Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) says it caught a CIA spy in Moscow who was posing as a US diplomat and trying to recruit a top Russian security officer with promises of up to $1 million a year.
The FSB's public relations center released details along with several photographs of the arrest Monday of the man it identified as Ryan Christopher Fogle, who it said was accredited in Russia as third secretary in the political department of the US embassy in Moscow. According to Russian media reports, the US embassy has so far declined to make any comment on the case. Mr. Fogle is set to be expelled from the country.
The FSB claims that it caught Mr. Fogle red-handed, with "special technical devices, written instructions for the Russian citizen being recruited, a large sum of cash and means of changing his appearance."
Fogle's spy paraphernalia, photos of which were released by the FSB, include his official diplomatic ID's, two different wigs, three pairs of glasses, a map of Moscow, and a folding knife.
The FSB claims he was in possession of a letter, addressed to the targeted Russian security official, which promised $100,000 -- the cash, in 500 euro notes, was also seized -- for an interview to discuss his qualifications, with a salary of up to $1 million a year "for long term cooperation, with extra bonuses if we receive some helpful information."
Experts say this is the first high-profile arrest of a US diplomat on spying allegations since the late Soviet era, although nobody thinks the former cold war spy games between Moscow and Washington ever ended. Three years ago several Russians accused of spying for the US were exchanged, amid a glaring public spotlight, for a group of 10 alleged Russian secret service moles who had been uncovered in the US.
Some of those alleged spies, especially the flame-haired femme fatale Anna Chapman, subsequently defied the old KGB dictum that exposed spies should disappear from view and launched high-profile public careers.
Russian experts say there may be a political subtext to the timing and scope of the FSB's revelations -- US-Russia relations are currently at their lowest point since the end of the cold war -- but that doesn't necessarily mean the allegations are false.
In 2006, at a particularly low point in Russia-British relations, the FSB publicly accused the British spy agency MI6 of carrying out espionage using high-tech devices disguised as rocks, allegations that British officials later admitted were true.
"Remember how we all laughed at the spy-rock story? But it turned out to be real enough, so we must admit that such things do happen," says Alexander Golts, a security analyst with the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal. "There are some peculiar aspects of this story as well, particularly the letter -- which has been reproduced in the Russian press -- promising this Russian $1 million per year for his cooperation. I really have trouble picturing what kind of information is worth that much money," he says.
After offering the money, the letter goes on to give detailed instructions to the Russian target on how to contact the CIA, including a G-Mail account that he should write to -- the tradecraft to avoid detection is all spelled out -- if he accepts the deal.
"One take-away from this is that there's little doubt that US secret services are still active on the territory of Russia," says Mr. Golts.
The FSB statement said the agency has registered an uptick in efforts by US secret services to recruit Russians from the security services of late.
Russia's Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday that Fogle has been declared persona non grata. US ambassador Mike McFaul has been summoned to the Ministry Wednesday to explain the incident.