By Terry Turchie

The Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. can carve out another section of floor space. The FBI and the Justice Department announced the arrest this week of 11 people who are allegedly part of a Russian spy ring. They masqueraded as American or Canadian citizens, used invisible ink; secret radio transmissions; and, in a modern day update of spy trade craft, encrypted messages sent over computers, to communicate with their Russian handlers. They paid mortgages and rent, blending into the neighborhoods where they lived. By all accounts they were living quiet lives, working hard and pursuing the American dream.

What they really were: part of a deep cover network of “illegal” Russian agents- recruited to penetrate important segments of American society and report information of value back to the Russian intelligence officers who directed them.

What were they really after?

They were directed to meet Americans who were either in positions of interest to the Russian government or headed that way. From cutting edge technology to White House access to scientists working in proximity to nuclear weapons facilities, they reported everything they learned about the people they met as well as what those people were doing. Their mission: exploit each contact they made, whether it was at an American company, political gathering or academic institution. The reports they generated went straight to the files of the Russian SVR- the successor to the KGB.

One news account has said this may be just the “tip of the iceberg” in the ongoing Russian intelligence effort to systematically identify, recruit, and collect classified and unclassified information to help them gauge America’s secrets- and America’s intentions.

It’s amusing but not surprising to see journalists and pundits express surprise that Russian espionage is alive and well in the 21st Century. The Russian government has come out swinging- calling the arrests nothing more than “Cold-War era spy stories.”

In reality, the Cold War never ended. The current Russian government spies with an aggression unmatched since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Reports of the death of the Cold War were very premature – and naive.

Unfortunately for the United States, while Russian intelligence services continue their work unabashed, terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda are working hard and with great patience to evolve and become just like them. It’s far more effective to conduct terrorist operations if they’re supported by intelligence.

Spy vs. Spy is not a game. Instead of making light of the mechanics and time-honored tradecraft of espionage – dead drops, invisible ink, paroles and the like – both politicians and journalists would be well advised to consider their effectiveness and the threat they really represent to America’s future.

As one of the greatest spymasters of all time said during the struggle for American Independence, “”There is one evil I dread, and that is, their spies. I could wish, therefore, the most attentive watch be kept.”

The spymaster was George Washington.


  1. Anthony (Tony) Riggio says:

    I am very proud of the FBI’s work in this sometimes under heralded field of work. This being said, the timing of these arrests makes me very suspicious of executive power to cause a media shift in attention away from the current Presidents woe’s, to wit, the oil crisis in the Gulf; the continuing economy slide; the continuing abandonment of our war involvement; our declining image overseas, etc., etc., etc.

    What was behind the reason to “bust” this group now? This was a network of Russian sleeper agents and they were under investigation for ten years. Why now?

    There are no reports of the damage they have done to the US; but knowing who and where they were located could have proven to be a useful tool for disinformation or even recruitment. From reading the reported stories, they were after less than secret military or technical information. One report said they could have gotten most of what they were looking for from the internet.

    I suspect they we’re here for the long term and for undiscovered more insidious reasons. Therefore my question is: were the arrests made for some political agenda?

    If true, then that speaks volume for the FBI I knew and trusted to be above the fray of politics. Though, honestly, I have seen and experienced decisions based on a political agenda in many more of the FBI’s cases and they are increasing.

  2. Terry Turchie says:

    Such a savvy comment, based on long experience of politics trumping security – thanks.

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