Britain has been infiltrated by a huge network of Russian sleeper agents at the command of Vladimir Putin, a former MI6 agent has said. Professor Julian Richards, who spent almost 20 years working in intelligence and security for the British Government, said Moscow is now so adept at snooping on the UK, his former colleagues simply “don’t know” how many spies are out there.
The warning was issue in the wake of the arrest in Sweden of suspected Russian spies Sergey Skvortsov, 59, and wife Elena Koulkova, 58, in Sweden.
Prof Richards, now based in the Faculty of Business, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Buckingham, told The Sun Online: “There could be a lot of them out there that we just don’t know about.”
Such agents could even be activated with deadly consequences, Prof Richards said.
Referring to the 2018 poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, he said: “Theoretically they could assassinate someone, if they needed to.
“This is where the Skripal case is interesting and the Litvinenko case before it.
“It was the GRU – military intelligence – that was exposed as being involved.”
Prof Richards said agents spent years blending into normal civilian life, taking up normal jobs in industries such as national defence in order to inset themselves into positions of “access”.
He added: “We know that the UK has always been a particular target for the Russians.
“They know that we’re potentially a very useful connection into the American intelligence system.”
Prof Richards said the UK intelligence agencies were largely in the dark when it came to actual numbers.
READ MORE: Putin’s mouthpiece loses it on live TV as audience members troll him
He explained: “Either it’s a big problem and we don’t have an idea of the scale of it and how many are out there, but I think it’s more likely it’s not that big of a problem, and because they are so difficult to do, there probably aren’t many of them out there.
“But there are some, particularly in the UK.”
Former CIA operative Robert Baer said Russian ‘illegals’ might be employed in a company for years before they became “operational”.
He added: “What you want with an illegal is someone not under surveillance.
“You can use them for spotting reports. That’s when you find someone like a Pentagon officer, or a State Department officer, and then you look at who seems interesting, who’s going into an interesting job, and you tell Moscow and maybe later on someone posted overseas will approach them.”
Earlier this year 58-year-old David Smith, 58, an ex-British embassy guard in Berlin, was accused of spying for Russia and charged with nine offences connected to breaking the Official Secrets Act.
Earlier this week, police abseiled from Black Hawk helicopters during a dawn raid on Skvortsov and Koulkova’s Stockholm home earlier this week.
Skvortsov, 59, who is in custody, is accused of carrying out “gross illegal espionage activities” over a period of at least ten years.
Koulkova, 58, who has been released on bail, was accused of assisting him. Both have denied the charges.