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Europe Is Teeming with Russian Spies

Evidence of the massive size and broad scope of Russia’s spying efforts in Europe continues to mount. Due to the way Europe’s borders work, life on the continent seems to be very easy for Moscow’s operatives. The Daily Mail reports on a prime example:

Swedish security service SAPO on Wednesday accused Russia of using as many as one-third of its diplomatic staff in the Scandinavian country for clandestine intelligence gathering.

Offering an unusual glimpse into the hush-hush world of counter-espionage, SAPO chief analyst Wilhelm Unge described the Russian spies as “highly educated and often younger than during the Soviet era. They are driven, goal-oriented and socially competent.”

Naming Russia as “the biggest intelligence threat against Sweden, followed by Iran and China,” he said SAPO last year stopped several attempts by Russia to obtain Swedish technology for military purposes, but declined to give specifics.

SAPO warned last year that Russia had stepped up its political, economic and military espionage in Sweden — which isn’t a NATO member but cooperates closely with the alliance — amid deteriorating relations with the West over the Ukraine crisis.

“There are hundreds of Russian intelligence officers around Europe and the West. They violate our territory every day,” Unge told reporters at SAPO headquarters in Solna, just outside Stockholm, at the launch of the agency’s annual report.

That’s just one of the big stories from this week. In another, Belgium is apparently chasing down a Russian couple, who are now supposedly operating in Italy and still have active Belgian passports.

In the extended post-Cold War moment, it may have seemed like a safe idea for Europe to drop its guard. Yet these data-points, among many others, underscore the problem that Russian spying presents for Europe, with its lax border and visa policies. For a thorough look at how serious the threat of Russian espionage is, as well as the underlying issues that have allowed things to get so bad, we recommend this AI piece by Edward Lucas.

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  • Corlyss

    It was never a good idea for Europe to drop her guard, but their decision immediately postwar to throw all their available money at the social safety net as a way 1) to prevent the revival of fascism and 2) unilateral disarmament to ensure the they would never again be able to engage in war seal their fate long ago. The US made it easy for Europe and Japan to forget that the U.S. might not always be there.

    • JR

      Agree completely. War has been a constant condition of man for millennia. Human nature doesn’t change in any sort of policy-relevant timeline.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Perhaps an effective remedial response might be not to be there….as one of our fellow commenters has pointed out, we cannot care for them more than they can care about themselves…

      • Corlyss

        I don’t think the institutional US foreign policy memory will EVER recover from what happened when Wilson so disdained Congress that he failed to take even a single senator with him to Paris to get his buy-in on the League of Nations. As a result, the US Senate refused to ratify the deal. Because the US (the indispensable nation) wasn’t there being indispensable, there was no salutary leadership in the organization. For want of a nail etc. . . .

        • f1b0nacc1

          While I agree with you that the consequences of Wilson’s behavior were a mess, American presence in the League wouldn’t have mattered. Neither the US nor the Western powers (France, UK) were going to confront Japan over Manchuria, nor Hitler over the Sudetenland, so none of it mattered in the long run. In that sense, this is similar to our current situation, as the presence (or absence) of the US is immaterial in terms of dealing with international ‘bad actors’, as we aren’t going to get involved no matter what.

          • Corlyss

            I think you are right. About the only thing that might have improved would be public acceptance of the idea that Europe’s mess in 1936 was not theirs alone. But I am sure upon reflection that we would not have been any more ready to do anything about the menace than we are today.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The problem is that the real failure of the League was much earlier….1931 to be precise (Japan’s aggression in China), and it is almost inconceivable that anything would have happened then even if we were members of the League.
            The real issue is that Progs misunderstand why nations go to war, and thus don’t understand why true multilateral defense pacts (unlike “The US does it all” agreements like NATO) fail. Nations go to war, or do NOT go to war, when they see their vital national interests at stake. If they don’t, they aren’t going to war no matter what pieces of paper or high minded statements that they make to the contrary. Britain (just as an example) wasn’t going to war to protect the Sudetenland in 1935 or Austria in 1936 or Czech in 1938 no matter what because they didn’t see their vital national interest imperiled by Germany. They were wrong, but that wasn’t obvious then, and they had lots of good reasons to convince themselves that it wasn’t a problem. The League sold out China for similar reasons, none of them wanted an ugly fight with the Japanese, who were clearly convinced that THEIR national interests were at stake (they were right about their interests, as it happens…contemptible and evil, but right) and would be willing to go to war to defend them.
            The West today doesn’t see vital interests at stake, so they aren’t going to fight to protect what interests they do have. Putin does, and thus he will. As Fat_Man has pointed out repeatedly, unless they care more about these issues, we have no business there, and I agree with him. I believe that our best move is to help clarify the minds of the EUnicks by giving them an example of what will happen if they don’t care. Fortunately Europe is no longer all that important to our national security, so a catastrophic collapse (or a slow decline) really isn’t going to harm us. Lets hope they wake up from their Lotus-eater slumber, but prepare for the circumstances if they don’t.

  • Fat_Man

    Of course there are no Russian spies in the United States. In particular there are no Russian spies in the US State Department.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Certainly not. Never were.

      • Curious Mayhem

        I’m shocked, shocked, to find gambling going on here.

        • FriendlyGoat


        • f1b0nacc1

          Your winnings sir

    • Corlyss

      “In particular there are no Russian spies in the US State Department.”
      With the kind of people who regularly populate State, hostile powers don’t need to send in spies. Besides, there’s better pickin’s in DoD.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Mr. Hiss, you have a call…

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Please, an open society like Western Civilization can’t stop the spying anymore than it can stop the drugs, prostitution, and gambling. And what does it matter, with 20-20 hindsight the USSR stole every bit of technical information the west had and they still lost the cold war and became extinct. The same thing that happened then will happen again to these Totalitarian Government Monopolies which just can’t compete with the creativity of free markets and their “Feedback of Competition” driving them ever further ahead.

    • Kevin

      I think this is too much of a Whiggish history interpretation of the last century. Events could have gone another way and with its enormous demographic base China could be a much more formidable competitor in the next one. (Not that China does not face some very serious problems as well.)

    • Angel Martin

      the biggest danger is not technology transfer via industrial espionage, it’s the philby’s and maclean’s of the 21st century telling putin exactly what he can and cannot get away with.

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