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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Annals of Cold War II: Send in the Spies

The Moscow Times reports on yet another convincing demonstration by Russia that it is a friendly, reliable country that means the USA no harm:

A senior U.S. counterintelligence official said Thursday that Russia had fully restored its espionage capabilities against the United States after a period of decline following the Cold War.

Joel Brenner, the head of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, said the United States was concerned that Russia was continuing to ramp up its operations.

"The Russians are now back at Cold War levels in their efforts against the United States," he said at an event held by the American Bar Association, a lawyers' group. "They are sending over an increasing and troubling number of intelligence agents."

The comments come at time of greater tension between the two countries. President Vladimir Putin has sharply criticized the United States in recent months, and he told Arab leaders in a letter Thursday that Washington should set a time limit for its military presence in Iraq. Also Thursday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the United States for conducting naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf.

Brenner, whose job is to oversee counterintelligence strategy and policy for U.S. intelligence chief Mike McConnell, did not provide details about suspected Russian intelligence operations in the United States. Sensitive counterintelligence activities are classified.

But he said Moscow appeared less interested in U.S. commercial and military technology than other countries, including China, which U.S. officials including China, which U.S. officials have described as the greatest counterintelligence threat facing the United States.

McConnell also warned the U.S. Senate last month that Russia was taking a step backward in its democratic progress and could be heading for a controlled succession to Putin. Moscow responded by describing his remarks as "outdated assumptions."

The U.S. government has suffered several embarrassing security breaches at the hands of Russian and Soviet intelligence moles, including former CIA case officer Aldrich Ames and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen.

Brenner said Ames provided the Soviets with enough information about U.S. officials to "decapitate" America's leadership in the event of war.

But Moscow intelligence does not now appear interested in posing a physical threat to U.S. leaders. "It's not a strike threat they're after. I don't want to give that impression," Brenner said.

Russian officials have expressed frustration at what they see as U.S. foreign policy unrestrained by consultation with other world powers, including Russia. They have criticized the expansion of NATO into the former Soviet sphere of influence and U.S. plans to install radar and interceptors in Eastern Europe as part of a missile defense program.

In turn, U.S. officials have warned that Russia's increased assertiveness in challenging U.S. policy is complicating cooperation on important foreign policy goals, including counterterrorism, nonproliferation and the promotion of democracy in the Middle East.

Both sides have denied that the tension means a return to the Cold War.

The Kremlin said Thursday that Putin had sent a letter to a summit of Arab leaders calling for a time limit on the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Putin said in the letter to the summit, which opened Wednesday in the Saudi capital, that Russia highly valued "the Arab world's contribution to building a just, multipolar world order and political and diplomatic settlement of crises."

In what sounded like a veiled criticism of the United States, Putin complained in the letter against a "policy of unilateral use of force and a desire to monopolize conflict settlement." He also criticized those seeking to "provoke a confrontation between civilizations and faiths."

Lavrov, meanwhile, criticized the United States for conducting naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf.

Lavrov said: "The Persian Gulf is in such a troubled state today that any actions in the region, especially those with the use of the navy and other military forces, should, of course, take into account the need to prevent the exacerbation of the situation even further. It has already been heightened to the limit."

The U.S. exercise, which ended Wednesday, was the largest show of force in the Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with 15 ships, 125 aircraft and 13,000 sailors taking part in maneuvers a few dozen kilometers off Iran's coast.

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