by J Michael Waller, Insight, March 8, 1999
Sleepers, cadre illegals, recruits, emigre agents — by whatever name they are spies and the Russian intelligence establishment has such spooks in place in the United States.
Along a rural Virginia road, a Hartsdale, N.Y., photographer no sooner stops his car and tosses something into the leaves than he is swarmed by a team of FBI agents.
In Toronto, Ian and Laurie Lambert apply for passports — and alerted Canadian authorities haul them off to jail.
Sixteen years after receiving asylum in Israel from his native Soviet Union, electrical engineer Anatoly Gendler is arrested and imprisoned in Tel Aviv.
In Finland, police grab a British couple at Helsinki’s Vantaa airport and deport them– to their home in Russia.
These people had one thing in common: All were deep-cover Russian spies. Even as superpower tensions subsided in the mid-1980s and after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Moscow continued not only to recruit turncoat Americans and other Westerners, but to penetrate Western societies with highly trained, long-term espionage officers and agents. The New York photographer was in Virginia servicing dead drops–secret locations to deliver messages, money or spy technology and to pick up intelligence–for a spy the Russians had recruited inside a Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, antimissile program at a U.S. Navy laboratory. The couple using the surname “Lambert” actually were Dmitry Vladimirovich Olshansky and Yelena Borisovna Olshansky–cadre officers of the Russian External Intelligence Service, or SVR, newly stationed in Canada to burrow deeply into Western society.
Israeli police say Gendler, after years of KGB training, had emigrated to Israel in 1980 as a Soviet Jew claiming to have suffered persecution. Finnish authorities alleged that the “British” couple were returning to the United Kingdom after consultations at SVR Center in Moscow.
These spies are known as “illegals” or “sleepers”–highly trained intelligence officers posted abroad to live illegally, that is, without the legal cover of an embassy or other government entity that would give them diplomatic immunity in case of arrest. Illegals seldom report to “legal” intelligence officers at their respective embassies, communicating instead by covert means to their control officers in Moscow. They are among Russia’s most expensive and long-term espionage assets, going to extreme lengths to spy on their target countries, even if it means burrowing in for years and raising their Western-born children as next-generation spies.
China, Cuba, North Korea and other countries send illegals, but the Russians still pose the greatest threat to the United States, U.S. intelligence sources tell Insight. Moscow runs three types of covert spies: Cadre illegals like the Olshanskys in Canada are full officers of the SVR, the renamed espionage component of the Soviet KGB; their military counterparts are intelligence officers from the GRU, the Russian strategic military intelligence service. By definition, cadre illegals live under assumed identities. Recruits often are from a third country such as Hungary or Peru who are recruited and trained in Russia but who often live under their true identities. The third category, emigre agents, usually are citizens of former Soviet republics who have been given basic training and dispatched abroad as religious or political asylum-seekers.
The cadre illegals are the fewest and by far the most professional and reliable, while emigre agents, considered much less reliable, are sent abroad in far larger numbers in the hope that some will prove to be productive. The SVR’s Directorate S, in charge of illegals, is Russian intelligence’s most secretive unit, according to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS. “Directorate S is the SVR directorate responsible for operational control, training, documenting and financing of illegals.