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July 8, 2010

Pleas deals by Roosskie agents leading to spy swap

Images The "sentencing" news from New York City in this high-profile russian agents case has me fondly recalling some of the classic quotes from my all-time favorite movie, especially Major Kong's expression of excitement about going "toe to toe with the Roosskies."  Here is the news from NYC federal court:

Ten Russian spy suspects pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in New York and were promptly ordered deported to Russia as part of a deal under which U.S. officials said Moscow would release four prisoners accused of spying for the West.

Each of the 10 admitted acting secretly as an agent for Russia in violation of U.S. law requiring foreign agents to register with the government. U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood then sentenced each of them to time served since their June 27 arrests and ordered their deportation.  Documents submitted in federal court in Manhattan said Russia has agreed to release four prisoners incarcerated there "for alleged contact with Western intelligence agencies."

The four were not immediately named, but reports from Moscow Wednesday indicated that the government was preparing to release Igor Sutyagin, a prominent Russian scientist who has been imprisoned for 11 years on espionage charges he has steadfastly denied.  Three of the Russian prisoners were convicted of spying and are serving lengthy prison terms, the court documents said.

All have served at least "a number of years" in prison, and several are in poor health, according to the documents.  The Russian government has agreed to release them and their families for "resettlement," the documents said.... The deal represents the largest swap of espionage detainees since the Cold War.

Intriguingly, not everyone thinks this deal is ideal:

Stephen Sestanovich, a former National Security Council official and expert on Russia, questioned what he called the Obama administration's "catch and release" policy and whether the government obtained all the information it could from the accused spies.

"The Russians made their point about Sutyagin, keeping him in jail for 11 years," Sestanovich said. "What point do we make by keeping these guys in detention for 10 days?" He also said he wondered whether U.S. law-enforcement authorities are "happy with the idea of an early release."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz said at the start of Thursday's hearing that the 10 defendants wanted to enter guilty pleas.... A U.S. official confirmed Wednesday that talks between the two governments on a swap began last week shortly after the June 27 arrest of the suspects. The diplomatic discussions depended on lawyers reaching a plea arrangement in federal court in New York.

July 8, 2010 at 06:03 PM | Permalink


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Although Stephen Sestanovich questions the decision, the government was tracking these spies for years. The investigation pre-dated the Obama administration, and in fact, the president heard about it only recently. The government was, I think, well aware of the fact that these spies never actually acquired any sensitive information.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Jul 9, 2010 5:04:08 PM

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