THE ARREST of an alleged Russian spy this week at Larnaca airport has added fuel to rumours that foreign intelligence services are better represented in Cyprus now than ever before.
Cyprus has traditionally been a hub for agents operating in the Arab world, former Soviet Union, the USA and Britain.
Although it sounds like the plot of a James Bond film, this type of activity has been happening on the island since the late 1930s.
Under a cloak of military secrecy, Nicosia has long been a prime target for espionage, with a catalogue of high profile agents being stationed here, including Kim Philby and Nikolai Ranov.
Kim Philby, the high-ranking member of British intelligence who worked as a spy for MI6 and later defected to the Soviet Union was operating from the island in 1951 and is understood to have made many of his best ‘contacts’ here.
The first major incident related to spying occurred in 1961 when Briton Peter Gray was murdered in Kyrenia; he was thought to have been an agent of international repute in the service of M16 and was responsible for the arrest of the notorious double-agent George Blake.
His killer was never identified, despite a £20,000 reward being offered.
In 1967, two Russians, a diplomat and the head of the Soviet airline’s office were expelled from Nicosia at the demand of the Makarios government. Their expulsion followed the uncovering in Italy of an alleged Soviet spy network operating in Mediterranean countries and Scandinavia.
At the same time, several Cypriots were also arrested on suspicion of spying for the Soviet Union. It was alleged that they had supplied the Russians with the contents of radio and telephone messages transmitted by foreign embassies in Nicosia.
THE CYPRUS SPY CASE
During the sixties and seventies a series of espionage stories made the local headlines, but the most high profile case centred on the British base of Episkopi in 1985.
The now-infamous ‘Cyprus spy trial’ concerned a group of RAF servicemen, stationed at Akrotiri, who had been accused of stealing and selling secret documents to the USSR.
Eight serving or former members of the British Forces pleaded not guilty to a total of 31 breaches of the Official Secrets Act. All the accused were acquitted of passing secrets to the Russians, but the saga, which was covered in the international media provided the KGB with great entertainment.
In his book The Intelligence Game, author James Rusbridger noted of the case: “A lot of counter-intelligence time and energy was wasted in chasing after non-existent spies and endless false trails while the Russians got on with their espionage.”
It could be that spying is also a factor in the current division of the island. In 1999 it was revealed that the United States vetoed Britain’s intervention in the Turkish invasion to protect its spying bases in northern Cyprus.
It was the first time that America’s use of spy bases in Cyprus was confirmed by former Prime Minister Lord Callaghan.
One of Echelon’s ten ground monitoring stations is located within the British Bases according to numerous reports – none of which have ever been confirmed by the British government.
The system, which is thought to live in a golf ball shaped dome at Ayios Nicholas base, was reportedly created to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies during the Cold War in the early 1960s, but since the end of the Cold War it is believed to search also for hints of terrorist plots, drug dealers’ plans, and political and diplomatic intelligence.
For years shortwave radio listeners have been baffled by a signal which is beamed from Cyprus.
The Lincolnshire Poacher is the nickname of a mysterious, powerful shortwave numbers station that uses two bars from its namesake English folk song tune as an interval signal. The station is believed to be operated by the British Secret Intelligence Service and emanates from the Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri – but nobody knows what the strange code means.