As I've said before, they're not our friends:
Even as the United States and Russia are cooperating to resolve international crises and track militant Islamic groups, Moscow is working at least as hard at stealing U.S. military and industrial secrets as during the Soviet era, current and former intelligence officials say.
Moscow's spies operate under a larger variety of "covers" than in Soviet days, experts say, and their morale is the highest since the mid-1980s. The Russian diaspora has created a pool of emigres, some of whom can be bribed, cajoled or blackmailed into helping.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a "massive" expansion of intelligence-gathering efforts in Western Europe and North America, Jane's Intelligence Digest reported. Officials and experts say Russian spying has significantly increased under Putin, a former KGB lieutenant colonel.
"In 1989 and 1990, after the Berlin Wall fell, we all wanted to light candles and sing 'Kumbaya' and wait for the peace dividends to role in," said James Casey, chief of the Eurasia section of the FBI's counterintelligence division. "But things haven't changed as much as we thought they were going to change in 1989."
The Kremlin considers Chechen insurgents and Islamic militants as the greatest threat to its security, Casey said. "But in the same breath they'll talk about the United States. They still consider us a strategic threat."
In Russian intelligence circles, the United States is no longer called the glavny protivnik, or "main adversary," as in Soviet days, said Oleg D. Kalugin, a former KGB general who worked as a spy in New York and Washington in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "Now, it is 'Priority No. 1.'"
Mostly, though, the Russians are interested in gathering military and technical secrets, FBI officials and outside experts say, particularly in U.S. efforts to build a ballistic missile defense system and space-based weapons. Moscow apparently has also targeted information about stealth technologies, such as those used to conceal warplanes and submarines.
And while there are good reasons to be concerned, there is a silver lining to the cloud.
But it is unclear how much Russia stands to gain from acquiring equipment such as high-tech sensors or lasers. John Pike, an arms expert and director of GlobalSecurity.org, said the manufacture of advanced devices requires not just sophisticated components but experienced managers, robotic systems and highly trained workers.
"The challenge [facing Russia] today is to find something that can be stolen and that can be used when you bring it home," he said.
Russia's military-industrial complex may not be up to the task, Pike said. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia's military technology was 10 years behind that of the United States; today, it is about 25 years behind, he said.
"I think they have made essentially no technological progress since the end of the Cold War," Pike said.