Russia is increasing its spying efforts in the United States, former intelligence officials said Thursday, emboldened by the lack of strong action by the Obama and Trump administrations.
“Russians have maintained an aggressive collection posture in the U.S., and their success in election meddling has not deterred them,” a former top intelligence official familiar with Trump administration efforts told CNN.
Moscow could also be seeking more information on the new Trump White House, Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of operations, told the cable network.
“Whenever there is a deterioration of relations between countries — the espionage and intelligence collection part becomes that much more important as they try to determine the plans and intentions of the adversarial government,” he said.
More suspected Russian intelligence officers have been entering the U.S. since the November election, the intelligence officials said.
They have been coming as representatives of various business operations, they said, and Moscow is suspected of having as many as 150 intelligence operatives in the U.S.
Russia is apparently replenishing its ranks after the Obama administration expelled 35 diplomats and closed two compounds in December in response to its involvement in the November election, the officials told CNN.
“The concerning point with Russia is the volume of people that are coming to the U.S.,” one former intelligence official said. “They have a lot more intelligence officers in the U.S.” versus other countries.
The FBI, which oversees counterintelligence operations in the U.S., declined to comment, CNN reported.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN on Thursday he report demonstrated Moscow was working to “prep the battlefield” for the 2018 and 2020 elections.
“This certainly fits the standard Russian pattern, which comports with their behavior going back decades,” Clapper told Jim Sciutto.
“They want to, I’m sure, repair the loss by virtue of the 35 operatives that were expelled by the Obama administration.
“They are going to stretch the envelope as far as they can and collect information.
“I think, largely, if I can use the military phrase, prep the battlefield for 2018 elections.”
In December, President Barack Obama announced the Moscow actions in an executive order The Washington Post reported last month stemmed from months of internal wrangling once he received definitive proof of from U.S. intelligence agencies.
The Post called Obama’s actions “modest.”
According to CNN, one way many of the suspected Russian spies have been entering the U.S. is through temporary duty visas, or TDYs, that are issued by the State Department.
The intelligence officials expressed concerns about the rising number of TDYs that are being issued.
The State Department, however, would not comment specifically on the visas that have been issued, citing confidentiality issues under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
“The United States is open to working with Russia where we can find areas of practical cooperation that will benefit the American people,” a department official told CNN.
“Where we do not see eye to eye with Russia, the United States will continue to stand up for the interests and values of America, our allies and our partners.”
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security would not comment specifically on the visas, saying only that the process for obtaining one was extensive.
“The visa process involves multiple security checks, including screening of applicants against a wide array of criminal and terrorist databases to verify the individual’s identity and to detect derogatory information that might lead to an inadmissibility determination, as well as an in-person interview with the applicant,” the agency said in a statement about the process.