U.S. spy ring broken, Russian agency says

CIA operation tried to steal defense secrets, intelligence officials say

April 11, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW - Russia's intelligence agency said yesterday that it had broken a U.S. spy ring that was trying to steal Russian defense secrets, including information about the country's military ties with former Soviet republics.

The allegation adds to a list of ruffled relations between the two countries weeks before President Bush is scheduled to arrive in Russia for his first visit. President Vladimir V. Putin's decision to support the American-led war against terror had strengthened U.S.-Russia ties, but disagreements over nuclear disarmament and trade are expected to top the agenda at next month's summit.

Last week, the U.S. government put Russia on notice that it would not certify Russia's full commitment to carrying out biological and chemical weapons treaties - a necessary step if Russia is to receive new U.S. aid for disarmament projects.

Providing few details, Russian intelligence officials told news organizations here that the Federal Security Bureau, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, had thwarted a U.S. espionage operation.

"The FSB has irrefutable evidence of the CIA's spying activities in Russia," the Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed FSB official as saying. "The timely intervention of the Russian security service stopped the U.S. plans at an early stage, taking control of their action and preventing a serious threat to the security of the Russian Federation."

The FSB official alleged that a junior U.S. diplomat in Moscow led the operation, adding that the official had already left Russia. The NTV evening news program Sevodnya interviewed an unidentified FSB agent who said three CIA officers were involved in the spy ring.

"The work was carried out by CIA officers, working under diplomatic cover in Moscow and in one of the CIS states," the FSB official told NTV, referring to the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose economic federation of former Soviet republics.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow refused to comment on the allegations. The FSB press office did not return telephone calls requesting more details.

In Washington, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield declined to comment. The CIA rarely responds publicly to such allegations.

The Russian official told NTV the intelligence agency learned of the CIA operation after a worker at a top-secret Defense Ministry factory informed the FSB that Americans had approached him for help and information.

Alleging that he had been doped with psychotropic drugs by U.S. agents, apparently so that he would spill his secrets, the worker said the Americans wanted information associated with his work, the FSB official said. No details about his name, background or place of employment were available.

Interfax quoted the security service's press office as saying that one of the Americans was a consular officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. She used secret drop points and messages in invisible ink to communicate with Russian contacts, the FSB said.

Despite the end of the Cold War, espionage continues even though Russia and the United States are now on friendly terms.

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