Russian spies in U.S. plead guilty and will be deported

July 9th, 2010 - 4:45 am ICT by BNO News  

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) – The ten defendants accused of spying on the United States for Russia pleaded guilty on Thursday in a New York federal court and will be expelled from the U.S. into the custody of the Russian Federation in exchange for the custody of four alleged U.S. spies.

All defendants revealed their true identities in court, and with the exception of one, admitted that they were all Russian citizens. Under their guilty plea agreements, all of the defendants were required to forfeit specific assets attributable to criminal defenses. The U.S. agreed to transfer the individuals into custody of the Russian Federation in exchange for four individuals who were imprisoned in Russia for allegedly having contact with U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies, which the U.S. government has not confirmed.

“This was an extraordinary case, developed through years of work by investigators, intelligence lawyers, and prosecutors, and the agreement we reached today provides a successful resolution for the United States and its interests,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.

U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said, “Today’s criminal convictions of ten Russian agents in Manhattan federal court mark the culmination of years of extraordinary work by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and the Department of Justice’s National Security Division. Through this historic investigation and prosecution, we have achieved justice on an international scale that has enhanced the national security of the United States of America.”

The case was a multi-year investigation by the FBI and other elements of the U.S. intelligence community in addition to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Counterespionage Section and the Office of Intelligence within the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“Counterintelligence is a top FBI investigative priority, and this case in particular represents the dedicated efforts of the men and women who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to counter the efforts of those who would steal our nation’s vital secrets,” said FBI Director Robert S. Mueller.

An eleventh person involved in the spy ring is still a fugitive after evidently fleeing Cyprus after jumping bail. A swap would have significant diplomatic repercussions for U.S.-Russia relations as the two try to repair ties that have been icy over an atmosphere of suspicion.

Diplomatic officials in both countries previously denied an exchange was planned. However, a meeting in Washington between U.S. officials and Russian ambassadors on Wednesday has all the signs of a swap. Intelligence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer on Thursday said that a “Swap seems very much on the cards. There is political will on both sides, and actually by even moving it as far as they have, Moscow has de facto acknowledged that these guys were spies.”

Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear scientist who was convicted in 2004 of passing secret material on atomic submarines and missile warning systems to a British-based consultancy firm known as Alternative Futures who Russian prosecutors say is a CIA front company, has been serving out a sentence at a prison colony near Arkhangelsk in north-west Russia. He was abruptly moved to Moscow’s Lefortovo jail on Monday, leading to suspicions that a swap could be taking place.

In addition to Sutyagin, notable others will be swapped as well, including Sergei Skripal, a Russian military intelligence officer that was jailed for treason after allegedly passing secrets to MI6 in the 1990s. Sutyagin’s father said that “In order for them to let him go, my son had to sign a document accepting that he was a spy, which was morally oppressive for him, but he had no choice if he wanted to gain his freedom.”

A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister David Cameron would not comment on the U.S.-Russian spy exchange. “This is primarily an issue for the U.S. authorities,” spokesperson Steve Field said.

All of the defendants were living seemingly normal, ordinary lives while they acted as unregistered agents for the Russian government, sending secret messages and following orders received from Russian contacts. The incident has marked the first high profile spy case involving Russia since the Cold War.

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