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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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