Brought down by 'swallows' and 'ravens'

LONDON • Russia's intelligence services have frequently done well in kompromat operations.

In one of the most famous cases back in the 1960s, Sir Geoffrey Harrison, the then British Ambassador to Moscow, had an affair with one of his embassy's maids, a locally employed Russian, Ms Galya Ivanonva, described as "a blonde of ample proportions".

But while he fell victim to a "swallow" - a woman intelligence operative - the hapless Mr John Vassal, a cypher clerk at the British Embassy in Moscow, was targeted by what spies call a "raven", a male whose job is to catch homosexuals in a honey trap.

Last year, Poland's politicians discovered that the conversations they had with one another in a popular local restaurant were taped. The tapes with the most salacious conversations were released during the country's electoral campaign.

And, just by chance, of course, the politicians who were discredited by what became known as "Waitergate" turned out to be those Russia hated most.

Still, many Russians have also seen their careers destroyed by kompromat. When Russia's prosecutor-general Yury Skuratov tried to root out corruption in Moscow, video footage of him cavorting with a prostitute was duly made public, leading to his dismissal.

And the man in charge of that intelligence operation? Mr Vladimir Putin, now Russia's President.

Jonathan Eyal

Correction Note: This story has been edited for accuracy. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Brought down by 'swallows' and 'ravens''. Print Edition | Subscribe