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Cold War is over but spying is not

A suspected Russian mole in Washington. A British agent in Moscow. The Cold War is over _ yet it seems to have gone into overtime.

But are the Russians still a threat? Do we still need agents and turncoats when the West has spy satellites and electronic snoopers?

"The old rules still apply. People are still out there gathering information by a variety of means. We will need secrets; people still try to keep secrets. The game is the same," says Robert Hall, editor of Jane's Intelligence Review.

And in a world sizzling with local conflicts, the human factor becomes more important.

"It's not very easy to use the most sophisticated satellite the Americans have got to pick up what someone is doing in Afghanistan. What you need is someone on the ground," Hall said.

It doesn't matter that relations with Russia have warmed. Recent enemies can't expect to be treated better than best friends.

Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, formed in 1909 as the world's first intelligence agency, was spying on the United States in the 1920s to keep up with developments in chemical warfare.

"The only policy toward the former Soviet Union that makes sense nowadays is a two-track one," said Christopher Andrew, professor of history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. "That is to say, hope for the best and prepare if necessary for the worst. It's not possible to guarantee that the president of Russia will not be called Zhirinovsky in two years' time."

Aldrich Ames, the CIA counterintelligence specialist now accused of being a Soviet agent, appears to be a classic case of human frailty _ in this case, greed _ exploited by the other side.

"I think it is inconceivable that anyone of average intelligence could possibly have worked for the Soviet Union for ideological motives in the 1980s," Andrew said.

Russian officials said the alleged British agent exposed on Monday also was in it for cash.

"But ideology in, for example, North Korea, might still be very significant," Hall said. "You might get a North Korean who is very dissatisfied with the system, whose relatives have been persecuted by it, something like that, who will do it for ideological grounds."

Though satellites have documented aspects of the nuclear program in North Korea, Hall says it is one of the places where human agents are crucial.

"The only way you're going to know whether North Korea has a bomb really, what its plans are, is to have someone at the highest echelons feeding you information," he said.

Robert Steele, president of Open Source Solutions and a former U.S. intelligence officer, said the Ames case demonstrated a misplaced trust in technology.

"It demonstrates that the United States continues its obsession with technology," he said. "And that one of the reasons perhaps that the Soviets have had such success is because they rely less on technology, and more on human weakness _ and that's what spying is all about."