By Neil Mackay in the Sunday Herald
Murray reported what he calls “this blatant attempt to recruit me” to British security officers at the embassy….To this day, Murray is unsure whether the offer of sex with the Russian girls was an attempt to bribe him into working for the Kremlin or whether it was the set-up for a blackmail sting which would have coerced him into working for Russian intelligence.
TO DISSIDENT Russian intelligence officers now in exile or in hiding around the world and British intelligence operatives, July 9 this year was a seismic date. On that day legislators in the Duma – the Russian state parliament – unanimously approved new laws which allowed Russia’s Federal Security Service to hunt down and kill enemies of the state anywhere on the face of the Earth.
One British intelligence source said: “This marked a blatant return to the bad old days of the cold war when the KGB thought it could act with impunity anywhere it pleased.”
These so-called “Hunter-Killer” powers also curtailed the right of the Russian media – already cowed and under the control of the Kremlin – to report on these operations. However, the enactment of these new laws only put on a legal footing powers which Russian intelligence had been using extra-judicially for years.
In Chechnya, the assassination of enemies of Russia is now so common that it scarcely bears comment, and in 2004 two Russian agents were arrested and sentenced to death in Qatar for the killing of exiled Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russian team hunted him down and planted a bomb in his car. The Qatari court ruled that the killing was sanctioned by “the Russian leadership”. The men were not executed but sent back to Russia following promises from the Kremlin that they would be imprisoned. Rumour has it that they were decorated for the assassination operation.
Akhmed Zakayev, a friend of Alexander Litvinenko and a former field commander in the first Chechen war who later became the deputy prime minister of Chechnya, says the killing of Litvinenko proved to the British people that Putin was “destroying democratic freedoms in Russia and beyond”.
Zakayev, who beat an attempt by Russia to extradite him from the UK, added: “Putin is exporting his terror tactics in Chechnya to the UK and to London streets.” Pointing out that Litvinenko had recently been granted British citizenship following his flight from Moscow after exposing criminal activities by Russian intelligence, Zakayev said: “Putin is now carrying out acts of terror against British citizens. Britain should see this as an act of terrorism against this nation.”
British intelligence estimates that at least 30 Russian spies are operating in the UK. Most are from the GRU, Russian military intelligence, and the SVR, the overseas intelligence service equivalent to MI6. Most are based at the Russian embassy and have diplomatic status. As well as carrying out “traditional” espionage activities such as gathering military, political and industrial secrets, they are also believed to be focusing on Russian dissidents and Chechen rebels who are living in exile in the UK.
British intelligence sources are fearful of the UK’s ability to tackle the gathering threat from the Kremlin. Counter-espionage – monitoring the actions of foreign spies in the UK – now accounts for just 6% of MI5’s budget. This drastic reduction in resources since the days of the cold war is down to MI5 being recalibrated to tackle the al-Qaeda franchise. The director of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, told parliament’s intelligence and security committee that “there’s not less of it foreign espionage about, but we are doing less work on it”.
MI5 has stated that at least 20 foreign intelligence services are “operating against the interests of Britain … and the greatest concern is aroused by the Russians”. MI5 has also said that the number of Russian intelligence operatives in the UK has not declined since the Soviet era.
Putin has put spying at the heart of his foreign policy since his rise to power in 2000. The UK is a key target because of the country’s status as “American ally number one”, Britain’s role as a key leading member of Nato and due to the fact that so many of Putin’s enemies are now living in exile in the UK.
MI5 has issued bulletins to staff and other security and intelligence services asking them to keep track of the movement of Russian diplomats thought to be engaged in spying. One bulletin said that Russian intelligence posed a “substantial” threat to the UK. It also told recipients to keep a look out for Russian diplomatic car licence plates.
Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, has had first-hand experience of the continuing attempts by Russia to spy on Britain. In 1996-97, he was first secretary to the British embassy in Warsaw, Poland, when Russian intelligence made a clumsy attempt to recruit him using sex as the lure.
He was due to attend a friend’s stag night at an Irish bar in the centre of Warsaw but because of work commitments arrived two hours late. The barman informed him that his friends had moved on to a strip joint nearby. “When I arrived at the strip club,” says Murray, “this Russian guy jumps up and calls me by my name and says I know you drink malt whisky, can I get you a Glenfiddich?’. With him were two beautiful Russian girls dressed in their underwear. He told me he was with a Russian trade delegation and said there was a limo outside and that I could take the girls to a house in the suburbs. I declined, made some small talk, finished my drink and then left.”
Murray reported what he calls “this blatant attempt to recruit me” to British security officers at the embassy. They showed him a photo album of known Russian spies in Warsaw. “Unsurprisingly, my friend from the trade delegation’ was in the book,” Murray adds. “It was an astonishingly up-front and unsubtle approach.” To this day, Murray is unsure whether the offer of sex with the Russian girls was an attempt to bribe him into working for the Kremlin or whether it was the set-up for a blackmail sting which would have coerced him into working for Russian intelligence.
Konstantin Preobrazhensky is a former lieutenant colonel in Russian intelligence. In 2003, after levelling harsh criticism against the Kremlin and its spying services, he came under harassment from the state and fled Russia. He now has political asylum status in the USA.
He has revealed to the Sunday Herald some of the key methods used by Russian intelligence to mount spying operations in Britain. The chief tactic is to target members of the huge Russian diaspora – made up of an eclectic mix of the descendants of White Russians who fled the country during the revolution, dissidents and their families who defected during the cold war and Russians who left the country following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
One route to the diaspora is through the Russian Orthodox Church in countries such as Britain and America. According to Preobrazhensky, Russian intelligence has long infiltrated the church and used it as a means to recruit emigre Russians and spy on dissidents and exiles.
“In the Soviet period, the Kremlin treated Russian refugees as traitors and enemies, but now it is turning them into its fifth column’,” he says. “Specifically for this purpose, Putin has founded directorate EM’ in his Foreign Intelligence Service. Its officers are working in every Western country, concentrating on local Russians.”
Intelligence officers attract Russians overseas by appealing to their patriotism. “The communist idea has been replaced with the nationalistic one,” Preobrazhensky says. The former spy adds that Putin aimed to turn the Orthodox Church abroad “into outposts of Russian state interests. Russian intelligence has penetrated the Orthodox Church and is utilising it for spying abroad.”
Preobrazhensky, who plans to write about this phenomenon in his forthcoming book The KGB And The Russian Diaspora, points out that around a third of Russian Orthodox worshippers outside the borders of Russia are not native Russians but the children and grandchildren of immigrants. This, he says, gives the intelligence service a route to “ordinary” Britons and Americans who have no understanding of Russian life and are more vulnerable to exploitation.
“Westerners would think it unbelievable that a priest could be a spy – but in Russia is has been going on for almost 100 years,” he adds. “Believe me – Russian Orthodox churches in the UK are infiltrated by Russian intelligence.” The Sunday Herald contacted one Russian Orthodox church but the clergy there declined to comment on the allegations.
Preobrazhensky says that Russia’s intelligence services had “dared” to kill Litvinenko as Putin “isn’t afraid of the West at all. He believes they will never scold him as they think he is their friend”. Preobrazhensky’s words seemed to ring true last Friday when EU leaders met with Putin on the eve of an EU-Russia summit. Not one word was raised by Western leaders about the killing of Litvinenko. It was taken as an indication of just how dependent Europe now is on oil and gas-rich Russia.
“Russian intelligence is now very brave and bold,” says Preobrazhensky. “In that way it differs from the old KGB as the KGB was afraid of condemnation from the West. Today, Russian intelligence is more like it was under Stalin – back then it ignored what the West felt and had no fear of the West.”
Apart from spying on dissidents and exiles in the UK, Russian spies are effectively gathering intelligence on anything they can get their hands on. “They just gather intelligence for the sake of it,” Preobrazhensky says. “They follow Trotsky’s maxim that motion is all, the final point is nothing’. When I spied on China, intelligence could not explain why we were doing the spying.
“There are plenty of Russians in Britain – posing as businessmen or dissidents – who are working for intelligence. Great Britain is not prepared for this at all. Putin really does want to gain primacy over the West.”
Preobrazhensky also believes that Russian intelligence has taken to working with organised crime around the world and suggested that criminals – either British or Russian – could have helped in the assassination of Litvinenko.
Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian dissident who was a friend of Litvinenko and is close to the most famous KGB defector to Britain, Oleg Gordievsky, believes that Russian intelligence is also working hand-in-glove with the Russian mafia both at home and abroad.
“Litvinenko told me how Russian intelligence was merging with the underworld. In Soviet times, the motive was ideological, now it is simply about expanding influence and making and extorting money. He says that when dissidents or businessmen fled Russia because of persecution they were often pursued by intelligence agents.
“They recruit them by threatening to harm their families back in Russia.” As many of these exiles fled Russia because they were facing trumped-up criminal charges, Russia also intimidates them into working for intelligence by threatening to have them extradited back to Moscow and imprisoned. Bukovsky and other dissidents have warned the British authorities that some extradition attempts are often politically motivated.
Once recruited, many Russian immigrants are forced to assist in money-laundering and drug-dealing, Bukovsky claims. They can also be used for more straightforward “traditional” intelligence-gathering. Bukovsky compares the modern Russian intelligence service to the criminal-terrorist network “Spectre” in James Bond movies. He says his friend, former top-ranking Russian spy Gordievsky, has told British intelligence the same thing. “Many in the intelligence services are also key figures in organised crime,” Bukovsky adds.
Bukovsky is deeply disappointed in the West for not tackling this “emerging monster” despite warnings from dissidents such as himself. “Russia is now just implementing laws that the West didn’t take a stand against.”
Bukovsky’s friend Gordievsky, once the head of the KGB in London before his defection, says that Russian intelligence is strengthened by the number of Russians living in the UK and working for British companies. “Each second Russian in a position of some importance is acting as an informer,” he says.
Russia has also successfully bribed British citizens in order to gain UK secrets. Russia is desperate to stay a big defence industry player and has used spying to get commercial secrets in order to remain in the same league as Britain and America. In March 2003, Ian Parr of BAE Systems was jailed for 10 years for attempting to pass military secrets to the Russians. Parr, a former soldier from Essex, wanted ?130,000 to provide secrets on a new stealth cruise missile. MI5 later trapped him.
But industrial espionage is the least of Britain’s worries. One UK source closely linked to British intelligence told how he had a conversation with a Russian intelligence officer in 2004, in which the Russian spy spoke of the killing of a British citizen carried out by Russian agents. In January 2004, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Workman was found shot dead on his doorstep in the Hertfordshire hamlet of Furneux Pelham. The killing seemed completely motiveless.
However, the Russian intelligence source told his British contact that Robert Workman was killed in a case of mistaken identity. The real target had been a judge called Timothy Workman who lived not far from the scene of the murder.
In late 2003, Judge Workman infuriated the Kremlin when he rejected Russia’s extradition request for Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen leader in London. Workman said that Zakayev faced a “substantial risk” of being tortured if he was returned to Moscow to stand trial. The Kremlin accused Workman of playing “cold war politics”.
Also in 2003, Judge Workman called a halt to Russia’s attempt to have Boris Berezovsky extradited from Britain. The billionaire oligarch had fallen out with Putin and has bitterly criticised the ruling regime. Berezovsky was also a close friend of Alexander Litvinenko.
British MEP Gerard Batten, of the United Kingdom Independence Party, also became an acquaintance of Litvinenko, who was his constituent. Earlier this year, following briefings with the dissident Russian spy, Batten relayed claims made by Litvinenko on the floor of the European parliament.
Batten said that before fleeing Russia, Litvinenko spoke to his friend, Colonel-General Anatoly Trofimov, a former deputy chief of the FSB the successor organisation to the KGB, seeking advice on which country he should seek asylum in. Batten told the European parliament: “Trofimov reportedly told Litvinenko, Don’t go to Italy, there are many KGB agents there among the politicians. Romano Prodi current prime minister of Italy and former head of the European Commission is our man there’.” Trofimov and his wife were murdered in Moscow in 2005.
Batten called for an inquiry into the claims, and later told the European parliament that Russian intelligence “is central to the institutionalised web of organised crime and corruption that dominates Russia. It is not possible to resign from Russian intelligence anymore than it is from La Cosa Nostra … It is not acceptable that this situation is unresolved given the importance of Russia’s relations with the European Union.”
Alexander Litvinenko was known to want to testify about allegations regarding Russian intelligence links to European political leaders and Russian intelligence involvement within organised crime in Europe prior to his assassination.