The Cold War, the epic global military standoff between the United States of America and the Soviet Union, ended decades ago. Everyone knows that.
Well, what if I were to tell you that, beneath the surface, the Cold War is in fact still in full effect?
The Cold War of espionage and intelligence gathering that followed the end of the 2nd World War and the 3rd Reich was a grim time for international relations, a time where governments were at each other’s throats and where spies lurked behind every dark corner. As the story goes, the Cold War ended with the fall of Stalin’s Soviet regime and the tearing down of the Berlin wall. But what if the Cold War had in fact gone even further underground, only to resurface at a time where it could be once more legitimately justified?
Russia resumed its infamous intelligence activities since Putin’s rise to power at the end of the 90’s. But while it’s true that Russian intelligence thrived under Putin, the KGB never truly stopped its activities in the intermittent time; it all simply became increasingly obscure and discrete.
A little backstory: Even after the fall of the Soviet bloc and throughout Russia’s decline from its former power and glory, the secret services remained an integral and vital part of the Russian political structure. Regional politicians relied on KGB officers and operatives to ensure their elections by making use of their intelligence networks and the information they provided. The system in place created a symbiosis between the KGB and the key political players of the time, making sure that the “right people” got elected, and that they were backed by KGB, and in return the KGB maintained a strong grip on Russian politics and became a driving power behind the government. The service was later renamed FSB (Federal Security Service), and its systematic approach to manipulation and monitoring was used to create a well oiled and strictly regimented system that pervades every layer of Russian society. From the people on the street to the politicians and even the religious leaders (yes, even the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church was for a time, and might still be, a KGB agent) Putin’s FSB reaches right across the world; few other secret services can claim to rival it.
On the other side of the world, the US intelligence services pretended to calm down, the war of espionage against Russia unnecessary now that the Soviets Union had collapsed onto itself and democracy had come to the East. However, the CIA continued to research and invest into means to monitor and control the population. Social and Scientific experiments were carried out on Veterans and Civilians alike to test the possible applications of new discoveries in psychology, psychiatry, and chemistry as means of extracting information and controlling individuals.
Among the projects that have been leaked from the CIA archives are: Operation Paperclip, a program to recruit former Nazi Scientists in order to exploit their knowledge of brainwashing and torture; and Project MK Ultra, which involved the use of cover organisations such as prisons and hospitals to experiment on the effects of psychotropic substances and their possible applications as truth serums with civilians as test subjects.
At the same time, one of the first and most prominent scandals in the history of US intelligence and monitoring came out: the Watergate Scandal. While this might have been one of the first instances where phone tapping and privacy invasion was attributed to the US intelligence services, the system was functional and operational, lending to the notion that this was likely something that had been ongoing for quite a while beforehand.
After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the need to monitor external threats became a reality once more. The US government issued decree after decree giving increasing power and liberties to the intelligence services, purportedly to keep the nation safe from enemies who might be planning further attacks, or who might have already infiltrated the US. With the eyes of the West turned towards the conflicts going on in the Middle East, the US intelligence services further developed their networks and systems to form what was later revealed as the NSA.
Today, the two former superpowers of espionage and intelligence are back on the top of their game. As more and more conflicts crop up, their reach edges closer to each other. Russia, despite its thinly veiled attempts to remain neutral in recent conflicts, has its roots deeply planted in the northern regions of the Middle East, most specifically in Syria and Iran whom it sponsors without directly declaring its support. Russia knows that while the governments might topple, they cannot afford to loosen their control on the region.
All the while, the US extends it influence towards Western Europe, tightening its grip on the Intelligence Services of the UK, to the point of coming close to using them to monitor the members of the UN Security Council in the lead up to the decision whether or not to deploy in Iraq. At the same time, they use political and economical threats to gather information on civilians. A prime example of this is their persistent attacks on the Swiss banking system, and their all but successful attempts at tearing down the notion of banking secrecy.
All this influence, power, and control over information forms a vice-like grip that extends from one end of the world clean across to the other, with Europe, the Middle East, and Africa caught in the middle. Just like during the Cold War. What will happen when the grip closes shut? Only time will tell.