Red-handed? Russia ‘catches CIA spy on Moscow recruitment mission’

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Shaun Walker on the scarcely believable tale of the wig-wearing diplomat expelled from Moscow

Moscow

A blond wig, a bundle of cash and a printed A4 letter offering one million dollars for cooperation. It sounds more like Austin Powers than the modern day CIA, but these are the accoutrements allegedly found on the person of US diplomat Ryan Christopher Fogle when he was caught red-handed trying to recruit a Russian counterintelligence officer to spy for America.

The FSB, Russia’s security service and the successor to the KGB, made the surprise announcement that it had detained Mr Fogle this afternoon, and Russian news channels ran photographs and video of his detention and interrogation. Identifying him as the Third Secretary of the Political Section of the US Embassy in Moscow, the FSB claimed Mr Fogle had been detained while trying to persuade a Russian officer to work for the CIA. The case is the first time a US diplomat has been publicly accused of spying in more than a decade. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed that an officer at the US embassy in Moscow was briefly detained and released, but declined to make any further comment. A video was released by the FSB of Mr Fogle’s arrest, showing him being marched out of a block of flats by a number of men.

The FSB also released photographs of Mr Fogle’s diplomatic accreditation and of what is apparently a rather ham-fisted recruitment letter. “Dear friend,” it begins. “This is an advance from people who are impressed by your professionalism and would highly value your cooperation in the future.” There are instructions for setting up a secret Gmail account and an offer of $1m per year if the source agrees to cooperate. Also photographed were the alleged possessions of Mr Fogle, including a stack of €500 notes, two wigs, a map of Moscow and sunglasses.

In the video, an off-camera Russian voice says: “At 11.30pm, this man, who says he is American diplomat Ryan Fogle, made a call to an employee of [sound muted] and offered him to spy in the interests of the US.” The voice then goes on to say that the person Mr Fogle wanted to recruit was engaged in counter-terrorism in Russia’s North Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya and Dagestan, which have links to the Boston bombing suspects. The agent refused, but Mr Fogle called him again, insisting on a meeting and a cash offer of €100,000.

“Initially, we couldn’t believe that this was happening,” the off-camera voice lectures Mr Fogle. “You know very well that the FSB is actively helping with the investigation into the Boston bombings… In this climate, when relations between the two countries are improving, American diplomats are carrying out crimes against the Russian Federation.”

Last night the Russian Foreign Ministry said Mr Fogle, who has diplomatic immunity, had been handed over to US officials and that he would be expelled from the country. “A classic spy arsenal was discovered, as well as a large sum of money that doesn’t just expose a foreign agent caught red-handed, but also raises serious questions for the American side,” the ministry said. “Such provocative actions in the spirit of the Cold War in no way help to strengthen mutual trust.”

Perhaps by coincidence, the announcement came just as the US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, was holding a Q&A session with the public via his Twitter account. When asked if he could give any comment on the reports, he answered “No.” Mr McFaul has been summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry for talks.

The detention comes just a week after the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, flew into Moscow for a meeting with security officials about the Russian background of the Tsarnaev brothers. While there is a sense that after Boston, security services in Russia and the US might work more closely, there is still a huge amount of mistrust between the former Cold War foes. While analysts said it was possible that the CIA had indeed been trying to recruit sources on the North Caucasus, the careful choreography of the detention and the leaked footage which was played repeatedly on state television, suggested that a high-level decision had been taken to maximise political capital from the affair. Diplomats accused of spying are usually expelled quietly.

Found on Fogle? The CIA letter

Dear friend,

We are ready to offer you $100,000 to discuss your experience, expertise and co-operation. The reward may be much greater if you are willing to answer specific questions. In addition to that, we can offer up to $1m a year for long-term co-operation, with extra bonuses if we receive some helpful information.

To get back with us, please go to an internet café, or a coffee shop that has Wi-Fi, and open a new Gmail account which you will use exclusively to contact us. As you register, do not provide any personal info that can help identify you or your new account.

Once you register this new account, use it to send a message to unbacggdA@gmail.com. In exactly one week, check this mailbox for a response from us.

Thank you for reading this letter. We look forward to working with you in the nearest future.

Your friends.

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