Last week, a friend called to say he was worried. The air conditioning was running when he came home. He was sure he’d turned it off. Absolutely positive. Had someone—some spook—broken in? That was when I knew Washington, D.C., had turned into Moscow.
I had the same feeling on Tuesday morning when The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that my think-tank project at the Hudson Institute had been targeted by Russian military intelligence. This again.
In 2014, I stopped going to Moscow. It felt like the right thing to do. Twice over the past two years, I had been taken in for questioning by the FSB. Once, in remote Tuva, I was hauled in off the side of the road and, as my notebook was photocopied and every file was downloaded from my laptop, I was made to write a “declaration of my activities.”
A few months later, I arrived in Birobidzhan. For years, I had dreamed of visiting the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, the name still attached to the mosquito-infested marshlands set aside by Stalin for Jewish settlement in Siberia as an alternative to Zionism. But before I could find any of the handful of Jews there was a knock on my hotel-room door. It was two agents from the FSB.
Both encounters lasted only a few hours. There was nothing special, nothing unprecedented, about them. Both times, the agents were almost courteous. But still, the encounters rattled me. I was a think-tank researcher with an interest in corruption, not military secrets. What did the FSB have to do with me?