Why did Russia send 11 long term “sleeper agents” into the United States?
Political pundits are scratching their collective heads to try to figure out why Russia sent 11 sleeper agents to the United States to spy. After all, it seems to have caused somewhat of a public relations disaster for Moscow which has been trying to align itself economically that the United States and Western Europe. However, with possibly many dozens of sleeper agents still in hiding, the obvious answer as to why Russia wanted to do it is both simple and plausible: because they can.
In the days before the Cold War ended, the former Soviet country would spend huge amounts of money on spying and military spending. While Russia became a quasi democracy its natural resources have allowed for the Kremlin to maintain relatively high levels of military spending. Though sending deep under cover agents into a foreign country may sound expensive, it is certainly not as expensive as some other budgetary items such as maintaining nuclear weapons or a space program.
Such long-term covert spying operations were common during the cold war, and the Russian spy masters who have engaged in these sorts of operations over the past couple decades obviously have sold the merits of these programs to their bosses. One of those bosses obviously being Vladimir Putin, the former frontline KGB operative who saw cold war East Germany up close and has an appreciation for old time KGB tactics.
The Russians who were charged with acting as agents of a foreign country probably had decently well paying jobs. In fact, money from Moscow may have drawn attention to these people, meaning that future sleeper cells may be asked to be even more financially independent from the mother country. So why not set up some long-term undercover spies in the United States? Unless they are caught, the really isn’t a big downside for Russia.
But what purpose did the sleeper agents serve?
While many Americans equate spying with military secrets, much of the counterintelligence operations that the United States is currently involved in are related to business activities of American corporations abroad. It is entirely possible that as Russia modernizes itself, the Kremlin will want to insert itself into the global economic dialogue to a greater extent. This means both understanding the American viewpoint, and being in a position to challenge it.
In this way, long-term under cover spying operations are more part of the long-term game of chess that Moscow has been playing with the United States for over 60 years. Simply because the United States was in the position of being the world’s sole superpower, and will continue to play major role in world events over the next century, the Russians have decided to target us.
This is probably money well spent because the United States does have its tentacles wrapped around many of the world’s countries. Our spying operations include active efforts to over throw world governments unfriendly to democracy. The Russians may be concerned long-term about the influence of the United States regarding internal political events in their country as they watch America actively working to destabilize Iran’s government.
The KGB has operated a number of media campaigns against the United States government over the years in order to discredit it in international circles. Had these sleeper agents not been apprehended, some of them might have engaged in such propaganda activities.
What will happen to the Russian agents?
This story will be sad as the children of these agents, who were sent to the United States in the early 1990s, will likely see their parents deported or possibly sent to prison. Often when a country catches the foreign spies of another country, an exchange is made and these 11 Russian spies could be released to Moscow in exchange for something the Russians can do for us. Complicating the matter is the fact that the spies were not actually caught spying, but rather are charged with related, but lesser, crimes. This is why Russia has complained publicly about the issue, if these Russians were caught with their collective hand in the cookie jar then the Russian side of the conversation would be much more reticent.
Personally, I think that barring an agreement with the Russians, the spies will likely spend a couple years in prison before they’re deported back. However, given the high profile nature of the case, the Russians are probably very anxious to see their citizens returned without serving any jail time.
As president Obama has just finished a high profile diplomatic visit with the Russian President, which was optimistically seen as an improvement in the relations between the two countries, the timing of the outing of these spies could not have been worse.