whatever reason, ignoring Sorge’s information.
At its best, it means the USSR defeating the U.S. in just one facet of the Cold War — espionage. At its worst, GRU officers in the 1990s inventing agents and reports to satisfy their bosses.
We may not learn much about General-Lieutenant Korobov, and it really doesn’t matter. There’s a new first deputy chief of the GRU and chief of strategic agent intelligence reporting to Korobov now. Just another turn of the personnel wheel.
What matters more is what it says about Russian intelligence culture. The Kremlin and the Defense Ministry have never abandoned Soviet (perhaps historically Russian) paranoid mirror-imaging about their enemies. They believe their enemies have secret diabolical plans to destroy them because they have such plans for their enemies. Of course, these plans are so secret that no satellite could ever photograph, detect, or eavesdrop on them. They can only be discovered by human agents, hence the HUMINT emphasis.
Failure to ferret out these hostile plans doesn’t mean they don’t exist; it only means the officers in charge have failed.
And whatever information agents deliver to their handlers, and handlers send back to headquarters, and headquarters prepares and presents to the leadership better fit the latter’s predilections. Headquarters probably wouldn’t even put forward a story that didn’t track with the leadership’s mindset.