THE SPY WHO WENT BACK INTO THE COLD
Dimitri Simes was a KGB agent for 45 years, but now he has skipped town to evade an FBI investigation
For decades he has been one of the leading commentators on Russia in the US. Henry Kissinger is the honorary chairman of his think tank and some of the most powerful people in DC – former senators and generals – sit on his board. His think tank organized Donald Trump’s first major foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in DC in April 2016.
But Spyker has established that Dimitri Simes, the President and the CEO of the Center for National Interest, has been an agent for the KGB and its successor organizations since at least 1973.
In early September, weeks after the FBI opened an investigation into his role in meddling in the 2016 election, Simes quietly slipped out of the country and resurfaced in Moscow as the co-host of one of the Kremlin’s leading propaganda shows on television.
He has since returned on assignment to DC, and has now been questioned by the FBI. The question is whether or not he has decided to co-operate.
A number of intelligence sources including former KGB agents described Simes as a “long-serving, trusted and valuable agent of Russian intelligence.” One former KGB agent said that when he sought to recruit Simes in the mid-eighties he was told to stand down because Simes was already working for a different section of the spy agency.
Simes played a pivotal role in establishing communications between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, helping organize the infamous meeting at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016, introducing Donald Trump and his team to former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and editing sections of Trump’s first foreign policy speech that dealt favorably with Russia.
The Mayflower Hotel event was co-ordinated with Paul Manafort, another Russian asset. Intelligence sources believe that Manafort brought the Trump team along and Simes delivered the Russians.
Simes was briefly in the news because of his association with Maria Butina, another accused spy who has been arrested and charged with illegally operating as a foreign agent. She published pro-Russia propaganda articles in the National Interest. Leaked email exchanges between her and Simes indicate that they were trying to establish contact between TNI’s main donor Maurice Greenberg and Aleksandr Torshin, a high-level executive of the Russian Central Bank with close connections to Vladimir Putin.
Simes has long been a prominent figure in DC’s think tank world, hiding in plain sight as a pro-Kremlin advocate. Kissinger is the Honorary Chair of his institute and as recently as July 2018 the Center honored and hosted Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
Members of the Board, according to the Center’s website, include retired Airforce General Charles Boyd (Chairman), former Senator Pat Roberts, former New York Times editorial page editor Leslie Gelb, former US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, Julie Nixon Eisenhower and the President of Americans for Tax Reform Grover Norquist.
The US State Department once considered Simes an intelligence asset, but in reality this relationship was directed by the FSB, successor organization to the KGB.
Shortly before Simes’ move to Russia on September 3rd the FBI opened an investigation into his role in the Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Simes worked for the KGB and its successors for decades and it was his relationships with powerful and influential people that shielded him from scrutiny at an earlier date.
Through interviews and investigation on the ground in Russia, Spyker has managed to piece together Simes’ background.
Dimitri Simes was born on October 29, 1947, in Moscow, to a Jewish family. His mother, Dina Kaminskaya, was an attorney who defended Soviet dissidents. His father, Mikhail Simis, was a professor of international law at the Diplomatic Academy. The parents’ background, however, was peculiar. The Diplomatic Academy trained high-level Soviet diplomats. To be Jewish and lecture in that academic institution required very close relations with the KGB. Defending dissidents required close relations with the KGB as well, as almost all cases involving dissidents required access to classified information. An attorney willing to provide legal services to dissidents had to have a security clearance, and it was up to the KGB to provide it or deny it.
In 1964, Simes was admitted to the Department of History at one of the top Soviet academic institutions — Moscow State University (MGU). He apparently struggled, first, because he was Jewish and, second, because admission to the MGU History Department usually required two years-service in the Soviet Army or two years-work experience after school.
He soon ran into problems for doing something unthinkable in the USSR— he publicly questioned the “genius ideas” of Vladimir Lenin. For this he was expelled from the Department of History. To stay with MGU and avoid mandatory service in the Armed Forces, he chose to move to the Department of Soil Science, which few individuals wanted to attend, and therefore had lax rules of admission.
Then, just three months later, he was expelled from the Department of Soil Sciences for making anti-Soviet statements at a public speaking event where students discussed the American war in Vietnam. He criticized the assistance delivered to the Vietnamese by the Soviet government. Again, he did the unthinkable. Moreover, he did this at the time of a KGB crackdown on dissidents, dozens of whom were sent to labor camps between 1967 and 1970.
Yet Simes was allowed to move back to the Department of History, this time studying by correspondence. The big question is how he avoided mandatory service in the Soviet Armed Forces as required by a law that was strictly enforced in the Soviet Union. Correspondence students had to serve in the Red Army before completing their studies unless they had serious health problems.
In 1967 Simes got a job at the Institute of International Economics and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, a high-profile Soviet think tank working for the Kremlin and used as a front by the KGB First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence Service). This despite being twice expelled from university for anti-Soviet pronouncements, something that would have destroyed anyone’s life in the Soviet Union, an army dodger, without a college diploma and being just a sophomore studying through correspondence.
Simes’s cover story (“legend” in KGB terminology) was the claim that he was helped by former students of his father who became lead researchers at IMEMO. However, this was not possible. Anti-Soviet pronouncements were treated as a serious crime and this is what three different KGB directorates including intelligence, counterintelligence (2nd Chief Directorate) and ideological police (5th Chief Directorate) were watching for in IMEMO. No one would risk his career for Simes, not even for his parents. Simes would have to have been sponsored by the KGB.
In fact, the former KGB source revealed that Dmitry Simes was recruited by the KGB after he made “anti-Soviet” statements at the Department of History. The basis for his recruitment was a combination of money and ego. The KGB assessment was that the young man did not care about ideology — democracy, human rights, dissidents, and other trivial things. Most of all he cared about career and money. On top of that he was viewed as an adventurist. It was a perfect combination for KGB intelligence recruitment.
Without being assisted by the KGB Simes would never have got the job at IMEMO. It was the moment that changed his life.
In 1968, still just a student, Simes “suddenly” switched allegiances and became the boss of the local Komsomol organization (Young Communist League) of IMEMO, a position all ambitious young IMEMO employees aspired to. Moreover, he worked as a lecturer for the Moscow Communist Party Committee, doing the kind of ideological work that would have been tasked to trusted individuals only.
In 1969, Simes finally graduated from Moscow University and another “miracle’ happened: he immediately got an independent theme for research at IMEMO. Normally, independent research was only granted to seasoned fellows with a proven research record.
IMEMO was an exemplary top of the line Soviet think tank. It was involved in the making of the Kremlin’s foreign policy and produced sensitive research papers for the top leadership of the Soviet Union; its analysts, unlike most other Soviet people, had access to Western periodicals and traveled abroad. It employed talented researchers, and most of them were either active duty KGB officers or KGB co-optees (individuals recruited by the KGB as informants). The latter, in KGB terminology, were called privlechennye litsa. It was easy to tell who was affiliated with the KGB in IMEMO. Those who traveled abroad were either active duty KGB men or co-optees.
The top KGB co-optee in IMEMO was its deputy director Yevgeny Primakov, who was run as an agent by the 1st Department of RT Directorate of the FCD. The case file of KGB agent Primakov was kept at this department until he was appointed as head of the First Chief Directorate after the August 1991 aborted coup d’etat. His work for the KGB was multi-faceted. According to the former KGB officer, Simes’ infiltration into the US was listed in the case file as one of Primakov’s top operational achievements.
In 1971, the Kremlin allowed mass immigration of Jews from the Soviet Union in exchange for détente with the US. The KGB used the opportunity to infiltrate its agents into the US and Israel.
In 1972, Simes completed his PhD research paper and prepared for the final stage of obtaining his PhD. The man was clearly and persistently making his career into the Soviet upper middle class. Then, suddenly, on July 3, 1972, he resigned, ostensibly because his family had decided to emigrate to the US.
This “coincidently” happened when the IMEMO director was on a business trip and the acting director was the KGB intelligence agent Yevgeny Primakov. According to the KGB legend later attached to Simes’s personal file in the Academy of Sciences, after lengthy talks in an attempt to dissuade Simes from immigration, Primakov finally let him go. It was not a credible explanation. A person without a KGB affiliation in similar circumstances would be fired and would spend years fighting for an emigration permit because the KGB would claim he had access to sensitive information and thus could not leave the country.
In fact, what Simes did with the help of the KGB intelligence agent Primakov, was called in the KGB terminology “infiltration of an agent (Simes) into the country of the Main Adversary (US).” It was a big and very important operation run by the department №1, RT Directorate of the KGB First Chief Directorate
To build Simes’ legend for immigration into the US, he who just four months earlier had been a trusted Communist lecturer and Komsomol leader was suddenly arrested for alleged participation in a protest action near the Metropol Hotel, not far from the Kremlin. In fact, the whole thing was staged to build his cover story before moving to the US.
In January 1973, Simes departed for Vienna and then to the US. It is noteworthy that his parents only immigrated to the US in 1977. Therefore, it was not a family decision to emigrate but a KGB decision to infiltrate Simes into the US during the peak of Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union so that he could better blend with as many others as possible and avoid thorough vetting by the FBI.
It is noteworthy that the peak of Jewish immigration from the USSR occurred in 1973, when the Soviet government let go more than 34,000 Jews, about 7.5 percent of whom landed in the US. In 1974, Jewish emigration was sharply slashed and rose again only in 1979, when it was 51,000. Primakov and his KGB handlers knew about this in advance, and this explains the “hasty” decision of Dmitry Simes to quite IMEMO and emigrate in 1973.
Primakov was a unique intelligence asset of the KGB who went on to head up the KGB, and then become Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Russia. While almost all Soviet emigres to the US displayed anti-Soviet attitudes, Simes, per Primakov’s instructions, represented himself as an “objective” analyst. This, coupled with Primakov’s broad contacts in the American political elite, helped Simes to develop his career in the new world. He focused on Republicans as they were viewed by the KGB as “solid guys”, in contrast to Democrats.
In the mid-1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev announced his policy of perestroika, Simes received an image boost and was retained by CBS News as a consultant on the Soviet Union. In this capacity he visited Moscow to cover the Reagan-Gorbachev summit.
The former KGB source wanted to approach Simes with a recruitment pitch. When he requested permission, his superior told him to stand down because “Simes was handled by another KGB department.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union Simes married his second wife Anastasia, daughter of Dmitry Ryurikov, Boris Yeltsin’s top advisor on foreign policy from 1991 to1997.
In 2002, Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state (1994-2001) and former Time magazine correspondent to Moscow, published his memoirs The Russia Hand, in which he claimed that Simes was an important source of information for the US Government that he would obtain from his father-in-law.
Talbott, who according to our ex-KGB source was viewed by the KGB as a high caliber “useful idiot”, was over optimistic. In fact, Simes delivered to the US Government information that was useful for the SVR/FSB, the KGB successors. Russia required American financial assistance in exchange for promises of reforms. The Clinton administration provided money and a large part of it was stolen and laundered by the Russians. It was during this period that the Russian Mafia became entrenched and corruption grew.
It appeared the US Government missed it all, which should have raised questions about the reliability of the intelligence they were getting from Simes. Manipulation by the Kremlin at the time was so obvious and brazen that it became a subject of ridicule by the Russian comedians. One of them, Mikhail Zadornov, was even stripped off his US visa for his piece on this published by Izvestia newspaper.
In 1997, when Russians laundered about $7 billion through the Bank of New York, the question of the day in the US Congress was “Who lost Russia?” It was the first global money laundering operation of the Russian intelligence agencies and it involved the efforts of hundreds of people, including dozens of staffers in the Kremlin.
Simes kept a low profile for some time after Vladimir Putin succeeded Yeltsin. It was a delicate time of transition from the old KGB guard to a new, provincial FSB clique, mostly from St. Petersburg. During this transition the FSB pushed aside the SVR as the main foreign intelligence agency. The FSB 5th Service (Service of operational information and international relations) turned into Putin’s top intelligence arm, and immigration became the backbone of the Russian spy network in the US and Western Europe.
Dmitry Simes successfully fit into the new realities. Obviously, the FSB could not have missed Strobe Talbott’s revelations about Dmitry Simes, yet their evaluation of his loyalty remained positive. The windfall of cash for the Russian security agencies resulting from soaring oil and gas prices reinforced his motivation and broadened his activities.
By 2005, he was part of the Kremlin’s operation to establish a major center in the US, which would resemble an American think tank but serve as a channel of Russian active measures. He worked on this with Gleb Pavlovsky, who was at the time the Kremlin’s leading spin doctor, and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire closely linked to Putin, organized crime, and often used by the Russian intelligence community in covert operations.
On December 5, 2015, the Russian Kommersant newspaper reported: “Yesterday, the owner of Russian Aluminum and Base Element Oleg Deripaska arrived in the United States. As Kommersant learned from informed sources in Washington, Mr. Deripaska, who has been seeking permission to enter the US territory for almost ten years, is ready to financially support the idea of establishing in the US capital a research center on Russia related issues. At the same time, Moscow is expecting a ‘benevolent’ attitude of the new center to Russian reality in contrast to the Carnegie Endowment, which once gave the podium to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. According to the source, the idea of establishing a Russian institute in Washington belongs to politicians Gleb Pavlovsky and Dmitry Simes who are respectively close to the Putin and George Bush administrations.”
The newspaper also wrote that, among other things, the idea of the establishment of the center is explained by the fact that Simes’ Nixon Center was about to lose its main financial donor, Maurice Greenberg, the head of AIG’s North American holdings, and was looking for another source of cash.
Under the plan the new cash flow was supposed to come from Russian intelligence through the FSB front Oleg Deripaska, and the ultimate objective of this operation was to corrupt the American expert community by showing that a friendly attitude towards Putin was a recipe for handsome financial benefits.
In 2007, Putin personally announced the formation of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation to be opened in New York ostensibly to monitor conditions of human rights in America but in fact to serve as Kremlin propaganda mouthpiece. It failed, mainly due to the personality of its director Andranik Migranyan, but Simes did everything he could to make IDC successful, and the National Interest was probably the only outlet in the US that publicized its activities. Incidentally, Migranyan publicly opined in 2014 that Hitler was a good statesman before 1939 as he did many good things for Germany.
Another Simes protege was Maria Butina, who has been charged with illegally operating as foreign agent. As in the IDC case, TNI was one of few US media outlets to let the alleged Russian agent publish propaganda pieces. The email exchanges between Butina and Simes, which was later made public, indicated that they had even more important agenda — to establish contact between TNI’s main donor Maurice Greenberg and Aleksandr Torshin, a high-level executive of the Russian Central Bank. As our source in the Russian intelligence community told us, the ultimate objective of those efforts was to find new covert ways to increase the cash flow to Simes and his center without drawing the attention of the US financial and security watchdogs.
Besides promoting other Kremlin active measures agents, TNI itself became a major active measures mouthpiece for the Kremlin. Its specialty was the idea that if the US dId not appease Putin, a nuclear showdown with Russia was imminent. This is an old active measure generated decades ago by the KGB in order to scare the “weak and decadent” American political establishment.
Simes also served the Kremlin as a door opener in the US for some of the most notorious members of Putin’s inner circle. One of them was FSB Lt.-General Viktor Ivanov, who was named in the Royal Courts of London as the suspect who orchestrated the assassination of the former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko.
In the dossier, co-authored by Litvinenko before his assassination, Ivanov was described as a narco trafficker in the 1990s, who, together with Putin, partnered with one of the most dreadful Russian organized crime groups and the Colombian Cali drug cartel. Ivanov denied these charges in his interview with the Kremlin’s pet outlet Russia Today but declined multiple requests for interviews with the British and American mass media.
This story made headlines in Russia. Yet, when Ivanov quietly visited the US, it was Simes who put him in touch with useful contacts. This type of activity in the KGB intelligence modus operandi is performed by an agent spotter, who identifies targets for cultivation and recruitment and connects them with the KGB staff officers.
By the time Trump ran for the presidency Simes was a long serving, trusted and valuable agent of the Russian intelligence. He and TNI became instrumental in the Russian efforts to establish communication between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Until about March 2016 the Kremlin and the Russian intelligence community had been collecting dirt on Hillary Clinton to be used after her election as President. By about March 2016 the Kremlin came to the conclusion that Trump actually had a chance and launched an aggressive and underhand campaign to support him.
In March 2016 Paul Manafort started working for the Trump campaign for free. A man who had been used by Russian intelligence in important operations since at least the mid-2000s was infiltrated into Trump’s inner circle.
In April 2016, Simes emerged as an organizer of an important event at the Mayflower Hotel, in which the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak was put in direct contact with Trump and the latter made a forceful promise that he would seek better relations with Russia.
It was a landmark event in the Kremlin’s efforts to champion Trump for the Presidency. It was moved from the National Press Club to the Mayflower Hotel by the efforts of Simes and Manafort, both Russian agents. Manafort brought members of the Trump campaign to the event and Simes delivered the Russian ambassador and ambassadors of several countries involved in a privatization scheme of 19.5 percent of stake the Russian oil company Rosneft, equivalent to 10.5 billion euros. By KGB standards the message was clear. Trump was supposed to get a smell of those billions within his reach “if he does it right.”
Apparently, the message was understood as Simes and his TNI played an important role in editing the speech delivered by Trump at the Mayflower. It was an extraordinary achievement for Russian intelligence. Never before in KGB history was an agent able to include key Russian active measures topics into a document that outlined the policy of a potential US President.
But Dmitry Simes did not stop there. He was unique in a sense that he was used in the Kremlin’s active measures not only in the US but in Russia as well. Since the summer of 2016 he became a household face on the pro Putin propaganda shows of Kremlin’s controlled Russian TV. From January through August 2018 he was a key speaker at least on 25 TV shows hosted by the Kremlin’s top propaganda man Vladimir Soloviev who called Simes “our wonderful friend and expert.” Not a single other American earned similar praise.
Headlines posted on YouTube under videos of Simes’ appearances on Russian TV propaganda shows are revealing. The following are several of them:
— “Putin impressed USA!” “USA is in shock!” March 4, 2018.
— “The entire world is in danger.” “Simes about growing Russophobia.” April 1, 2018.
— “Putin defied the US.” April 1, 2018.
— “Trump has gone too far.” “Russian and US have come to the brink of war!” April 10, 2018.
— “Putin can take Trump down!” May 23, 2018.
— “Trump can surrender to Putin.” July 5, 2018.
— “Trump is tired of allies.” June 27, 2018.
Our sources in the Russian intelligence community tell us that the above headlines are Kremlin active measures and Dmitri Simes is “a key channel of realization of active measures” for the Russian intelligence.
Most of the time Russian active measures are messages or soundbites composed depending on a developing situation and delivered to select audiences through specific channels. Their purpose is to influence the audience in a way favorable to the Kremlin.
Simes’ appearances on the Kremlin’s controlled Russian TV always fit into this requirement. As the Russian media outlet gazeta.ru put it, “Many of his statements about situation in Syria and Ukraine turned out to be close to the Kremlin establishment, something that provided him a high level of access in Russia.”
This is something those in America who valued Simes for his high-level contacts in Moscow failed to realize – that is, his public display of those contacts was designed to boost the standing and capabilities of a Russian intelligence agent who had been acting as an agent of influence, agent-spotter, informant, and “channel of realization” of the Russian active measures for more than four decades.
In early September, 2018, Dmitri Simes, a US citizen, suddenly relocated to Moscow. On September 3, he emerged as a co-host of the Big Game talk show aired on the key Kremlin’s propaganda tool — First TV Channel. The show, which he is running together with one of the Kremlin’s top propaganda man Vyacheslav Nikonov,is on the air each week from Monday to Thursday.
Our source, another prominent Kremlin’s propaganda man, told us that Simes had compromised himself in the US and had de facto relocated to Russia. According to the source, Big Game show was designed specifically for Simes in order to legalize payments that the Russian government owes him for decades of service. It was not difficult to launch the show because it mirrors several others aired almost daily on Russian TV, and its guests are familiar “talking heads” on the Kremlin’s payroll. The source said that Simes’ monthly official fee for the talk show is about $50 thousand, something that only the top Kremlin’s propaganda men can dream about.
On the other hand, our sources in the US law enforcement told us that Simes is under investigation for suspected involvement in Russian meddling into the US presidential campaign since about late August.
Since Simes’ “de facto relocation” to Moscow in early September he briefly returned to the US from October 8 to October 15. Then, on November 1, he announced in Moscow TV studio that in several next shows he would appear via video link from Washington DC to cover midterm elections in the US. Indeed, since November 6, he has appeared in 6 shows by video link.
During one of the latest appearances from DC, Simes stunned his Russian hosts by strikingly new tunes in his rhetoric. Thus, he poured a cold shower on the audience by stating that Muller investigation into the Russian meddling might have very serious ramifications for Trump administration because Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, and “several others” are cooperating with the investigation.
Besides, he dumped one of the key Kremlin’s active measures – the claim that unless the US appeases Putin a nuclear showdown with Russia is imminent. That was the key Simes’ soundbite for many years. Now he claims that Washington and Moscow should form an alliance against China, the main threat to the United States, and the American decision to withdraw from medium range missiles treaty, which visibly shocked the Kremlin, is not that important.
According to our sources in the US law enforcement, Dmitri Simes is cooperating with the Mueller investigation and his trips to the US are part of the arrangement. As one of the veterans of the Russian foreign intelligence services told us, “Simes is one of the slyest individuals in the world who had fooled Americans for decades. But now he is playing his final game.”