The government is now on the verge of strengthening the powers of MI5 to tackle undeclared spies by making their presence in the UK illegal.
It follows the report on the Kremlin’s interference in the Brexit referendum, which called for a crackdown on espionage activity in the UK.
A review of the Official Secrets Act will include a form of foreign intelligence agent registration, which spies will be required to sign upon entering the UK or face prosecution and jail.
It is currently not a crime to live here as an undercover agent.
The government also invokes the Magnitsky law, named after the murdered Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, which may allow the freezing of Russian assets.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “This government is introducing legislation, not only a new espionage law, not only new laws to protect against the theft of our intellectual property, but also a Magnitsky law directly to counter individuals. in Russia or elsewhere that violate human rights. . ”
Sources claim that undeclared “illegals” are trained at Soviet-style spy schools outside Moscow.
They could be used for pre-mission surveillance and one may even have helped prepare for the novichok attack on Sergei Skripal.
Referring to the Russian spy service, a former military intelligence officer said: “It is by far possible that the GRU was aided in the attack on Salisbury by an illegal one.
Other information that undercover officers could provide could include data on coastal terrain or local troop movements.
Crucially, they would also know what to look for in critical infrastructure such as dams, water systems and power grids or installations to be targeted for sabotage.
Russia’s most notorious “illegal” was Anna Chapman, who remained secret for many years in Britain and the United States before being criticized by the FBI in 2010.
Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “We are clear-sighted about the threat from Russia, which is why we have taken the steps we have taken.
“There can be no normalization of our bilateral relations until Russia ends the destabilizing activity which threatens the UK and our allies and undermines the security of our citizens.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds, of the Labor Party, told the Commons that UK security agencies need help tackling Russian spies.
He said: “They have not received the strategic support, the legislative tools or the resources to defend our interests. ”
Yesterday the PM again hit back at claims that the Kremlin may have helped influence the Brexit vote, saying: ‘Let’s be sure what it really is – it’s about the pressure Islington remnants who have taken hold of this report to try and give the impression that Russian meddling is somehow responsible for Brexit.
“The people of this country did not vote to leave the EU because … of Russian interference, they voted because they wanted to take back control of our money, our trade policy and our laws.”