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Associated Press
February 21, 2001

Still Spy-Vs.-Spy for Russia, U.S.

By Nancy Benac, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Stashes of diamonds. Secret "dead drops" of classified documents. Swiss bank accounts.

The details of FBI agent Robert Hanssen's alleged espionage for Russia read like a Cold War novel but nonetheless provide fresh evidence that the United States and Moscow are still very much engaged in spy-vs.-spy intrigue.

"Intelligence and counterintelligence are with us and will be with us for some time," FBI Director Louis Freeh acknowledged Tuesday after announcing Hanssen's arrest. "This case has got a foot in the past, but part of it has clearly got a foot in the present."

But why spy now, when the Cold War is for the history books?

Russia is no longer seen as the enemy, intelligence experts say, but neither is it embraced as a full-fledged friend.

"One never knows what another country has in mind down the road, and someone who's a friend today may prove to be an enemy tomorrow," said Loch Johnson, a University of Georgia political scientist who worked on intelligence for the Clinton White House and congressional committees.

Furthermore, he said, "Russia still has the capacity to destroy the United States in 30 minutes, so that focuses the attention, even though the prospects of that are minimal in the near term."

Beyond military secrets, the international espionage game targets political and economic information that could give an advantage to one side or another.

In the Information Age, "we have come to understand just how vital information is, regardless of where you get it," said Kenneth Allard, a former Army intelligence officer now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If anything, tensions between the United States and Russia have been on the rise of late.

Twice in the past two weeks, for example, Moscow was rankled when top U.S. officials lumped Russia with Osama bin Laden and China as global threats and complained that it was spreading missile technology to Iran and North Korea.

On Tuesday, Attorney General John Ashcroft described America as "an international target in a dangerous world" and said espionage operations aimed at the United States are "as intense today as they have ever been."

He didn't mention that U.S. espionage remains robust as well.

In fact, U.S. spending for spying has been on the increase in recent years, after dropping off after the Cold War, according to Steve Aftergood, an intelligence analyst for the Federation of American Scientists.

"Everybody spies on everybody; that's the rule of thumb," said Aftergood. He said U.S. spending on intelligence, estimated at $30 billion this year, is likely to continue to increase as expensive spy satellites need replacing over the next decade.

As for Russia, foreign intelligence activities never seem to have flagged under former President Boris Yeltsin, and some analysts have predicted they would increase under his successor, Vladimir Putin, a 15-year KGB veteran.

From U.S. proposals for a new missile defense system, to Russia's yawning technological gap, to NATO's proposed thrust to the East, spies have plenty of work assessing the West's next moves.

Even allied nations spy on one another. In one notable case, former Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard was convicted in 1985 of spying on the United States for Israel.

More recently, France has complained that a U.S.-led eavesdropping network known as Echelon is being used to snoop on the business of its European allies. U.S. officials have never publicly confirmed the network exists and deny that the United States engages in industrial espionage.

Freeh pointed to congressional testimony that nearly two dozen countries use their security services in the United States to gather economic information.

For all the sophistication of modern espionage with satellites and the like, there will always be demand for "human-based intelligence" - that is, spies who do the type of double dealing now attributed to Hanssen.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," said Allard. "There's literally no substitute for somebody on the inside."

And in a friendlier world, it may be easier for moles to rationalize their conduct, reasoning that they're not really jeopardizing national security when they sell out their country.

As for all the made-for-TV details of stealthy double agents and dead drops in the Hanssen case, Allard said: "Guess what? The old tried-and-true methods still work."

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