According to a Washington Post report based on interviews with nearly 30 unnamed current and former US, Western and Ukrainian officials, the SBU, which has strengthened its ties with the CIA since 2014, has demonstrated its professional capabilities through various attacks against Russia.
Ukrainian intelligence services have been waging a "shadow war" against Russia behind the front lines, officials said, adding that operations such as the bombing of the bridge connecting Russia to Crimea twice in August 2022, the placement of drones on the roof of the Kremlin, and drilling holes in the hulls of Russian navy ships in the Black Sea involved teams of Ukrainian agents selected from units established, trained and equipped in close cooperation with the CIA.
For nearly a decade, the CIA has spent tens of millions of dollars to transform Ukraine's "Soviet-era services" into "powerful allies" against Moscow, officials said, adding that the CIA has provided Ukraine with advanced surveillance systems, trained junior intelligence service members at facilities in Ukraine and the United States, built new centers for Ukrainian military intelligence services and shared intelligence.
As a result of these covert operations, Daria Dugina, daughter of Russian political expert Aleksandr Dugin, former Russian submarine commander Stanislav Rzhitsky, and Maksim Fomin, a Russian blogger known for his anti-Ukrainian videos in Donbas, were killed, officials said.
UKRAINE-US OPERATION DISPUTE
The CIA still maintains a significant presence in Kiev, officials said, arguing that US intelligence officials are not involved in Ukraine's "targeted killing" operations. The US side is reportedly providing support to Ukrainian intelligence services to enhance their intelligence gathering capabilities.
The fact that the Ukrainian side was conducting such operations "complicated" the SBU's cooperation with the CIA, a senior intelligence official said, adding that "potential operational concerns were clearly communicated to the Ukrainian services."
"We are witnessing the birth of an intelligence service similar to Mossad in the 1970s," the former senior CIA official said of the SBU, referring to the Israeli spy service. The official argued that if Ukraine's intelligence operations become even more "bold" and start targeting Russians in third countries, this could lead to conflicts with NATO and the European Union (EU).
CIA officials have voiced objections after some operations, but the agency has not withdrawn its support, officials said.
"We have never involved our international partners in covert operations. SBU and Ukrainian Defense Ministry Main Directorate for Intelligence (GUR) agents were not accompanied by CIA counterparts," a former senior Ukrainian security official said, adding that his country has avoided using weapons or equipment that could be linked to US sources.
Still, officials acknowledged that the lines were "blurred" at times, noting that CIA officers in Kiev were informed of some Ukrainian offensive plans.
According to officials, the first step in SBU-CIA cooperation was the creation of a new unit in the SBU, believed to be "heavily" penetrated by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), to be isolated from other departments.
The training grounds of this new unit, dubbed the "Fifth Directorate," are located outside Kiev, where recruits selected by CIA personnel are being trained, officials said.
A Ukrainian official said that the new unit was set up to "operate behind the front lines and work as clandestine groups."
Initially, it focused on recruiting informants from Russia, conducting cyber and electronic eavesdropping, organizing sabotage operations and operations to capture "separatist leaders and Ukrainian collaborators," and taking some of them "to secret detention facilities," the official said. The CIA reportedly provided the unit with equipment for these operations.
Ukrainian officials stated that the operations changed direction over time, claiming that "about 6 Russian agents, senior separatist commanders or collaborators were killed in violent incidents over a 3-year period, often attributed to internal confrontation but in reality the work of the SBU".
The reason for this shift was cited as "Russia's aggression, the brutality attributed to the authorities and its desperation to find ways to weaken a stronger enemy."
The former US intelligence official claimed that since 2015, the CIA has also initiated a "sweeping" transformation of the GUR, "rebuilding the GUR virtually from scratch" over several years.
The CIA helped the GUR acquire electronic surveillance and eavesdropping systems, the official said, including mobile equipment that could be deployed in eastern Ukraine, as well as software devices used to tap the cell phones of Kremlin officials.
Ukrainian authorities controlled these systems, but everything obtained was shared with the US, the former senior GUR official said, adding that sensitive data, such as the whereabouts of Russian targets, was transmitted to Washington via the CIA. The official claimed that this data reaching the US was analyzed by experts from the CIA and the US National Security Agency (NSA).