By Susana Samhan
Washington (EFE).- Although Russians have spent decades spying on the United States, their espionage activity has recently intensified and reached unprecedented levels, a former US intelligence officer told Efe.
Chris Costa, executive director of the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, explained that Russia’s spying apparatus has been in place since the Cold War era.
“Russians have been spying on the United States for many, many years, throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation. All of that said, we assess, we being people that study espionage, we assess that the Russians are far more aggressive than they ever have been in their history,” Costa said.
“They are doing espionage on an industrial scale. Not only in the United States are they attempting to commit espionage, but particularly in Europe.”
Costa said Russia relies both on computer hacking and low-technology methods involving human intelligence agents on the ground.
“So it’s both. First of all, we know that Russia has cybertools, and it’s essentially like breaking into somebody’s home, getting into the home and staying in the home to steal secrets, doing that using specialized cybertools. So that’s one way to steal secrets,” he said.
“The other way is the old-fashioned way, the classic way, of developing individuals that you want to spy for your country, in this case Russia, looking for individuals that might be motivated to support Russia” for a variety of reasons.
Those motivations include ideology, money or a desire to support Russia in its war against Ukraine, he said.
“The bottom line is classic methodologies for espionage are being executed, in particular in Europe. Some 600 spies were thrown out of embassies across Europe. The number actually varies, somewhere between 400 to 600 individuals were identified as suspected spies working out of Russian embassies,” Costa said.
Because of that setback, Russians are going to need to rely on operatives under non-official cover (NOC) – agents who enter and remain in foreign countries as a private citizen and are typically subject to a lower level of scrutiny by the host government.
“In other words, they’re going to have to look like a businessman, or look like you and I. And they’re going to still have to try to develop spies to support Russia. And we know that is happening.”
Rebekah Koffler, author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” told Efe for her part that Russian espionage has not changed since the onset of the war in Ukraine because Moscow has always had a very strong intelligence-gathering program.
A Russian-born former Defense Intelligence Agency officer and intelligence expert on Russian affairs, she said the US’s intelligence resources in recent years have been devoted to the war against terrorism and specifically Afghanistan, Syria and Libya.
Koffler added that Washington has not placed the same level of attention on Russia and China, which by contrast have focused their intelligence efforts on the US.
While the US also employs intelligence agents on the ground, she said it has less of a presence relative to Moscow due to the ease in infiltrating an agent into the US from Canada.
The FBI is the agency responsible for identifying and tracking down potential Russia spies and typically finds it easier to intercept those linked to the Russian embassy.
In the case of agents operating under shadowy NOC status, the FBI works with think tanks to explain the risks of infiltration and depends on tip-offs and cooperation from its international partners. EFE