- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2001

The United States yesterday ordered 56 Russian diplomats expelled as suspected spies in apparent response to the disclosure that FBI agent Robert Hanssen is accused of spying for Russia for 15 years, a diplomatic source said.

"Six of the Russian diplomats are to leave immediately and 50 others are to be given some time before they must leave," said the diplomat, speaking on strict condition of anonymity.

A Bush administration official confirmed that six diplomats who are suspected spies will be expelled and more would be asked to leave voluntarily.

"We're going to have people kicked out over there," the official said in anticipating a repeat of the tit-for-tat spy expulsions that took place in the 1980s.

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said four to six Russians suspected of spying already had left the country.

Russian Ambassador Yuriy Ushakov was summoned to the State Department yesterday, according to the diplomat, and was informed by Secretary of State Colin Powell of the decision to expel the Russians.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said he was instructed late yesterday by Mr. Powell, who was meeting with the Chinese Vice Prime Minister Qian Qichen, not to discuss the issue of any expulsion of Russian diplomats, which was first reported by CBS News.

Mr. Powell is to speak to reporters today around noon after meeting with the Australian foreign minister and may discuss the Russian expulsions then.

The diplomat, who also performs an intelligence function, said he had spoken to "people who should know" and learned the Russians were ordered to leave.

A U.S. official also told the Reuters news agency the expulsions were to take place, in part in retaliation for the Hanssen spying case.

An expulsion of all those either ordered or asked to leave would be the biggest since President Reagan threw out 80 Soviet diplomats in 1986.

Mr. Hanssen, a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent, is accused of turning over to the Russians countless invaluable secrets, including the names of U.S. agents and a secret tunnel that had bugged the Soviet now the Russian Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue above Georgetown.

The FBI has complained loudly within the government about the growing problem of Russian intelligence activities that have taxed the FBI's limited resources to track officers.

"It is known they're sending more and more people," the official said. "The number of intelligence people here now is equal to the all-time high under the Soviets."

The expulsions represent a new, tougher national security policy by the Bush administration, the official said.

John L. Martin, former chief of the Justice Department's internal security section, said the action looks like a combination of expulsions and requests for Moscow to voluntarily withdraw intelligence personnel.

The move-countermove spying scenario has developed in the last few years after a period of post-Cold War calm on such activities.

In December 1999, the United States ordered the expulsion of a Russian diplomat after the FBI detained him in connection with a listening device found hidden at the State Department.

The Russian claimed diplomatic immunity after he was caught listening to the device and was questioned by the FBI, U.S. officials said. He was declared persona non grata.

At the time, the expulsion capped a series of three espionage cases involving Russia and the United States in a month.

They all came against a backdrop of tense relations between the two nations on a host of issues, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and the Russian crackdown against secessionist-minded Chechnya.

A week before the U.S. expulsion of the diplomat, Russia expelled a U.S. diplomat in Moscow after accusing her of attempting to obtain secret military information from a Russian citizen.

Like the Russian Embassy employee here, the U.S. diplomat, identified as Cheri Leberknight, a second secretary in the American Embassy's political section, could not be charged with a crime because of diplomatic immunity.

A month earlier the U.S. Navy said it had charged an enlisted man with passing secrets to Russia in 1994.

Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel King, 40, was taken into military custody Nov. 5, 1999, and had confessed to disclosing classified information to Russia.

"U.S.-Russian relations are certainly not at their best at the moment, and when relations deteriorate you tend to get these tit-for-tat retaliations," Ariel Cohen, a research fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Heritage Foundation, said at the time.

"Such spying incidents and the timing of the arrests is more a symptom of troubles in the relationship than a cause of them," he said.

In July 1999, The Washington Times reported that U.S. officials were so concerned about the level of recent Russian espionage efforts in the United States that Ambassador James Collins warned Moscow to cut back or face a new round of expulsions or cuts in diplomatic positions.

Mr. Collins said the Russian espionage presence in the United States was returning to "Cold War levels," The Times reported.

Russian public and official sentiment have turned sharply against the West in recent months, opposing NATO's air war in Kosovo against Russia's traditional ally, Serbia, and rejecting growing criticisms in the West of the government's aggressive military campaign against the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

• Bill Gertz contributed to this report.

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