As relations between Russia, U.S. warm, spying hasn't come out of the cold

February 02, 1992|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Cold War nostalgia buffs, take heart.

There is one area in which the Russia and the United States are not partners and certainly not "friends" -- to borrow a word that President Bush used at Camp David yesterday. They are still good old-fashioned adversaries in espionage.

Russian spying against the United States continues with no significant reduction from the days of the old Soviet Union, says Wayne Gilbert, the FBI's assistant director in charge of foreign counter-intelligence.

Despite a shake-up in the former Soviet intelligence agencies, Russian spies here continue with what Mr. Gilbert calls a professional search for agents and for secrets in the military, technological and economic spheres -- "anything classified."

"We still have to watch a very crafty adversary," he said.

The United States, likewise, has not diminished neither its counter-intelligence activities nor its efforts to turn Russian spies into double agents. In fact, the FBI sees the turmoil in the former Soviet republics as offering a good time to "recruit in place . . . get them to work for us."

Russia's continued spying is one of the problems restraining a total embrace of the republic as a newfound friend, despite a vastly improved military and political climate and President Boris N. Yeltsin's willingness to stop pointing his country's nuclear weapons at the United States.

Some experts believe the Russian intelligence apparatus may be following pre-breakup "standard operating procedures" that Mr. Yeltsin, with numerous other preoccupations, may not be aware of.

But Mr. Gilbert senses that agents still are being directed by Russian authorities.

The Russian behavior is in stark contrast to that of the former communist bloc in Eastern Europe, whose agents and diplomats used to act as surrogates for the KGB. Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, among other Eastern European countries, have ceased spying on the United States, Mr. Gilbert says.

He said that when, following collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the newly democratic Eastern European countries approached the United States last year about exchanges about criminal information, U.S. law enforcement agencies said, "Hey, you show us that you mean it, cease your operations in this country, and we'll sit down. . . ."

"And in almost all instances, they did," Mr. Gilbert said, describing Eastern European countries as, by and large, having had a "stand down" in spying on the United States. He indicated there were exceptions, but refused to name them.

This has allowed the bureau to transfer several hundred agents out of counter-intelligence to fight other types of crime.

Without being specific, Mr. Gilbert allowed that Eastern European cooperation has helped the FBI's counter-espionage effort against Russia. There has been an increase, he said, in the number of espionage cases involving Americans, both in the United States and overseas. New evidence is being gathered, on still-pending cases.

Russia, like the Eastern Europeans, also has sought liaison on police activities, training and anti-drug activities. It has gotten the same conditional answer from U.S. law-enforcement agencies.

"If anyone approaches us, we say, 'You show us you've stopped intelligence-gathering over here.' "

While Russian intelligence requirements don't appear to have changed, Mr. Gilbert says, they may shift toward economics.

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