US intelligence officials believe Russian spies are increasing their intelligence-gathering efforts in the United States, amid ongoing investigations over Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Russian espionage has increased since the US election because Moscow feels emboldened by the lack of a significant retaliatory response from Washington, CNN reported Thursday, citing current and former US intelligence officials.
"Russians have maintained an aggressive collection posture in the US, and their success in election meddling has not deterred them," a former senior intelligence official told CNN.
Russians could also be seeking more information on the administration of President Donald Trump, according to Steve Hall, retired CIA chief of operations.
"Whenever there is a deterioration of relations between countries — the espionage and intelligence collection part becomes that much more important as they try to determine the plans and intentions of the adversarial government," Hall said.
Citing multiple current and former senior US intelligence officials, the report said that US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have identified an increase in suspected Russian intelligence officers entering the US under the guise of other business.
Officials who spoke to CNN say the Russians are believed to now have nearly 150 suspected intelligence operatives in the US and are replenishing their ranks after the administration of former President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in December in retaliation for alleged election-meddling.
"The concerning point with Russia is the volume of people that are coming to the US. They have a lot more intelligence officers in the US" compared to what they have in other countries, one of the former intelligence officials says.
In some cases, Russian spies have tried to gain employment at places with sensitive information as part of their intelligence-gathering efforts, as well as targeting people in the US who can provide access to classified information, the sources say.
The US intelligence community believes Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a cyber campaign to help Trump win the 2016 presidential race and defeat his main rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump has repeatedly rejected such reports and has expressed support for improving relations with the US’ former Cold War foe.