The British authorities once devoted abundant resources to tracking the movement of Soviet agents here. But in recent years terrorist threats have become the clear priority, and MI5 has fewer resources to keep pace with Russia’s expanding operations, said John Bayliss, who retired from the Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s electronic intelligence agency, in 2010 and now lectures on security threats.
“I think it’s sort of accepted that there are more spies in London now than there were at the height of the Cold War,” he said. “In the Cold War, it was quite difficult for Russians to move around the country, they were restricted outside London. But now they’ve pretty much got free movement, they can go anywhere. We haven’t got enough people to follow everybody all the time.”
London is also a base for commercial intelligence-gathering firms, like the one headed by the former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who built a dossier on President Trump’s links with Mr. Putin. The Russian government is keenly interested in these efforts, and their sources.
As a young K.G.B. officer, Mr. Putin was first assigned to a station in the East German city of Dresden, which dispatched spies to steal technological secrets and compromise and recruit influential figures, in both West and East Germany. As Russia’s leader, he has expanded foreign intelligence networks so that they “reached or surpassed Cold War levels,” said Mark Galeotti, a Russia expert at the Institute of International Relations in Prague.
“There is a sense that Russia is geopolitically in competition with the West,” he said. “In these current circumstances, spies are relatively cheap and relatively effective. This is the way Putin runs his state.” [Continue reading…]
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