U.S. spy cops are hampered by privacy restrictions in their efforts to stem the activities of Russian agents working in the United States, according to counterintelligence experts, who deem the foreign operatives a “severe danger to the national security of this country.”

The statements were made by counterintelligence specialists addressing a Heritage Foundation Forum, “Espionage in the New Millennium,” held last week and telecast on the C-SPAN network.

Attempts to thwart the activities of foreign intelligence officers working in the U.S. are often hindered by laws dating back to the 1970s and 80s, which were initially designed to safeguard the privacy of U.S. citizens.

As a result, counterintelligence agents are restrained from opening mail, even if sent to a known foreign agent, and severe restrictions are placed upon U.S. agents’ use of wiretaps, according to Herbert Romerstein, author and head of the Office to Counter Soviet Disinformation at the U.S. Information Agency from 1983 to 1989.

Romerstein is the author of “The Venona Secrets,” an examination of the super-secret operation to counter Soviet espionage in the U.S. during World War II and in the post-World War II era.

Referring to the case of FBI agent Robert Hanssen, accused of spying for the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation, Romerstein stated that, “the Hanssen case couldn’t be broken through standard intelligence methods.”

Hanssen’s file was removed from Russian intelligence and physically transferred to the U.S., Romerstein reminded his audience. It is generally acknowledged that the FBI’s investigation of Hanssen was based upon his Russian file.

“I knew Bob Hanssen,” Romerstein said, describing the accused spy as “a very interesting, very, very smart man.” Hanssen “knew every strength, every weakness of the FBI’s counterintelligence program,” Romerstein stated.

Hanssen’s knowledge of FBI procedures and legal restraints on the agency enabled him to send stolen secrets through the mail without fear of detection, according to Romerstein.

In Romerstein’s estimation, Hanssen caused such severe damage to the U.S. intelligence network, that he should be executed if he does not actively cooperate with U.S. authorities to repair, to some degree, that damage.

Although severely restricted in funding, the SVR — the foreign intelligence successor to the KGB — is able to recruit “the best of the best” from Russian universities who “know precisely what they want,” according to Stanislav Levchenko, a participant in the forum and former KGB senior officer who defected in 1979.

Levchenko stated that Russian intelligence today has little need for large numbers of agents in “residences” — base facilities from which intelligence agents plan and carry out their operations. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian intelligence now seeks to use the increased number of Russians who are able to come to the U.S. and attempt to utilize them in intelligence operations.

The SVR also cooperates with the “Russian Mafia,” which Levchenko describes as “the most vicious criminal organization in the world.” According to Levchenko, the SVR and the “Russian Mafia” are “getting united” — pooling their efforts and resources. “The larger part of the Mafia,” Levchenko said, “is running the state.”

Russian intelligence also gains important information from those doing business in Russia, including consultants, journalists and lecturers. According to Levchenko, the practice of using foreign visitors to Russia for intelligence purposes goes back to the time of Lenin.

The intelligence threat to the U.S. is not, however, limited to traditional “cloak and dagger” activities.

In an interview with WorldNetDaily, Kirk Reagan Menendez, deputy executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, stated that the Russian and Chinese agents based in Lourdes, Cuba, are intercepting cell phone, e-mail and other methods of electronic communications in the U.S.

Menendez, who has been monitoring the on-going “Wasp Network” spy case in Miami, told WND that the testimony of prosecution witnesses in court confirmed the electronic surveillance activities in Lourdes, which are directed at civilian as well as military targets.

The “Wasp Network” refers to a group of Cuban agents operating in the United States who attempted to obtain sensitive military information for Havana. The FBI eventually broke the ring, and the ensuing trial has continued since last year.

The Cuban-American exile community remains of prime interest for Cuban surveillance.

Various sources have pointed to a large, sophisticated electronic surveillance — and warfare — presence in Cuba, employing Russian, Chinese and Cuban operatives.

Related stories:

‘Wasp Network’ stung in Miami

Moscow threatens ‘a new Cold War’

Moscow warning against spy probe

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