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20 Jun, 2008 00:42

Spy vs Spy: is East-West espionage on the rise?

There are new fears that espionage between East and West is on the increase, despite the end of the Cold War. Former foes continue to accuse one another of spying, with Britain's intelligence service, MI5, recently announcing it needs extra resources to k

The James Bond film “From Russia with love” hit the screens in the 1960s, and it seems that the idea that the Soviet Union – and subsequently Russia – was a heady mix of beautiful women and espionage has never faded.

Almost half a century later, the country that produced the world’s most famous fictional spy, agent 007 – seems to be all too keen on looking for signs of espionage everywhere – and Russia remains a favorite target.

MI5 recently announced it needed extra resources to keep an eye on Moscow’s operations. Jonathan Evans, the intelligence service’s Director-General, said: “Despite the Cold War ending nearly two decades ago, my service is still expending resources to defend the UK against unreconstructed attempts by Russia, China and others, to spy on us.”

However some experts say the murky world of espionage is hard to assess.

Professor Anthony Glees, Director of the Brunel Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University, said: “The question of Russian hostile intelligence work against the UK comes into the category of things we know we don’t know. So we know there is a problem, we don’t know exactly how big it is.”

With Russia restored to the world stage, Britain seems intent on bringing back old stereotypes, and suggests the world follows suit.

A recent article in the Economist calls on the European Union to introduce a healthy dose of paranoia when it comes to protecting its classified information.

“Who else other than Russia?” it asks, while discussing its “increasingly energetic espionage efforts”.

But as British Labour MP Derek Wyatt said: “It’s a comment, there are no actual facts attached to that. I can’t really believe it, to be honest. Everyone now takes protection. Everyone is more sensitive now about back up and protection. They may not scream or shout about it but they probably wouldn’t want you to know, would they?”

So how real is the threat from Russia and its computer geniuses, believed to be hacking into the world’s most protected secrets? The answer is at best unclear.

“When we start asking ourselves what countries are involved – there are great deal of references in the press of who is responsible. Only when you start to investigate and drill down and instead of the picture becoming clearer, it becomes murkier,” said Professor Peter Sommer, computer crime and industrial espionage expert at the London School of Economics.

The professor is convinced that in the world of modern communications, especially in cyber space, it’s almost impossible to track anyone down.

It seems many experts agree: there's nothing new in countries spying on each other. It’s just a question of who points the finger first.

A former officer with the Russian intelligence service, Mikhail Lyubimov, says that there’re likely to be more stories on Russian espionage in the future.

“There are two ways of making a spy scandal. One is a classic, an honest way, when you arrest a spy, some foreign agent, make a trial. It is completely legal, the press is informed. And the spy gets, say, 30 or 40 years.  And there is another, not a classic, but I would say very modern way, you just expel people Soviet or Russian, and this is all. You say that he is connected with foreign intelligence.  Another way which is used by intelligent services many times a year is of course articles like the one we were discussing now. It sounds very scandalous, but simply it is completely with no proof,” he said.