Russia still holding swapped spies: reports

13th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The 10 Russian spies deported in a sensational spy swap with Washington are being questioned by the special services in a prolonged debriefing at a secret location in Moscow, reports said Tuesday.

The Moskovsky Komsomolets daily said that the 10, including the glamorous Anna Chapman, were not allowed to leave a compound owned by the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and were subjected to tests including lie-detectors.

There has been sharp criticism in the Russian press and by ex-agents of their spycraft, notably their use of social networking sites and apparently archaic techniques such as invisible ink.

"At the current time the agents are working with specialists," the report quoted a source in the Russian special services as saying

"They are trying to clarify how their cover could have been blown in such situations."

The Interfax news agency also quoted a security source as saying that the 10 were in Moscow and were working with the "competent organs".

It said that some of the agents had expressed a desire to change their names "in line with a witness protection programme," the agency's source added.

The SVR has refused to give any comment on the 10 agents but the reports were the first significant claim of details about the spies' fate to have emerged since their swap for four Russian convicts.

Moskovsky Komsomolets said they would be released in the next few weeks, so long as the probe showed that serious errors had not been committed in their work as agents in the United States, the report said

"For clarifying all the details, interviews are being carried out along with different kinds of tests which include lie-detectors," its source said.

"This should not be called an interrogation in the true sense of the word. But if it turns out that serious mistakes were made, spies, employees of the SVR, can be fired."

The report said that mobile phones did not work at the compound and the agents were not allowed to leave. However, they were being supplied with all necessities.

The idea that their cover was blown as a result of "treachery" within the service was also being examined, it added.

Immediately after landing in Moscow on Friday, the 10 were taken to SVR headquarters in Yasenevo outside Moscow but exactly where they were being questioned now was not clear, it said.

The arrest of the agents sparked fears that the espionage scandal could harm improving ties with Washington, but Friday's spy exchange appeared aimed at limiting any damage.

Some of the agents had been working as deep cover "sleepers" for as long as a decade although Chapman -- who has become a tabloid celebrity over the last fortnight, had gone to the United States more recently.

The paper's source meanwhile rubbished US media reports that the arrests of the agents were hastened by a panicked telephone call from Chapman to her father, who is believed to have a background in the Russian special services.

"Agents know what to do in these situations. She would not have turned to her father. At the Russian embassy in the US there is a person in charge of security and other questions," the source said.

Such is her fame that a local newspaper in her native town of Volgograd has launched a contest -- entitled "Let's help our guys with a good song" -- to compose the best song about her.

"Any scandal can end cheerfully, optimistically -- for example with a good song," Andrei Serenko, the editor of the Gorodskiye Vesti newspaper told Interfax.

© 2010 AFP

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