News / USA

Spy Scandal Will Not Derail US-Russia Relations, Analysts Say

A total of 10 people are in U.S. custody, apparently members of a Russian espionage ring.

U.S. officials say the 10 suspects were working for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service [SVR] and living in the United States under what is known as deep cover.

"That means that they had really integrated themselves into the society and were leading lives like any ordinary citizen: working, going to school, not doing anything to distinguish themselves as being different from their neighbors," said Marshall Goldman of Harvard University.

U.S. officials say the suspects were to, among other things, develop ties in U.S. policy-making circles and send intelligence reports back to Moscow.  They were also to collect information on such subjects as U.S. military affairs, foreign policy issues and congressional matters.

But many experts question whether the alleged Russian agents were successful in their information gathering activities.

One of those experts is Charles Pinck, a partner in The Georgetown Group, a firm specializing in security issues.

"The Russians obviously invested a lot of time and money training these people and sending them over here and supporting them," said Pinck.  "On the other hand, based on the complaint filed against them, it doesn't seem like they accomplished a great deal. After all, they haven't been charged with espionage. They have been charged with not registering as a representative of a foreign government and money laundering, which leads me to believe that two things - either they weren't able to do what they were sent here to do, or B: the FBI wasn't able to catch them in the act of committing espionage, which is a hard thing to do."

Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution also questions whether the alleged spy ring was effective.

"None of the individuals ever succeeded in getting employment with a U.S. government agency and there was no evidence that any of them succeeded in ever getting access to classified information," said Pifer.  "So apparently that was the decision, or those were the facts that led the Justice Department to opt for the lesser charge of being an undeclared agent for a foreign power."

Several Russian officials have questioned the timing of the arrests, saying it comes days after President Obama and Russian President Medvedev met in Washington and emphasized improved relations between the two countries.

Pifer predicts the alleged spying incident will not damage U.S.-Russian relations.

"I think this is going to be a minor bump," said Pifer.  "The Russian Foreign Ministry said they were unhappy about some aspect of it, why was it announced now. Well there is never a good time to announce this sort of thing. But it seems to me that the U.S.-Russia relationship has progressed a lot in the last 18 months, and I think the relationship has made enough progress where this is not going to be a huge threat to it."

Some analysts say the arrest of the alleged Russian spies is a throwback to the Cold War era.

But Charles Pinck disagrees.

"It's almost when you watch the media it's like okay, espionage started and ended with the Cold War," he added.  "Well the truth is espionage has been going on since the beginning of time.  That's why they call it the world's second oldest profession. So if espionage is the world's second oldest profession, catching spies might be the world's third oldest profession. And this has always gone on."

And says Pinck - it will continue to go on. He says we have to keep finding Russian spies and hopefully, he adds, they won't find ours.

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