In March, Russia retaliated for the US expulsion of Russian diplomats with the closure of a US consulate, and the expulsion of 60 American diplomats. US officials were quoted in the New York Times on Friday confirming that this included a number of US spies.
Exactly how many spies were expelled from Russia in this closure is not clear, but the officials quoted said that the loss of intelligence officers has “hurt collection efforts” for the intelligence community.
This was apparently a substantial blow to the US spies operating inside Russia, and combined with increased counterintelligence efforts by Russia, they say the CIA and other US spy agencies are increasingly in the dark about Russia’s intentions.
And while that’s certainly interesting in and of itself, the admission is more startling, as it is a de facto admission that US officials in Russia as diplomatic agents were illegally operating as spies against their hosting country.
While there have been reports in the past that the US uses its embassies and consular offices as secret spy posts, and at times uses diplomatic immunity to get spies into other countries with legal protection, this is not what embassy staff are supposed to be doing.
Yet expelling 60 diplomats from Russia not only swept up US spies, it swept up so many spies as to at least partially cripple the US spying operations in Russia. That suggests the practice is widespread, perhaps more than previously imagined.
It’s also difficult to argue this isn’t the administration’s fault. Given Russia’s penchant for identical retaliatory measures, the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats could’ve been predicted to lead to 60 American diplomats getting booted, which is exactly what happened.