A Troubling “Spy” Swap


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Just recently, ten Russian spies caught in the US were exchanged for four Russian prisoners convicted for espionage: former army officers, Sergey Skripal, Alexander Zaporozhsky and Gennady Vasilenko and arms control researcher Igor Sutyagin.

Of those four, Sutyagin’s case is by far the best known in Russia — precisely because Sutyagin was never a spy.

Sutyagin was a political prisoner, a victim of the spy-mania campaign. Unlike the other three Russian prisoners, he never even handled classified information. Nevertheless, in 2004 he was convicted for high treason and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, merely for monitoring Russian newspapers and magazines and sharing publicly available information with foreign colleagues. It was in Sutyagin’s case that the Russian courts accepted the FSB’s magic formula: publicly available information, when put together, may constitute a Russian state secret. What followed was a campaign of prosecutions against Russian academics who dared any collaboration with foreign colleagues. Many of them, such as physicists Valentin Danilov and Igor Reshetin, are still serving their lengthy prison terms.

Sutyagin worked as a researcher for the U.S. and the Canada Institute in Moscow. While visiting London in late 1990s, he was approached by a British consultancy, Alternative Futures, and contracted to write reports on Russian nuclear submarines and missile warning systems.

According to Sutyagin’s friends, he later got worried about his British job because, while the firm duly paid his money, he never saw his reports published as promised. He sensed a crime might be taking place and decided to share his suspicions with the FSB. Sutyagin was immediately arrested and spent about five years in jail awaiting trial.

The FSB prosecutors claimed that Alternative Futures was a CIA front company and that Sutyagin’s employers, Nadia Locke and Sean Kidd, were intelligence officers well-known to the FSB. The indictment accused Sutyagin of giving them information on such topics as “The structure of the space-based tier of missile warning,” “The structure and deployment of level readiness forces,” “The generalised structure of Soviet /Russian defence expenditure in 1989-1998,” and “The condition of forces and facilities of Russian air defence.” Sutyagin pleaded not guilty on the grounds that all the information in his reports had been publicly available anyway. He was only paid for monitoring open publications.

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  • SRT8

    Not troubling at all , we get atleast two men who were extremely helpful to US intel, and the Russians get back their low value spies and the US avoids a media three ring circus . The Chinese are hacking more info than these spies could steal in a lifetime .

  • davarino

    Exactly, I was suspicious of this deal because it was to quick and uneven. Why were either side so eager to give up their spys? What gives? Maybe the admin is so willing to make nice with Russia that they rushed to make the deal. I think we may have gotten screwed, but you never know the whole story in cases like this. Spy craft can be very convoluted. Who knows who got screwed, but seems very fishy.

  • Victor

    Washington apparently wanted to extract its people out from Russia the soonest way possible – probably on the eve of important events which might complicate such a deal.

  • Rob

    Since the FBI had been (according to news reports) watching members of this ring for 10 years, it is certainly possible that they already knew everything they needed about the ring and its operations — certainly anything that could have been obtained by interrogation, given the standard KGB/FSB instructions to spys to admit to nothing, no matter the evidence produced.

    There is another aspect to this: The FSB must be now wondering just how many of its sleeper agents are well-known to the FBI. Based on my limited experience, I would guess that a lot of them are known and being "played" by the FBI and CIA. I once reported a company I thought was selling controlled technology — the FBI agents who interviewed me were extremely interested in the background of several officers of the company. I thought this was weird until I read some of Ion Mihai Pacepa's writings (ex-chief of Romanian foreign intelligence service) and realized that these people fit his profile of typical sleeper agents run by the KGB. This is not something the FBI overlooks.

  • moriyah

    When I read about the lightening quick decisions that were made – the prisoner swap…something started to stink to high heaven. It was as if something had been arranged beforehand and the discovery of the spies was just a part of the plan to facilitate whatever devious plan Obama and and the KGB director had up their sleeves.

  • USMCSniper

    Let me see. We negotiate with the Russians before tany arrest to exchange 10 Russian sleeper agents for 4 other Russians that have been held for a long time in Russian prisons. Ahhhh….Hmmmm… Ahhh stupid is as stupid does I guess.

  • Chris

    "this was certainly a bad bargain for America." – pretty much summarizes EVERYTHING the obama administration does.

  • robtjonz

    As soon as the swap was announced, I asked, on several sites, why this was taking place. If these people went to trial, what would they say in court? What would they reveal and who would it affect?

  • A. Ray

    We'll find that they were on DNC election donor lists or something politically embarrassing. Other than the Cuban woman and her husband, exposed by Fontova here on Frontpage, the others will probably be found to be "well known" in those social and political circles. Just a theory, since no details have yet emerged on the donors…er..spies.

  • SECREV

    Both Obama and FSB have secrets they want to conceal. Since the "spies" were in Obama's pocket, HIS haste to get rid of them is more suspect. It is very concievable that the Manchurian President is, afterall, an FSB President. Also, american academia, media, and government (mainly Democrats) are obviously ideological allies of Russian neocommunism, and one can only wonder how many of those are actually working for Moscow. Like everything else about Obama's life, this one secret will only be 'outed' after his death.

    • A. Ray

      There are politically embarrassing connections that have yet to emerge. This supersonic sweep under the rug will only cause many people to dig deeper. It won't be going away and hopefully more details will emerge in the coming weeks.

  • Robert Macfarlane

    How would I know a “sleeper” if I saw one?