Former Soviet spy Oleg Kalugin, who headed KGB operations in the United States in the 1970s and later left Russia to live in America, told CNN Tuesday he is “amazed” that Moscow is engaging so heavily in espionage against Washington.
Reacting to the recent arrests of 11 alleged Russian spies, Kalugin said that getting the type of information the FBI says the operatives collected “does not require such a massive assault” against the United States.
“I am amazed,” he said. “It reminds me of the worst years of the Cold War.”
Kalugin also said he was “amused” by reports of the arrests. “It is a sign of the decadence of the Russian intelligence services,” he said. “Why do they need to use so many people to get information that is openly available?”
iReport: The spies next door?
The Justice Department announced Monday that 10 people had been arrested in the United States on charges of being Russian spies on long-term missions in the U.S. A Justice Department spokesman called the suspects “trained Russian intelligence operatives.”
An 11th suspect was arrested Tuesday in Cyprus, Cypriot police told CNN.
The government’s complaints against the alleged operatives say their mission was “to become sufficiently Americanized such that they can gather information about the United States for Russia, and can successfully recruit sources who are in, or able to infiltrate, United States policy-making circles.”
Kalugin said that has been a mission for Soviet and Russian operatives for decades: to look for potential spies in the United States with the ultimate purpose of placing them in key government agencies like the State Department, Defense Department and the White House.
Kalugin added that he was impressed by the “efficiency” of the FBI, which apparently was able to keep the suspects under control for several years. He said FBI agents have not “lost their focus” and noted that it is difficult to ferret out such spies.
The former Soviet spy told CNN he did not believe that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev knew of the pending arrests during his visit to the White House last Thursday, but his impression was that President Barack Obama did know and it was reflected in a “rather strained” visit with Medvedev. Kalugin said he now feels that “something was brewing.”
He also explained that he is not surprised that several of the suspects are listed as former Canadian citizens. He said Canada, with a large number of Russian and former Soviet émigrés, has been used for decades by Soviet intelligence as a “jumping ground” to pick up people for possible espionage operations in the United States.
The reports of alleged Russian espionage, Kalugin believes, “will sober up some minds in the U.S. who believe that Russia is a totally different country.”
Kalugin said former Russian president and now prime minister Vladimir Putin — himself a former KGB agent — has restored the role of the intelligence agency, now called the FSB, and its arm that deals with foreign intelligence, the SVR. “Old habits have been restored,” he said.
“The United States used to be enemy No. 1 for the KGB,” he said. “Now it is priority No. 1.”