File this one under “caught red handed.” The Kremlin might take note that they shouldn’t have their spies posing as “independent South Ossetian activists” hiring elite public relations firms. From the Associated Press:
Georgia’s interior minister, Vano Merabishvili, told the AP on Monday that Tskhovrebova was spying for Russia’s security services. Tskhovrebova ridiculed the idea and said she is the victim of a smear campaign. But U.S. officials said they have become wary of her – questioning who paid for her Washington tour – and regret providing U.S. government money to pay for the event this week at George Mason University where Tskhovrebova was expected to speak.
Tskhovrebova’s trip reflects the high-stakes campaign between Georgia and Russia, each eager to blame the other for their August war and to influence U.S. policy as Barack Obama assumes the presidency.
Tskhovrebova said she did not know Georgian intelligence had been intercepting her calls until the AP showed her transcripts of the conversations. The wiretaps make clear her conversations have been routinely intercepted since at least 2005. There is no evidence Tskhovrebova had access to secret information, but Guliev appeared interested in her frequent contact with Western organizations.
“She was not like a classical spy who arrives in Georgian territoryand calculates the numbers of the military or any movements,”Merabishvili said. “Mostly it was very simple things: She alwaysinformed the special services about all her meetings with internationalorganizations.”
Tskhovrebova acknowledged that she routinely speaks and meets withGuliev, a family friend. During a television interview with the AP, shesaid she knew Guliev works for the KGB. She denied working for the KGBherself. Her U.S. public-relations handler, Mark Saylor of the SaylorCo., objected to the questions and ordered AP’s cameras turned off,while she reviewed transcripts of her wiretapped conversations.
Later, in a statement, Tskhovrebova called the release of therecordings “vicious, false and predictable.” She said GeorgianPresident Mikhail Saakashvili routinely calls his opponents spies. “Itis a charge easily made and impossible to disprove,” she said.
“Nobody working for human rights in my part of the world can avoidcontact with security officials,” she said. “This is as true in Georgiaas it is in Ossetia and everybody familiar with human rights work knowsit.” South Ossetia is tightly controlled by security services. MamukaAreshidze, an unaffiliated Tbilisi-based analyst who followsintelligence activities in the region, agreed with Tskhovrebova’sassessment. “It’s absolutely impossible for those going abroad andworking with international organizations not to give information,” hesaid.
The South Ossetian KGB denied Tskhovrebova is a spy. Governmentspokeswoman Irina Gagloyeva called the accusation “a typicalprovocation aimed to discredit (South Ossetia) and pin a label on aperson who is involved in protecting human rights.”
Tskhovrebova said she works independently of any government and hasnot received instructions for her trip. The tapes offer no evidenceotherwise.
In registering as a lobbyist for Tskhovrebova, Saylor Companycertified that no foreign government directed the lobbying. In U.S.paperwork filed with Congress, Saylor affirmed that no foreign entity”plans, supervises, controls, directs, finances or subsidizes”Tskhovrebova’s organization, the Association of Women of South Ossetiafor Democracy and Human Rights.
Matthew Bryza, the deputy assistant secretary of state who worksclosely with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and is responsiblefor U.S. policy in the Caucasus, said he had doubts aboutTskhovrebova’s independence. Bryza canceled a meeting his deputies hadplanned with Tskhovrebova last week after the AP asked about it.
“It is unique in my years of experience in the Caucasus (region)that someone like this has representation by an expensive publicrelations firm. That sets off alarm bells,” Bryza said.