Russian spies have launched a campaign of psychological harassment against U.S. and British diplomats living there, the Guardian reports, by breaking into their homes and moving things around just to fuck with their heads.
There's no real intelligence value to the operations, which were first revealed in Mafia State, a forthcoming book by former Guardian reporter Luke Harding. American and British counterintelligence officials know all about the break-ins, so no diplomats keep anything of real value in their homes. No, the aim is just generally to act like gremlins and make people thing they're going crazy and desperately want to get out of this god-forsaken country as soon as possible and keep our diplomatic corps destabilized. The Russian just move around personal items, open windows, and set off burglar alarms.
The strategy is based on the theory of "soft torture" promulgated by the East German Stasi:
According to former Stasi officers the aim was to "switch off" regime opponents by disrupting their private or family lives. Tactics included removing pictures from walls, replacing one variety of tea with another, and even sending a vibrator to a target's wife. Usually victims had no idea the Stasi were responsible. Many thought they were going mad; some suffered breakdowns; a few committed suicide.
It was Erich Honecker, East Germany's communist leader, who patented these methods after concluding that "soft" methods of torture were preferable to open forms of persecution. The advantage of psychological operations was their deniability –- important for a regime that wanted to maintain its international respectability. Putin spent the late 1980s as an undercover KGB officer based in the east German town of Dresden.