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Americans less safe in post-Cold War world

Why latest spy scandal hurts U.S. national security

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With the Cold War now in the past, some Americans wonder why they should worry about allegations that a key FBI official spied for the Russians for the past 15 years.

The answer is that Americans might be less safe now than they were during the Cold War.

It may be months, perhaps years, before the full damage is assessed in the case of alleged espionage by Robert Philip Hanssen.

But topping the list will not be that the two Russian agents who were executed for working for the United States, nor that Moscow apparently learned almost all there is to know about how the United States watches Russia -- even though those are serious losses.

If the allegations against Hanssen are true, the greater damage to U.S. national security is likely to come from the fact that Hanssen, a brilliant computer whiz, had access to nuclear secrets, to classified U.S. encryption techniques and to the many ways the United States uses advanced technology to spy on others around the world.

Although the Cold War might be over and Russia is much weakened, the United States still has reasons to watchful:

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  • Russia still has thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles pointed at the United States

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, could hardly be called an ally of the United States.

  • Russia is currently aiding China, India and Iran with technology useful in weapons of mass destruction, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

  • Russia leaks like a sieve these days, so any American secrets the Russians get their hands on could be sold to other nations, U.S. officials say.

Some technological and scientific advances offer new weapons against the United States:

  • They make it easier to target the American homeland. It might not be long before the next major terrorist incident in the United States and experts say the use of a weapon of mass destruction in such an attack becomes more likely. Some terrorist groups most likely to be capable of such an attack are believed to be getting assistance from hostile governments.

  •  The cutting-edge technologies for weapons, and even more for intelligence-gathering that Hanssen allegedly gave the Russians, are part of what Americans rely on for their national security in a not-so-safe world. If court documents are correct, Hanssen gave those secrets to a government that is unfriendly at best, and cannot be trusted to keep those secrets away from those who are openly hostile toward the United States.

People asked the "so what?" question about Jonathon Pollard, the spy for Israel who gave that country the blueprints for the main U.S. spy satellites. After all, Israel is a friendly country.

The answer from U.S. intelligence officials is that they believe the Israeli defense ministry was at the time "riddled" with Russian spies. U.S. officials also say some of the truckload of secrets Pollard gave Israel may have ended up in Moscow. That -- apart from the serious question of dual loyalties raised by Pollard and the differences in Israeli and U.S. security interests -- is why Pollard's treason mattered so much to U.S. intelligence officials.

Then there is the issue of the two Russian agents killed for working for the United States.

The United States has a relatively poor record, compared to other countries, at recruiting spies from adversary nations. One of the reasons is that historically so many foreign agents who work for the United States end up dead.

If Hanssen -- along with convicted spy Aldrich Ames -- identified for Moscow the two Russians working for U.S. intelligence, he made it that much harder for the United States to recruit agents in the future China, for example.

So the end of the Cold War did not mean the end of threats to U.S. national security. And the U.S.'s ability to recruit spies -- allegedly damaged by Hanssen -- could once again become a matter of life or death.



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RELATED SITES:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • FBI Press Room - Press Release - 2000 - Veteran FBI Agent Arrested and Charged with Espionage
Central Intelligence Agency
US Department of State
U.S. Department of Justice
Embassy of the Russian Federation
Russian FSB (former KGB, in Russian)

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