Russian Spies to Head Home to Russia

On Thursday, The Obama Administration have agree to swap spies in exchange American spies held in Russia. From the Washington Post:

In a rapidly arranged spy swap reminiscent of Cold War intrigues, the U.S. government on Thursday agreed to expel 10 agents who had burrowed into American society and in return won the release of four Russians jailed for illegal contacts with the West.

The spies pleaded guilty to acting as unregistered foreign agents for Russia, a charge well short of espionage. They had endured only a few days of jail time since their arrests in the United States last month; in prior cases, spies spent years behind bars before being exchanged.

U.S. officials said there was no point in holding the agents, since authorities had monitored their activities for years and had unraveled their network. Obama administration officials said they had been eager to win the release of the four Russians, some of whom have spent long stretches in prison and are in poor health.

The deal was expected to remove an irritant from the U.S.-Russia relationship, which has improved markedly under the Obama administration. But one senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that “vestiges of an old Russia” are evident in the spying case. “Frankly, that’s why we were as aggressive in rolling up this operation as we were,” the official said.

President Obama has not spoken to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the spy swap but has been “fully briefed and engaged in the matter,” the administration official said. “It did come to the [U.S.] president for his authorization. And he gave it.”

Another senior U.S. official said the timing of the spies’ arrests, just days after the two presidents happily munched cheeseburgers during a visit to Washington by Medvedev, was coincidental. It was driven “by our knowledge that one individual intended to depart the United States” imminently, the official said.

The U.S. government declined to name the four Russians being released from custody. But a Kremlin statement identified them as Alexander Zaporozhsky, Sergei Skripal and Gennady Vasilenko, all former intelligence officers; and Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear expert at a think tank.

The Washington Post Has more.


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