David Marlowe, the CIA's deputy director of operations, spoke to academics about the invasion of Ukraine and opportunities for Western intelligence agencies to turn disaffected Russians to their favor.
"Putin was at his best moment the day before he invaded," when he could have coerced Ukraine, influenced NATO, and proven Russia's might, Marlowe said at George Mason University's Hayden Center. "He squandered every single bit of that."
"We're looking around the world for Russians who are as disgusted with that as we are," he said. "Because we're open for business."
The Hayden Center on Monday released the video of the event, in which Marlowe was paired with CIA Deputy Director for Analysis Linda Weissgold.
Marlowe was appointed to his position in June 2021 by CIA Director William Burns, who has served multiple tours as chief of agency stations overseas, including the Middle East, as well as headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
His remarks sound similar to other assertions by former senior CIA officers about disgruntled Russians in February, providing ground to recruit agents.
European governments have expelled hundreds of Russian diplomats suspected of being spies. Two "illegals" — agents for Russia posing as someone else, have been arrested.
The Kremlin also ordered cuts to the U.S. diplomatic presence, limiting the opportunities for espionage.
The head of MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence service, said this summer's expulsion of hundreds of suspected Russian spies by Western European nations crippled Russian intelligence opportunities.
"At last count, north of 400 Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover have been expelled," MI6 chief Richard Moore said at the Aspen Security Forum. "We reckon in the U.K. that's probably reduced their ability to do their business, to spy for Russia, in half."
Officials haven't said much on the Ukraine side, although Western officials have confirmed CIA and MI6 agents are on the ground.
Weissgold, who spent two years as an intelligence briefer for President George W. Bush, said the Ukraine war is not ending, despite Putin's failures.
"This isn't going to end any time soon," Weissgold said. She said each side's understanding of what they are fighting for remains the critical point of the conflict. "The Ukrainian soldiers know that. The Russian soldiers, not so much."
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