By Dr Andrew Foxall
This week the Henry Jackson Society’s Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre released a new report entitled ‘Putin Sees and Hears It All: How Russia’s Intelligence Agencies Menace the UK’. Endorsed by Sir Richard Dearlove, former Director-General of SIS (MI6), the report draws attention to the scale of Russian espionage in the UK.
You may have seen some of the coverage the report has already generated, in The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Express, City AM, and elsewhere. Based on interviews with current and former intelligence sources, the report reveals that there are as many as 200 Russian case officers (intelligence officers who ‘manage’ spies) in the UK. This represents as much as a five-fold increase since 2010, when Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB colonel who was a double agent for MI6, said there were 39 case officers – exactly the same number as during the last years of the Cold War.
The report argues that, beyond assassinations (such as in the cases of Alexander Litvinenko and Sergey Skripal), Russia’s intelligence agencies are engaged in all manner of activities associated with active measures – the subversive, political warfare originally employed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
One of the primary tasks of Russia’s spies is to gather intelligence on individuals who currently occupy, or previously occupied, positions of influence and power, and those who are in positions to obtain confidential or sensitive information – all the more if these individuals are consequential to Russian affairs. This includes everybody from Russian dissidents and opposition figures to Western businesspeople, Russia-watchers, and current and former Whitehall officials.
Contrary to some of the media coverage, the report does not claim that there are 75,000 Russian spies in London. Instead, it argues that the poisoning of the Skripals and murder of Nikolay Glushkov in March has led a number of Russian dissidents with whom I spoke to increasingly believe that they are being followed, listened to, and watched. Whether this is true or not, Russia’s actions have succeeded in spreading paranoia; some such people suggested that as many as half of their fellow Russians in London are informants. In reality, of course, the figure is likely to be much lower.
Here at the Henry Jackson Society, we have long warned of the threat posed by Vladimir Putin’s regime – both within and without its own borders. With your continued support, we will carry on with this work.