Andrew Williams: Patriots who long for return of their empire

THE Russian spy network in the United States appears to be a case of old habits die hard.

The end of the Cold War did not change the espionage business. John le Carr famously pointed out that there was no way the KGB was going to disappear. The new interdependence has been of huge benefit to Anglo-Russian and American-Russian relations but also has its downsides, as this episode illustrates.

The lite in the Soviet Union transmogrified into the lite of the new Russia. There are the people we know about, of course, but also those who used to be senior in the intelligence community who have top positions in industry, commerce and so on in Russia and in the West.

Some of them may have retained their old habits.

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Russians have always taken the view that intelligence matters in all senses of the word, indeed that the "intelligentsia" matter, so they take both sides of the word much more seriously than we do in Britain, for example. As for the idea of using deep-cover agents in today's age?

It's a question of whether Russia believes it to be useful.

From what we know, this network was probably put into place a long time ago, but the Russians were maybe not quite sure what to do with the agents for many years. Their remit was undoubtedly to sow their seeds widely and hope something comes up.

I would think some Russian-Americans are still being asked to keep an eye out for information that might be in Russian interests. Many people will not be active agents, they'll occasionally be sent money for passing on information.

Personally, I don't think deep-cover tactics are worth it, the potential for embarrassment for all sides is apparent here. Certainly, the KGB would never have been caught with their trousers down in this way. It is also worth asking whether the Russians are using not just old-fashioned military industrial espionage, but introducing agents of influence as they did in the Cold War.

Nobody knows for sure, but they are probably still indulging in the grooming of younger students – it happened to me in Geneva in the 1970s, when a very nice chap called Alexander took me out for coffee.

He turned out to be a colonel in the KGB.

I would be very surprised if the British used similar approaches to that of the Russians on a huge scale.

Every part of the country is operating under a restricted budget, and MI6 is probably cutting back on less productive sources of information.

Russia, however, is not in that position. The government controls the budget and is much more aggressive, especially in its targeting of young people. I would not be at all surprised if there was a foreign branch of the Nashi youth movement.

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In Britain, espionage is seen as a profession, in Russia it is viewed as a way of defending the state.

The Russians are a very romantic people. They like to see themselves as superpatriots, and there is still a belief that Russia has been deprived of its empire. For those reasons, we have to view the US network not through our own eyes, but those of the Russians.

•Andrew Williams is a professor at the University of St Andrews School of International Relations and Co-Editor of the International History Review

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