BIS - Russian spy activity reaches fever pitch over U.S. radar base

26-09-2008

The Czech counter-intelligence service has said Russian spies are trying to stir up public opposition to a planned U.S. radar base to be built on Czech soil. In its annual report, the agency claimed Russian intelligence activity in the Czech Republic had reached fever pitch, and suggested the wider aim could be to weaken NATO and isolate the United States.

This report by the Czech Republic's main domestic counter-intelligence service, known by its initials the BIS, speaks of feverish activity – the highest for many years - among Russian intelligence agents stationed in the Czech Republic. The report, which covers the year 2007, claims Russian spies were trying to drum up opposition to American plans to build a radar base about 70km southwest of Prague. BIS spokesman Jan Šubrt spoke to Czech Television.

“Russian spies have been trying to infiltrate several groups in our society, establishing contact with the aim of influencing various people including politicians and members of the media.”

Russia is deeply suspicious of Washington’s plan to build the radar base – part of the U.S. missile defence shield – in the Czech Republic, and has threatened to retaliate by targeting the radar base with its own missiles. Repeated threats by Russian generals have done little to slow the progress of the project – U.S. and Czech officials have signed the deal, although it must be still approved in parliament, perhaps its greatest test.

The Czech public has remained stubbornly opposed to the radar base plan from the outset, and it's hard to estimate how much - if any - of that opposition was forged by Russian spies.

But the BIS also said Russian intelligence might have a more ambitious goal - to drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies. The agency’s report speculated that Russia’s measures were part of a wider campaign aimed at damaging the integrity of the EU and NATO, isolating the United States and renewing control over the lost Soviet security perimeter in Europe.

Reaction to the report has been mixed. The Czech parliament’s security committee has invited the head of the service to a hearing to give further details of what several MPs say is an extremely worrying report. But a spokesman for the Russian foreign intelligence service denied its agents were interested in the base, and a member of the anti-radar group No To Bases – which some claim has been financed by Russian intelligence – suggested the report was released to divert attention away from the government’s current political troubles.

26-09-2008