Number of Russian spies in Britain ‘back at Cold War levels’

Russian embassy in LondonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
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. Read more of this post

Newspaper reveals name of Russian ‘spy’ expelled from Britain

Mikhail Repin

Mikhail Repin

In December of 2010, the British government quietly ordered the expulsion of a diplomat from the Russian embassy in London, whom it accused of “activities incompatible with his diplomatic status” —technical terminology implying espionage. Moscow quickly responded with an expulsion of a British diplomat stationed in the Russian capital. The tit-for-tat incident saw no publicity, and neither man was named, as is customary in such cases. But, in its Saturday edition, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph identified the expelled Russian diplomat as Mikhail Viktorovich Repin, Third Secretary in the Political Section at the Russian embassy in London. The paper said that Repin, a fluent English speaker, was a junior officer of the political directorate of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, operating under standard diplomatic cover. Repin arrived in London in late 2007, shortly after the British government expelled four Russian diplomats in connection with the fatal poisoning of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who had defected to Britain. A “tall, suave, urbane young man”, “Michael”, as he identified himself, quickly became a permanent fixture on the embassy reception circuit and the various events hosted by London-based organizations and think tanks. He specifically joined —and regularly attended meetings of— the Royal United Services Institute, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and Chatham House —formerly known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Most people that met him in those gatherings took him for “a fast-track civil servant, defense industry high flier or political adviser”, says The Telegraph. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0284

  • Real IRA faction killed MI5 informant, says Irish police. The Gardai have concluded that a Real IRA faction executed Denis Donaldson, a former Sinn Fein official who turned informer for MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Last year, the Real IRA took responsibility for the 2007 killing.
  • NATO spy station up for sale. A Canadian NATO spy station in Nova Scotia that operated between 1983 and 2006 is for sale for US$1.4 million. It appears that the site’s current owner, who doesn’t want to be identified, bought it from the Canadian Defense Department after the base was closed down.
  • Analysis on the Binyam Mohamed disclosures and UK-US spy cooperation. This analysis, by Michael Clarke, director of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, is probably the best synopsis of the meaning of the recent court order to disclose Binyam Mohamed’s torture records, which has complicated US-UK spy relations.

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