While it may seem like a relic of the past, Russian spies are still very much a presence in the U.S., the FBI’s director warned Thursday.
“The Russian traditional counter-intelligence threat continues to loom large,” Christopher Wray said during a talk at Washington’s Spy Museum.
“The Russian intelligence footprint, and by that I mean intelligence officers, is still way too big in the United States.”
Wray said that the U.S. has made strides over the last few years in kicking out Russian spies, but the country still has a “disproportionately large intelligence footprint” in the U.S.
“It’s something we’re constantly bumping up against and trying to block and prevent and disrupt in every way we can,” he said.
Wray said that Russia also uses “cut-outs,” such as a Mexican citizen who was in the U.S. and was enlisted to spy for them.
The U.S. is not the only country Russia may have networks within. On Friday, Cuban authorities arrested 17 people that they say comprised a network to recruit Cubans to fight in Ukraine.
Canada has included Russia in its public foreign interference inquiry announced Thursday, along with China and other countries that may have tried to influence internal affairs.
“This is a global challenge for democracies. China is not the only country that seeks to interfere in an inappropriate way,” Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday.
“We did not want to restrict it to one country alone.”
He noted that he spoke with his counterpart in the U.K. over the summer about the challenges they are seeing with foreign interference. The U.K. contended with the poisoning of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury in 2018.
In response to the attack that involved a nerve agent, Canada expelled four members of Russia’s diplomatic staff in 2018.
“The four have been identified as intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy,” then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement.
Wray referenced the poisoning in his talk as an example of the kinds of activities Russia is involved with, mentioning as well its invasion of Ukraine.
“These are the same people who are involved in unconscionable activity,” he said.
“We know who we’re up against.”
— with files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea.