Russian double agent helped US crack spy ring: lawmaker

11th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Russian spy ring broken by Washington in June was detected with the help of a Moscow double agent whose daughter lives in the United States, a newspaper and a top lawmaker revealed Thursday.

The Kommersant business daily identified the accomplice as Shcherbakov, a colonel with the Russian foreign intelligence service whose job was to plant civilian moles in the United States similar to the deep cover spy ring dismantled by Washington.

Shcherbakov, whose first name was not given, fled Russia for the United States just three days prior to President Dmitry Medvedev's June visit to Washington, Kommersant said.

The report was confirmed by the lower house of parliament's security council deputy chairman Gennady Gudkov, who said he had also known about Shcherbakov's betrayal.

"The damage committed by the colonel to the state is too enormous" not to have further repercussions, Gudkov told Interfax.

Gudkov said that he had spoken to other foreign intelligence agents, and that "all of us have reason to believe that there has never been a failure of this kind ... in our US department."

"It takes decades to train such agents," Gudkov said. "This does irreparable damage to the image of Russia's (civilian) intelligence service, whose entire future is in doubt," said Gudkov.

Kommersant wrote that numerous circumstances around Shcherbakov's case could have led the authorities to detect the double agent sooner.

It cited sources as saying that Shcherbakov's son had quit his post with the Russian drug control agency and fled to the United States just before Washington revealed the spy ring.

"The Americans began fearing that we had suspected that there was a collaborator ... and began making their arrests," one security agency source told the paper.

Shcherbakov's daughter was a long-term resident of the United States, Kommersant said, without providing further details.

"It seems odd that no one bothered to check why a person of that rank has a daughter living in the United States," Kommersant quoted an intelligence official as saying.

And Shcherbakov himself turned down an important promotion last year, suggesting that he had already been working with Washington, the paper said.

The group of 10 spies, many of whom had been working for years undercover in the United States as sleeper agents, returned to Russia in a July spy swap that saw Moscow send four Russian convicts to the West.

The group included Anna Chapman, who turned into something of an international celebrity for her glamorous looks and spy-thriller career path.

She has since stripped off for a Russian men's magazine and launched her own website, becoming a particular favorite of the London and New York tabloid press.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- who served as a Soviet foreign intelligence agent in East Germany -- had already hinted that he knew about the "traitor".

"This was the result of treason and traitors always end badly. They finish up as drunks, addicts, on the street," Putin said at the end of July.

Putin enigmatically added that "recently one (traitor) for instance ended his existence abroad and it was not clear what the point of it all was."

The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) told Interfax that it did not comment on press speculation.

But the Kommersant report quoted a source as saying that the agency was continuing to investigate "loads" of former and current intelligence employees for potential links with the United States.

"This is a big mix-up that will cost (people) many titles and jobs," an intelligence source was quoted as saying.

The source suggested that the spy ring's discovery had prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to review Russia's entire US espionage policy.

© 2010 AFP

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