CIA readying to debrief Western agents: expert

10th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

CIA officials were expected to whisk agents freed by Moscow to a safe house for a long debriefing, an former top security aide said Friday, adding they could provide valuable information to the spy agency.

"They will be taken to a safe facility... by intelligence officers who will go through a period of debriefing them and preparing them for a new life and arranging for new identities," Fran Townsend told CNN television.

Townsend, the homeland security adviser to former president George W, Bush, was speaking after the White House confirmed the CIA chief Leon Panetta had led negotiations with Russia for the biggest spy swap since the Cold War.

Ten convicted Russian agents were exchanged for four Russians convicted of spying for Western countries in a dramatic deal completed Friday at Vienna airport.

But it was not immediately clear how many of the four released by Moscow arrived in the United States, after their plane stopped briefly in England.

US and British media reports suggested at least one, and possibly two of the four, had stayed behind in Britain. The CIA did not immediately respond to an AFP inquiry on the issue.

A spokesman for President Barack Obama told reporters that Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, had led the swap negotiations and that Obama himself was first briefed on the situation as far back as a month ago.

"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.

Townsend said the CIA will offer the freed agents housing and financial assistance as they start their new lives.

And they will quiz them closely to "understand what were the sorts of questions that Russian officials were asking them when they were in prison and arrested and how were they treated," she said.

The debriefings, which could take weeks or even months, will help "from a counterintelligence perspective," she added, saying: "We will likely learn a fair amount from these people."

The US administration said security agencies first briefed the White House in February and that Obama was briefed in person on June 11.

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 to being foreign agents and were ordered to leave the country immediately, avoiding the need for a politically embarrassing trial.

© 2010 AFP

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