Expulsion of 50 Russians reflects renewed spying

WASHINGTON — 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.

Emigres have long been "a potential target intelligence services can look at," said Major, the ex-FBI counterintelligence officer. Said Kalugin, "Ethnic profiling has always been at the top of the list, Russians who may be nostalgic for the old ways."

Officials also said Russia has always had a talent for spies and secret police, dating back to czarist times. During the Cold War, Moscow was always more adept in using this human intelligence - humint in spy parlance - than Washington, which was more skilled at developing spy satellites and listening devices the size of a safety pin, espionage specialists said. "Clearly they've placed much more of a premium on humint," said one congressional staffer. "We always had a technical edge."

Kalugin said, however, that one element of the old Soviet espionage efforts has not been resurrected: the "subversive" efforts to change the U.S. system of government into a reflection of the Soviet Union. He said there are no efforts to duplicate the "front" organizations that did Moscow's bidding in the United States.

Odom says the renewed activity reflects a mistaken belief that spying "will somehow compensate for the weakness of your state."


Meanwhile, the FBI and CIA last week announced a government initiative called Counter Intelligence for the 21st Century - "CI-21" - to identify and counteract spying by Russia and other countries. The effort includes a board of directors made up of top FBI, CIA and Defense Department officials who will try to figure out what government and business secrets are of particular interest.

But nagging questions remain. Despite all its spying, didn't Russia lose the Cold War? Isn't the country still in economic chaos and politically unstable? What could an increase in spying bring the Russians?

Maybe nothing, said Kalugin, who has his doubts about the value of the trade to which he devoted 32 years of his life.

Kalugin, now 66, began his espionage career working undercover as a journalist on a Fulbright Scholarship at Columbia University in 1958, later served under a cover as a Radio Moscow correspondent at the United Nations, then was posted to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, where he ran convicted U.S. spy John A. Walker Jr., a Navy enlisted man, who together with family members turned over high-tech information to the Soviet Union until they were arrested in the 1980s.

Soviet spies in the 1960s and 1970s stole high-tech secrets from defense contractors, Kalugin said. But, he added, the Soviet bureaucracy rarely seemed capable of using the information in a timely manner. By the time the bureaucracy got around to using it, the West had developed something more advanced.

Odom is not so dismissive of Russian espionage. He fears that the spies may pick up valuable information - if not for themselves then for America's enemies. "Tactically [Russian spies] can make a lot of trouble." As an example, he said, "They can pass information to Iraq on military systems."


And the former NSA director pointed to Russian prowess with computer hacking, another skill that can cause trouble for the United States. "Who knows where this cyber stuff is heading?" he asked.