More on Russian citizens charged with espionage by the FBI

TASS news agency headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A criminal complaint unsealed Monday in a Manhattan court has revealed more details about a complex counterintelligence operation by American authorities against three Russian citizens in New York. The Federal Bureau of Investigation filed charges against two Russian diplomats, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, as well as Evgeny Buryakov, an employee of a major Russian bank in Manhattan. All three are believed to be officers of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the direct institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB. According to the criminal complaint, the two diplomats met Buryakov nearly fifty times between March 2012 and September 2014. FBI counterintelligence agents witnessed the Russians pass “small objects or notes” between each other in public, said the indictment. As intelNews reported yesterday, the three Russians were in regular contact with individuals “associated with a leading Russian state-owned news organization” in the US. According to The Daily Beast, the news organization in question is the Moscow-based TASS news agency, which is owned by the Russian government. The court documents also reveal that Sporyshev and Podobnyy broke basic rules of intelligence tradecraft, by contacting Buryakov using an unencrypted telephone line and addressing him by his real name, rather than his cover name. These conversations, which occurred in April 2013, turned out to be monitored by the FBI’s counterintelligence division, which promptly recorded them. In subsequent telephone conversations, Sporyshev and Podobnyy exchanged views on how to recruit female assets in New York. According to the transcripts provided by the FBI, Sporyshev expressed the view that female assets posed problems, in that they would not let male SVR case officers “get close enough” unless they entered a sexual relationship, which made recruitment of assets complicated. Eventually, the FBI set up a sting operation targeting Buryakov. He was approached by an undercover FBI agent posing as an American investor, offering to provide the Russian with classified documents from the US Treasury. In exchange for the documents, he wanted assistance from the Kremlin to build a chain of casinos in Russia. Buryakov spoke with Sporyshev on the phone about the investor’s offer, and was advised by the diplomat that it could be “some sort of a set up —a trap of some kind”. When Sporyshev told Buryakov to proceed cautiously, the latter received from the undercover FBI agent documents purporting to be from a US Treasury source. The Russian was promptly arrested and now faces up to 20 years in prison on charges of operating as an unregistered agent of a foreign power.

US busts Russian spy ring, charges three with espionage

Russian mission to the UNBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the United States have charged three Russian citizens, two of them diplomats, with operating a New York-based spy ring on orders from Moscow. Early on Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation named the diplomats as Igor Sporyshev, 40, and Victor Podobnyy, 27. It said the two were employees of the trade office of the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York. But the FBI had apparently been monitoring the two accredited diplomats since March of 2012. Its agents eventually uncovered that Sporyshev and Podobnyy were in fact employees of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the direct institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB. According to their indictment, the two were employed by the SVR’s ‘ER’ Directorate, which focuses on economics and finance. The two SVR employees, operating under diplomatic guises, regularly met with a third member of the alleged spy ring, Evgeny Buryakov, 39, also an SVR officer. However, unlike Sporyshev and Podobnyy, Buryakov was operating under non-official cover, posing as an employee in the Manhattan office of a major Russian bank. Non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs, as they are known in the US Intelligence Community, are typically high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that is employing them. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers, among other covers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for conducting espionage. US government prosecutors suggested on Monday that the three alleged SVR operatives were also in regular contact with individuals “associated with a leading Russian state-owned news organization”, presumably in the US. They also tried to recruit American citizens to spy for Moscow, including employees of “major companies” and “several young women with ties to a major university in New York”, according to the indictment. It is believed that the three Russians were primarily interested in information relating to potential US government sanctions against Russian financial institutions, as well as Washington’s efforts to promote the development of alternative resources of energy. The FBI said Sporyshev and Podobnyy, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, “no longer reside in the US”. Presumably they were expelled. Buryakov, however, appeared in a Manhattan court on Monday.

High-profile US diplomat probed by FBI counterintelligence

Robin L. RaphelBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A highly experienced American diplomat, who is commonly described as “a fixture in Washington foreign policy circles”, is reportedly being investigated by counterintelligence agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Washington Post named the diplomat last week as Robin L. Raphel, who served as United States ambassador to Tunisia before being appointed as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, during the administration of US President Bill Clinton. The New York Times described Ms. Raphel as one of the US Department of State’s highest-ranking female diplomats. She is considered an expert on Pakistan and until recently served as an adviser to the Department of State’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ms. Raphel officially retired from the Foreign Service in 2005 and joined the ranks of Cassidy & Associates, a high-powered government-relations firm based in Washington, DC, which is known to have performed lobbying assignments on behalf of the government of Pakistan. In reporting the alleged investigation of Ms. Raphel by the FBI, The Washington Post said last week that the nature of the probe was “unclear”. But it stated that FBI counterintelligence agents had searched the former diplomat’s house and office. Citing unnamed government sources, The New York Times reported that the FBI was trying to determine why Ms. Raphel had taken classified information to her house, and whether she had shared it, or planned to share it, with a foreign government. There was no mention in the article of the identity of the foreign government that may have been privy to classified information allegedly taken home by Ms. Raphel. Media reports suggested that the former diplomat had been placed on leave and stripped of all her government security clearances as part of the ongoing FBI investigation. Insiders note that it is extremely rare for such a prominent figure in Washington to become the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation.

Fearing Soviet invasion, FBI trained Alaskan spies, files show

Russia, Alaska, CanadaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States government set up a secret network of citizen-spies in Alaska in response to concerns that the Soviet Union was planning to invade the territory, newly declassified documents show. The documents, dating from 1950, were given to the Associated Press by The Government Attic, a website specializing in publishing US government files obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The news agency said on Sunday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation decided to set up the secret network of agents in the 1950s, after it was warned by the US Air Force that a Soviet invasion of Alaska was “a real possibility”. One FBI memo from the time stressed the likelihood that Moscow would stage an airborne invasion of what was then the US territory of Alaska, using “bombing and the dropping of paratroopers”. Responding to such concerns, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover authorized Operation WASHTUB, which involved the establishment of a “stay-behind” force of nearly 100 citizen-agents recruited from the local population. The operation, which was also known by several other codenames, including CORPUSCLE, STIGMATIC and CATBOAT, was headed by Hoover protégé Joseph F. Carroll, of the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations. From 1951 to 1959, the OSI, in association with the FBI, recruited Alaskan woodmen, fishermen, pilots, and others, paying them up to $3,000 a year (nearly $30,000 in today’s currency), a sum which was to be doubled following a Soviet invasion. The “stay-behind” agents were to retreat to predetermined hideouts throughout Alaska, unearth hidden caches of food, survival supplies, and communications facilities, and transmit information about Soviet movements. The Associated Press report suggests that the concept of stay-behind agents in Alaska was novel in those early stages of the Cold War. But the report fails to mention Operation GLADIO, the stay-behind program instituted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Europe, which appears to have preceded Operation WASHTUB by at least two years. Read more of this post

FBI searched for Soviet atom bombs in 1950s’ New York, files show

Redacted page from FBI filesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
American authorities suspected that Soviet intelligence had smuggled atom bombs in New York City and that Moscow was planning to detonate them “at an expedient time”, according to declassified documents. The revelation comes from a set of internal FBI files, which were declassified and released in redacted form in 2010. Copies of the documents, which date from the early 1950s, were posted (.pdf) on The Government Attic, a website specializing in publishing US government files obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents were then noticed last week by The Village Voice‘s Anna Merlan. The file (.pdf), titled “Atomic Bomb in Unknown Consulate, New York City”, is nearly 80 pages-long. It indicates that the search for a supposed Soviet atomic weapon in New York began shortly after the summer of 1950, when the FBI received a tip from a source in Brazil. The source reportedly told the Bureau that Soviet operatives had “placed an atom bomb in a consulate […] in New York City to be detonated at such time as the Soviets consider expedient”. The problem was that the FBI was not aware of the identity of the consulate, which was presumed to belong to the USSR or to a country politically aligned with it. The Bureau thus actively engaged in searching for the bomb during the years of 1951 and 1952. The search was primarily conducted by the FBI’s informants in various communist-bloc consulates and agencies in New York, including the Soviet mission to the United Nations, located on Park Avenue, as well as the Polish, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian missions, located a few blocks away from their Soviet equivalent, on East 67th Street. The FBI also appears to have mobilized its informants inside the Soviet government-run Amtorg Trading Corporation, which handled the USSR’s trade with foreign countries, as well as the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) offices at Rockefeller Plaza. A clandestine search was also conducted at the Soviet diplomatic mission’s retreat on Long Island. American customs agents were also notified to keep their eyes open for oddly shaped diplomatic packages “which appear to be suspiciously heavy in proportion to their dimensions”. Read more of this post

FBI kept tabs on Mandela’s first-ever visit to the US, files show

Nelson MandelaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has released for the first time some of its internal files on the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. Among other things, the documents reveal that the Bureau closely monitored Mandela’s first ever visit to the United States in 1990. The legendary black campaigner arrived in the United States in June of that year, just four months following his release from prison after 27 years of captivity. The FBI documents include a redacted memorandum from the Bureau’s field office in Atlanta, Georgia, addressed to William Sessions, who was the FBI’s Director at the time. The memorandum notes that the Bureau had been able to recruit an informant inside, or closely affiliated with, Mandela’s inner circle. The source had provided his FBI handlers with a detailed itinerary of Mandela’s 11-day US tour. The memorandum stresses that the “confidential source” was “newly opened” and thus his or her “reliability [was] not yet established”. But Mandela’s travel itinerary, which had apparently been planned by a member of staff in the office of Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, was carefully dissected by the FBI. The documents show that the Bureau’s principal concern was safeguarding the life of the South African political leader, who had received countless death threats in the days prior to his arrival. According to the declassified files, the threats originated from various racist skinhead and neo-Nazi groups, the Ku Klux Klan, as well as a host of white supremacist organizations. But alongside its concern about “terrorist activity being directed” at the civil rights campaigner, the Bureau was obligated to monitor his activities on US soil because at that time Washington still designated the African National Congress, which Mandela led, as a “foreign terrorist organization”. The designation was finally lifted in 2008. Read more of this post

New details about FBI probe that led to Chinese spy’s conviction

Dongfan "Greg" ChungBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Some of our longtime readers will recall the case of Dongfan “Greg” Chung, a Chinese-born American engineer for Boeing, who was convicted in 2009 of passing US space program secrets to China. The case is arguably far more important than it might have seemed at the time, as Chung was technically the first American to be jailed for economic espionage. Many at the Federal Bureau of Investigation view the Chung conviction as a landmark case for providing clear legal proof of Chinese espionage in the US. Little is known, however, about how the FBI managed to uncover Chung’s espionage activities, which are believed to have gone on for nearly three decades. In the latest issue of The New Yorker, Yudhijit Bhattachargjee reveals for the first time the fascinating background of how the Bureau got to Chung. It did so through another American engineer of Chinese origin, named Chi Mak. Unlike Chung, who was ideologically committed to Maoism and was recruited by Chinese intelligence after immigrating to the US, Mak was an accredited intelligence operative who was allegedly specifically planted in the US by the Chinese. He came to America from Hong Kong in 1979 and worked for California-based defense contractor Power Paragon. He almost immediately began stealing secrets relating to US Navy systems. The FBI first started monitoring Mak and his wife, Rebecca, in 2004, following a tip. The effort evolved in one of the Bureau’s biggest counterintelligence cases, involving elaborate physical and electronic surveillance that lasted for nearly 18 months. During that time, FBI and Naval Criminal Investigation Service agents installed surveillance cameras outside the Maks’ residence, followed the suspects around, and monitored their telephone calls. Eventually, the surveillance team managed to acquire a warrant allowing them to clandestinely enter the Maks’ home and conduct a secret search. The nondestructive entry team discovered numerous stacks of secret documents “some two or three feet high” all around the suspects’ house. Among the findings was an address book containing the names of other engineers of Chinese origin living in the state of California. That, says Bhattachargjee, was the first time the FBI came across Chung’s name. Read more of this post

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