RUSSIA has a sprawling network of sleeper agents in the UK who could kill on command, an ex-MI6 agent has warned.
Former spook Julian Richards said Moscow has become so effective at spying in Britain that intelligence agencies “don’t know” just how many rogue operatives are active in the UK.
8Sergey Skvortsov and his wife Elena Kulkova arrested in Sweden on suspicion of being longterm Russian spiesCredit: East2WestThe warning comes as suspected Russian spies Sergey Skvortsov and his wife Elena Koulkova were arrested in Sweden.
The couple were well known, well liked, happily chatted with their neighbours – only to be swooped by elite cops in two Black hawk helicopters.
Both are believed to have been acting as spies for Putin for the better part of a decade – hiding in plain sight as regular every day citizens.
Putin is said to be obsessed with sending spies into regular civilian roles with aim of draining the West of critical commercial secrets.
In fact, so high is the threat of infiltration that former CIA and MI6 officers have warned Brits to watch over their shoulder amid fears hundreds of Putin’s goons are infiltrating the UK.
“Either they’re very, very good at it, in which case there could be a lot of them out there that we just don’t know about,” Prof Richards told The Sun Online.
“Theoretically they could assassinate someone, if they needed to. This is where the Skripal case is interesting and the Litvinenko case before it. It was the GRU – military intelligence – that was exposed as being involved.”
Known as ‘Illegals’, these spies spend years blending into normal civilian life and take up regular jobs in critical industries like national defence with the aim of manoeuvring themselves into positions of “access”.
And the UK, according to Prof Richards, is high on their radar.
“We know that the UK has always been a particular target for the Russians,” explained Prof Richard.
“They know that we’re potentially a very useful connection into the American intelligence system.”
“That was the logic of the Cambridge spies. That worked beautifully well because weren’t only an important intelligence player ourselves but we were also a very, very close intelligence ally, and that’s the potential – a sort of ‘back door’ into American intelligence.”
He said these ‘invisible’ spooks are trained to infiltrate commercial companies providing services to host governments like British Aerospace.
They often start off in menial jobs and make their way up the ladder, sometimes using blackmail and bribes along the way.
Though the threat remained low and their use largely expensive and ineffective, their real impact can be hard to gauge.
“Either it’s a big problem and we don’t have an idea of the scale of it and how many are out there, but I think it’s more likely it’s not that big of a problem, and because they are so difficult to do, there probably aren’t many of them out there.
“But there are some, particularly in the UK.”
Former CIA case officer Robert Baer said Russian ‘illegals’ could be employed in a company for years before becoming ‘operational’.
“What you want with an illegal is someone not under surveillance,” he told us.
“You can use them for spotting reports. That’s when you find someone like a Pentagon officer, or a State Department officer, and then you look at who seems interesting, who’s going into an interesting job, and you tell Moscow and maybe later on someone posted overseas will approach them.”
Among their dirty bag of tricks is luring persons of interest into an affair and using it against them.
Also known as Kompromat, this is a well-oiled technique was used in the KGB and its modern equivalent, the FSB.
‘Illegals’ are also known to prey on ‘financially vulnerable’ officials in high positions and work to lure them in with the guarantee of money.
“It’s a lot of money for such a low hanging fruit,” Baer explained. “But if they’re good, you just can’t find them.”
Baer claims Putin could very well be sending unprecedented numbers of illegals into the West as he tries to recreate Russia’s past as a spying behemoth.
He said: “I think Putin’s fascinated with ‘illegals’ and it goes all the way back to the old days when they were so effective like the Cambridge Five – Rudolf Abel and people like that – they’re historical figures and I think Putin would like to recreate that.”
8Yelena Vavilova – aka Tracey Lee Ann Foley – worked as a real estate agent in the USCredit: U.S. Marshals Service8Andrey Bezrukov’s alias was Donald Healthfield, who claimed to be the son of a Canadian diplomatCredit: U.S. Marshals Service8Mikhail A. Vasenkov admitted being a Russian agent under the name Juan LazaroCredit: Alamy8Vicky Peláez was a Peruvian journalist living in New York who help her husband, Vasenkov, spy on behalf of RussiaCredit: U.S. Marshals ServiceWestern spy agencies have long struggled to keep its ranks clean of Russian double agents.
In August, a Russian spy reportedly posed as a jewellery designer for ten years and infiltrated NATO by luring commanders into honeytraps was ousted after going on vacation to Moscow and never returned.
This year David Smith, 58, a former British embassy guard in Berlin, was charged with nine offences relating to breaking the Official Secrets Act after being accused of spying for Russia.
Last October, eight Russian spooks were expelled from NATO in a major crackdown in the lead up to the war in Ukraine and another four of Mad Vlad’s goons are feared to be operating in Westminster in secret.
Former UK intelligence officials said it’s likely the Russian security services have recruited political staffers, party officials and those with “some degree of political access” inside Parliament.
In recent years Britain’s closest ally, the US, has also found themselves rooting out agents working for Putin.
Maria Butina was found to have been acting as a spy and attempting to steer US politics as she embedded herself in Washington DC.
She was jailed in 2018 before being deported back to Russia, where she is now a member of Putin’s parliament – the State Duma.
And then Russian model Anna Chapman, the daughter of a KGB official, was arrested in 2010 after she is suspected to have worked as an agent in the US.
She was given back to the Kremlin regime as part of a spy swap deal along with nine other suspected agents.
Among those agents was Vladimir and Lidiya Guryev – who lived in New Jersey with their two daughters, 11 and 9, under the aliases of Richard and Cynthia Murphy.
The couple attempted to influence US politics, with Lidiya going after an associate of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2008.
Another couple with children was also part of the spy swap – Mikhail Kutsik and Nataliya Pereverzeva, also known as Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills.
The duo were rumbled as they claimed be from America and Canada despite their thick accents – and they operated by received coded radio transmissions.
Mikhail A. Vasenkov and his wife Vicky Pelaez were accused spying for Russia after authorities discovered Vasenkov’s alias – Juaz Lazaro – had died of respiratory failure in Uruguay aged 3 in 1947.
Andrey Bezrukov and Yelena Vavilova pretended to be Canadian citizens living in the US. Bezrukov claimed to be the son of a Canadian diplomat named Donald Heathfield and his wife Vavilova pretended to be a real estate agent called Tracey Lee Ann Foley.
Britain has also been the target of Russian agents in recent years – the most infamous case being the nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
Putin’s men – Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – managed to fly into London Gatwick and catch the train to Salisbury where they attempted to kill the defector and his daughter with the nerve agent Novichok in 2018.
8Vladimir Putin is said to be ‘fascinated’ with illegals and is sending unprecedented numbers into the WestCredit: AFP8Putin is said to have ordered the Salisbury poisonings attackCredit: Rex Features8Putin’s goons Alexander Petrov (left) and Ruslan Boshirov are prime suspects in the Salisbury nerve agent attackCredit: PA:Press Association
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk