LONDON -- Russian spies are as big a threat to Britain now as they were in the Cold War, an MI5 agent claimed.
The British agent, speaking Thursday at the immigration appeal of suspected secret agent Ekaterina Zatuliveter, said the intelligence services dominated the Russian state and that honeytrap operations still are conducted to compromise individuals.
Zatuliveter's lawyer, Nick Owen, claims that the British government has no evidence that the 26-year-old parliamentary researcher passed on sensitive information or received money for spying during a four-year affair with Liberal Democrat lawmaker Mike Hancock, 65.
He said this was illustrated by the fact that the MI5 agent -- a manager of agent operations -- was called to give evidence. "If there was evidence of her spying, you would be wholly surplus to requirements, wouldn't you?" Owen asked the agent, identified as "A.E."
The agent replied, "That may be the case," but added that the Russian intelligence services "are as influential in the Russian state as they were in the old days."
"Russian espionage operations continue to be conducted," the British agent said. "Russian espionage is probably as threatening for us as in the 1980s."
Owen said the security services appeared to be building a case around jokes Zatuliveter made about another affair she had with a senior NATO employee, known as Y, in an email exchange with the man.
She wrote, "I have managed to disable the work of half of NATO by distracting Y from his work. I can't continue writing because the Kremlin are calling me to congratulate me."
Owen said to A.E., "It's just a joke, isn't it."
The officer replied, "It's one of the few examples where we have direct references to NATO from her."
The MI5 agents are due to give further evidence to the commission behind closed doors.