The Lawfare Podcast: John Sipher on Human Sources in Moscow

By Jen Patja Howell
Saturday, September 1, 2018, 1:30 PM

The New York Times reports that CIA human sources in Moscow are drying up: “vital Kremlin informants have largely gone silent, leaving the C.I.A. and other spy agencies in the dark about precisely what [Vladimir] Putin’s intentions are for November’s midterm elections, according to American officials familiar with the intelligence.” The newspaper speculates that this may be because of the political environment in the United States, an environment in which the president tweets about the intelligence community and the Steele dossier, and the House Intelligence Committee goes after human sources and outs them: “[O]fficials also raised the possibility that the outing of an F.B.I. informant under scrutiny by the House intelligence committee—an examination encouraged by President Trump — has had a chilling effect on intelligence collection,” write reporters Julian Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg.

John Sipher knows something about human sources in Moscow. He was stationed there for the CIA in the 1990s and had to deal with sources. And he joined Benjamin Wittes in the Jungle Studio to talk about the fragility of those operations, the plausibility of the New York Times story, and what we could do tamp down negative impacts on intelligence collection.