Russian espionage in the United States

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Espionage refers to the idea of using spies in order to obtain governmental or military-related information.

Russian espionage in the United States has occurred since at least the Cold War (as the Soviet Union), and likely well before. According to the United States government, by 2007 it had reached Cold War levels.[1]


Russian intelligence[edit]

The KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until its break-up in 1991. The main duties of the KGB were to gather intelligence in other nations, conduct counterintelligence, maintain the secret police, KGB military corps and the border guards, suppress internal resistance, and conduct electronic espionage. The KGB also acted overseas but its activities rotate around the same main axis - to prevent the collapse of the USSR from within.[citation needed] In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, leading to the fragmentation of the KGB into many subsidiary organizations.

The KGB was not the only intelligence agency that Russia used to gain information around the globe. The Soviet Union formed two other well known agencies: The GRU (The Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) and the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service).

The GRU (The Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) was Russia's military intelligence. It focused on gathering human intelligence (HUMINT) through military attaches and foreign agents. Other than gathering human intelligence, the GRU also maintained significant signals intelligence (SIGINT) and imagery reconnaissance along with satellite imagery (IMINT) capabilities.

The SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) was formed in December 1991 after the fragmentation of the KGB. The SVR replaced the KGB's overseas arm. Russia's external intelligence agency was mainly for civilian affairs and was the world's oldest[clarification needed] and most extensive espionage agency. The SVR was located throughout New York City post World War II. SVR agents were secretly scattered across the city in order to build up information to send back to the Kremlin in Russia to gain an advantage over the United States intelligence.

Comrade J[edit]

Colonel Sergei Olegovich Tretyakov, otherwise known as Comrade J, was a Russian SVR officer who defected to the United States in October 2000. Tretyakov grew up aware of the KGB in Russia, due to his mother's and grandmothers' involvement. As Tretyakov grew up in the Soviet Union, he worshiped the idea of being a part of the KGB. While he was a young man in the KGB, he was given the responsibility to be the leader of the young communist lead for nearly three years. Tretyakov spent many years in the KGB even when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 along with most of the KGB intelligence. Colonel Tretyakov served as an officer in the SVR from 1995 to 2000. Tretyakov later moved to Manhattan. During 1997, Tretyakov began supplying United States officials with Russian information. Tretyakov explained to the United States how Russia was gaining their information throughout New York City and the rest of the United States. Tretyakov explained how Russian intelligence spread out throughout Manhattan and the rest of America in Pete Earley's book, Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War. After many years of reported information on Russian Intelligence to United States officials, Tretyakov became a US citizen in 2007 and then three years later died at the age of fifty-three.


According to former Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) Colonel Stanislav Lunev, "SVR and GRU (Russia's political and military intelligence agencies, respectively) are operating against the U.S. in a much more active manner than they were during even the hottest days of the Cold War."[2] From the end of the 1980s, KGB and later SVR began to create "a second echelon" of "auxiliary agents in addition to our main weapons, illegals and special agents", according to former SVR officer Kouzminov.[3] These agents are legal immigrants, including scientists and other professionals. Another SVR officer who defected to Britain in 1996 described details about thousand Russian agents and intelligence officers, some of them "illegals" who live under deep cover abroad.

Soviet espionage cases present the drastic differences that are presented in Russian espionage cases. The improvement of technology and spying has exponentially played a part in the advancements of espionage between Russia and the United States. Notable cases related to Soviet espionage include Kim Philby a double agent working for British Intelligence who was revealed to be a member of the Cambridge Five in 1963, along with four other members - Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross. The Cambridge Spy Ring focused on serving the Soviet Union in the Cold War by infiltrating US intelligence and providing secret information to the Soviet top leaders.

Another well-known case was of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg., the first US citizens convicted and executed for espionage during peacetime. The married couple lived in New York City and were accused of spying for the Soviet Union and sending information regarding radar, sonar, and the jet pultrusions of engines, and sending nuclear weapon designs. Julius was arrested on June 17, 1950, and Ethel was arrested two months later. The couple were tried, convicted, and executed by the US government by 1953.

Former CIA officer Harold James Nicholson was twice convicted[clarification needed] as a spy for Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). A combination of events in the 90s began the FBI's investigation into Nicholson. He met with SVR officials away from the embassy and what followed was a $12,000 transfer to his bank account. He failed three polygraphs that noted questions like "are you hiding involvement with a foreign intelligence service?" This limited his access to Russian intelligence officials and by 1996, the FBI were able to arrest him inside Dulles Airport. On him was a computer disc containing classified CIA files and ten rolls of film showing top secret documents. Nicholson admitted to the passing of classified information to the SVR from 1994 to 1996 and was convicted of espionage.

In February 2020, US federal officials charge Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes, a Mexican citizen, in Miami for allegedly acting on behalf of a Russian agent who recruited him to collect information about the US government and met repeatedly with him in Moscow.[4][5]

2016 presidential election[edit]

Russian espionage occurred during the 2016 US presidential election. There were numerous reports of Russian interference in the election since the nomination of President Trump occurred. According to the United States Intelligence Community and the Director of National Intelligence, there was evidence of the Russian government interfering to hurt democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Starting May 2017, former FBI Director Robert Mueller investigated the evidence and recently released a largely redacted 448-page report on his findings.

The Mueller Report consists mostly of the Trump administration's involvement and evidence of Russia's involvement. Mueller notes that there was a social media propaganda operation called the "troll farm," in which Russia's Internet Research Agency created fake accounts online that "favored candidate Trump and disparaged candidate Clinton."[6] Russia targeted Clinton's emails after word from President Trump in which he's quoted saying, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 missing emails that are missing." Five hours later, Mueller reports, members of a key Russian intelligence unit targeted for the first time Clinton's personal office. There was also what Mueller called "Russian hacking and dumping operations" in which Russian intelligence officers hacked into the accounts of the Clinton campaign and democratic party organizations. The material was then posted online by Russia themselves, and the other information was distributed by WikiLeaks. Russia repeatedly reached out to the Trump campaign to establish a connection to the Kremlin. Muller writes, "The Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for campaign officials and representatives of Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved US-Russian relations.”[7]

More evidence of this report can be found on the Department of Justice's website.

Electronic espionage[edit]

Can be defined as “... the use of computer networks to gain illicit access to confidential information, typically that held by a government or other organization”(Dictionary). It has been more widely used post Cold War.

In April 2015, CNN reported that "Russian hackers" had "penetrated sensitive parts of the White House" computers in "recent months." It was said that the FBI, the Secret Service, and other US intelligence agencies categorized the attacks "among the most sophisticated attacks ever launched against US government systems."[8]

Expulsion of agents[edit]

President Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence and diplomatic staff from the United States following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. The closure of the consulate in Seattle, Washington was also ordered, based on the belief of US intelligence officials that the consulate was serving as a key base of operations for the Russian intelligence operations in the US.[9] Twelve out of the sixty Russian spies and/or diplomats that were at the United Nations in New York, and the other forty-eight Russians were at the Russian Embassy in Washington faced expulsion within seven days after the poisoning of former sixty-six year old Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his thirty-three-year-old daughter Yulia. The other forty Russian spies out of the one hundred that were on American soil, remain free in Washington and other major US cities, where they are under the official imprimatur of their nation's foreign agency.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Putin spy war on the West. The Sunday Times. May 20, 2007
  2. ^ Expulsion of Russian Spies Teaches Moscow a Needed Lesson by Stanislav Lunev, 22 March 2001
  3. ^ Alexander Kouzminov Biological Espionage: Special Operations of the Soviet and Russian Foreign Intelligence Services in the West, Greenhill Books, 2006, ISBN 1-85367-646-2 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-04-25. Retrieved 2005-04-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Cramer, Maria (19 February 2020). "Mexican Citizen is Accused of Spying for Russians in the U.S". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Mexican citizen accused of working for Russians in U.S".
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Evan Perez; Shimon Prokupecz (8 April 2015). "How the US thinks Russians hacked the White House". CNN. Retrieved 17 December 2016. Russian hackers behind the damaging cyber intrusion of the State Department in recent months used that perch to penetrate sensitive parts of the White House computer system, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.
  9. ^ Rucker, Philip; Birnbaum, Michael; Nakashima, Ellen (26 March 2018). "Trump administration expels 60 Russian officers, shuts Seattle consulate in response to attack on former spy in Britain". Washington Post.