I am Naveed Jamali a former double agent who spent 3 years working against Russian intel -- AMA
I am the author of the book How to Catch a Russian Spy (Simon & Schuster, 2015) about my role as a double agent who helped bring down a top Russian intelligence agent on American soil. After my successful run as a civilian double agent, I accepted a reserve commission in the U.S. Navy. I speak regularly on the subject of predictive system analysis, security, counter-intelligence and understanding the motivation to spy. I have no intention of traveling to Russia anytime soon.
Social media proof https://twitter.com/CatchaRUSSpy/status/614446275988205568
I would add that I do get semi-trolled online, and my book has not received favorable reviews from pro-Putin outlets. But then again I got a great blurb from the creator of Archer -- so it's all good!
I got a great blurb from the creator of Archer
That is all that matters.
“Apparently goofballs aren't limited to the world of fictional spies – before there was Sterling Archer,there was Naveed and Oleg. I wish I could steal some of these stories for the show!” —Adam Reed, creator of “Archer”
No. Russian military intelligence is a professional organization. They follow the unwritten rules -- plus they would have nothing to gain by harming me. I'm more worried about sharks and bears (not the Russian kind).
Apparently you don't need to be afraid of the gay kind anymore either.
I just got the bear joke! I was thinking along the lines of Colbert's joke of bears!
Another reason this is the best country in the world! Russia has a long way to go, so sad that they can't treat their own people with decency and respect, regardless of their beliefs or who they want to marry.
What would be the best way to catch 100 frogs?
The French kind or the ribbbbbit kind?
Oddly enough, snails work well for both.
What's the biggest reality of the whole double agent thing that books, movies and/or television never seems to quite capture properly?
Honestly, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun! Where else can you tell a Russian intelligence officer (IO) to eff off? I actually used dialog from movies when I met with my Russian -- so in many ways, for me, life imitated art!
Have Russian agents ever illegally crossing the border or do they arrive legally as diplomats, tourists, etc.?
What was motivation for the recruited assets who worked for Russia/USSR? Were they cash-strapped or ideologically communist, Marxist, etc?
There are generally two kinds of spies: diplomats and those who assume non-official cover (noc). It should be noted that "spies" don't actually spy, rather, they recruit indigenous people to spy for them. So the more appropriate title would be case agent or spy handler.
There are many reasons that people spy, but primarily it is a combination of ego and money. This is something I talk a lot about in my book -- http://www.amazon.com/How-Catch-Russian-Spy-American/dp/1476788820
Spy Game is a pretty good movie too.
My favorite spy movie is without a doubt Spy Game. Robert Redford is fantastic in this movie (as is Brad Pitt). The scenes with Redford meeting with other Agency types as looking at papers in mirrors, is very much how we conducted business!
I'm going to have watch that movie again tonight! So good!
What are your thoughts on the Alexander Litvinenko assassination?
It was a poorly executed hit and how the Russians deal with whistleblowers (they shoot them full of radiation!).
How did you relay information to the FBI during your time as double agent?
Were you monitored often by Russian intelligence?
Everything was done in-person, both with the Russians and FBI. As has been reported by the press was the Russian penchant for meeting at Hooters: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2015/06/11/how-an-american-slacker-caught-a-russian-spy-at-a-new-jersey-hooters/
I'm sure the Russians monitored me and used surveillance and counter-surveillance, but I never knew definitively. A man coming into the bathroom right after me when I was meeting with my Russian case agent, could've just had to pee -- or he could've been making sure I wasn't calling the FBI! You never really know!
What are Russian intelligence agents mostly tasked with doing in the US?
How do they enter and disguise themselves while in the US?
They disguise themselves (poorly) as diplomats, in my case they were not operating under non-official cover (NOC). They are tasked with identifying, recruiting and running human assets ie spies.
What would you say was your top lesson learned from this?
I am first generation American, my dad is Pakistani and my mom is French. To me that trait is something that I fiercely believes makes me a loyal American. However, that was a trait that the Russians believed made me a disloyal American and a strong candidate to be a spy. This still troubles me to this day.
Did you ever use a physical disguise such as a fake nose, wig, glasses with eyebrows and moustaches attached? If so how did it go?
Nope. I used my real name, drove my own car, etc, etc, etc.
I was given a codename: GREEN KRYPTONITE by the FBI which I promptly got tattooed on my arm. Because, you know, that's a smart thing to do.
How would you compare the Russian agency vs an American agency? What is the biggest difference? Strength weakness etc.
The Russians are very professional and capable. For an Intelligence Officer (IO) to be posted in somewhere like NYC, they have to be very good at what they do. Coming to the states is not an IOs first posting, it's where seasoned officers come. My time in this op was spent in NYC, so the lead agency in my case was the FBI. My FBI handlers were professional and extremely competent. They also had a healthy professional respect for the Russians.
How do you rate the effectiveness and efficiency of American intelligence agencies?
We are the best and most capable intelligence service in the world. Full stop. That does not mean that the Chinese and the Russians are not very capable, they are -- and they are very good at getting information from us (we have an open society and are a nation of laws, they are not).
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Well I wasn't a spy, I was a double agent -- there is a big difference between the two. However, being a double agent was a rush and a total challenge. Plus, I can say that I fooled Russian military intelligence -- that's a pretty cool thing to put on my tombstone!
So yes :)
What's the deal with numbers stations?
What are your thoughts on Dmitri Polyakov, aka TopHat?
People think that the Russian use of low tech tools is because they are incompetent or lack sophistication. That is not true. They know our cyber capabilities and know that using technology can be easily monitored. As such, in person meetings and one way communications (even low-tech methods) are the most secure.
As I said before, spies who have worked against us not only damage our national security but they result in the death of people. Polyakov is a sad example of that.
alright folks it's been a blast and I appreciate all of your questions!
Please check out my book How to Catch a Russian Spy: http://books.simonandschuster.com/How-to-Catch-a-Russian-Spy/Naveed-Jamali/9781476788821 It's available on iTunes, Amazon, Audible -- and pretty much anywhere but in Russia.
If you'd like to ask additional questions feel free to follow and tweet me @CatchaRUSSpy
Do you have plans to do anything in the future that might warrant a follow up book? (Or is retired double agent a good thing/)
It's a strange world, and I never rule anything out.
However, right now I'm just happy to be able to share my story and honored that it looks like it will be a movie! I've gone from not being able to tell my closest family and friends what I was doing, to doing an AMA! Life has a funny way of doing a 180 on you!
Hello, and thank you very much for this AMA!
What's one of the most shocking things you've seen or done?
Have spy movies like the 007 series been ruined?
How do you feel about what you've done?
Once again, thank you so much for this AMA, it's very interesting.
You're welcome! I'm so thrilled to be able to share my story and answer all your questions!
I love spy movies!! As has been mentioned my story is in the process of becoming a movie over at 20th Century Fox. It will be directed by Marc Webb (Spiderman series) and the screen writer is Mark Heyman (the Wrestler and Black Swan). I am so excited to see what they do with this! I hope my story can be added to the spy movie genre as well!
I'm grateful for the opportunity to have been able to serve my country and defend my home -- albeit for a short time.
If you like my story, please check out the book :) http://www.amazon.com/How-Catch-Russian-Spy-American/dp/1476788820
I hope you know that I will brag to all my friends that I talked you when the movie comes out.
And I will check out the book soon. :)
How does the Russian government recruit spies in the US?
How successful have they been with infiltrating the US?
Are they involved in economic espionage?
Recruiting assets is an art more then it is a science. It should be noted that the most damaging spies that worked for the USSR and Russia were not recruited, rather, they were volunteers. They made contact with the Russians and offered to help them of their own free will! Sadly, that will continue to happen.
Espionage is one of the few things were one person can severely damage and shape the direction of a country. There are many public examples of the damage spies have caused - cough snowden cough
How did you become a double agent?
I wanted to join the Navy and naively asked the FBI that if helped develop a relationship with a Russian who was coming to my office, would they be willing to write me a letter of recommendation for the Navy program.
Was the Russian actively trying to recruit you at the time?
He thought he had recruited me! For 3 years I played the roll of Russian spy believable for them, all the while working at the direction of the FBI.
Did your handler speak about other assets he recruited in the US?
What kind of military information does the Russian government mostly want?
No, he never spoke about that. He was only interested in recruiting me and what I could do for him.
Anything and everything :)
Did your cover ever come close to being blown?
Yes. Did I mention I tattooed my FBI codename on my forearm? Yah, well, that wasn't a very smart move since, you know, I was meeting with a Russian GRU officer.
If you like that, there are more stories like that here: http://www.amazon.com/How-Catch-Russian-Spy-American/dp/1476788820
I'm about to pick up your book. Did you catch any flak from the US for doing that!?!
No. I went through the Navy's review process, and I'm happy to say that we did not have to change anything. I did, however, use pseudonyms for the FBI agents as they are still active.
Is Russian intelligence more interested in political or economic information from the US?
How important was it to gather information on your Russian handler?
They're interested in military intelligence! But they'll take whatever they can get.
Actually, they're most interested in recruiting spies over anything else.
I imagine it was very important to the FBI, my job was just to fool the GRU (Russian military intelligence) into believing I was a willing and capable spy (even though I wasn't).
Did you approach the Russians or did they approach you? Also, what do you think about cyber warfare and how can we prevent it?
They came to my place of work and I tried to develop a relationship with them. How did I do it? I started with a really bad joke! Yes, I think of cyber, but I'm less concerned about it. I am more concerned with detecting and stopping insider threats (aka spies). Human intelligence (HUMINT) is way more effective and useful to intelligence services.
Human intelligence (HUMINT) is way more effective and useful to intelligence services.
can you explain why? It seems to me that the with signals intelligence, organizations will have to spend less money and take fewer risks with guys like you.
All that info still requires serious analysis, and it's always harder to figure out what data means without context. Having a human on the inside they can add that context - they can tell you what people are thinking, what moral is etc. Otherwise it's like trying to detect sarcasm in an email...
Why do you do it?
In my case I started because I wanted to get "work experience" so that I could apply to become an officer in the US Navy. So it started off almost as an internship for me -- something to pump up my resume. After doing it, the challenge of going head-to-head with a senior Russian became a challenge in itself -- and heck of a motivation!
How does one become a double agent?
A double agent is somebody who pretends to be working for one side all the while, working for the other. Confusing? Well it was for me too!
Where can I sign up to be a Russian agent?
Are you actually a bear on a unicycle or are the stories I've been hearing lies?
I actually ride around in a rascal -- so your intel is bad!
What do you think about Snowden's whistleblowing, and the results of it?
I think Snowden fits the Russian profile of somebody who would make a strong candidate for a spy. He is highly intelligent and was very bitter at the lack of his ability to advance his career. The CIA did a very good report on the psychological profile of spies.
Whoa, sorry, just to be clear--you're saying Snowden may be a Russian spy?
Well at this point, he has turned over everything to them. Whether or not he was before he left the US is a point of debate. I feel 100% that his motivation was not because of some moral compunction. Rather, like other "real" spies (Pollard, Ames, Walker, etc) he fits the profile of somebody who is very bright but was not successful with his career. I believe his real motivation was because he was angry at his inability to advance professionally, and this was his way at getting back at the perceived slight. That ego, is something that certainly motivated spies.
In counter-intelligience, how often does someone actually experience a car chase, spy vs spy duel, or other such movie antics? Is it mostly just gathering enough evidence until you can book someone no problem?
So counter-intelligence ops against diplomats are not law enforcement activities, you are not really building a case against somebody to bring to trial. This means that sometimes what you can and can't do is a little different :)
I did get to drive super fast a few times (I had a Corvette at the time), but I didn't want to have to explain to the police why I was going 100mph with military manuals in the car (and I'm pretty sure the FBI didn't want to explain that either)!
There is definitely aggressive maneuvering to shake surveillance and to employ counter-surveillance. But generally it is first and foremost mental combat -- think of it as chess on steroids (i'm not sure if that makes it lame or not)!
As a child, were there any signs you'd be good as a spy?
My sense of humor. Laughing is what kept me from being overwhelmed with what I was doing.
Know of any gadgets that are too cool to seem real?
The best place to check out gadgets and learn about that stuff is the International Spy Museum. Some really great stuff there and you get a sense of what gadgetry works and doesn't work!
What did your handler offer you in exchange for your service? Money, sanctuary, drugs, prostitutes, etc.?
Why do you consider HUMINT to be more effective than cyberespionage?
Prostitutes -- hah! Cash is king. They paid me cold hard cash.
Because a human being can offer context on the information she/he is delivering. Case in point, every job I ever started the orientation included where the bathroom was, how to use the shared drive, etc, etc. Without the orientation, it would be pretty hard working there.
If somebody in China is sifting through raw data, good luck trying to understand the context and nuances of what they are looking for. It's always easier to have somebody explaining what things means. Plus it's cheaper and harder to detect.
As an International Spy, do you now realize that Corvette's and American Muscle pale in comparison to ummm, let's say Silver E46 M3's?
Hah! The list of people I know who had silver E46s is short. But since I want you to be able to freely travel to Russia if you choose I won't out you TB.
I know many people are wondering, how close is your job to that of 007's? Do you use any cool gadgets and cars?
I had a watch that was a recording device, and a 550hp blacked out C6 Z06 that I drove (it was mine). The cool parts of meeting with the Russians was outnumbered by long meetings to plan and game out things. Not to mention the powerpoint presentations I did (yuck!). So it was 25/75 cool vs not cool. But the cool stuff was waaaaay cool! Which is I why kept doing it for all those years!
I remember that dude caught in russia some time a go, who messed that up?
Nobody. But the Russians had a field day trying to embarrass us. Operating in a foreign country is very hard! I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Russian I deal with, he was basically behind enemy lines the second he stepped off the plane at JFK.
someone did mess up. is obvious that he had no idea what he was doing.
thank you for the answer.
know any news what happen with him? is still in russia or he was sent back to US?
Don't be so sure anyone messed up. Sometimes you get caught. That's how the game is played, there are rules. The Russians made a big deal of parading him around and trying to embarrass us. It is all a psychological game.
Part of the game is that if you are caught or outed, you're kinda done. It's hard to be a "spy" if everyone knows you are.
I'm slightly late but I'm a little curious. How was the process of transitioning from a double agent to writing a book?
They were actually pretty similar insofar as the actual writing went. I sat down with my co-author Ellis Henican and for more then 6 months I'd head down to his apt where we talked, wrote, re-wrote and then we argued, and the next day we did all over again. It's a good thing we liked each other :)
This was what it was like to work with the FBI -- it was more like being in a start-up then anything else!
What are your thoughts on the Russian Illegals program that resulted in numerous arrests in 2010?
Do you know if Russian intelligence agents have been successful in gathering intelligence in China or is it more difficult for them to conduct it there?
Oh you mean the SVR's that were also operating around the same time I was and were also in NY which is were my operation was conducted :) I might have a thing or two to say 'bout Ms. Chapman in my book (can I plug it again: http://www.amazon.com/How-Catch-Russian-Spy-American/dp/1476788820).
Hmm...I don't really know anything about operating in China, but imagine it must be very difficult.
What is your designator in the U.S. Navy? 1830? Why did you choose to commission in the Navy? Just curious - fellow Naval officer here. Спасибо!
Hey shipmate! I'm an 1835 (reservist).
Small world, haha I'm an Ensign 1830. I've heard of many funny ways people try to get LOR's, but this by far takes the cake
:) I've offered to come speak at NIOBC, if I do, come on by and say hi. I end up down that way periodically too.
You're probably not in here anymore, but I think what you did was badass. So you're an Intel officer with the Navy right now? Crazy. Do they just call you up when they need you to do some work? Where does someone like this do most of their work?
I'm a reservist, so it's the typical one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Except when it isn't ;)
Did anyone ever come close to discovering you were a double agent? Also, did you ever have to do anything to make sure your cover wasn't blown that would be considered unethical to everyday people?
The Russians constantly were checking for any signs of deception.
No, I never did anything unethical -- or anything that violated any laws.
What do you think of Edward Snowden ? From your perspective what kind of impact he has created on espionage communities ?
I'm not a fan of his. I think at this point he is a propaganda tool used by the Russians as part of a very successful information warfare campaign. I think most people who understand who he is and what he did have a real strong dislike for him. He started off as self-serving person who will end his days as a puppet of the Russian state. I bet he regrets his decision to do what he did.
Is Naveed Jamali your real name, or is it an alias to protect yourself? 0.0
If I was going to use an alias, there are far more simple names ;)
Do you worry about your safety at all, after having been a double agent? And have you made any changes in your day-to-day life to ensure your continued safety?
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