FBI investigates Russian cultural center for alleged intelligence links
November 1, 2013
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the United States are probing a cultural exchange program run by the Russian government, on suspicion that it clandestinely recruited Americans as intelligence assets. Last week, Mother Jones magazine reported that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been interviewing American citizens who participated in the Rossotrudnichestvo exchange program. The program, which is operated by the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Washington, DC, has sent approximately 130 Americans to Russia since 2001. Headquartered in northwest Washington, the Centre facilitates cultural programs and Russian-language lessons for a nominal cost. Many of the Americans who joined the Rossotrudnichestvo exchange program over the years were invited to travel to Russia in groups of 20 to 25. Most were graduate students, private-sector executives, political campaign staff, or workers in nonprofit organizations. They had their travel expenses, including transportation, lodging and meals, paid by the Russian government. During their trips to Russia, which customarily lasted for around 10 days, they stayed in expensive resorts and regularly met with officials from the Russian government. The American newsmagazine said that the FBI seems to be especially interested in Yury Zaytsev, a Russian government official who runs the Rossotrudnichestvo exchange program and is also Director of the Russian Centre for Science and Culture. The Washington Post reported that Zaytsev appears to be listed as a diplomat with the US Department of State. This means that he enjoys diplomatic immunity and can be expelled from the US, but cannot be arrested for espionage. The Post said it contacted the Russian embassy in Washington, but was told by embassy spokesman Yevgeniy Khorishko that the Center was not involved in recruiting spies. The paper also called the Centre, and was told by a woman who refused to give her name on the phone that the Center’s Director, Yury Zaytsev, was not prepared to comment on the case. The FBI also refused comment on the case, through its spokeswoman Amy Thoreson.