MI6 chief: Russia’s spies ‘not having a great war’ in Ukraine
Image: Dan Bayer
Adam Janofsky July 21, 2022

MI6 chief: Russia’s spies ‘not having a great war’ in Ukraine

MI6 chief: Russia’s spies ‘not having a great war’ in Ukraine

Hundreds of Russian spies have been expelled from Europe in recent months, dealing a major blow to Moscow’s intelligence efforts during its war with Ukraine, said the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, on Thursday.

“Across Europe, roughly half — at last count, north of 400 Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover — have been expelled,” said the U.K.’s spy chief Richard Moore in a rare appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.” We reckon in the U.K. that’s probably reduced their ability to do their business, to spy for Russia, in half.”

The revelation follows some hints that the European Union and other countries in the region have been cracking down on Russia’s spying efforts. In February, Spanish journalist Pablo González was arrested in Poland and accused of working for Russia’s GRU military intelligence. In June, Dutch intelligence said they caught a 36-year-old Russian spy who tried to secure an internship at the International Criminal Court after spending more than a decade building up a fake identity.

Moore, speaking to CNN’s Jim Sciutto in his first public interview outside the U.K., said Russia’s intelligence agencies have spent years developing these so-called “sleeper agents” with little to show for it.

“If I reflect on our Russian counterparts… I don’t think they’re having a great war. They clearly completely misunderstood Ukrainian nationalism, they underestimated the degree of resistance the Russian military would face, and it was a toxic combination of them not getting their intelligence right [and not being able to communicate it with President Vladimir Putin],” Moore said.

‘Ferociously active’

Although Moore ridiculed Russia’s intelligence operations, he said their partners in Beijing should not be overlooked.

China’s intelligence agencies are “extraordinarily well resourced – I mean there are hundreds of thousands of civilian intelligence officers, let alone their military capability,” Moore said. “They are ferociously active right across the cyber domain.”

In February, the two countries announced a friendship with “no limits,” and although China hasn’t provided much in the way of military assistance, they have been “selling [Russia’s] snake oil around the world,” Moore said, referring to Beijing’s efforts to amplify and promote Putin’s war narrative.

However, Moore stressed that the friendship is lopsided.

“It’s not an equal partnership, and Ukraine has made it less equal. Moscow is the junior partner and Beijing is in the driver’s seat,” he said.

Adam is the founding editor-in-chief of The Record by Recorded Future. He previously was the cybersecurity and privacy reporter for Protocol, and prior to that covered cybersecurity, AI, and other emerging technology for The Wall Street Journal.