A Troubling “Spy” Swap


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The “state secrets” Sutyagin had given away were taken from such sources as a Washington Post article, a British guidebook, “Military Balance,” which contained data on the number of satellites in one of Russian space systems, and articles on Gepard nuclear submarine published in the official newspaper of the Russian army Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star). The prosecutors accepted that all those materials had been previously published, but they argued that Sutyagin brought different pieces of information together and thus created Russian state secrets, which he then sold to the West.

The metaphysics of secrecy dominated the whole trial. One prosecution expert stated:  “I am not familiar with the detailed data on the subject but I am convinced it is a state secret”. He added that “the security of Russia will suffer significant damage” if that information — unknown even to himself — became available to the “Western professionals.”

An expert for defence, meanwhile, concluded that the information transferred by Sutyagin was well-known to Western professionals since Russia had officially disclosed it to the U.S .under the START-1 and START-2 treaties. However, the judge agreed with the prosecutors that the defence expert’s evidence was inadmissible and did not allow the expert to testify before the jury.

The jury itself was infamously replaced half-way during the trial, and it later emerged that two of the new jurors were FSB officers, who pressured other members to return a guilty verdict. So the new jury did that, unanimously, and eight out of 12 members decided against recommending him to mercy.

In a sense, Sutyagin seems a good exchange for any one of the ten Russian spies, who actually inflicted no harm to U.S. security and weren’t even charged for espionage. All ten were so-called “sleepers” who lived in the United States under false identities for many years, with the task to Americanize, make networks of contacts in high places and establish communication channels with their controllers in Moscow. Their bosses from the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service were to “wake” them up on necessity – and it would be only at that stage that the spy-ring could do any real harm.

What is really interesting about this “spy swap” is the haste in which Moscow approached Washington offering a bargain. The Kremlin evidently wanted to get its agents back before they started talking. What was it trying to hide? The schemes of money laundering involving top Russian officials? The names of other “sleepers” still living in the West? This is something we shall hardly ever find out.

Why did the Obama administration act so quickly in returning the spies? It evidently was not under pressure and could have huckstered over the price. There are internationally recognised political prisoners in Russia and the United States could at least have demanded an exchange of one for one, not one for two and a half.

This was certainly a bad bargain for America.

Natalya Hmelik is a Russian journalist living in Israel.

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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.