Inside the Ring: Counterspies hunt Russian mole inside National Security Agency

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NSA mole hunt

The National Security Agency (NSA) is conducting a counterintelligence probe at its Fort Meade, Md., headquarters in a top-secret hunt for a Russian agent, according to a former intelligence official close to the agency.

The former official said the probe grew out of the case of 10 Russian “illegals,” or deep-cover spies, who were uncovered last summer and sent back to Moscow after the defection of Col. Alexander Poteyev, a former SVR foreign intelligence officer who reportedly fled to the U.S. shortly before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited here in June.

Col. Poteyev is believed to be the source who disclosed the U.S.-based agent network.

NSA counterintelligence officials suspect that members of the illegals network were used by Russia’s SVR spy agency to communicate with one or more agents inside the agency, which conducts electronic intelligence gathering and code-breaking.

One sign that the probe is fairly advanced is that FBI counterintelligence agents are involved in the search.

“They are looking for one or more Russian spies that NSA is convinced reside at Fort Meade and possibly other DoD intel offices, like DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency],” the former official said. “NSA is convinced that at least one is at NSA.”

Some of the 10 illegals who were posing as U.S. citizens helped service Russian agents working inside the U.S. intelligence community, the former official said.

No other details of the investigation could be learned.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said in e-mail: “I don’t have any information to provide regarding your query.”

An FBI spokesman had no immediate comment.

NSA has been the victim of several damaging spy cases dating back to the 1960s, when two officials defected to the Soviet Union.

In 1985, NSA analyst Ronald Pelton was caught spying for Moscow. He had provided the Soviets with extremely damaging secrets, including details of an underwater electronic eavesdropping program on Russian military cables called “Operation Ivy Bells.”

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon ( He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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