An unprecedented worldwide gathering of spy chiefs, including representatives of the CIA, FBI and Britain's MI5, has just taken place in St. Petersburg, Russia, according to the Italian news daily La Stampa.
The meeting was called the "International Forum of Secret Services" – national spy agencies.
Some 100 heads of intelligence services from 39 nations gathered in a large, Soviet-era hotel, the Pribaltiskaia, to not only discuss temporary mutual assistance, but also to consider Russian proposals for the development of a permanent international spy cooperation organization.
"There is no alternative to the process of our unification," proclaimed Nikolai Patrushev, director of the FSB, one of the successors to the Soviet KGB, as the Russian government speaks enthusiastically of a "new level of cooperation" with the West.
Discussions, according to one participant who spoke to La Stampa, have been "concrete and practical." The conference also did agree to establish a permanent international intelligence organization to coordinate anti-terror efforts, according to the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government.
During the conference, "glances were exchanged" and meetings were held in the utmost secrecy, with many of those attending described as shadowy figures whose names and titles "one does not recognize," La Stampa observed.
The spy conference follows upon calls by Russian President Vladimir Putin for increased international intelligence cooperation in the war on terrorism.
"Headway in the struggle against terrorism," Putin stated during the conference, "supposes close coordination among national intelligence agencies," according to the Voice of Russia.
While Patrushev called for "unification" of spy agencies, and Putin urges "close coordination" of intelligence agencies around the world, Russia has recently been caught attempting to spy on some of its partners.
According to various press reports, British counterintelligence has recently apprehended an employee of one of Britain's largest defense contractors for allegedly stealing confidential material and sending it to Moscow.
Iam Parr, a 45 year-old worker for BAE Systems, a supplier of civil and military electronic equipment, was charged under Britain's Official Secrets Act.
BAE Systems produces a variety of sensitive technologies, including radar used in terrain-navigation systems for jet fighters, night-bombing equipment, night-vision field equipment, and helmet-mounted combat electronic devices.
Moscow is also currently embroiled in charges of espionage in Japan. A Russian trade representative was recently charged with attempting to obtain U.S. military secrets from a former Japanese air force officer.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Russian embassy in Tokyo has responded angrily to the charges and has issued an implied threat to the Japanese government regarding the long-anticipated treaty formally regularizing Japanese/Russian relations.
The allegations of espionage were "inspired by those forces that are not interested in concluding a peace treaty between the two countries [Japan and Russia]," the Russian embassy thundered, declaring that those forces "still live in the epoch of the Cold War …" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Among the issues disputed between Tokyo and Moscow is the fate of several islands in the Kuril archipelago lost to the Soviet Union during the final days of World War II and still held by the Russian Federation.
In February 2001, the United States was rocked by the arrest of counterintelligence expert Robert Hanssen, who later pled guilty to two decades of spying – first for the Soviet Union and then for the Russian Federation.
The Hanssen case still reverberates through the U.S. intelligence community, while the extent of the damage he caused remains unclear, as does the effect it may still have on U.S. intelligence capabilities.
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