CIA chief negotiated spy transfers: White House
The head of the CIA was responsible for negotiations with Russia leading to the biggest spy swap since the Cold War, the White House said Friday, underlining the high stakes of the deal.
A spokesman for President Barack Obama told reporters that Leon Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, led the talks and that Obama himself was first briefed on the situation as far back as a month ago.
Ten convicted Russian agents were exchanged for four Russians convicted of spying for Western countries in a dramatic deal finalized Friday.
"The United States government came up with the four individuals to be freed by the Russians based on humanitarian concerns, health concerns, and other reasons that we put forward to the Russians," the White House official, who asked not to be named, said.
"Director Panetta led these conversations and we received a response soon after the names were offered," the official said.
The official also said that security agencies first briefed the White House in February and that Obama was briefed in person on June 11.
"He was told about the illegals program, given details of the individuals involved, what they've done over the past decade, and about provided notice that some of the illegals had plans to travel abroad this summer," the official said.
Obama chaired a National Security Council meeting to discuss the agents on June 18th, who were arrested June 27.
"At the time of the arrests, the President was kept fully apprised of developments," the official said.
The deal was seen as a high-level solution to a spy scandal that threatened to disrupt improving US-Russian relations.
The 10 Russian agents, who were arrested last month, pleaded guilty Thursday and were ordered to leave the county immediately, avoiding the need for a politically embarrassing trial.
© 2010 AFP