Deep-cover Russian spies are ready to execute President Vladimir Putin’s orders and strike in Britain, senior intelligence officials believe.
Up to 10 highly-trained “illegals” are likely to be monitoring Russian expats – ready to kill dissidents and defectors who voice criticism of Moscow’s regime.
Sleepers, often working alone, could also be gathering intelligence on infrastructure such as power plants – as well as health, rescue and police services.
They may be able to cripple Britain’s systems, sparking alarm on our streets while diverting attention from other spy activities.
A British security source told the Mirror: “You can do an awful lot of damage with cyber-based activities, but in the end a human being on the ground could be invaluable. There is likely only to be a handful of them and they are a long-term asset for Russian intelligence to be called upon when absolutely necessary.
“The traditional Kremlin attitude is that the West is probably doing the same. But they can do an awful lot of damage before they are caught.”
The illegals are a Russian insurance policy in case no other way to execute Putin’s orders can be found.
They are likely to have posed with new identities, possibly EU passports, or with histories as Eastern Europeans with no links to Russia.
Russian intelligence officer Anna Chapman was deported from the States in 2012. She had married a Brit in London, gaining British citizenship whilst all the time being a highly-trained Russian spy.
The most serious use of illegals would be in assassinations or, far worse, in mapping out routes or preparing landing sites for Moscow’s Spetsnaz special forces troops.
The expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from London, most of whom were senior spies, means Putin’s remaining spooks may have lost contact.
So intelligence officers at MI5 –who will be trying to trace illegals – will keep a close eye on suspects to see if they travel abroad.
Our source added: “The most likely means of communication with Moscow would be to meet a handler in another country.
“They may be re-tasked from there, either returning to Britain to await another mission or sent to another country.”