Former US intelligence officers are advising their successors currently in office to shut up and stop boasting about their role in Ukraine’s military successes.
Two stories surfaced in as many days in the American press this week, citing unnamed officials as saying that US intelligence was instrumental in the targeting of Russian generals on the battlefield and in the sinking of the Moskva flagship cruiser on the Black Sea.
The initial report in the New York Times on Wednesday about the generals was partially denied by the White House, which said that while the US shares intelligence with Ukrainian forces, it was not specifically shared with the intent to kill Russian general officers.
The next day, NBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post all quoted officials as saying that US intelligence had helped Ukraine hit the Moskva with anti-ship missiles last month, making it the biggest Russian ship to be sunk since world war two.
As a general rule, espionage is carried out in secret, though western intelligence agencies have turned that rule on its head over the past few months by going public with what they knew about Russian preparations for invasion, and then with daily reports on the battlefield and from behind Russian lines.
The new disclosures are different however, as they concern what the US espionage agencies themselves have been doing, rather than commenting on the state of the war.
In both cases, the US was claiming a hand in historic humiliations for Moscow and for Vladimir Putin, triggering warnings of unintended consequences.
Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA official, said: “My personal view is it’s unwise. I am surprised at the extent of official confirmation of the role of US intelligence in the sinking into Moscow, and even more so the killing of the generals.