A woman stands outside Russian Diplomatic Compound on West 255th Street in Riverdale, NY on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022(Fox News Digital/David Leigh)
A sole protester stood outside the complex known as the Russian Diplomatic Compound in New York City’s Riverdale neighborhood on Thursday, hours after a long-anticipated war began across the world in Ukraine.
The compound, a white high-rise tower located at 355 West 255th Street, sits at one of the highest points in New York City and has often been the subject of speculation surrounding the building's purpose and residents' practices. The building is home to Russian diplomats, many of whom work in the United States as intelligence officers – or intelligence "operatives," as the Russians call them – and seek information or connections that the federation might need, multiple experts told Fox News Digital.
"They view us as threat number one. And sooner or later, they believe that information will be useful, whether it's for wartime or peacetime." — Rebekah Koffler, author of ‘Putin’s Playbook' and former Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence officer
Most Russian intelligence officers – those who work for the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) or the federation's military intelligence agency, known as the GRU – live in the building, which is known to some law enforcement officers as the "plex," said Robin Dreeke, a retired FBI special agent and former head of the bureau’s Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program.
But some senior-level Russian intelligence officers and select others are allowed to rent homes in the Riverdale area itself, Dreeke said. And the existence of the intelligence officers living among New Yorkers is common knowledge to some, he added.
"Open secret is a good way to put it," Dreeke said when asked. "I think they think it’s more of a secret than we do."
When asked on whom or what these intelligence officers might be spying, Dreeke said, "everything."
"A lot of people think that spies are just going for the high-level classified military infrastructure kind of stuff," Dreeke continued. While that is true, "the real purpose of spying/intelligence collection is filling information gaps that another country has, and mostly to provide their policymakers and decision-makers the knowledge they need that's not common knowledge that they can get through legitimate means."
Dreeke has first-hand experience with the compound, as he spent hours outside the building during his time with the FBI New York’s Russian Military Intelligence Squad from 1997 to 2005. To put it simply, his unit tried to recruit Russian spies and then neutralize them to protect American interests, national security and NATO allies.
He remained involved with numerous operations related to GRU officers throughout his career. He later founded a company, People Formula, and has since authored several books.
TWO TYPES OF INTEL OFFICERS
Director of Russian Military Intelligence Igor Kostyukov attends the 9th Moscow Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia on June 23, 2021.(Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
There are two types of intelligence officers, Dreeke said: those who pose a symmetrical threat, and those who pose an asymmetrical threat. Those working in New York and living at the "plex" and working at the mission to the United Nations are under "diplomatic cover."
"It’s what we called a ‘symmetrical threat.’ We know they’re here. They’re diplomats under diplomatic cover, so they actually have all the privileges of diplomats. So, when they’re caught conducting espionage against our country, you can’t throw them in jail, because they’re diplomats," Dreeke continued.
He added: "No one likes it. But it’s a fact of life."
But they’re different from the undercover operatives who are not under official cover and are in the United States. Those who pose an "asymmetrical threat," undercover operatives such as Jack Barsky, who operate under non-official cover, under "false pretenses, with fake names."
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Director Sergei Naryshkin is seen while the opening of the exhibition on violations of human rights in Ukraine (2017-2020), on January 18, 2022, in Moscow, Russia. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)