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The number of Russian spies in the US just hit a 15-year high — here's why it doesn't really matter

Russia's escalation of cyber-space intelligence operations in recent years may overshadow concerns over its increase in the number of US-based spies, CIA veteran Daniel Hoffman told The Daily Caller News Foundation.


"There are more Russian operatives, declared and undeclared, in the United States now than at any other time in the past fifteen years," a senior US official declared to The New Yorker August 7. "They're here in large numbers, actively trying to penetrate a whole host of sectors—government, industry, and academia."

Hoffman cautioned that "numbers can be misleading," acknowledging that while it certainly matters how many spies are in the US, the real Russian escalation has occurred in cyber-space. "The Russians are using cyber-space very, very aggressively, and it's not cost-prohibitive," he told The DCNF.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons user Colin

He explained how Russians who've never set foot in the US can now collect and carry out operations, giving Russian President Vladimir Putin "much more bang for your ruble."

"In the past 15 years since Putin became PM, he has resurrected Russia's influence in the world and increased its operational tempo in Africa, Europe, and the US," Hoffman declared. This influence campaign has morphed into a sophisticated cyber campaign that escalated in the cyber domain in 2016.

These cyber escalations include Russian-sponsored dissemination of false information via social media, hacking attempts throughout the 2016 US presidential election, and ties to cyber criminals targeting American companies.

"Moscow's influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users," a January 2017 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election noted.

Photo from The Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

"Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on US presidential elections that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin," the report added.

The increased number of spies in the US may even be in service of bolstering Russian cyber operations. Two suspected Russian spies were discovered lingering near underground fiber optic cables in recent months, US officials recently told Politico.

"It's a trend that has led intelligence officials to conclude that the Kremlin is waging a quiet effort to map the United States' telecommunications infrastructure," Politico noted in June 2017.