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U.S. diplomat accused of recruiting for CIA in Russia

Ryan Christopher Fogle is ordered out of the country. A Russian official says the FSB would have kept it quiet if the suspect hadn't been acting 'as if he was in a spy movie.'

May 14, 2013|By Khristina Narizhnaya and Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW — Russian authorities detained an American diplomat accused of attempting to recruit a Russian intelligence officer into the CIA, the Federal Security Service said Tuesday.

Ryan Christopher Fogle, the third secretary of the American Embassy in Moscow, was held overnight before being handed over to U.S. authorities Tuesday, according to the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor agency to the KGB. Fogle, who was ordered to leave the country, was carrying a large amount of money and written instructions for the Russian recruit, the FSB said.

The agency alleged that Fogle was working for the CIA and was trying to recruit a Russian counter-terrorism expert on the Caucasus region. The suspects in last month's bombings at the Boston Marathon were two brothers whose family had roots in Chechnya and Dagestan, both areas of the Caucasus.

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Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, was summoned to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the ministry's website said. McFaul tweeted that he would not comment, and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow also declined to comment.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell would confirm only that "an officer of our U.S. Embassy in Moscow was briefly detained and was released." Asked whether the matter would further strain U.S. relations with Moscow, he said, "I wouldn't read too much into this incident one way or another."

The FSB released video that was broadcast on Russian television purporting to show Fogle disguised in a blond wig and baseball cap. Equipment allegedly confiscated from him was also shown, including a recording device, blond and dark wigs, sunglasses, a knife and stacks of 500-euro notes. A 500-euro note is worth about $650.

A digital image of a letter that Fogle was allegedly carrying was posted on Russia Today's website. It is addressed "Dear friend" in Russian and offers instructions on how to make contact with the unidentified sender.

"We are prepared to offer you $100,000 and discuss your experience, expertise and cooperation, and your payment might be far greater if you are prepared to answer some specific questions," a translation of the note says. "Additionally, for long-term cooperation we offer up to $1 million a year with the promise of additional bonuses for information that will help us."

The letter then instructs the Russian to open a Gmail account at an Internet cafe or coffee shop with a Wi-Fi connection and avoid disclosing any personal information. He is given an email address, told to check it in "exactly one week" and is offered help paying for a smartphone or a tablet computer if needed. The letter is signed "Your friends."

An FSB official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the incident, said the agency had not initially intended to make the incident public.

"Under different circumstances, we could have tried to avoid publicity on the episode not to embarrass our [U.S.] partners," the official said. "But their man acted way too arrogantly and defiantly as if he was in a spy movie: The guy was loaded with money, sets of instructions, makeup kit and other giveaway stuff."

The official refused to comment on whether the person allegedly being recruited was acting as part of an FSB sting operation.

During a videotaped interrogation released by the Russian agency, an FSB official with his face blurred accuses Fogle of pressuring the counter-terrorism officer to cooperate with the CIA. The officer allegedly refused to see Fogle after the first contact, but was pressed a second time for a meeting. It was at that session that Fogle was detained, the FSB official said.

"We couldn't even believe that this happened when we first heard," the official said. "Today, when our countries are reaching a new level of cooperation ... this citizen, in the name of the U.S. government, commits the most serious of crimes, here in Moscow."

Fogle's detention came on the heels of visits to Moscow this month by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

The United States and Russia have been cooperating on the investigation of the Boston bombings, in what seemed like a burgeoning reset of relations that had nose-dived amid the Syria conflict, a ban on American adoptions of Russian children and restrictions on Russian nongovernmental organizations receiving funding from abroad. President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet next month at the Group of 8 summit in Northern Ireland.

The last major spy scandal involving the two major powers occurred in 2010, when Russian Anna Chapman was arrested along with nine other alleged sleeper agents in the United States.

Although Fogle's detention could damage ties between the nations, Andrei Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation think tank, doesn't think it's likely. The 2010 spy scandal had little effect on relations.

"Spy arrests are awkward for each country, and those involved probably won't be getting promotions," Kortunov said. "These things are inevitable. We just have to watch the reaction from the Kremlin and the U.S. for indication of what is to come."

sergei.loiko@latimes.com

Narizhnaya is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.

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