FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Thursday that the number of Russian spies operating inside the United States is “still way too big,” despite efforts to kick them out.
“The Russian traditional counterintelligence threat continues to loom large,” Wray said during public remarks at the Spy Museum in Washington. “The Russian intelligence footprint, and by that I mean intelligence officers, is still way too big in the United States and something we are constantly bumping up against and trying to block and prevent and disrupt in every way we can.”
The threat of Russian spies operating on US soil is nothing new. But as US officials have increasingly recognized Russia under President Vladimir Putin as an adversary, traditional counterintelligence concerns once thought of as Cold War relics – human spies operating on US soil rather than cyber spies acting from inside of Russia – have once again drawn top level attention.
The US in 2018 expelled 60 Russian diplomats whom the US identified as intelligence agents, as well as ordering the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle, as part of its response to Russia’s alleged use of a nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy living in the United Kingdom.
Russia employs not only “traditional intelligence officers” but also cut-outs, Wray said on Thursday, citing a Mexican national arrested by US authorities in 2020 and accused of assisting Russian intelligence.
Last year, a Dutch intelligence agency publicly identified a Russian military intelligence officer who had studied at the prestigious Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, an elite graduate program favored by US military personnel, young diplomats and future spies.
“I will say that, over the last several years, the US has made positive significant strides in reducing the size of the Russian intelligence officer footprint in the United States, kicking them out, in effect,” Wray said.