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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spy: Expelled Spies Tip of Iceberg

WASHINGTON — He worked out of the National Press Building and filed hundreds of stories back to Moscow. In many ways, being a Tass correspondent provided perfect cover for Stanislav Lunev, Soviet spy.

With press credentials from the State Department dangling from his neck, Lunev's best journalistic sources were on file, without knowing it, as "trusted persons" back at the GRU, the military intelligence service. Others he met, recruited and paid became "agents" who could be used on demand to provide information, to make a delivery, to arrange a contact.

All of it was based on one premise Lunev never forgot: "Every American is valuable."

He explained all this and more when he defected in March 1992, informing U.S. counterintelligence officials that even after the fall of the Soviet Union the GRU had no plans to scale back operations in the United States.

"What were the Russian intelligence agencies going to do?" said one former high-ranking FBI official. "That was a huge issue. And he tells us, the GRU is alive and well."

Nine years later, his prediction still resonates as the Bush administration moves to reduce Russia's intelligence presence in the United States by expelling 50 diplomats suspected of being spies — including six who allegedly were involved with accused FBI mole Robert Philip Hanssen. Russia responded last week by announcing that it would kick out an equal number of American diplomats in Moscow.

Lunev doubts whether the expulsions will do much lasting damage to Russian intelligence operations, citing a maxim from his spy days: "Expulsions are only a mild problem for field offices."

"When the new guys will come," he added, "it will be much more of a headache for the FBI and the CIA to understand" which of them are spies.

Former FBI officials strongly disagree, arguing that Lunev underestimates the impact of losing so many officers at once. David Major, who served as the bureau's counterintelligence liaison in the Reagan White House, contends that the expulsion of 80 Soviet intelligence officers in the fall of 1986 had a devastating impact on Moscow's operations.

John Lewis, former FBI deputy director for national security, said the "new guys" will have to be rookies, unknown to U.S. counterintelligence and far less experienced than those they replace.

Lunev, 55, a neatly dressed man with gray hair and a bushy goatee, lives a semisecret life in the Washington area — he won't say exactly where — and says he has no ties to other defectors or acquaintances from his past life. But he retains as good a feel as anyone for how Russian intelligence officers spend their time in the United States.

"There are dozens, hundreds of spies in the American establishment," Lunev maintained last week in an interview, adding that Russian intelligence officers try to recruit agents not only from the FBI, CIA and U.S. military, but also from think tanks, universities, media organizations and private defense contractors.

Lunev, a former colonel in the GRU, expressed surprise at the Bush administration's claim that, over the past three or four years, Russia has beefed up its intelligence presence to Cold War levels by stationing nearly 200 intelligence officers with diplomatic cover — and, consequently, immunity from prosecution — at its embassy here, its UN mission in New York, and consulates in Seattle, San Francisco and New York.

"I never thought they had reduced it," Lunev said, adding that even "clean" Russian diplomats who do not work directly for the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service, have extensive and formal relationships with "handlers" from the intelligence services.

Lunev maintained that Russia's intelligence presence extends far beyond the officers using diplomatic cover. Both the GRU and the SVR employ numerous "illegals" — spies who do not hold a diplomatic post — and benefit from a Russian emigr? population in the United States that totals more than 100,000, he said.

At least one American expert agrees with Lunev's assessment. John Wilhelm, a former Time correspondent now writing a book on the GRU, said Lunev's former employer is "far more aggressive" than its sister agency, the SVR.

"They're masters of the cold pitch," Wilhelm said, referring to the GRU's impulsive attempts to recruit American agents. "And if it doesn't work? OK, they find another guy."

How good are they? "It's an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of typewriters. You're bound to get a piece of Shakespeare every once in a while," Wilhelm said.