The cold war is over, the spy game isn't
US arrest of a Russian diplomat for spying shows how intense espionage
When a Russian embassy worker was accused this week of spying on the US Department of State, few in the intelligence community here were surprised.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Despite the end of the cold war, spy activity between the old rivals continues at a robust pace. Some analysts say that spying is likely to increase in the future, as the states from the former Soviet Union become more unstable.
"Clearly each country has major security concerns about the other," says Steve Aftergood, who directs a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. "We still want to know everything that's going on there, and they want to know everything going on here."
Russia, with a vast stock of nuclear weapons, is still the country that has the greatest potential to hurt the US militarily. And America, as the world's only superpower, is suspect among many Russians who accuse the United States of trying to destabilize their country.
On Wednesday, US officials caught Stanislav Gusev, a second secretary from the Russian embassy here, listening to transmissions from a device that allegedly had been planted in a high-security conference room in the State Department.
Russian officials denied that Mr. Gusev was spying. They accused the US of retaliating after an American embassy worker was detained recently in Moscow on charges of spying against the Russians.
Gusev was ordered to leave the country within 10 days, according to State Department spokesman Jim Foley.
The upsurge in counterintelligence activity indicates that, despite the end of the cold war, both sides are keeping a wary eye on one another. Although the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) keeps its budget classified, analysts estimate that it is nearly at the same level now as it was during the height of hostilities with Moscow.
Overall figures for US intelligence spending were released only for 1997 and 1998, when they were $26.6 billion and $26.7 billion respectively, according to a CIA spokesman. But the US has 13 different intelligence agencies, and it is impossible to know where the money is going.
Recent highly publicized intelligence mistakes, in fact, may have helped the agency get more funding from Congress. One widely recognized lapse was the failure to predict that India and Pakistan would test nuclear weapons. Another was when the US said it mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. According to Mr. Aftergood, "When the CIA does well, it is rewarded. When it does badly, it is rewarded even more."
If anything has changed in the intelligence world since the apparent end of cold-war hostilities, it is that spying takes different forms and has different targets.
"There is a perception that might be somewhat erroneous about the cold war being over," says Robert Suettinger, a Brookings Institution analyst who used to work for the CIA in Asia. "There is still a distrustful and paranoid Russia that could still inflict terrible damage on the US, and still an unstable government in Russia" that increases the risks to the US.
Some analysts say that Russia now is generally more interested in obtaining economic and technological information from the US. But according to a former State Department worker in Moscow, Russia's central interests in the US at the moment are likely to revolve around what, if anything, the White House will do in response to the conflict in Chechnya, as well as US plans to build a national missile-defense system.
In some ways, the spy game on both sides has gotten somewhat easier because, as one former diplomat says, "both sides are more open" today than during the cold war.
Meanwhile, analysts say, America needs to keep abreast of internal factors that could make Russia and its immediate region even more unstable. US officials are concerned that hard-line elements could rise to power in Moscow and further dampen bilateral relations.
A former CIA counterterrorism expert estimates that the US is probably putting even more money and manpower into some international programs than it did in the 1980s. With regard to Russia, the former agent says, there is likely to be an increased operation to find out what Moscow is doing with its potential to launch biological and chemical attacks. The CIA "has all the money it could possibly want for antiterrorism [efforts]," he says.
Elsewhere in the world, US intelligence has to work closely around its military peacekeepers, including those in the Balkans and East Timor.
Certainly spying today is being helped by advanced technology - particularly satellites that make it possible for the US and other advanced nations to monitor the rest of the world without leaving their own country.
New gadgets, la James Bond, make the job of gathering information easier. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland, recently accused the British of planting a device inside one of the members of his party's car. Adams displayed the device at a press conference and said it contained a satellite-linked tracking unit.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society