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Russia’s top spy, Mikhail Fradkov, may find his career on the line following the revelation that a double agent turned over the names and files of 10 spies working deep undercover in the United States this summer.
Russian legislators and other officials want to see Mr. Fradkov, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), removed from office for not discovering the mole. The double agent is seen as an embarrassment to the Russian intelligence community and a sign of Fradkov’s failures as intelligence chief, reports The Moscow Times.
“If these rumors have started circulating, and knowing Fradkov's business skills, I think there are grounds to fire him,” a former senior intelligence officer who asked to remain anonymous told The Moscow Times. “Betrayal is just a pretext.”
On Thursday, Kommersant, a respected Russian newspaper, reported that a man identified as Colonel Shcherbakov was responsible for outing the 10 Russian agents. Shcherbakov worked in the SVR and was responsible for planting agents deep undercover. A few days before the Russian agents were arrested, he fled to the US.
The BBC described the incident as the “biggest US-Russian spy scandal since the end of the cold war.”
Gennadi Gudkov, a Russian legislator who works closely with security services, confirmed that the Kommersant article was correct in identifying Shcherbakov as a double agent.
“We can all reasonably say that Directorate S, whose US division was led by Shcherbakov, has never known such a failure,” he said in an article in The New York Times. “This directorate is the holy of holies in the intelligence business, and it works on producing deep-cover agents, whose training and legalization sometimes takes decades.”
It remains unclear why Shcherbakov defected to the US, but the Daily Telegraph reports he had a number of family ties there. His daughter had been living in the US for years and his son also moved there shortly before his father outed the SVR agents. Intelligence officials have expressed frustration these and other warning signs were ignored. Most notably, Shcherbakov declined to take a promotion last year that would have required him to take a polygraph examination, possibly revealing his work as a double agent.
As more news about Shcherbakov unfolds, Russia’s intelligence community, which has admitted to mistakes, is likely preparing to undergo a close examination by government officials.
“It means that things are really bad with the internal security at Yasenevo,” a retired senior SVR officer told Russia Profile, referencing the location of the intelligence agency’s headquarters just outside of Moscow. “They are probably keeping themselves busy with the wrong kind of things.”
Several Russian officials have implied that an assassination squad has likely been dispatched to deal with Shcherbakov. “We know who he is and where he is,” a Kermlin official said in a Los Angeles Time article. In July, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also hinted that the 10 spies had been betrayed and he knew the traitor’s identity. He added that an unwelcome fate likely awaited the double agent.