YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The World

U.S. Accused of Bid to Recruit Spy

Espionage: The Russian revelation, made while Putin is out of the country, is seen as part of covert opposition to his foreign policies.


MOSCOW — Russian agents caught two CIA operatives trying to recruit a spy from a top-secret Russian military installation, the KGB's main successor agency, the Federal Security Service, said Wednesday.

In an unusual twist, the Russians also said the two agents, working undercover as U.S. diplomats, had administered mind-altering drugs to the recruit, which erased his memory for a long period.

The Americans "used some psychotropic medications unknown to us . . , " a counterintelligence officer with the FSB, as the agency is known, said in an interview on the ORT television network. He was not identified, and his face was hidden in shadow. "But they did not take proper account of human physiology, which resulted in his impaired condition."

After his memory returned, the would-be recruit cooperated with the FSB and continued contacts with the alleged agents--who offered him large sums of money in return for classified information, the Russians said.

"We got involved at an early stage, which allowed us to thwart the leakage of classified information," said a second anonymous counterintelligence officer interviewed on state television. "After we acquired enough data to finish the operation, a decision was made to stop the U.S. intelligence activity."

The spy case comes as anti-American sentiment is rising in Russia toward the levels seen during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 1999 air war on Yugoslavia. Those levels were the highest since the end of the Cold War. In six weeks, President Bush is scheduled to arrive for a summit with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

"At a time when anti-Americanism is raging in Russia, the release of the information about U.S. intelligence activities on Russia's territory is some sort of a covert opposition to President Putin and his foreign policies on the part of Russian secret services," said Viktor A. Kremenyuk, deputy director of Russia's independent USA-Canada Institute.

"Everything has been done in a very Russian style--no one has stepped forth and openly criticized Putin for his policies toward the U.S., but at the same time, the FSB has once again sided with the chorus in Russia that is lashing out at the West in general and the USA in particular," Kremenyuk said.

In a telephone interview with The Times, a spokeswoman for the FSB, who declined to be identified, confirmed the accusations against the two diplomats.

She identified one as Yunju Kensinger, a former third secretary in the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, who is believed to have already left Russia. The second diplomat was David Robertson, she said, and he held an unspecified post in a U.S. Embassy in another former Soviet republic. She said she could not provide further details, including correct English spellings of their names.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow refused to comment on the case; he also refused to confirm whether a diplomat named Kensinger had been stationed there.

According to news reports, the would-be recruit, a Russian named Viktor, works at a secret Russian rocket facility. The reports said he made a business trip to the second unidentified ex-Soviet republic, where he was found in an impaired state by local police, who took him to the Russian Embassy.

Authorities sent him to the FSB in Moscow. The intelligence agency determined that he had been given psychotropic drugs for so long that he could no longer recall his name.

After recovering his health, the Russian reports said, the recruit resumed contact with the U.S. diplomats, who sent him an encrypted letter asking him to place two classified documents at special "drop spots" in a Moscow park in return for $15,000. The news reports included footage of the letter, one alleged drop spot and the bundles of $100 bills allegedly left in payment.

The news reports said the case began a year ago, but they did not say when it ended or when the diplomats might have left.

The case is the first involving U.S. diplomats since March of last year; the United States expelled about 50 Russian diplomats from Washington, and Russia retaliated with a similar expulsion of U.S. diplomats from Moscow.

"There are some forces interested in preventing any further rapprochement between Russia and the USA," said Alexander A. Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessment in Moscow.

"For instance, it would be rather logical to assume that the Russian secret services would not like to see Russia and the USA establish closer relations. And it is also logical to believe that they may have chosen a moment in time like this one--right before the U.S.-Russia summit--in order to influence the president and influence the sentiments of the Russian public," he said.

Putin was on a visit to Germany on Wednesday, and Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov was to meet with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in Madrid today.

Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles