Maggie sent me this article yesterday and we exchanged a few hypotheses:
About 130 Russian spies are currently undercover in Germany, almost as many as were deployed there by the
KGB during the Cold War, according to the latest edition of the German news magazine Focus. German political parties, companies, the armed forces and scientific research establishments were targeted by post-communist Russian espionage, said the report quoting German authorities. The article, released in advance of Monday's edition, quoted an official of the German Federal Criminal Investigation Agency (BKA) as saying these targets were spied on "in an extremely aggressive way." It also quoted an unnamed senior official of Germany's domestic counter-intelligence service as saying Russian intelligence had been
strongly reinforced of late, so that almost as many operatives were now undercover on German territory as there were Soviet KGB agents there during the Cold War.
Then this morning I see this from Time via Drudge:
Russia runs more than 100 known spies under official cover in the U.S., senior U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement officials say. And those are just the more easily spotted spies working under the classic guise of diplomat. An unknown number of so-called nocs—who work under nonofficial cover as businessmen and -women, journalists or academics—undoubtedly expand the Russian spy force. "They're baaaaack," says a former senior U.S. intelligence official who worked against Moscow during the cold war. "They're busy as hell, but I don't think we've really got what it is that they're doing." The number of Russian spies in the U.S. is especially surprising, given that it was less than four years ago that the Bush Administration expelled 50 of them in retaliation for the humiliating discovery that FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen had been spying for Russia for 21 years.
With regards to the German story Maggie writes:
I think the problem I have making any sense of this goes to the point of WHY this information was released to the press. Russia could have been "given notice" that we know what you are doing in private conversation......but this was made public. To me it seems to have been directed to a third party, one of the German political parties, who might be co-operating with Moscow....accusations to be made public at a later date and this is just the laying of groundwork....or an attempt to halt any alliances by making all the parties aware of "we are on to you."
I agree that it seems premature, or mildly incompetent, to work this through the press. It is no secret that countries, even allies, continually spy on each other. And it would certainly make sense for the Russian standpoint to ramp up intelligence now that the tide seems to have turned against the Putin government. With the persistent loss of former satellites, Ukraine ready to bolt, a Middle Eat that is suddenly more firmly under American and Western influence, and the warming of trade relations and political discourse between the US and China, Russia can hardly be expected to stand still.
But what about Maggie's question? It looks to me like a concerted effort on the part of Western nations to play a different kind of confidence game with respect to Russia. Let's say that the Russians have gained an intelligence advantage while the US and its allies have been concentrating on infiltration from Islamic groups while trying to convert domestic federal law enforcement to counter-espionage. How could the governments targeted combat such an advantage?
One option would be to round up as many spies as possible and expel them. But what if there were so many, so deeply embedded that they are hard to identify? Go public. This would probably send some spies deeper into cover, but that would also make it more difficult to operate freely. I don't think that this was a way of putting Russia "on notice" so much as biding time while the Feds get up to speed.
But what do I know?