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15 May, 2013 14:52

New spy game post-Boston? Russia, US seek common ground amid scandal fallout

New spy game post-Boston? Russia, US seek common ground amid scandal fallout

The Kremlin has expressed regret over the Moscow spy scandal, saying signals sent by the US leadership were not heard by the CIA. Russia is to contact the CIA director over the matter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign affairs advisor Yury Ushakov on Wednesday called the alleged spying activities of the US diplomat Ryan Fogle “surprising,” saying that “a clear signal” sent by US leadership on constructive cooperation of Russian and US special services “was not heard by effectors on US side.”

A “constructive response” from Putin will be delivered to Obama on May 20-21, Ushakov stated. However, it “will not influence” the meeting of the countries’ presidents at the G8 Summit, he added.

Meanwhile, the Russian side will seek to contact CIA Director John Brennan about the matter, Ushakov said. He reminded that the Russian and the US intelligence agencies should now be working “not against each other but side by side.”

Russia’s presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has also expressed concerns, saying the situation “will not contribute to strengthening mutual trust between Russia and the USA and to bringing our relations to a fundamentally new level,” as cited by RIA Novosti.

Russia’s counterintelligence agency announced on Tuesday it caught a CIA agent trying to recruit a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer. The detained man is identified as Ryan Christopher Fogle, a third secretary of the Political Section of the American embassy in Moscow. Following brief detention Fogle was declared persona non grata and ordered to leave Russia as soon as possible.

The spy scandal comes at a time when Russia and the US find themselves engaged in a joint effort to find solution to the Syrian crisis, having agreed to hold a peace conference. Almost all experts agree on the ‘bad timing’ for the spy news.

No doubt that the new spy scandal has broken out at an extremely inappropriate moment for both sides – just four weeks before Obama-Putin meet in Northern Ireland and only a month after President Obama’s national security advisor Tom Donilon’s visit to Moscow with a personal letter from Barack Obama to Vladimir Putin,” Sergey Strokan, a contributing journalist to RT, says.

Russia’s foreign minister, however, appears to take the spy scandal a little more lightly. Sergey Lavrov found it unnecessary to discuss the issue with his American counterpart during talks which were held the same day news of the CIA spy detention emerged.

John Kerry didn’t touch upon it, and I decided it would be irrelevant to talk about something, which is already publicly known. I guess it is all clear,” said Lavrov as cited by Itar-TASS.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.(Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin)

Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department Patrick Ventrell was grilled by journalists at a Tuesday press-briefing. All he was able to come up with though, was confirmation that an officer at US Embassy in Moscow was briefly detained and released.

US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul spent about an hour at the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, having been summoned there in connection with the spy detention. However, he refrained from giving any comments on his visit.

The ministry’s website explains McFaul received a declaration saying Russia condemned the fact that a CIA representative trying to recruit a Russian Federal Service officer was acting under the cover of the US Embassy.

Meanwhile, the media reaction has ranged from mockery to serious insight into the alleged spy’s motives.

The Wall Street Journal describes it as “an episode that appeared more costume party than spy thriller,” which typifies the jeering in the press.

But the Western media had been equally quick to ridicule the British “spy rock,” which caused a diplomatic row with Russia in 2006 – until the UK finally admitted it really was an MI-6 device early last year.

Former CIA officer Ray McGovern believes the ‘costume party’ could be due to the spy’s lack of professionalism.

If one assumes that the story is reasonably correct, it does look like he was entrapped, just like the FBI entraps 99 per cent of the so-called terrorists here in this country. You can entrap people by leading them on and it very much looks like, if this story is correct, that this fellow was not very well trained and that he was entrapped,” McGovern told RT.

When asked how come the spy episode occurred amid Russia’s and US’ intelligences being in close cooperation, sharing information on the Boston bombers, the former spy replied “there is no such thing as a friendly intelligence service…You can cooperate very closely with another intelligence service, but friendly is beside the point.

AFP Photo / FSB

The Russian intelligence officer who Fogle has been trying to recruit is said to be a North Caucasus expert. The CIA might well be interested in getting first-hand information on the region, as it is where the Tsarnaev brothers, accused of carrying out the April Boston Marathon bombings, come from.

The brothers were under observation by both the Russian and the American secret services, but that somehow was not enough to prevent the tragedy, with both sides later blaming each other for unanswered requests and alerts.

Following the bombings the FBI, together with some US diplomats, visited Dagestan to meet with the Tsarnaev brothers’ parents and obtain more information about the elder brother’s stay in the Caucasian republic.

The US agents are said to have been shocked by their Dagestan experience as they had to move around the republic’s capital in armored vehicles, according to the Kommersant daily. The newspaper also assumes the telephone numbers of Russian FSB agents could have been obtained by the CIA following that trip by American officials and intelligence officers to Dagestan.

Photo from FSB

Photo from FSB