More on Russian citizens charged with espionage by the FBI

TASS news agency headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
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 |
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.

Former KGB officer says Snowden was ‘tricked into going to Russia’

Boris KarpichkovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
A former major in the Soviet KGB has told the British press that a team of Russian intelligence operatives posing as diplomats “tricked” American intelligence defector Edward Snowden into going to Moscow. Many believe that Snowden, a former computer expert for the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, was recruited by Russian intelligence before defecting to Moscow in June 2013. But former Soviet and Russian intelligence operative Boris Karpichkov has said in an interview that Snowden never intended to defect to Russia, but was lured there by a team of Russians spies. Karpichkov was a major in the Soviet KGB and its domestic-security successor, the FSB, where he worked for 15 years. In the mid-1990s, however, he gradually fell out with his employer and was imprisoned for several months before managing to leave his homeland using one of several false passports that had been supplied to him by Russian intelligence. In 1998 he entered Britain, where he lives with his family today, having been granted political asylum. He told British tabloid newspaper Sunday People that Snowden had first attracted the attention of Russian intelligence in 2007, while he was posted by the CIA to Geneva, Switzerland. During his time there, Snowden posed as a diplomat while maintaining the security of the CIA’s computer facilities located on Swiss soil. According to Karpichkov, the SVR, the post-Soviet successor of the KGB’s foreign-intelligence department, first opened a file on Snowden at that time, and kept updating it for six years, having identified the American computer technician as a “potential defector”. The former KGB operative told the British newspaper that the SVR moved quickly after it emerged that Snowden had abandoned Hawaii, where he had been posted by the NSA, and was hiding in a Hong Kong hotel. He was eventually accosted by a group of SVR spies posing as Russian diplomats. The group managed to persuade him, says Karpichkov, that the Russian government would be able to offer him protection in Moscow while he made up his mind over which country to apply to for political asylum. Read more of this post

Russian espionage in Germany rising sharply, says Berlin

Embassy of Russia in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
Russian espionage activity in Germany has reached levels not seen since the days of the Cold War, according to senior counterintelligence officials in Berlin. An article published in weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag on Sunday said Russian intelligence-gathering activities in the German capital center on infiltrating German political institutions and corporations. The Berlin-based publication said Russian spies typically seek to gain “intimate knowledge” of German energy policy as well as corporate practices. Another area of interest for Russian intelligence concerns Germany’s activities in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Citing Hans-Georg Maassen, Director of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV —Germany’s primary counterintelligence agency), Die Welt said that no foreign intelligence service is more active on German soil than Russia’s SVR —one of the KGB’s successor agencies. Most Russian intelligence officers “pose as embassy workers”, said the paper, adding that the BfV believes up to a third of all Russian diplomats stationed at the German capital have a “background in intelligence gathering”. According to Burkhard Even, who directs the BfV’s counterintelligence operations, the primary task of Russian intelligence operatives in Germany is to “closely analyze individuals who could be of interest” to Moscow. Those targeted —usually key staffers at the Bundestag (Germany’s federal parliament) or major German companies— are then systematically accosted by Russian ‘diplomats’. The latter often ask to take them out to lunch or dinner, said Maaßen, and will often pick up the bill. Read more of this post

Diplomat jailed in biggest Dutch spy affair in recent times

Raymond PoeterayBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
A court in the Netherlands has sentenced a diplomat to 12 years in prison for spying for Russia, in what security observers have called one of the worst espionage scandals in recent Dutch history. Raymond Poeteray, who had worked for Holland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1978, was convicted on Tuesday of spying for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Poeteray was arrested in June of 2012 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport, following an extensive investigation by German counterintelligence. The diplomat was captured as he was boarding a flight to Vienna, Austria, the first leg in a return journey to Bangkok, Thailand. Dutch prosecutors claimed during Poeteray’s trial that he had arranged to meet his Russian handlers in Bangkok and give them three USB drives loaded with classified information, which were found on in his possessions upon his arrest at Schiphol. The three-judge panel that sentenced Poeteray at The Hague said he had spied on Holland “for years [while] on assignment from the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service”, in the course of which he damaged the interests of his home country in a “substantial” way. The Dutch prosecutor’s office said Poeteray had provided Moscow with sensitive information, including military and political intelligence on the European Union, inside material on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as documents belonging to the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry. The court heard that, in recent years, the diplomat had given the SVR information about Dutch involvement in the Libyan Civil War, classified data from European-Union-sponsored fact-finding missions in the Republic of Georgia, as well as intelligence on Dutch peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and elsewhere. Read more of this post

As many Russian spies in UK today as in Cold War: Soviet defector

Oleg GordievskyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
The Soviet KGB’s former station chief in London, who defected to the United Kingdom in the 1980s, has alleged that Russia operates as many spies in Britain today as it did during the Cold War. Oleg Gordievsky, 74, a fluent speaker of Russian, German, Swedish, Danish, and English, entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He eventually joined the organization’s Second Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of Soviet ‘illegals’, that is, intelligence officers operating abroad without official diplomatic cover. Gordievsky’s faith in the Soviet system was irreparably damaged in 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1974, while stationed in Copenhagen, Denmark, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the UK. In 1985, when he was the KGB’s station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, he was summoned back to Moscow by an increasingly suspicious KGB. He was aggressively interrogated but managed to make contact with British intelligence and was eventually smuggled out of Russia via Finland, riding in the trunk of a British diplomatic vehicle. In 2007, Gordievsky was awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) by the Queen “for services to the security of the UK”. Russia, however, considers Gordievsky a traitor and the government of Vladimir Putin refuses to rescind a death sentence given to him in absentia by a Soviet court. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper this week, Gordievsky said London is currently home to 37 officers of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the successor agencies to the KGB. Read more of this post

Closed-door trial of Soviet/Russian sleeper agents starts in Germany

The Anschlags' house in MeckenheimBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
A married couple accused of spying on Germany on behalf of the Soviet Union and Russia for over two decades has gone on trial in Stuttgart. Andreas Anschlag, 54, and his wife, Heidrun, 48, were arrested in October 2011 by GSG-9, the elite counter-terrorism and special operations unit of the German Federal Police. They were later charged with having spied since at least 1990 for the Soviet KGB’s First Chief Directorate and its post-Soviet successor organization, the SVR. German federal prosecutors also accuse the couple of document forgery, since their Austrian passports, which they used to enter West Germany from Mexico in 1988 (Andreas) and 1990 (Heidrun) are believed to be counterfeit. There is also speculation that the couple’s surname may in fact be an alias given to them by their intelligence handlers. Upon entering West Germany in 1988 and 1990, the Anschlags initially settled in Aachen, on the German-Belgian border, before moving to Meckenheim, a small town with a population of less than 30,000 located a few miles southwest of Bonn. They concentrated on blending into German society, while raising their son daughter and leading what their neighbors describe as a “discreet life”. Over the years, they managed to recruit a number of informants, including a Dutch diplomat identified by authorities in Holland only as ‘Raymond P’. The diplomat, who was arrested last June, is believed to have given the Anschlags nearly 500 classified documents originating from the German armed forces, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. Read more of this post


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