Russia expels U.S. diplomat accused of spying
An American diplomat accused by Russia of spying for the CIA was ordered to leave the country yesterday after a highly publicized arrest that seemed designed to embarrass the United States and its premier intelligence service.
The expulsion of Ryan Fogle was announced by the Russian Foreign Ministry, and footage on state-run television showed him wearing a blond-streaked wig and baseball cap as he was held facedown and handcuffed.
The Soviet-style episode came just days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Russian capital in an attempt to soothe diplomatic tensions over the civil war in Syria and the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing.
A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which appeared intended to put the United States on the defensive, said, “While our two presidents have reaffirmed their willingness to expand bilateral cooperation, including between intelligence agencies in the fight against terrorism, such provocative Cold War-style actions do not contribute to building mutual trust.”
Fogle, who is listed as a low-level diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was accused of attempting to recruit a Russian official to work as a CIA spy. His Monday night arrest was captured on videotape and made public yesterday.
Russia’s domestic security service said Fogle was caught with a stack of cash. Images showed a collection of amateurish spy gear, including a compass, sunglasses and a form letter promising million-dollar payments and providing tips on setting up an anonymous email account.
U.S. officials did not dispute that Fogle was a CIA employee, and they sought to play down the potential for any diplomatic fallout. A State Department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said only that “an American staff member at the embassy” had been briefly detained.
CIA veterans marveled at the theatrical nature of the arrest and likened it to the spy-versus-spy showdowns that were hallmarks of the Cold War.
“It is right out of the 1980s playbook,” said Milton Bearden, who served as chief of the CIA’s Soviet/Eastern European Division. “The elaborate drama of the whole thing indicates that there was almost certainly an elaborate ambush set up. Cameras at the ready. A well-trained Russian take-down team. All made for taking it public on video.”
Fogle was turned over yesterday to the U.S. Embassy, where he is listed as the third secretary in the political section. CIA officers routinely use State Department positions as diplomatic cover for espionage.
Russia’s government-financed RT television channel reported that Fogle’s alleged target was a Russian counterterrorism official working in the North Caucasus region – an allegation that suggests a tie to the Boston bombing.
The investigation of the April 15 attack has focused on whether one of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had become radicalized during a six-month trip to Russia last year. Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with the police, and his brother, Dzhokhar, who is in custody, are ethnic Chechens.
The FSB had raised concerns about Tsarnev with the FBI and CIA in 2011. But U.S. officials have said the Russians failed to respond to requests for additional information.