The director of the FBI warned about the number of Russian spies operating in the United States

Christopher Wray FBI 1

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Thursday that the number of Russian spies operating inside the United States remains “excessively large,” despite efforts to expel them.

The traditional Russian counterintelligence threat remains a major concern,” Wray said in public remarks at the Spy Museum in Washington. “The footprint of Russian intelligence, and by that I mean intelligence officers, remains excessively large in the United States and is something that we are continually bumping up against and trying to block, prevent and disrupt in every way possible.”

The threat of Russian spies operating on American soil is not new. But as U.S. officials have increasingly recognized Russia under President Vladimir Putin as an adversary, traditional counterintelligence concerns, once considered relics of the Cold War—human spies operating on U.S. soil instead of cyber spies operating from within Russia—have once again attracted high-level attention.

In 2018, the United States expelled 60 Russian diplomats whom it identified as intelligence agents, and also ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle, as part of its response to the alleged Russian use of a nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy. who resided in the United Kingdom.

Russia employs not only “traditional intelligence officers” but also intermediaries, Wray said Thursday, citing a Mexican national arrested by U.S. authorities in 2020 and accused of collaborating with Russian intelligence.

Last year, a Dutch intelligence agency publicly identified a Russian military intelligence officer who had studied at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, an elite graduate program favored by American military personnel, young diplomats and future spies.

“I will say that, over the last few years, the United States has made significant positive progress in reducing the size of the footprint of Russian intelligence officers in the United States, in effect expelling them,” Wray concluded.

Last month it emerged that three Bulgarian citizens, identified as alleged Russian spies, have been in police custody since February in the United Kingdom as part of a wide-ranging national security investigation, the BBC reported on Tuesday. The detainees are Orlin Roussev, 45 years old; Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, and Katrin Ivanova, 31. All three had been living in the UK for several years and are accused of carrying false identity documents.

According to the BBC, the arrests were carried out under the Official Secrets Act by the counter-terrorism unit of London’s Metropolitan Police, also known as Scotland Yard, charged with national police responsibility for espionage matters. Roussev lived in the county of Norfolk, in the east of England, while Dzhambazov and Ivanova lived in the neighborhood of Harrow, northwest of London.

Roussev entered the UK in 2009 and worked in the financial sector. For her part, Dzhambazov has been working in hospitals and Ivanova was a laboratory assistant. According to Bulgarian public records, they had also worked for electoral commissions in London that facilitate voting for Bulgarian citizens abroad.

The false identity documents they carried included passports and ID cards from various countries such as the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece and the Czech Republic. On July 31, the three appeared in court again and were remanded in custody until a date to be determined. They are scheduled to be tried at the Old Bailey Criminal Court in London next January.

This case adds to the previously documented activities of the Russian secret services on British soil. In 2018, there was an attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia in Salisbury, England. Additionally, in 2006, former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in London. In July, the United Kingdom passed a new national security law with updated criminal tools and provisions, identifying Russia as “the most serious threat” to its security.

(With information from CNN, AFP and EFE)