Russian authorities are expelling a U.S. official they accused of being a CIA officer who offered a member of the special services in Moscow as much as $1 million a year for information.
The accused spy, identified as Ryan Christopher Fogle, was detained in a sting operation on May 13, the Federal Security Service said yesterday on its website. Fogle worked under a cover in the U.S. embassy’s political section, according to the FSB, as the successor to the Soviet-era KGB is known in Russian.
Russia declared Fogle persona non grata and is demanding that he be sent home as soon as possible, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov conveyed “protest” over the incident to U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul at a meeting in Moscow today.
The incident marks a new source of tension between Russia and the U.S. Fogle’s arrest shows that intelligence services are resuming their Cold War spying tactics after the end of the “reset” policy championed by former President Dmitry Medvedev and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama, said Nikolai Kovalyov, who ran the FSB from 1996 to 1998, when he was replaced by Vladimir Putin.
“This won’t lead to global changes in relations between countries and security services, though it is a signal that Americans have returned to their old tactics and methods of work,” Kovalyov, now a member of the security committee in the lower house of parliament, said by telephone from Moscow.
The man the FSB identified as Fogle was detained in a nighttime operation that included video footage and photographs that were later distributed to media outlets and broadcast on state television. Fogle was returned to the embassy yesterday, an on-duty FSB officer said by phone.
An identified Russian official shown in the video says Fogle had tried to recruit an officer linked to counter-terrorism work in the North Caucasus, an area where intelligence services of the former Cold War foes have sought to broaden cooperation in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing case.
“At first we didn’t even believe this could be happening because as you know the FSB actively helping with the investigation of the Boston bombings and with information on threats to the U.S. national security,” the officer tells American officials in the video.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar, ethnic Chechens who moved to the U.S. from the Dagestan region of Russia, are suspected of detonating the two bombs that killed three people and injured more than 260 at the Boston Marathon last month. The older brother was killed during a shootout with police on April 19, while the younger one is being held at a federal prison hospital outside Boston.
Kovalyov said Russian leaders are puzzled by what he said was U.S. reluctance to work more closely with Russia on the global war on terror.
“After the Boston bombings, the whole world saw Russia’s readiness to cooperate against a common threat, but for some reason the Americans didn’t use this chance,” Kovalyov said in the interview yesterday.
U.S. President Barack Obama said two weeks ago that Russia had been “very cooperative” in the investigation of the attack, which included a visit to Dagestan by a team of FBI agents.
Russian intelligence agencies had told the FBI that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had become radical and asked for information about him, prompting the FBI to open an inquiry. The Central Intelligence Agency was also provided with the information.
The Russians didn’t respond to requests for more information after the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted interviews and searched U.S. terrorism and crime databases, finding nothing incriminating, according to U.S. officials who asked not to be identified discussing intelligence matters.
“There are still suspicions sometimes between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies that date back 10, 20, 30 years, back to the Cold War,” Obama said at a White House news briefing on April 30.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry refused to comment on the Russian charges today and emphasized U.S.-Russia cooperation on Syria instead as he stood beside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a meeting of the Arctic Council in Kiruna, Sweden. In Washington, Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman, declined yesterday to answer repeated questions about the Russian spying allegations and Fogle’s role.
“We can confirm that an officer at our U.S. embassy in Moscow was briefly detained and was released,” Ventrell said. “We have seen the Russian Foreign Ministry announcement, and we have no further comment at this time.” He declined to say whether Fogle was still in Russia.
One photo of the nighttime operation shows the contents of the backpack the FSB said Fogle was carrying at the time of his arrest, neatly arrayed on a table, including dark and light wigs, sunglasses, a compass, a map of Moscow, two knives, a notepad, a microphone, a plastic cigarette lighter and an RFID shield.
Another image showed what the FSB said was a printed letter in Russian that Fogle intended to deliver to the target of a recruitment effort. The missive, which starts, “Dear Friend,” promises $100,000 just to “discuss possible cooperation” and as much as $1 million a year for supplying information demanded by the U.S., state-run RT television said on its website. It instructs the recipient to open a new Gmail account, write an e-mail to unbacggdA@gmail.com and wait a week for a reply, RT said.
The FSB said in its statement the Fogle case is just the latest in “numerous attempts” by the U.S. recently to recruit Russians in law enforcement and the security services.
Kovalyov said relations have worsened since the U.S. passed the so-called Magnitsky Act last year that sanctions Russian officials deemed complicit in human rights abuses. The bill is named for a legal adviser who accused officials of stealing $230 million from Russia’s treasury. Supporters of Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested on tax evasion charges and died in jail in 2009, say he was tortured and denied medical care.
Putin, who returned to the presidency a year ago, responded by banning adoptions of Russian children by American families and urged the Obama administration to pressure Congress to tame its hostile attitude toward Russia.
“While the presidents of our countries confirmed their readiness to expand bilateral cooperation, including the intelligence services’ fight against international terrorism, such provocative acts in the spirit of the Cold War hardly facilitate the strengthening of mutual trust,” said Russian Foreign Ministry in the statement yesterday.
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