Expulsion of 50 Russians reflects renewed spying

Interest extends beyond military to business

March 25, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Oleg Kalugin, a former master spy for the Soviet Union, can only smile when he sees Russian diplomats around town. He knows the game they're playing.

"I do see them at certain events, snooping around, looking for contacts," said Kalugin, now a business consultant and lecturer who lives in Silver Spring. "They generally try to avoid me, hide their eyes. I tried to shake hands with one of them, and he ran away."

Although the Cold War is over, spies are still in business - pursuing economic and industrial secrets as well as military information. And their numbers in the United States have risen in the past few years to the level of the old superpower standoff. In the early 1990s there were about 100 Russian spies who used diplomatic cover. Now there are about 200, said current and former U.S. government officials.

That, at least, was the estimate before the Bush administration announced last week that it was expelling 50 Russian diplomats, including four who were "directly implicated," as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell put it, in handling Robert P. Hanssen, the former FBI agent arrested last month on charges of spying for Moscow since 1985.

There has been "a continuing problem with Russia concerning their level of intelligence presence here," Powell said Friday. "We decided that we had to respond."

Such a mass expulsion of Russian diplomats has not been seen since Ronald Reagan sent 80 of them packing in 1986 as part of the FBI's "Operation Famish."

With the Berlin Wall and Moscow's May Day parades now fading memories, why has the nation's capital suddenly turned into a scene from a John le Carre novel?

U.S. officials say that despite an end to Communist rule, Russia never enjoyed the economic benefits and political freedom that many expected in the heady days of the early 1990s. And while the state security services were dismantled or reorganized, the old Communist apparatchiks, spies and bemedaled Soviet generals were never far in the background.

Some of these figures were directly involved in the coup against the last Soviet president, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, in 1991, which backfired and led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Sources here say that a few have regained stature in the government of Vladimir V. Putin, himself a former Soviet intelligence officer. One of those coup plotters who serves as an adviser to Putin is Vladimir Kryuchkov.

"There was no de-Communization of Russia," said David G. Major, a former FBI counterintelligence officer, referring to the survival of senior figures from the Soviet regime.

Rep. Porter J. Goss, a Florida Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and was once a CIA analyst, said there has been "a geometric increase in Russian spying."

The spying resurgence started under former Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin but has picked up sharply under his successor, Putin, the former KGB spy who has surrounded himself with other former Russian intelligence officers, said current and former U.S. officials.

Putin also praises the late Soviet leader Yuri V. Andropov, a brutal one-time Soviet spy chief who was instrumental in putting down the 1956 Hungarian revolt, as a "model of a Soviet leader," Kalugin said.

"What is clear under Putin is the intelligence services have been invigorated," said Paul Joyal, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staff member who is now a consultant for businesses in Russia and other former Soviet states. Joyal said that in the past five years he has seen Russian diplomats more aggressively pursuing government and business information. "You don't see such a high profile from other diplomats," he said.

And the targets are still the same: U.S. government political and military secrets, as well as high-technology and business information, officials said. Kalugin said there has been only a subtle shift in how Russia views the United States.

"The U.S. used to be enemy Number One, now it's priority Number One," said Kalugin. "That's the official lingo of Russian intelligence."

Retired Army Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, a former head of the eavesdropping National Security Agency and an expert on the Russian military, said one difference from the Cold War is the vast increase of Russian emigres. They could provide Moscow's spies with potential recruits and knowledgeable contacts in high-tech companies and other businesses around the country, he said.

The number of Russians entering the country has grown steadily from about 11,000 in 1989 to more than 63,000 a year at the high point in the late 1990s, according to statistics compiled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

In the Washington-Baltimore area alone there are about 60,000 Russian emigres, Kalugin said. The Russian social clubs and restaurants have become key trawling spots for Russian spies, who are adept at "profiling and assessing" potential collaborators.

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