Number of Russian spies in Britain ‘back at Cold War levels’
April 9, 2012 2 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Russian Federation has as many intelligence officers operating in the United Kingdom today as it did during the last decade of the Cold War, according to a British newspaper. The London-based Daily Telegraph cites “senior sources” in alleging that Moscow maintains “around 40 [spies] at any one time” in the UK. Many of them are reportedly based in London, where approximately half the staff at the Russian embassy are believed to be routinely involved in intelligence gathering, says the paper. The Telegraph shared the information with Dr Jonathan Eyal, Director of International Security Studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, who told the paper that the numbers of Russian spies in the UK are “similar to if not higher than those just before the end of the Cold War”. Undoubtedly, writes The Telegraph, some of the Russian intelligence officers stationed in Britain are involved in traditional intelligence collection directed at UK government institutions and personnel. But increasing numbers of them are focusing on the growing Russian expatriate community in the UK, including the many oligarchs whose relations with the Kremlin are strained at best. A smaller but significant number of Russian intelligence operatives are believed to conduct commercial and industrial spying aimed at benefiting Russian firms competing against their British counterparts for international contracts, claims the paper. Dr Eyal adds that Russian intelligence agencies have traditionally viewed Britain —a staunch American ally— as a “back door to US intelligence”, thus Washington constitutes yet another target of Russian intelligence activity in the UK. Relations between Russia and Britain have been stained by several intelligence scandals in recent years, including the case of Katia Zatuliveter, a Russian staffer at the office of British parliamentarian Mike Hancock, a member of the British House of Commons Defence Select Committee. Zatuliveter, who admitted to having had an affair with Hancock, won the right to stay in the UK despite calls for her expulsion by Britain’s counterintelligence agency, MI5. In 2006, UK authorities accused the Russian government of ordering the assassination of KGB defector and alleged MI6 employee Alexander Litvinenko, who was living in London when he was fatally poisoned with a radioactive agent. In that same year, Moscow accused London of placing a fake rock containing a sophisticated concealed transmitter at a downtown Moscow park, in order to collect sensitive Russian government data. In January of 2012, Jonathan Powell, chief of staff to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, admitted that the Kremlin’s accusations were indeed true.