The Netherlands recently unmasked a Russian spy trying to infiltrate the International Criminal Court. A very rare occurrence that raises questions about the espionage equipment deployed by Vladimir Putin in Europe. For La Depপেche du Midi, Sergei Giranov, a former KGB spy, deciphered the current dynamics of Kremlin intelligence.
La Dépêche du Midi: Is espionage a common practice in Russia or other countries?
Sergei Giranov : All countries practice espionage, but obviously Russia does it much more than others. It is true that Vladimir Putin has multiplied his espionage aggression in the last ten years. He put the package on the staff. If only on external intelligence (SVR). The size of the service has doubled since Soviet times. It is usually kept secret, but I was a member of this service until 1992 and I know its headquarters. I checked on Google Maps and saw that there were three more buildings than I had at the time. More building means more agents. After all, in my time, this headquarters worked for the whole, much larger Soviet Union. Today it is only for Russia. So in absolute numbers, it has doubled, but in relative numbers, Putin’s spying efforts have quadrupled.
A spy’s mask has been unveiled in the Netherlands, so we’ve made sure there’s something in Europe. What do you think?
This is a major achievement for European counterintelligence and Dutch counterintelligence. It’s not normal. In espionage, there are two broad divisions. Legal and illegal services. In the latter case, it is much more limited in number but, above all, much more difficult to practice. And it is precisely an illegal one that was caught in the Netherlands. That is very rare. Illegal, you never know where they are, they have foreign identities, their legends are well constructed and the tracks are obscure. They are said to be impossible to find. We can assume a little betrayal of services …
How exactly does the intelligence agency find the spy?
It is too complex and too long to explain. There are 8 billion people in the world … If the proverb says that one has to find a needle in a haystack, there is one million haystacks in it. Most of the time, one can imagine that the person has already been condemned by a traitor for example. There is also a data matching method. Truth be told, all espionage, up to the modern age and the connected world, served as a charm. Now, it is becoming more and more difficult to create a legend for even the most sophisticated services like the Russians. Software and algorithms, using artificial intelligence, can transcend all existing data.
And how does a spy penetrate?
Before 1991, there were very few Soviet citizens abroad. Currently, we bring the statistics of about 30 or 40 million Russian citizens in the world. So with this, we can sink as many spies as we want. In France, it is estimated that there are 150,000 Russians who apply for an identity card or residence permit each year. Also, women can marry French people, so they take their husband’s name, someone thinks of Anna Chapman as an example of a relationship.
Could the number of Russian spies in Europe be in the thousands?
I would say that illegal, in my time, there were dozens in the world, maybe thirty or even forty. But that’s normal, making their legends too long and too expensive. Also, there were 7,500 legal persons who could be spies in government representation. So if we assume that at present, in the SVR, there are 15,000 people, and the GRU (General Directorate of Russian Intelligence) has 25,000, there will be about one hundred illegals in the world. Legal spies, on the other hand, who use these Russian expatriates around the world, could be in the thousands or even thousands.
Sergei Gironov, “The Scout” (with Jean-Luc Riva), Nimrod version. Published in the bookstore on March 3, 2022.