by Neil Kennard
The cold war is over, the wall is down, and James Bond now spends his days fighting international terrorism and not SMERSH. Yet, on Tuesday Mr Ryan Fogle, a diplomat and purported CIA agent, was arrested by Russian FSB authorities while wearing a blond wig and was briefly detained. He was believed to be trying to recruit a Russian intelligence officer as a spy. On expelling the agent from Russia, the foreign ministry called the action as “in the spirit of the Cold War”. The fact that a US agent had been identified by Russian authorities, and the response of the Russians in naming the individual publicly as a breach of diplomatic protocol will surely not freeze the relations between Washington and Moscow, but it they have certainly chilled.
Given the current and historic links between the UK and the US, and the recent assassinations of Russians on London’s streets including former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, this does raise the question, is there a great game of espionage once again, and if so, should the UK be afraid of being a target, Russian or otherwise?
MI5 maintains espionage against UK interests continues and is widespread, insidious and potentially very damaging. No longer is the primary purpose for obtaining political and military intelligence alone, now much, if not more focused on communications technologies, IT, genetics, defence, aviation, electronics and many other fields, in both the government and private spheres. Given the new breadths of the target fields, the UK is now, more than ever a priority target of espionage.
Oleg Gordievsky, a former spy chief of, and defector from the KGB said in 2013 that Moscow is operating just as many spies in the UK as it did during the cold war, with Putin’s agents based at the Russian embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens posing as officials, and operating a network of “informers” with no affiliation to the embassy. Quoting British Intelligence sources, he made the claim that “there are 37 KGB men in London at the moment. Another 14 work for GRU [Russian military intelligence]”. Similarly across the Atlantic in 2010, 10 Russian agents, including the super-model spy Anna Chapman were exposed, and later swapped back with Russia. Considering the close link between the US and UK, especially in regards to the sharing of intelligence material, security experts believe this heightens our risk of being a target, the UK may be used as a “back door” to US intelligence, an option hugely attractive to Russia.
Aside from the old adversary, with the dawn of the digital age, and the internet penetrating many areas of life, a new form of state backed cyber-espionage is rising up. Again focusing on the commercially valuable information, countries such as China have been named by the US Department of Defence, citing material stolen in order to benefit their respective defence and technology industries. This is of course publicly refuted by China. This report is not alone, Jonathan Evans, head of MI5 in 2012, spoke of one major London-listed company that suffered an estimated £800m loss as a result of the theft of its intellectual property, “What is at stake is not just our government secrets but also the safety and security of our infrastructure, the intellectual property that underpins our future prosperity and the commercially sensitive information that is the life-blood of our companies and corporations”.
The cold war may be over, but the cat and mouse game of espionage is still very much alive and well, and the UK as much a player as ever before.