Intelligence: Chasing Spies In Russia


October 9, 2011: Earlier this month, Russia announced that they had arrested a Chinese citizen a year ago, and charged him with espionage. The suspect was accused of trying to obtain technical secrets about the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system. China has bought many of these, but has also built a similar system (HQ-9), which bears a remarkable resemblance to the S-300. The Russians are not happy with this sort of thing.

For the last few years, the Russian FSB (Federal Security Service) has reported arresting at least a hundred foreign spies annually. Up to half of them have been officials of foreign intelligence agencies. Strictly speaking, these are not spies, but the people who seek out locals suitable for recruiting as spies. Of those arrested, most were non-Russians living in Russia, and about a quarter were Russians. Many of the accused spies come from neighboring nations, particularly ones that were once part of the Soviet Union. China has a major espionage effort going in Russia, and a few Chinese operatives are caught each year.

Some of the spies were simply people the Russian government wants to shut up and take out of circulation. Charging them with espionage is an old trick from the Soviet period (and even earlier, as the Czarist secret police used the same technique.) In practice, Russia is doing much more spying on others, and many more Russian spies were caught overseas, than foreign spies were caught inside Russia. But Russia, using a proven Cold War era technique, attempts to deflect criticism of its own espionage activities, by emphasizing the real or imagined spying activity in Russia.



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