How much of a menace are Kremlin moles? Perhaps more than some would like to think, according to Walter Pincus, who has done some top-notch national security reporting for the Washington Post.
Pincus writes, “The best public indication of the extent of Moscow’s efforts comes from the late Sergei Tretyakov, the former Russian intelligence officer who under the guise of a press officer at the U.N. Mission ran espionage operations in New York City from 1995 to 2000. He served the last three of those years as a double agent for the FBI until he defected to the United States. As Tretyakov told author Pete Earley in the book ‘Comrade J,’ at one time he had more than 60 SVR officers working inside the United Nations and more than 160 contacts made up of illegals, outright spies, and other people who knowingly or unknowingly could supply information useful to Russia.”
According to Earley, Tretyakov died “unexpectedly” on June 13. The circumstances were so suspicious that an autopsy was performed under the supervision of the FBI.
The conservative group Accuracy in Media charges that the "spy swap" was hastened by the fact that the moles had burrowed into Democratic Party circles.
From various Cold War cases, we know that the Russians always had parallel spy/mole networks going, some run by military intelligence, some run by state security.
In addition, the spy services often recruited young ideological communists and took them underground. The job of many of these people -- most of whom were not illegals -- was to penetrate American institutions, especially those with political power. Once several crypto-communists got hold of a nominating committee, or the equivalent, they would then convert the organization into a communist puppet. But for tactical reasons, many of these puppet groups were encouraged to appear loyal (false flag operations).
Some of the wrongs that occurred during previous disclosures of communist penetrations are a blot on our history (as discussed in my response to a comment on the "What are a few moles among friends?" post). But the fact that such abuses occurred doesn't mean there hasn't been a problem.
Even George Kennan, though decrying "McCarthyism" in his autobiography, said that the communist conspiracy was at the time far more dangerous than many liberals thought.
Additionally, the book "What is to be Done?", usually attributed to Lenin, is essentially a manual on how to organize a communist conspiracy to subvert a society's institutions and take over its government. The handbook tells of a secret committee of communist bosses who operate a panoply of front groups and what we now call "agents of influence."
One would have expected that such networks would have been vaporized when the Soviet Union collapsed. However, a few journalists and historians have noted that during the crash George H.W. Bush's administration seemed to be doing everything it could to prevent the collapse.
We might have expected that scores -- nay hundreds -- of agents would have been picked up and charged. But few were. And those who were arrested were usually portrayed as loners working for money. (The Kremlin always insisted that its ideological agents accept pay for the work, according to Whittaker Chambers in his book Witness.)
What Chambers described closely mirrored the instructions in "What is to be Done?"
So why weren't networks rolled up? Presumably, they no use to anyone once the Soviet Union crashed. If extensive networks were quietly rolled up, why was that fact kept secret?
One of the possibilities is that, despite the collapse of communism, Kremlin networks had compromised high officials and other Americans in positions of influence to such an extent that the networks were salvageable, and have since regained their previous strength.
For example, we know that special federal units were behind the 9/11 attacks, which, as it happens, have worked to the Kremlin's advantage as in its Chechnya operations and its crackdowns on liberty in the name of counterterrorism.