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December 19, 2005
West exaggerates 'Russian espionage threat - Lebedev

In the run-up to the 85th anniversary of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service to be marked on December 20, its director Sergei Lebedev told Interfax about the service's top priorities and threats to Russia's security.

Lebedev refuted Western media reports that his service's activities in the United States and the EU, including its recently admitted members, have reached Cold War levels.

"This is not so. In comparison with that period, the Russian intelligence service has curtailed its presence abroad and drastically reorganized its functioning," he said.

Lebedev said those media reports were probably paid for by those who do not want relations with Russia to continue to develop.

"To my regret, it has become a rule to scare ordinary citizens abroad with Russian spies, who have allegedly made inroads into all of the agencies. There have been instances of local counter-intelligence services deliberately exaggerating the Russian espionage threat to show their relevancy, enhance their staff or secure more funds," he said.

Asked what is more characteristic of relations with foreign special services today - cooperation or confrontation, Lebedev said that "the changing international situation and the expanding globalization process certainly influence the nature of the Foreign Intelligence Service's cooperation with foreign partners. It is broadening," he said.

"As far as confrontation is concerned, I view it as a natural element of international ties. The only question is what exactly one means by it," Lebedev said. "Confrontation can be intellectual, psychological, political and diplomatic. I can say that it remains in relations between intelligence agencies because they, including the Foreign Intelligence Service, primarily defend the interests of its own states. Fatherland is the first word in our service's motto: 'Fatherland, Valor, Honor," he said.

Asked whether the Foreign Intelligence Service has brilliant spies abroad such as Abel or the 'Cambridge Five', Lebedev said, that "as a rule, the public learns about the activities of some of such agents many years later. My successor will tell your future colleagues about today's successes of the Foreign Intelligence Service in 50 years," he said.

Foreign military bases deployed in the vicinity of Russia's borders pose a threat to the nation's security and are the focus of the Foreign Intelligence Service's attention, Lebedev said.

"Russians cannot help but be concerned about new military bases and military contingents being deployed around our country. Therefore, the main task facing the Foreign Intelligence Service is to timely detect military threats to Russia," he said.

Changes that have taken place worldwide have allowed Russia to abandon the term 'main adversary', he said.

However, there are still threats facing Russia. "New but no less serious threats and challenges facing our state's security have replaced old threats and challenges. Today the most serious threats are from international terrorism, from religious and nationalist extremism. Hotbeds of tension along the perimeter of Russia's borders continue to smolder," he said.

Ensuring the security of Russia's foreign trade and countering environmental threats feature high on the Foreign Intelligence Service's agenda, Lebedev said.

Among other urgent issues, Lebedev mentioned the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and measures against drug trafficking, illegal arms trade and illegal migration.

Asked whether progress has been made over the past few years in lessening the threat from the development and weapons proliferation, Lebedev said that he cannot "give a definite answer to this question because this is a comprehensive problem and involves steps to counter the spread of both nuclear, chemical and biological arms and related technologies and materials."

In the past few years, "such efforts have centered on preventing weapons of mass destruction and their components from falling into the hands of terrorist and extremist organizations," he said.

"In its 1993 open report entitled "The Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction is a New Challenge After the 'Cold War' ", the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia drew the attention of the Russian and international public to this problem. Today the service views it as a priority area of operations," Lebedev said.

"We have been working in close cooperation with other Russian agencies and foreign special services. Our joint efforts have made it more difficult to acquire weapons of mass destruction and their components," he said.

In addition, the anti-terrorist coalition had captured or killed most of the al-Qaeda international terrorist network's leaders, he said.

"Nearly 70% of al-Qaeda's highest-ranking members have been captured or killed in the international anti-terrorist campaign that has been in progress since 2001. They include the closest allies of 'Terrorist No. 1:' Abu-Zubaid, Abu-Leits, Sheikh Halid Mohamed, and Abu Faraji al-Libi," Lebedev said.

"As for Al-Qaeda representatives who took part in terrorist activities in the North Caucasus, odious figures such as Hattab, Abu al-Walid, Abu Zait and Abu Omar have been eliminated," he said.

"The special services of a number of European countries carried out a joint operation in November 2005 to arrest leaders and members of Al-Qaeda's cells in Belgium, France, Italy and other states," he said.

Terrorism can be defeated only through "joint efforts of all countries, their special services, other state bodies, and international organizations. The Foreign Intelligence Service's cooperation with its foreign colleagues helps achieve greater results in the anti-terrorist fight. That is why we are committed to further strengthening international cooperation in this area," Lebedev said.