Russian Spies with Long-Term, Criminal Intent
But what provided the first clue to American counter-intelligence?
Which of these techniques led to the exposure of this ring? Certainly the SVR, which has seen a major investment in manpower, money, and time explode in its face, will want to learn how its agents were identified so that next time they can do it right. Very likely for that reason the FBI will not wish to disclose how it got on to these sleeper agents so early. If these accused Russian spies refuse to plead guilty, they may press their defense attorneys to challenge the warrants that enabled the FBI to wiretap them, enter their homes surreptitiously, and access their computers, in order to learn how they came under suspicion. Did some signals intelligence breakthrough or lapse alert the government? Did one of the agents have some kind of glitch with his or her false identity that caused suspicion? The FBI's affidavit reports the surveillance of several Russian diplomats who met covertly with one or another of the illegal agents. These officials were obviously Russian intelligence officers who had diplomatic cover. Did one of these "legals," as they are known, fail to shake off a tail on the way to a meeting? Was one of their official Russian handlers an FBI informant? Does American intelligence have a mole of its own in Moscow Center who alerted his handlers to this ring?
We may never know the answer to how this counter-intelligence triumph took place. Russian intelligence is probably more worried about that question than the fates of its spies. Like in those old LeCarre novels, intelligence failures always open up the possibility that something is rotten in the organization. And somewhere in Moscow, there are no doubt a lot of people trying to figure out what went wrong.
Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes are co-authors, with Alexander Vassiliev, of Spies: The rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press).
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