MOSCOW – A U.S. diplomat was ordered Tuesday to leave the country after the Kremlin’s security services said he tried to recruit a Russian agent, and they displayed tradecraft tools that seemed straight from a cheap spy thriller: wigs, packets of cash, a knife, map and compass, and a letter promising millions for “long-term cooperation.”
The FSB, the successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB, identified the diplomat as Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, detaining him briefly overnight.
It alleged Fogle was a CIA officer trying to recruit a Russian counterterrorism officer who specializes in the volatile Caucasus region in southern Russia, where the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects had their ethnic roots.
Fogle was handed over to U.S. Embassy officials, declared persona non grata and ordered to leave Russia immediately. He has diplomatic immunity, which protects him from arrest.
The State Department would only confirm that Fogle worked as an embassy employee but wouldn’t give any details about his employment record or responsibilities in Russia. Some officials also referred inquiries to the CIA, which declined to comment.
Fogle was the first American diplomat to be publicly accused of spying in Russia in about a decade. While relations between the two countries have been strained, officials in both Washington and Moscow sought to play down the incident.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul to appear today in connection with the case. McFaul said he would not comment on the spying allegation.
Russian officials expressed indignation the United States would carry out an espionage operation at a time when the two countries have been working to improve counterterrorism cooperation. “Such provocative actions in the spirit of the Cold War do nothing to strengthen mutual trust,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Russia’s Caucasus region includes the provinces of Chechnya and Dagestan. The suspects in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his elder brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police – are ethnic Chechens. Tamerlan spent six months last year in Dagestan, now the center of an Islamic insurgency.
U.S. investigators have been working with the Russians to try to determine whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev had established any contacts with militants in Dagestan.
Despite the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States still maintain active espionage operations against each other. Last year, several Russians were convicted in separate cases of spying for the U.S. and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.
But Tuesday’s case had espionage elements that seemed more like “Spy vs. Spy” than Robert Ludlum and John le Carre novels.
Russian state TV showed pictures of a man said to be Fogle, wearing a baseball cap and a blond wig, lying facedown on the ground. The man, without the wig, was also shown sitting at a desk in the offices of the FSB, the Federal Security Service.
Two wigs, a compass, a map of Moscow, a pocket knife, three pairs of sunglasses and envelopes of 500 euro notes (each bill worth $649) were among the items the FSB displayed on a table.
The FSB also produced a typewritten letter that it described as instructions to the Russian agent who was the target of Fogle’s alleged recruitment effort. The letter, in Russian and addressed “Dear friend,” offers $100,000 to “discuss your experience, expertise and cooperation” and up to $1 million a year for long-term cooperation. The letter also includes instructions for opening a Gmail account to be used for communication and an address to write. It is signed “Your friends.”
“If this is genuine, then it’ll be seen to be appallingly bad tradecraft – being caught with a ‘How-to-be-a-Spy 101’ guide and a wig. He would have had to have been pretty stupid,” said Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University who studies the Russian security services.
Samuel Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London, called the evidence bizarre.
“I wouldn’t have thought that spies gave each other written instructions,” he said in a telephone interview. Greene also noted that the FSB had displayed Fogle’s official diplomatic ID, suggesting he was carrying it along with the spy paraphernalia when he was detained.
“Maybe this is what the CIA has come to, maybe the propaganda folks in the Kremlin think we are this stupid, or maybe both,” he said.
A five-minute video produced by the FSB and shown on state TV showed a Russian official speaking to what appear to be three U.S. diplomats who had come to pick up Fogle in the FSB office. The official, whose face is blurred, alleged that Fogle called an unidentified FSB counterintelligence officer who specializes in the Caucasus at 11:30 p.m. Monday. He then said that after the officer refused to meet, Fogle called him a second time and offered 100,000 euros if he would provide information to the United States.
The Russian official said the FSB was flabbergasted. He pointed to high-level efforts to improve counterterrorism cooperation, specifically FBI Director Robert Mueller’s visit to Moscow last week and phone calls between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.
“At a time when the presidents of the two countries are striving to improve the climate of relations between the two countries, this citizen, in the name of the U.S. government, commits a most serious crime here in Moscow,” the official said.
Galeotti said the public exposure of Fogle suggests a political purpose behind the detention. He said these kinds of spying incidents happen with some frequency, but making such a big deal of them is rare.