Russia and Eastern Europe

Two Pieces of Spy News

By Yishai Schwartz
Monday, January 26, 2015, 5:11 PM

(Another) Russian Spy Ring Busted in New York City

Earlier today, the Department of Justice announced charges against a New York-based Russian spy ring. Although three defendants have been charged, only one, Evgeny Buryakov, aka “Zhenya,”  has been arrested.  According to the official complaint, Buryakov worked as an agent of the Russian foreign intelligence agency, SVR, while posing as an employee at the manhattan office of a Russian bank. Buryakov’s fellow defendants, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, were both protected by diplomatic immunity and have already left the country. Interestingly, neither Sporyshev’s nor Podobnyy’s independent acts of espionage were themselves illegal-- their official diplomatic positions having exempted both from a requirement to notify the U.S. Attorney General that they were, in fact, spies. Nevertheless, both have been charged with conspiring with, and aiding and abetting, Buryakov.

According to the complaint, the spy ring was tasked with gathering  intelligence on U.S. sanctions against Russian banks and recent American efforts to develop alternative energy resources. They sought to do so by recruiting American sources in New York city, including employees at major U.S. companies and “several young women with ties to a major university located in New York City.” These recruitment efforts do not appear to have been particularly successful.

CIA Leaker Jeffrey Sterling Convicted

Later today, Jeffrey Sterling, a CIA officer accused of passing secret information about operations against Iran to New York Times reporter James Risen, was convicted under the Espionage Act. Although the Justice Department had initially insisted that Risen himself testify, prosecutors backed down in the face of heavy pressure from the press and proceeded with a circumstantial case alone. Prosecutors argued that only Sterling had the particular information and motive, and they portrayed his revelations as a form of retaliation against the CIA after his firing in the early 2000s--retaliation that had seriously  harmed American interests and endangered the life of an agent. Apparently, the jury agreed. Sterling thus joins a small list of leakers convicted under the Espionage Act, a list that currently includes Chelsea Manning, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, Lawrence Franklin, Shamai Leibowitz and Samuel Morison (pardoned).