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Russia agents flood uk in cold war levels

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Carry on spying: Russian agents flood UK in revival of intelligence Cold War
By Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent
26 October 2004

Russia has resumed Cold War levels of spying and intelligence gathering in Britain, senior Whitehall and security sources have told The Independent.

Among the spies are at least 32 Russian diplomats who are attempting to obtain secret information about the United Kingdom's military, technical and political capabilities, according to authoritative sources.

The spy network is also collecting information about opponents and critics of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President and a former KGB officer, who are exiles in Britain.

A Whitehall source said: "The level of espionage by the Russians in the UK is back to Cold War levels: it is business as usual for the spies."

MI5, the counter-intelligence agency, has warned David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, of the growing Russian spying activities. It is concerned that funding for counter-espionage work has been cut by half because resources have been reallocated to deal with al-Qa'ida.

A confidential document, Espionage Threat, based on information provided by M15 and MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, also reveals that Russian spies have been monitoring the movements of military aircraft in the UK.

The classified paper, written by military intelligence earlier this year, said the agents were using the internet to target military specialists with access to secret information.

Several Russians have left Britain for alleged spying activities, although these departures have not been publicised to avoid a diplomatic rift with the Putin government. The build-up of the Russian spying capability in Britain and other European countries follows a policy change by President Putin since coming to power in 2000.

Putin has replaced the powerful oligarchs of the Boris Yeltsin era with intelligence and military officers. The old Soviet culture of secrecy and foreign espionage has returned under the Putin regime.

Britain is of great interest to Russia because of its strong ties to the United States and its influential role in Nato, and its attitudes towards Iraq and Iran. In addition, the oligarchy and opponents of Putin living in the UK are prime targets for the Russian spying machine. These have included fallen oligarchs, such as Boris Berezovsky, who has been in exile since 2000.

In Britain, the Russian spying network is run by the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service), which partly replaced the old KGB, and the GRU, the military intelligence organisation. The SVR has about 18 officers in Britain, while the GRU has about 14, all of whom have diplomatic status, according to intelligence sources. They say officers each have dozens of informers and agents. SVR is divided into three specialist fields - gaining intelligence on political issues, matters of security, and technology, such as military and commercial secrets.

The GRU, which is considered the most hardline and active of the agencies and which also runs dozens of agents, is involved in obtaining information on issues such as Britain's nuclear and military capabilities, and American bases.

MI5 and MI6 have given a series of warnings about the growth of Russian espionage to the Intelligence and Security Committee, the group of MPs that oversees security matters.

The committee's annual report, published earlier this year, said: "The threat from espionage did not disappear when the Cold War ended ... countries such as Russia and China still want to acquire both classified material and technology for exploitation by their own industry."

It also noted that in 1999/2000 MI5 allocated 20 per cent of its budget to counter-espionage work, the bulk of which involved Russian spy activities. This has since dropped to 10 per cent. Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director general of MI5, told the committee: "There's not less of it [espionage] about, we are doing less work on it, we are being more selective about the priority cases. It is something I have discussed with the Home Secretary: I recently gave him a summary and he is well aware that we are carrying some risk here.

"The plan is to back-fill when we can, but the problem is that the international counter-terrorist work is moving and expanding at such a rate."

Oleg Gordievsky, the double agent who served as head of the KGB at the Soviet Embassy in London before he defected in 1985, said: "The strength of the KGB is that there are so many Russians living here and working for British companies. Each second Russian in a position of some importance is acting as an informer to the KGB.

"The information is about individuals who might be of interest to the Russian authorities and technology. They also want information about politicians. They have become much more active under Putin. Russia is under the foot of the KGB now."

Alex Standish, editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest, said: "We are seeing a steady increase in the number of diplomats being posted in the UK. If you look at the profile of the individuals you see a significant proportion of these people are linked to the SVR. Putin is rapidly building up intelligence systems that have been allowed to fall into decline under the Yeltsin era."

A spokesman from the Russian Embassy, based at Kensington Palace Gardens, in west London, said: "No comment".

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