The Complex

Ukraine Boasts of Rounding Up Russian Spies. Will Washington Notice?

To hear Ukraine tell it, you'd think their fledgling new government is full of crack spy hunters rooting out every Russian mole and agitator from Kiev to Kharkiv. Ukraine's main security agency, the SBU, has been keeping a running tally of all the Russian provocateurs who've been discovered or captured in the past month. The list includes an alleged "espionage ring of the military intelligence of the Russian Federation," a Russian and three Ukrainians who were preparing to hand over computer hard drives to Russia's security service, and a Russian woman attempting to "destabilize the situation in the southern regions of Ukraine." An SBU Web site shows what appears to be the woman's social media page, where she poses in combat fatigues while sporting an assault rifle.

Such a public display of Ukraine's intelligence successes could be chalked up to patriotic chest thumping. But it may also be a way of encouraging American spies to share more of their secrets with the SBU. American spy agencies are closely tracking Russian troop movements and have warned lawmakers and administration officials that a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine could happen at any moment. But U.S. spy agencies have been reluctant to share much of what they know with their Ukrainian counterparts, for fear that it would be intercepted by Russia and used to discern the sources and methods that the Americans are using to spy on their longtime foe.

Historically, the SBU has been allied with Moscow, and today is believed to have been penetrated by Russian intelligence agents from top to bottom, according to three former U.S. intelligence officials. But unlike Ukraine's conventional military forces, which were allowed to languish after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine's intelligence service "remained pretty decent and competent," says a former U.S. military intelligence officer with experience in eastern Europe. "But how decent is hard to determine. Harder still is determining how reliable its people are -- or even could be, under the circumstances."

Despite those risks, growing numbers of lawmakers have started calling for the administration to share more information with Ukraine, particularly after receiving dire warnings from intelligence officials that further Russian military assaults could come at any moment.

"We certainly have intelligence about Russian troop movements, and that intelligence is very alarming -- Russia has everything it needs to move into Ukraine on a moment's notice," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC on Wednesday.

Schiff said he agreed with concerns that Ukraine's government "is penetrated by Russian intelligence agencies," but he said that shouldn't prevent the United States from sharing more specific details about the movement of Russian forces. U.S. intelligence has been monitoring Russian supply lines and has also seen the military setting up field hospitals, two strong indications that the forces may be preparing to invade.

"I think there is more we could do to help Ukraine prepare, that doesn't put at risk any of our intelligence gathering methods, or the degree to which we can track Russian military movements," Schiff said.

The loyalties of SBU officers are likely divided between the new government and the former regime of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, who was driven from power in February, the former officer said. And divided loyalties are nothing new in Ukraine.

"People who grew up in the Soviet era learned to ‘speak with two tongues,' as the expression went -- saying the right things in front of their peers and superiors, and even acquaintances, but keeping their true feelings reserved for only immediate family and the closest of friends," the former officer said. "Loyalties are likely divided, which does not exactly make for a situation where people can trust their own chain of command, or even their peers."

U.S. intelligence agencies are reluctant to feed information into such a duplicitous environment and share it with people they can't completely trust. "Kiev desperately needs to clear the SBU and Ukraine's military intelligence branch of Russian agents, and they are trying hard now," said John Schindler, a former National Security Agency officer who now teaches at the Naval War College.

Schindler, who called the SBU "a competent security service," said the U.S. might be sharing some basic information about Russian troop movements with Ukraine, but even that is likely limited by concerns about the SBU's ability to keep secrets. Schindler said he'd like to see the U.S. share more information with Ukraine, but nothing too sensitive. In light of the leaks of highly classified information by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, he said, "the intelligence community and Defense Department are understandably pretty gun shy here."

That may explain why Ukraine has gone to such public lengths to document the work the SBU is doing finding and arresting alleged Russian spies. The Web site appears to have been set up only in the past month, as U.S. intelligence warnings about Russia have increased. The site also documents Ukraine's attempts to root out official corruption and bribery, a further indication that the new government wants to bolster public confidence in its ability to run the cash-strapped and deeply unsettled country. That may be the biggest challenge of them all.

GENYA SAVILOV / AFP / Getty Images

The Complex

Exclusive: Meet the First Companies Working on the Military’s ‘Iron Man’ Supersuit

Will Tony Stark wear Air Jordans? Almost anything seems possible now that the United States military has been in discussions with companies ranging from Nike to Boeing as it works to develop a new space-age suit for elite Special Operations troops that could include super-human strength, sophisticated sensors that respond to brain functions, and an exoskeleton made of liquid armor.

The system is commonly known as the "Iron Man" suit, a nod toward the futuristic technology worn by the wise-cracking comic book hero popularized in a series of hit movies starring Robert Downey Jr. With no public notice, the military's Special Operations Command just unveiled a list of collaborators on the project that includes traditional defense contractor titans like Lockheed Martin, athletic apparel companies like Under Armour and Adidas, and a bevy of smaller firms whose specialties range from developing robotics to producing underwater breathing equipment for divers.

The list appears on a new website for the program, formally known as the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS. The site's development is part of a broader effort to actively recruit companies, universities, and other organizations with high-tech experience to participate in the project. Adm. William McRaven, SOCOM's commander, wants to begin testing prototypes of the suit by this June, with a high-powered version of the suit fielded to U.S. commandos by 2018.

"Ultimately, we're trying to get the word out about what companies can do and where we need help," said Mike Fieldson, the civilian who oversees the TALOS project.

For the moment, the military has inked just a handful of deals with firms interested in working on the project, including tactical equipment maker Revision Military of Vermont, robotics specialist Ekso Bionics of California, and cooling systems developer Rini Technologies of Florida, Fieldson told Foreign Policy. The deals, not previously reported, are tiny by the standards of the military acquisition world, where planes can cost $50 million a pop and programs routinely run billions of dollars over budget. The Rini deal, for example, is a sub-contract of an existing $2.1 million deal the company has with the Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass. The company will provide miniature, wearable three-pound refrigerators that will be used to keep the commandos wearing the suit cool through a network of tubes inserted into their shirts.

"We're still doing our piece of it in our shop," said Daniel Rini, president of Rini Technologies. "We're probably going to be delivering our prototypes to them within four to six weeks from now."

The Rini refrigeration system will be paired with a variety of other equipment from Revision as part of the military's tests of the Iron Man suit prototypes later this year, according to Brian Dowling, a Revision spokesman. The company, which has supplied everything from combat helmets to ballistic sunglasses to the military in the past, will provide an "operator head protection suite" that includes a helmet with communications gear integrated (above), an exoskeleton known as the Prowler Human Augmentation System, and high-tech armor designed to protect the torso from bullets and shrapnel.

"We're excited to move beyond current-day technology and current-day production requirements to innovate for SOCOM," Dowling said.

The interest from SOCOM may explain Revision's recent purchase of a small Ottawa-based company, Panacis, which develops rechargeable lithium ion batteries. The two companies had previously worked together on several projects, including the Prowler exoskeleton. The company and SOCOM alike remain relatively secretive about the technology. No photographs of the most recent iterations are posted on Revision's website, and the company declined to release any to Foreign Policy for this story.

Ekso Bionics, meanwhile, will provide the "chassis" of another Iron Man prototype, said Heidi Darling, a company spokeswoman. The company, founded as Berkeley Bionics in 2005, has been a pioneer in developing robotic exoskeletons and worked previously with the Defense Department. Their commercially available suits have been used in years for physical therapy, reteaching individuals to walk after they have sustained injuries. It includes battery-powered motors in in the legs, assisting those with limited physical ability.

SOCOM has more TALOS events coming up soon. Beginning next week, the command will host a two-month "rapid prototyping session" in Tampa, Fla., to jump-start collaboration between the military, private companies, and academic experts, Fieldson said. Military officials will examine options for protecting commandos in the suit, powering it up, keeping it cool, and monitoring through biomechanics. Those in attendance must all require a three-day session from April 14 to 17, and then spend an additional two weeks on site in the following two months.

SOCOM will get help from several high-tech military organizations as it examines its options for the suite, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and the Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, SOCOM officials said. Battelle, a nonprofit science and technology institute with headquarters in Ohio, is working with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory of Massachusetts, and Aegis Technologies of Virginia to integrate the many components of the "Iron Man" suit together, said Katy Delaney, a Battelle spokeswoman.

The other corporations listed on the TALOS website have pitched ideas for the supersuit to SOCOM without yet signing a deal. Adidas, for example, suggested an electronic monitoring system it developed for athletes, Fieldson said. It isn't clear what the other companies listed have offered to provide.

Photo courtesy Revision Military