Senior Russian intelligence defector to the US is allegedly dead

Aleksandr PoteyevA Russian former senior intelligence officer, who reportedly defected to the United States after helping the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrest 10 Russian spies in 2010, is believed to have died. The arrests, which revealed the so-called “Russian illegals program” in the US, were part of a counterintelligence operation codenamed GHOST STORIES by the FBI. The operation culminated in June 2010 with the dramatic arrests of 10 Russian ‘illegals’ in several US states. The Russian illegals, deep-cover intelligence operatives with no official connection to the country that employs them, had been operating in the US for over a decade prior to their arrest, using passports from third countries, including Britain, Canada and Uruguay. They were eventually exchanged with spies for the West that had been imprisoned in Russia.

Moscow blamed the arrests of the illegals on Colonel Aleksandr Poteyev, a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, who rose through the ranks of the KGB and its successor agency, the SVR, to become second-in-command in the so-called Department S. The senior leaders of Department S are believed to be appointed directly by the president of Russia, and are tasked with directing the activities of all Russian illegals operating abroad. According to the Russian government, which tried Poteyev in absentia in 2011, he began working for the US Central Intelligence Agency in 1999, shortly before entering the senior echelons of Department S.

A panel of judges was told during Poteyev’s Moscow trial that he left Russia without permission on June 24, 2010, just days before the FBI arrested the 10 Russian illegals in the US. He initially went to Belarus, from where he notified his unsuspecting wife via a text sent from a mobile phone that he was leaving Russia for good. He then traveled to Ukraine and from there to Germany, where he was allegedly picked up by his American CIA handler. It is believed that was provided with a new identity and passport, which he used to enter the US. By the time the Russians sentenced him to 25 years in prison for treason, Poteyev was adjusting to his new life in America.

But on July 7, the Moscow-based Interfax news agency reported that Poteyev, had died in the US, aged 64. The brief report did not specify the cause of Poteyev’s alleged death, nor did it state how Interfax acquired the information. Since the report was issued, no confirmation of Poteyev’s purported death has appeared from any other news source, or from government agencies. Russia’s Sputnik News contacted the SVR last week, but the agency declined to comment. It is believed that Poteyev’s two children were working in the US at the time of his defection, and that they are still living in the country.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 July 2016 | Permalink

Muslim man held in New York prison claims he was CIA spy

Blerim SkoroAn ethnic Albanian man facing deportation from the United States says he was trained by the Central Intelligence Agency to spy on “the most ruthless, dangerous terrorists in the Balkans and the Middle East”. Blerim Skoro, 45, from the former Yugoslav Republic of Kosovo, was arrested last February in Brooklyn, New York, for illegally using a discounted student MetroCard. He was then found to have entered the US illegally and is currently in prison in New Jersey, facing possible deportation back to Kosovo. But Skoro told The New York Times in an interview published on Wednesday that he cannot be sent back to Kosovo because he operated there as a spy for the CIA.

According to The Times, Skoro came to the US in 1994. Six years later, he was convicted in a New York court of transporting drugs and laundering nearly $700,000 in criminal proceeds. But while in prison, Skoro was recruited as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and was tasked with monitoring inmates with militant Islamist leanings. In 2007, when Skoro was released from prison and deported back to Kosovo, he allegedly continued working for US intelligence. He told The Times that he was trained by US operatives in a CIA safe house in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia before taking on assignments in the Balkans, the Middle East and even Pakistan. Throughout that time, Skoro says he posed as a militant Islamist who had become radicalized while serving his prison sentence in America. He claims to have supplied the CIA with intelligence relating to al-Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist groups.

However, in 2010, while traveling to a CIA safe house in Macedonia for a meeting, he was shot by assailants who probably knew he was working for a foreign spy agency. That incident prompted the CIA to sever its relationship with him, dismissing him from his agent status and offering him approximately $40,000 in compensation. Soon afterwards, Skoro made his way to Canada, from where he entered the US illegally, in November 2014. Before getting arrested in Brooklyn in February, he says he made contact with US intelligence officials, offering to spy for the US against the Islamic State. But his offer was not accepted. The Times article speculates that US intelligence may have no use for Skoro because his identity has been compromised, or because his reliability has come into question.

Currently Skoro is being held without bond at the Bergin County Jail in northern New Jersey, because federal prosecutors believe he might flee if released. The Times contacted the CIA, the FBI and police sources, but all declined to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 July 2016 | Permalink

Russian deep-cover spy sentenced in New York court

VnesheconombankA Russian intelligence officer, who posed as a banker in the United States, has been handed a prison sentence by a court in New York. Evgeny Buryakov, 41, posed as an employee of the New York branch of Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-owned bank headquartered in Moscow. However, in January 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Buryakov along with Igor Sporyshev, 40, and Victor Podobnyy, 27, who were employees of the trade office of the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York. According to their indictment, 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. The FBI said the two were employed by the SVR’s ‘ER’ Directorate, which focuses on economics and finance. Operating under diplomatic guise, they regularly met with Buryakov, who the FBI said was the third member of the alleged spy ring.

However, unlike Sporyshev and Podobnyy, Buryakov was operating under non-official cover, posing as a bank employee. Non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs, as they are typically referred to in the US Intelligence Community, are usually high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that employs 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.

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. The three SVR officers were arrested following a successful FBI sting operation, which involved an undercover FBI agent posing as an American investor offering to provide Buryakov with classified documents from the US Treasury. In March of this year, Buryakov pleaded guilty to working in the US as unregistered agent of Russia’s SVR. He has been sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison and ordered to pay a $10,000. Sporyshev and Podobnyy, who held diplomatic immunity, were expelled from the US following their arrest.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 May 2016 | Permalink

Nuclear black market thriving in Eastern Europe despite efforts to stop it

MoldovaThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting authorities in some of Europe’s poorest states in their efforts to stop criminals with Russian connections from selling radioactive material to foreign terrorist organizations. The Associated Press said earlier this month that joint efforts by the FBI and Eastern European governments have frustrated at least four attempts to sell stolen radioactive material in the black market since 2010.

In one case, which involved a criminal gang in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, the smugglers were trying to sell radioactive material to representatives of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Associated Press said it spoke to law enforcement and judicial authorities in Moldova, who have set up a small team of detectives to investigate the nuclear black market. The Moldovans told the Associated Press that they were working with the FBI, and even shared some of their investigative case files with the news agency.

In another recent case, which was cracked by authorities in February of this year, a smuggler in Moldova tried to sell a significant quantity of cesium, a radioactive metal typically extracted from the waste produced by nuclear reactors. According to the Moldovans, the quantity of the fission product was “enough to contaminate several city blocks”. Additionally, the Moldovan investigators told the Associated Press that the smuggler was specifically seeking a buyer from the Islamic State.

In yet another case, a joint US-Moldovan investigation targeted Alexandr Agheenco, a mysterious Russian-born smuggler, who in the spring of 2011 said he had access to bomb-grade uranium. According to Moldovan investigators, a middleman working for Agheenco told a prospective buyer from Sudan that he would be willing to sell an unspecified quantity of uranium, as well as “blueprints for a dirty bomb”. Although the sale was prevented by the US-Moldovan investigators, Agheenco managed to escape.

According to the Moldovans, the worsening relations between Washington and Moscow are making it more difficult for investigators from the two countries to share intelligence on nuclear smuggling rings. As a result, smugglers are finding it easier to operate across Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union. Many leading black-market operatives manage to avoid capture and prosecution, while even those arrested are usually able to evade lengthy convictions, which means that they quickly return to nuclear smuggling, reports the Associated Press.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 October 2015 | Permalink | News tip: J.B.

Dual US-Russian citizen pleads guilty to spying for Russia

Alexander FishenkoA resident of Texas, who is accused by United States authorities of setting up a front company in order to illegally acquire American technology on behalf of Russia’s intelligence services, has pleaded guilty to espionage charges. Alexander Fishenko, 49, was one of 11 people arrested in October 2012 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The arrests came during several raids in locations around Houston, Texas, which included the headquarters of Arc Electronics, Inc. The FBI accused the export firm of having shipped over $50 million-worth of military-grade micro-electronics since 2008. The supplies were received in Moscow, Russia, by a mysterious procurement company called Apex System LLC. Counter-intelligence investigators in the US claim that both firms are part of an elaborate scheme set up by Russian military intelligence, aimed at stealing dual-use electronics hardware created by American firms.

According to the indictment, Arc Electronics told its US suppliers that the microelectronics technologies were intended for use in various types of streetlights. But in reality, said the FBI, the company gave the hi-tech supplies to the Russian Ministry of Defense for use in airborne surveillance systems, as well as in remote weapons guidance systems, among other military applications. Federal prosecutors said that, for over four years, Arc Electronics engaged in a prolonged “surreptitious and systematic” scheme to circumvent US government export controls, thus seriously damaging US national security. Following the early-morning raids, the FBI unsealed indictments against 11 Arc Electronics employees, most of whom were charged with “acting as unregistered agents of the Russian Federation in the United States” —legal jargon for espionage.

Fishenko, who is originally from Kazakhstan, was scheduled to face trial on September 21 in New York. But on Wednesday he chose to plead guilty to the charges leveled against him. He is the fifth member of the 11 Apex System employees arrested back in 2012 to plead guilty to espionage. A government spokesman said the Fishenko’s plea did not result from an agreement to cooperate with the FBI. He now faces up to 15 years in prison. His lawyer, Richard Levitt, declined comment when he was contacted on Wednesday. The Russian government has denied that it had any involvement with Fishenko’s operations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 2015 | Permalink

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.

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