Conversation With a Survivor

Tony Schiena is a survivor. Well before entering the private sector as head of his company, MOSAIC (Multi Operational Security Agency Intelligence Company), his dynamic record of intelligence and paramilitary work established him as an expert in the field — one who was fortunate enough to take part in world-shaping operations, from working with U.S. Special Forces in Kabul and Afghanistan, with Cambodian Special Forces as they struggled in their border conflict with Thailand, and possibly most notably working as an operative in South Africa, where his work helped to avert an imminent and bloody civil war, and bring about the smooth transition to a new and anti-apartheid government. Most recently, he and MOSAIC offered training and support to the Kurdish Peshmerga in their fight against ISIS in Iraq.

In January, as a British inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko found that the former KGB officer and outspoken Vladimir Putin foe’s murder was “probably approved” by the Russian head of state, Schiena issued a statement that not only Litvinenko, but very probably also Litvinenko’s benefactor, oligarch Boris A. Berezovsky, was murdered by the same opposition. We seized the moment to have a conversation with Mr. Schiena about his knowledge of that particular incident, as well as about his life and work as an operative in the field, what he has learned about survival, and how he was able to turn that knowledge to his advantage in the private sector.

(Credit: Antoine Verglas)
(Credit: Antoine Verglas)

InfraGard Magazine: You have your hands in so many pies, security-wise, it’s hard to know where to begin, but for the moment, let’s start with the topic at hand, the deaths of Litvinenko and Berezovsky. What did you know about them and how do you believe they were achieved?

Tony Schiena: Berezovsky I knew. We helped him in Africa. He only had asylum in three countries on the planet — that was England, Israel and South Africa — being Putin’s number-one enemy for an attempted coup on Putin’s government and being very outspoken against him. I was around Berezovsky, obviously, a lot. He and I established a very good relationship, and I was actually with Berezovsky, at dinner, the night that Litvinenko was dying. Boris left me with a friend of his at dinner to go to the hospital. He and Litvinenko had a good relationship. Litvinenko helped him. They knew each other for a long time — since the assassination attempt on Boris’ life in the ’90s.

Litvinenko defied Putin by protecting Boris — by informing him of the fact that the FSB wanted to assassinate him. It wasn’t news to him. There were various attempts on his life. Finally, they got [Litvinenko] with the polonium 210. I was around all that at the time.

IM: We had the announcement about the British inquiry’s findings that Putin “probably approved” the Litvinenko poisoning. It doesn’t look like extradition and prosecution for Lugovoi and Kovtun are too likely. It obviously also brings up the question of what other sort of espionage activity might be taking place in Britain and elsewhere.

TS: The majority of what happens in that world, in that murky world of espionage, is really the turning of foreign agents, or the recruiting of foreign agents — having them spy for your government. They may be working in a position that … the information. I read at a very, very young age, when I was thrown in the deep end, so to speak, in South Africa, with a pending civil war and right-wing and left-wing groups’ craziness, CIA presence. I was placed in those kinds of situations. I understood it from a very young age, and how dangerous it can be, also — the compromising of foreign agents, and the way they’re assassinated and made to look like something else. I lost a close friend and mentor in Budapest — again, made to look like an accident. I think about a year ago in London, an MI6 spy was found in a bag, in his bathtub. And then his whole apartment is strewn with women’s clothing, to make it look like he was a cross-dresser. I was on FOX News this morning, and I said to the presenters, ‘It’s that dirty tactic of accusing someone of being a pedophile, or something like that, to discredit them.’ That happens often. At this very minute, there are spies trying to turn other spies. That’s the majority of their work.

IM: There’s an obvious political dimension to all of this, and I don’t want to completely ignore that, but in these pages, what we are chiefly interested in is what you and your folks at MOSAIC deal in, which is awareness and mitigation in the event of such and attack. How can people on the front lines — people in the FBI, say, and first responders as well, prepare for and hope to prevent such an insidious, subversive attack? Intelligence is the key, obviously, but is there anything else that those in the security professions can do to make themselves more aware and prepared?

TS: There’s very little. If you’re in the crosshairs of really any country’s intelligence organization, your days are pretty much numbered, because you don’t know when it’s going to come, and how covertly it will come — whether it’ll be poisoning in a teapot, like happened with Litvinenko, or a poison-tipped umbrella, or a ballpoint pen. Anthrax. You just don’t know.

Someone I knew from all the way back when I started — he, at one stage, warned the FBI, saying, ‘There’s anthrax on the black market. You’d better buy it up.’ And this anthrax strain would lead all the way down to a project that South Africa had, called Project Coast. It was the developing of anthrax, and that ended up on the black market. It ended up being used post-9/11, in those letter attacks. So it’s heeding those warnings, it’s finding correct intelligence that hasn’t been tainted — because it’s very difficult determining what’s been tainted and what hasn’t, because tainted intelligence wants to lead you astray, or lead you into a certain direction. It’s finding those rival sources, and being able to disseminate good intelligence and understanding it so you can use it. Otherwise, it’s very difficult.