If you identify an embassy staffer who is a spy for the other side, your natural impulse is to leave them be, because once you identify you can keep tabs on them, see who they talk to, and everything else. There's no reason to make a song and dance, detain them, eject them. —Mark Galeotti, professor at NYU
MOSCOW — Russia's security services say they have caught a U.S. diplomat who they claim is a CIA agent in a red-handed attempt to recruit a Russian agent.
Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was carrying special technical equipment, disguises, written instructions and a large sum of money when he was detained overnight, Russia's Federal Security Service said in a statement Tuesday.
Fogle was later handed over to U.S. Embassy officials, according to the FSB, the successor agency of the Soviet-era KGB.
The detention of Fogle appeared to be the first case of an American diplomat publicly accused of spying in about a decade and seemed certain to aggravate already strained relations between the two countries.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it has summoned Ambassador Michael McFaul to appear Wednesday in connection with the detention. McFaul, who was doing a question-and-answer session on Twitter when the detention was announced, said he would not comment on the spying allegation.
Despite the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States still maintain active espionage operations against each other. Last year, several Russians were convicted in separate cases of spying for the U.S. and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.
Russian state television showed pictures of a man said to be Fogle, wearing a baseball cap and what appeared to be a blond wig, lying face down on the ground. The man, now without the wig, was also shown sitting at a desk in the FSB offices. Two wigs, a compass, a pocket knife, two pair of sunglasses and packages of 500 euro notes were among the items displayed on a table.
Russian state television also displayed a letter it described as instructions to the Russian agent who was the alleged target of the recruitment effort. The letter, written in Russian and addressed "Dear friend," offers $100,000 to "discuss your experience, expertise and cooperation" and up to $1 million a year for long-term cooperation. The letter also includes instructions for opening a Gmail account to be used for communication and an address to write. It is signed "Your friends."
In Washington, the White House referred questions about the detained diplomat to the State Department. There was no immediate response from the State Department.
President Vladimir Putin has stoked anti-American sentiments among Russians in recent years in what is seen as an effort to bolster his support at home. He also appears to have a genuine distrust of Russian nongovernmental organizations with American funding, which he has accused of being fronts that allow the U.S. government to meddle in Russia's political affairs. Hundreds of NGOs have been searched this year as part of an ongoing crackdown.
Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University who studies the Russian security services, said the public exposure of Fogle and the pictures splashed across Russian television suggest a political purpose behind the detention. He said these kinds of spying incidents happen with some frequency but making such a big deal of it is rare.
"More often, the etiquette is that these things get dealt with quite quietly — unless they want to get a message out," Galeotti said. "If you identify an embassy staffer who is a spy for the other side, your natural impulse is to leave them be, because once you identify you can keep tabs on them, see who they talk to, and everything else. There's no reason to make a song and dance, detain them, eject them."Comment on this story
Russia and the United States have been at odds lately over Syria, the adoption of Russian children and U.S. sanctions against Russian officials for alleged human rights abuses.
Galeotti, however, said the Fogle case was unlikely to affect the recent increased cooperation between U.S. and Russian counterintelligence agencies over the Boston Marathon bombings and the two suspects behind those attacks, ethnic Chechen brothers from southern Russia.
"Everyone goes into intelligence sharing knowing there's a parallel process where everyone spies on everyone else," he said.
Associated Press writer Max Seddon contributed to this report.