The Russian secret service uses this name to differentiate these officers from “legal” spies who pose as undercover diplomats. Many countries use spies pretending to be ordinary people, but Russia has long specialized in a type of deep-cover illegal agent who takes on an entirely different nationality. These spies pretend to be American, British, Canadian or – in Ferreira’s case – Brazilian to allow them to move into circles where the Russians would be suspected and therefore find it more difficult to operate.
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