Russia Expels American on Spy Allegations
Embassy Worker Tried to Recruit a Russian Expert on Caucasus, Intelligence Service Asserts, in New Blow to U.S. Relations
Gregory L. White, Paul Sonne and Siobhan Gorman - Wall Street Journal - May 14, 2013
MOSCOW-Russian authorities expelled an American they accused of being a Central Intelligence Agency officer operating under diplomatic cover on Tuesday, posing a new potential setback to recent U.S. efforts to rebuild frayed ties with Moscow.
In an episode that appeared more costume party than spy thriller, Russian authorities detained American Ryan C. Fogle near a Moscow park late Monday, according to Russia's spy service-which said he was wearing a dirty-blond wig and carrying "special technical equipment" as well as several pairs of glasses and "a large sum" of cash.
Mr. Fogle had been trying to recruit a Russian intelligence services officer responsible for fighting Islamist terrorists in Russia's Caucasus region, the Federal Security Service said.
The agency, known as the FSB, also alleged he had been carrying a Russian-language recruitment note explaining how to set up a secure Gmail account and promising "up to $1 million a year with the promise of additional bonuses" for information.
The State Department confirmed that a U.S. diplomat had been detained and released by Russian authorities but declined to say for which agency Mr. Fogle worked. U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said only that he was "an American staff member of the embassy." Pressed to say if that meant he may not be a foreign-service officer, he said, "right, I just don't have any more information, one way or another."
The expulsion comes a week after Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin in the latest effort to patch up a relationship jarred by disputes over issues from European security and Mideast uprisings to human rights.
The U.S. has lately been seeking the Kremlin's help in ending Syria's protracted war, a bid that was frustrated when the Kremlin announced a few days after Mr. Kerry's departure that it would go ahead with the sales of advanced antiaircraft missiles to Syria.
Moscow and Washington have announced they are cooperating on antiterrorism efforts in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, whose alleged perpetrators had roots in Russia's Caucasus region. But officials in Russia have given contradictory information about what they knew about the activities of alleged bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who spent six months last year in Russia. President Putin and top security officials say Russia had no meaningful information on him, but officials in Russia's Dagestan region say he was tracked closely.
Russian officials expressed surprise at what they characterized as an attempt to recruit a security officer responsible for fighting Islamist terrorists in the Caucasus as the sides had announced cooperation on the issue.
"At first, we couldn't believe it happened," an unnamed FSB officer told U.S. Embassy officials who had come to pick up Mr. Fogle after his detention, according to a video released by the FSB. "When relations between our countries are strengthening, an American diplomat commits in our view a state crime against the Russian Federation." Russia's Foreign Ministry blasted an act it said was in "the spirit of the Cold War" and "raises serious questions for the American side."
It is unusual, according to former intelligence officials, for U.S. spies to be identified and even rarer for them to be publicly shamed. Tuesday's expulsion was the first of a U.S. diplomat from Russia on espionage charges since the early 2000s.
Russia's Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul for an urgent meeting to discuss Mr. Fogle's detention. The ministry said it has ordered Mr. Fogle's immediate departure from the country.
The FSB said Mr. Fogle, who it identified as a third secretary in the political section at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was detained late Monday and subsequently released to U.S. diplomats. The agency alleged that he had called his would-be target, offering a payoff of 100,000 ($130,000) for cooperation. The would-be target initially refused but agreed to meet on a second call, the FSB said.
The expulsion could be an effort by hard-liners in Russia suspicious of U.S. motives to sabotage any deepening of ties, some espionage experts suggested. Or, they said, it could be an attempt by Russian security services to demonstrate to domestic audiences that espionage remains a major threat.
There was no way the FSB's allegations or purported evidence could be verified. Spy agencies rarely confirm or deny the identities of alleged or genuine operatives.
But there was little sign either side wanted to escalate the affair. In Washington, Mr. Ventrell played down any impact the episode might have on broader U.S.-Russian relations. "I'm not sure I would read too much into one incident, one way or another," he said.
A similar theme was sounded on the Twitter account of Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of the International Affairs Committee in Russia's Parliament, who is often critical of U.S. policy. "The spy scandal around the American diplomat will be short-lived in my view," the post read.
The FSB said it had recovered physical evidence from Mr. Fogle, releasing an image of a table strewed with two wigs, three pairs of glasses, three Ziploc bags filled with thousands of euros, a microphone, a compass, a knife and an RFID Shield, a sleeve that protects passports and credit-cards with computer chips from being read remotely. The authenticity of these couldn't otherwise be verified, and the FSB didn't provide additional proof linking the items to Mr. Fogle, apart from the wig he was shown wearing in photos the agency provided from his arrest. The FSB also released a photo of the note for the would-be recruit that it alleged Mr. Fogle had been carrying.
Written in Russian that appeared to be that of a nonnative speaker, the note was addressed "Dear Friend" and signed "Your Friends" and said that the 100,000 was "an advance from someone who has been highly impressed by your professionalism, and who would highly value your cooperation in the future." The note instructed the would-be recruit to communicate with U.S. handlers via a Gmail account accessed either from a public Wi-Fi network or an Internet cafe.
One former intelligence official expressed puzzlement over the letter, saying the language was in some ways "comical and cartoonish." While every situation is unique, this person said, CIA officers would typically use more secure communications channels than Gmail. But the letter did, this person said, include the main elements a CIA officer discusses with a potential recruit-how, when and where to communicate, time frames and payment.
While Russian spying in the U.S. is at an all-time high, U.S. officials say, and the U.S. hasn't pulled back on its efforts to spy on the Russians, public revelations of spy operations have been infrequent since the end of the Cold War.
Mr. Fogle's alleged spy recruitment effort was "within the bounds of normal espionage," the former intelligence official said. "To arrest him takes it to another level."
The last high-profile case was the 2010 U.S. arrest of 11 Russian spies who has been operating under deep cover for years, including the redheaded Anna Chapman, who later returned to Russia to become a model and minor celebrity. The others got hero's welcomes on their return but have largely disappeared from public view.
More recently, the CIA has seen its chiefs of station in Pakistan outed-once in the wake of a CIA contractor's killing of two Pakistanis, and again after the raid on Osama bin Laden's secret compound in Pakistan. CIA officials believe that Pakistan's intelligence service, which knew the identities of the station chiefs, leaked the names in retaliation.
Mr. Fogle, according to public records, is a 29-year-old from St. Louis, who in 2006 graduated from Colgate University in New York and moved to Washington. After that, his home address shifts back and forth between the St. Louis area and the Virginia suburbs outside of Washington, where the CIA's Langley headquarters is located, according to these records.
Reached by phone at her home in St. Louis, Mr. Fogle's mother, Patty Fogle, said, "I have nothing to say."
It is common for CIA officers using diplomatic cover to go by their real names. New identities are usually reserved for officers under "nonofficial cover," where they are generally assuming identities that are totally dissociated with the U.S. government.
Phil Harris, who said he is a friend of Mr. Fogle's in the St. Louis area, said he last saw Mr. Fogle around the December holidays and that they played poker and shot shotguns together. Mr. Harris said Mr. Fogle spoke little about his job, though he had talked about working closely with Russian officials. Friends would sometimes rib Mr. Fogle about his discretion over his job, Mr. Harris said. "He worked for the government and he did something he didn't talk about, really," he said.
A message posted to friends on Mr. Fogle's Facebook page indicated that he was slated to come back to the U.S. soon, according to one of the friends. The April 11 posting read: "Countdown to America: 43 days, 2 hours, and 33 minutes...but who's counting."
Anton Troianovski contributed to this article.
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