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Ex-Soviet Intelligence Officer Calls CIA Spy Case 'Badly Staged Comedy'


A man in Moscow looks at a computer screen displaying a photo published by the Russian state English-language RT website, which shows Ryan Christopher Fogle being detained by the Federal Security Service in Moscow.

A man in Moscow looks at a computer screen displaying a photo published by the Russian state English-language RT website, which shows Ryan Christopher Fogle being detained by the Federal Security Service in Moscow.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announced on May 14 that it had detained a U.S. diplomat in Moscow for allegedly trying to recruit a Russian counterterrorism officer. The incident is one of the strangest spy scandals involving Russia in recent memory. But Boris Volodarsky, a veteran of Russia's GRU military intelligence service now based in London, believes the case was entirely fabricated. He spoke to RFE/RL’s Claire Bigg.

RFE/RL: The FSB says U.S. Embassy employee Ryan Christopher Fogle was detained while trying to meet a potential recruit. Russian television aired footage of Fogle being detained while reportedly wearing a blonde wig and carrying a map of Moscow, a compass, a knife, and large amounts of cash. The circumstances of Fogle’s arrest and the rather primitive equipment he was allegedly using have raised eyebrows. Is the FSB’s account plausible?

Boris Volodarsky: No expert can believe that this happened in reality. Nowadays, operations are conducted in a totally different manner. There is a huge cover, lengthy preparations, and a lot of technology -- not the primitive things that were used in this case. It looked like a badly staged comedy from the 1970s...

To begin with, the recruitments are not done like this, and they are never carried out in Moscow. It all happens abroad. Secondly, the gadgets that were allegedly found on Mr. Fogle have not been used in espionage for 30 or 50 years.

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RFE/RL: Fogle was also allegedly carrying a letter offering his target $100,000 for a first meeting and $1 million annually for cooperation. Are such large sums in line with fees offered to Russian spies?

Volodarsky: I know the budgets. This is entirely impossible. First of all, a recruiter would never come to a meeting with a target carrying anything compromising; he would never have sums of money with him; he would never have this stupid letter spelling out all the details; he would never have things like a torch (a flashlight), a map of Moscow, wigs, or black glasses. One million dollars is a possible sum to offer to a defector or to a very important source, but that would be after a long period of cooperation. And $100,000 would never be given in cash, it would be transferred to a numbered account in Switzerland or elsewhere.

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RFE/RL: Nonetheless, Fogle was shown being detained while wearing a wig. If he was never a spy, then how were Russian authorities able to orchestrate such a stunt?

Volodarsky: In my opinion, there are only two logical explanations. Mr. Fogle was probably a member of the CIA, but I think he was either recruited by the Russians under whatever circumstances or he was compromised, maybe with a honey trap. I have no other explanation. But I don’t think that he was recruited by the Russians. This would have been extremely risky. I think he was conned; they compromised him in some way.

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RFE/RL: News of Fogle's detention came just as Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, began a Q&A session on Twitter. Could this be a coincidence?

Volodarsky: It is quite possible. But I think it is not that important whether or not it was tied to Mr. McFaul's Twitter conference. It was an operation to support Mr. Putin's policies and the latest moves by the Russian government and the Kremlin administration. I am talking about the "foreign agent" law, the alleged financing of the Russian opposition, the Georgian affair in which they accuse Georgians of financing a possible revolution or a change of government in Russia. This was done to support Mr. Putin's policies. It is absolutely clear...

This was also a response to the number of Russian espionage cases that were public in recent years. Since 2010, when 11 Russian illegals (editor's note: alleged spies working without official cover) were found in the United States, numerous Russian espionage cases in the United States and in Europe have been uncovered. These were huge embarrassments for Russia.

RFE/RL: Russian authorities have asked Fogle to leave Russia. What do you think will now happen to him in the United States?

Volodarsky: He will be interviewed extensively by the counterintelligence department of the agency, they will try to find out all the circumstances, and I am quite sure that he will confess. Then they will decide what to do with him. He will probably be fired.

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