Paper claims to expose Russia-US spy scandal “traitor”

Russian daily Kommersant has named a former chief of undercover agents as the “traitor” who blew the cover of Russian agents working in the US – leading to the summer spy scandal which cast a shadow on relations between Moscow and Washington.

The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is being shaken to its core by an internal investigation to establish who is responsible for the worst failure of its agents in years.

Since the first days of the spy scandal, Russian officials said the ten undercover agents arrested in the US and exchanged for four people convicted of spying in Russia for America, fell victim to treachery.

“We know who he is and where he is. He betrayed for money after they hooked him over something. Be sure, a mercader [Ramon Mercader, the man who murdered exiled Bolshevik Lev Trotsky and was later awarded the USSR’s highest order for it] has been sent for him,” Kommersant cites a high ranking official as saying.

The name of the "double agent" has not been made public by the authorities. However, Kommersant claims it is Colonel Shcherbakov, former supervisor of all Russian moles in the United States. According to the newspaper, the SVR failed miserably to notice that the man’s daughter had moved to the US, which would normally make him unfit for the position.

Shcherbakov also turned down a promotion a year ago. Before taking it, he would have had to pass a lie detector test, which suggests that by that time he was working for the US.

His superiors also had not been alerted by the unexpected departure to the US of Shcherbakov’s son, who worked for Russia’s anti-drug enforcement agency. He left shortly before the Russian agents were arrested.

Shcherbakov himself went missing three days before Dmitry Medvedev visited the US – a move that seemingly was not on the order of the Americans as they went to great lengths to postpone the arrest of the Russian agents until after Medvedev’s visit. Even the way it was done – shortly after the president’s departure – looked ugly, the newspaper notes.

The Kommersant article goes on to describe the life of Mikhail Vasenkov, alias Juan Lazaro, whose flawless decades-long intelligence career was ruined by the betrayal. The newspaper alleges that the US had no proof that Lazaro was an agent until, as they claim, Shcherbakov handed over his personal file.

“What happened was not merely treachery. Giving the enemy an agent’s file is f****g outrageous! Such thing never happened before!” a source in the SVR told Kommersant.

The newspaper says the great overhaul of the intelligence agency may eventually result in the sacking of its head Mikhail Fradkov. The agency may even be reformed and made part of the FSB. Foreign intelligence was the responsibility of the KGB in the days of the Soviet Union, but was transferred to an independent body in the early 90s, when Boris Yeltsin was putting restrains on the too powerful organization.

Kommersant’s report prompts many questions. For instance, US officials said they started following Russian agents as far back as ten years ago. The whole tone of the article better suits a spy novel then a news report (Kommersant claims that Americans tortured Vasenkov and broke three ribs and a leg trying to make him talk). And most importantly, why would a secretive agency, which seemingly screwed up so badly and is now in the middle of a major sweep, share such information with the media?