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Spy ship departs, worry about Russia remains

Thu., Feb. 16, 2017, 5:44 p.m.

GROTON, Conn. – A Russian spy ship has left the waters off the coast of Connecticut, but Democratic lawmakers remain convinced its prowling up and down the East Coast is an act of aggression by the country’s leader.

“All of the Russian activity since the inauguration looks to be (Russian President Vladimir) Putin showing off that he has a blank check to do whatever he wants,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Thursday.

Retired Navy submarine commanders said the ship posed little threat to U.S. security. But with an intense focus on the relationship between Putin, Russia and President Donald Trump, the ship’s sighting reverberated in Connecticut and nationally.

At a news conference Thursday, Trump was asked about the ship and other Russian maneuvers that some have seen as a show of force meant to test the new administration.

“The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles offshore right out of the water,” Trump said, according to the Washington Post. “Everyone in this country’s going to say, ‘Oh, it’s so great.’ That’s not great. That’s not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia.”

On Wednesday, the ship came within 30 miles of Naval Submarine Base in Groton and was being monitored by the Navy and the Coast Guard. Thursday morning the Coast Guard acknowledged it was continuing to track the ship, which remained in international waters, but didn’t disclose a specific location. A U.S. official told Fox News on Thursday morning the ship was spotted off the coast of Virginia.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut received a classified briefing from the Department of Defense on the matter Thursday.

“While this spy ship is no longer off the coast of Connecticut, and has moved south, my strong view is that this incident shows the need for proactive steps to prevent cybersurveillance or electronic espionage,” he said in a written statement. “These steps include closely monitoring and physically accompanying such ships when they are near our nation’s coast, and hardening and enhancing our safeguards against these ships collecting and intercepting sensitive information. The focus of such security efforts should be private facilities as well as military bases and ports.”

People in southeastern Connecticut this week have largely dismissed the sighting and said such ships have been spotted roaming in the area before.

Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons, a former member of Congress who also spent a decade working for the CIA, said it’s not a large ship that worries him, but the actions taken by Russia that aren’t as obvious.

“The Russians have been targeting the United States of America for a half century very aggressively. These are actions typically you don’t see or don’t read about,” Simmons said Thursday.

Noting that there’s nothing unusual about the spy ship off the coast, Simmons said: “It’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see that worries me.”

Democrats have been critical of Trump for being too cozy with Putin. He said flattering things about the Russian president during his campaign, and in recent days reports have surfaced that people in his inner circle were communicating with Russian intelligence officials prior to his inauguration. Trump and the Kremlin have denied there was any improper communication.

In January, U.S. intelligence agencies determined that Russia was behind a hack of the Democratic National Committee, an interference in the election aimed at helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.