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by Christopher Ruddy
WASHINGTON – Russia’s highest-ranking defector says State Department claims that no foreign or American journalists are engaged in espionage is absolute nonsense. Col. Stanislav Lunev reveals that many journalists from Russia and other countries are, in reality, spies. He also says that many Russian journalists have recruited leading American reporters to engage in espionage as well.
Col. Lunev was the highest-ranking spy ever to defect from the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence unit. He did so while living and working in Washington as a TASS correspondent.
His story was deemed so vital by the CIA and FBI that he remains under the Witness Protection Program. He currently writes a column for NewsMax.com.
When Lunev defected to U.S. intelligence, he revealed that at least half of all Russian journalists working in Washington and the United States were either GRU or KGB officers.
Questions about journalists posing as spies have erupted after security concerns were raised at State Dept. headquarters in Washington.
Listening devices have been found at the State Dept. This winter a laptop computer that held classified information on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons was stolen.
FBI officials have told Congress that security problems may emanate from the high number of journalists that have wide access within the State Dept. building.
According to the State Dept. more than 467 Americans and 56 foreign journalists are credentialed with the department.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright seemed baffled by the allegations and demanded, "If you are spies, then identify yourselves."
Apparently no one, so far, has responded to her order.
And Albright’s own spokesman has thrown cold water over the allegations.
"At this time, we are not aware of any information that any members of the foreign press are utilizing the media as cover for intelligence activities at the State Department,” explained State Dept. spokesman Richard Boucher.
"There’s no question that Russia is using her best spies, her best assets here in the U.S., as journalists,” Lunev countered.
He said the reasoning for using journalists as a cover is simple.
"There’s no big difference between a spy and a journalist – both are trying to get information," he said.
Lunev added that Russia has used journalists to target agencies with national security and defense information, including the State Dept., the Pentagon, Congress and other agencies.
He noted that of 10 Russian journalists working in Washington when he defected, six were spies for the GRU and KGB, now the SVR.
He said his defection was no surprise for the FBI.
Lunev said the FBI keeps all Russian journalists under permanent surveillance. And the FBI is not just worried about Russian journalists, he said. Many countries use journalists as spies, including the British, French and Germans.
Though the number of Russian spies might be small, their reach is far wider, Lunev said, because they recruit American journalists to do espionage work.
Lunev himself had several American journalists working on Russia’s behalf, and based on his experience, the number of American journalists spying for Russia is "very big."
He believes Russia has penetrated, and continues to penetrate, all the major press outlets in the United States.
"American journalists have access to a wide array of contacts: politicians, military, intelligence – it’s top-of-the-line access, on-time intelligence – that foreign journalists would not have readily available," Lunev said.
Though he defected in 1992, he doubts little has changed. If anything, foreign spies operating as journalists may have latitude, he believes, because Americans have let down their guard since the end of the Cold War.