U.S. Says Russian Spy Ring Sought NYSE, Sanction SecretsAndrew Harris and Bob Van Voris
Three Russians charged by the U.S. with espionage allegedly sought secrets tied to the New York Stock Exchange and U.S. economic sanctions on Russia, even while one bemoaned his tedious job’s lack of a James Bond flair.
The charges prompted a rebuke from Russia, accusing the U.S. of “building up spy hysteria.”
The U.S. investigation of the alleged spy ring started within months of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s June 2010 arrest of 10 Russian agents dubbed the “Illegals.” The 10 had been on “deep cover” assignments, some living in the U.S. for as long as a decade. That year, each of the 10 pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, after which they were returned to Russia in a prisoner exchange.
The incident inspired the television drama The Americans, which begins its third season on Jan. 28.
One of the three named in charges made public Monday, Evgeny Buryakov, 39, was arrested in the New York borough of the Bronx. He appeared before a Manhattan federal judge who said he was a flight risk and ordered him held without bail.
“His cover has now been blown,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn said. He has “every incentive to flee,” she said.
Buryakov, along with Igor Sporyshev, 40, and Victor Podobnyy, 27, worked for the Russian Federation’s Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized the espionage claims and in a statement posted on its website, Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for the ministry, said the charges weren’t supported by evidence and called on the U.S. to let Russian consulate officials have immediate access to Buryakov.
“Russian-U.S. relations have been going through quite a complex period due to Washington’s antagonistic stance,” the spokesman said. “Apparently the U.S. has opted for the ‘worse is better’ approach by deciding to launch yet another round of anti-Russian campaigning.”
The U.S. and the European Union warned that Russia may face further sanctions as fighting escalates in Ukraine between government troops and pro-Russian rebels. On Monday, Russia’s foreign-currency credit rating was cut to junk by Standard & Poor’s, putting it below investment grade for the first time in a decade, amid the sanctions and a drop in oil prices.
The three alleged spies sought information on the effect of U.S. economic sanctions on Russia and also tried to get information on the New York Stock Exchange’s exchange traded funds, according to the complaint.
Buryakov and the other men were charged with being part of a conspiracy for Buryakov to act as an unregistered foreign agent, a crime punishable by as long as five years in prison.
Buryakov also is charged with being an unregistered agent, while Podobnyy and Sporyshev, who are no longer in the U.S., are accused of aiding and abetting that crime. If convicted on that count, all three face as long as 10 years in prison.
Buryakov, also known as Zhenya, used a job as an employee at a Manhattan branch of a Russian bank as his cover, according to the U.S.
“The purpose of his presence here is to gather information under the guise of his actions as a private citizen,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fee told Netburn in court.
The U.S. has “hundreds of hours” of recordings, made by an undercover agent who posed as a bank customer, of Buryakov and of other Russian spies who work in New York and report to Moscow, Fee said.
“These recordings caught them red-handed,” he said.
Representing Buryakov in court, federal public defender Sabrina Shroff argued her client hasn’t fled even though the last meeting with his confederates described in the complaint was in August. She argued for electronic monitoring and home detention and declined to comment after the hearing.
SVR is a successor to the former Soviet Union’s KGB. All three men worked for its “Directorate ER,” which focuses on economic issues, according to the sworn court complaint filed by FBI Special Agent Gregory Monaghan.
Sporyshev claimed to work at the New York office of Russia’s trade mission in the U.S. and Victor Podobnyy as an attache to Russia’s permanent mission at the United Nations. Both had diplomatic immunity, according to the Justice Department.
They allegedly attempted to recruit New York residents to help with their intelligence gathering, according to the complaint. They also complained to each other in recorded conversations that they were bored.
Podobnyy said the job was nothing like he expected, and nothing like a James Bond movie.
“Of course, I wouldn’t fly helicopters,” he said in a recorded conversation, according to the complaint. “But, pretend to be someone else at a minimum.”
Podobnyy also complained a department in Russia known as Directorate S was the only one left doing real intelligence work. Directorate S ran the so-called Illegals program.
“Look, in the States even the S couldn’t do anything,” Podobnyy was recorded as saying, according to the complaint. “They caught 10 of them.”
Buryakov and Sporyshev met on “dozens of occasions at locations in and around Manhattan and the Bronx, for the purpose of exchanging information related to their work as intelligence officers operating within the United States,” from March 2012 and continuing into September of last year, according to the criminal complaint.
Sporyshev and Podobnyy allegedly met in a “secure” Manhattan office used by SVR agents in May 2013 where they talked about transmitting to the agency’s Moscow headquarters “intelligence” gathered by Buryakov in “confidential talks” he’d participated in as a banker.
Sporyshev was responsible for relaying assignments from the SVR’s Moscow center to Buryakov and, together with Podobnyy, was responsible for analyzing the intelligence gathered by Buryakov and sending it back to Russia, Monaghan said in the court filing.
Buryakov, because of his non-official position, couldn’t use the SVR’s Manhattan office without potentially blowing his cover, necessitating the intermediaries, Monaghan said.
Sporyshev and Buryakov would typically meet outdoors, after a short phone call in which one told the other he had an item to give him, a book, hat, umbrella or ticket.
“Despite discussing on approximately one dozen occasions the need to meet to transfer tickets,” Monaghan said, Buryakov and Sporyshev only once talked about going to a movie and were never seen attending or heard discussing in detail “events that would typically require tickets such as a sporting event or concert,” the FBI agent said.
“These charges demonstrate our firm commitment to combating attempts by covert agents to illegally gather intelligence and recruit spies within the United States,” Holder said. “We will use every tool at our disposal to identify and hold accountable foreign agents operating inside this country -- no matter how deep their cover.”
The case is U.S. v. Buryakov, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).