Russia Plays a Rough Hand in the Spy Game

Russia’s security services have detained a U.S. diplomat who they claim is a CIA agent caught in the process of recruiting a Russian agent. The diplomat, Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was allegedly caught carrying spy equipment including disguises, written instructions and packages of 500 Euro notes.

This looks a lot like a setup to me. The significant public exposure of the detention and the pictures splashed across Russian television indicate the purpose of the arrest is political.

The alleged spy equipment is also suspect. I find it highly unlikely that a trained CIA operative would be walking the Moscow streets with a “spy bag” containing such a generically Hollywood collection of items including a compass, map of Moscow, two very bad wigs, knives and what looks like an ancient cell phone. I suspect that this kit is little more than a plant by the Russians to enhance the story of an American caught attempting to recruit Russian citizens to spy on Russia.

I also don’t see the point in carrying all these items if Fogle’s purpose was to provide a letter to his potential agent asking him or her to set up a Google account to receive further instructions.

Finally, the Russian security service typically will leave in place a known CIA officer so that they can surveil him in order to locate the Russian spy he is trying to recruit.  Just as our FBI has a pretty good idea regarding the identities of Russian diplomats who are actually undercover spies, the Russian security service knows quite a bit about who our CIA people are.  Burning Fogle’s cover is a waste of intelligence information because the FSB will now need to work to identify the replacement we inevitably send.

It is far more likely that the Russians used Fogle – whether he is CIA or not – to embarrass the United States in order to gain some political advantage with the Russian people.  Putin is an excellent spymaster who is not above such maneuvering.  I’m also curious to see whether our FBI makes a similar arrest of a Russian Embassy operative.  The spy game can often include quite a bit of equivalent retaliation – we’ll have to wait and see how Washington decides to handle  Russia’s decision to beach the gentleman’s agreement among spies.

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