Russia, US, in largest spy swap since World War II

Igor Sutyagin

Igor Sutyagin

The Russian and American governments have agreed to conduct one of history’s largest spy exchanges, as ten Russian agents captured in the US last month have been swapped for four Russian citizens imprisoned by Moscow for spying for the US and Britain. The ten Russians arrested by the FBI in June were non-official-cover (NOC) operatives, otherwise known as ‘illegals’, a term used to identify deep-cover intelligence operatives not associated with a country’s diplomatic representation. According to reports, they were all instructed by the SVR, Russia’s equivalent of MI6, which is responsible for all foreign intelligence operations abroad, to plead guilty to “acting as unregistered foreign agents” a charge not equivalent to espionage in either seriousness or repercussions. They were then legally forbidden from ever returning to the United States and summarily expelled. They were taken from the courtroom directly to the airport, where they boarded a plane to Vienna, Austria. In return, Russian government sources have confirmed that four Russian citizens, arrested in recent years for spying on behalf of the US or Britain, will be released from prison and delivered to US authorities. The four include nuclear expert Igor Sutyagin, former division head in the Russian Academy of Sciences’ USA and Canada Institute, who has served 11 years of a 15-year sentence for passing state secrets to a CIA front company. The remaining three are former intelligence officers: Alexander Zaporozhsky, an ex-SVR colonel who was jailed for 11 years in 2003 for spying for the US; Gennady Vasilenko, formerly of the KGB, who was arrested by Soviet authorities in 1988 in Havana, Cuba, for spying for Western intelligence services; and Sergei Skripal, formerly of Russia’s Main (military) Intelligence Directorate (GRU), who was convicted in 2006 on charges of conducting espionage for Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency. It is interesting to note that the spies released by Moscow do not include Gennady Sipachyov, a Russian whose age and profession have been kept secret by the Kremlin, who was recently given a four-year prison sentence for allegedly emailing secret Russian military maps to the US Pentagon. Commenting on the unusual rapidity of the spy swap, US intelligence sources argued that the Russian illegals did not require much interrogation by US counterintelligence experts, because the FBI “had monitored their activities for years and had unraveled their network”.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

3 Responses to Russia, US, in largest spy swap since World War II

  1. FENG says:

    Americans should be proud of their culture, the omnipotent soft power that inadvertently let this spies “defect” to the U.S. Engrossed in pop culture, IT gadgets and lavish lifestyle, these Russians have put down their guards and were actually sending information they found through the public media (probably Wikileaks as well) back to Moscow.
    Culture power!

  2. Van says:

    Lots of interesting comments from an anonymous Russian source in this LATimes article:,0,3272329.story

    “”There should be a very hefty reason for such a huge and quick operation,” the former general said. “What we know from the court information tells me that we deal with some new form of spying I already called a Russian economy-class spying.

    “All my friends and former colleagues are ashamed of the whole fouled-up operation but this speedy spy exchange also tells me that there may be something untold, something hidden among this soap opera, which we don’t know and which the Russian authorities want to remain hidden, whereas the Americans don’t give a damn.””

  3. Van says:

    All children of Russian spies repatriated

    All the children of the 10 Russian spies freed in a dramatic swap with Moscow have been sent to Russia to rejoin their parents, US attorney general Eric Holder said Sunday.
    “The children have all been repatriated. We did so consistent with what their parents’ wishes were,” Holder told CBS “Face The Nation.”
    Holder confirmed that some of the children were US citizens by the fact they were born in the United States, but said their parents wanted them in Russia.
    Some of the children were adults, or almost of age, and they were given the choice of where to go.
    “To the extent that they had the ability to make choices, they were old enough to make them, they made their decisions and they’ve gone back with their parents,” he said.

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