BLACKSBURG, Va. – A Virginia Tech professor who had a long career in U.S. intelligence told 10 News Wednesday that Russia is supporting local anti-pipeline groups.
Former CIA officer Ken Stiles said Russian money has ended up in southwest Virginia, including in Montgomery County. He agrees with the analysis from many economic experts that Russia has an interest in trying to stop American energy projects because those can compete with its own energy exports, which are a staple of its economy.
The phrase “an enemy of my enemy is my friend” is one way to understand this dynamic from Russia’s perspective, and why the country would support these groups.
“Any detriment to that economic engine hurts its ability to expand,” Stiles said.
Russian influence and interference has been a hot topic regarding the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but U.S. intelligence agencies have also been aware of money from Russian sources going to environmental groups.
U.S. lawmakers cited evidence last year that Russia was conducting a “propaganda war” against fossil fuels. A group of representatives sent a letter to the White House explaining that Russia was covertly funding U.S. environmental groups. They argued that Russian agents were trying to turn public opinion in America against fracking.
Stiles is going one step further and saying the money is reaching groups opposed specifically to the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
“The local groups, they don't know they're getting money from Moscow, but they are colluding, if you will - we love that term these days - they're colluding with Moscow against the U.S., against NATO,” he said.
He alleges one of the groups indirectly receiving money from Russian sources is Preserve Montgomery County VA, which is fighting Mountain Valley Pipeline construction. But if this is happening, the organization isn’t aware.
Sandy Schlaudecker, who’s with the organization, said, “We have gotten no contributions from Russia. Most of our money comes from landowners whose lives are upside down and their friends, like me.”
The idea may sound far-fetched. Stiles alleges Russia sends money to shell companies in the Caribbean. American foundations receive money from them. Then, organizations take in donations from those groups.
“I think people have to start asking questions. What's the bigger picture?” Stiles said. "[Russian officials] understand the long game, and they're willing to sink millions of dollars knowing it will be years to have a payoff.”
Stiles worked for the CIA for 29 years. In 2013, he received the agency’s Career Commendation Medal for his achievements. He’s a recognized expert in geographic information systems and geo-location targeting.
Stiles has lived in Blacksburg since 2010 and has been teaching in the geography department at Virginia Tech for the last five years.