Correction to This Article
The article about the four people released by Russia as part of a spy swap misstated the age of Gennady Vasilenko, a former KGB officer, at the time of his arrest in 2005. He was 63, not 84.

Four spies Russia freed have little in common with swap counterparts

Attorney General Eric Holder spoke with Bob Schieffer saying the U.S. acted to break up the spy ring when one member appeared poised to go back to Russia.
By Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 9, 2010

In the world of spy vs. spy, the four Russians released by Moscow on Thursday appeared to have little in common with the 10 "sleeper" agents the Obama administration freed in return.

The 10 posed as modern, upwardly mobile city dwellers, living the American dream while they trolled for contacts in the government and think tanks that could be exploited by what one U.S. law enforcement official called Russia's "professional" spies.

Three of the four whom Russia traded for them were professionals -- once successful career officers in the Russian intelligence service.

One had been convicted of being a double agent for the United States, and another pleaded guilty to giving KGB secrets to the British intelligence agency, MI6. The third was never charged with espionage but was fired from the service under suspicion that he had developed a dangerous friendship with a CIA counterpart. He was arrested years later on charge of illegal weapons possession apparently unrelated to his KGB past.

The fourth was Igor Sutyagin, a 45-year-old arms control and nuclear weapons researcher for a Moscow think tank who had no known intelligence background yet spent the past 11 years in a prison camp after being convicted of passing sensitive information to the CIA through a British front company. Sutyagin had consistently maintained his innocence, noting that he had no security clearance and no secrets to reveal.

The KGB veterans have vastly different stories.

Alexander Zaporozhsky was a decorated officer whose KGB career began in the depths of the Cold War in 1975 and abruptly ended with his reported retirement in 1997. A year later, he appeared in the Washington area with his wife and two sons. He described himself as an immigrant; Russian news reports said he had defected, escaping with his family via Prague. They lived for a while in Northern Virginia, and moved in 1998 to Cockeysville, Md., where they bought a house for about $400,000.

Zaporozhsky told his neighbors that he ran an international consulting business from his home. They thought he was a Russian spy. According to subsequent news accounts in Russia and this country, he was a defector reaping his reward for spying for the United States.

In 2001, Zaporozhsky was lured to Moscow for what his wife said he thought was a KGB reunion. He was arrested at the airport. His tearful wife, in Maryland, told reporters that it was all a fabrication, asking why he would have openly traveled back to Russia, under his own name, if he had been a double agent.

Tried for espionage in 2003, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison despite his protestations that there was no proof he had committed treason. But "the evidence was so well documented," the Moscow Gazeta reported, "that judges sentenced the traitor to two years longer than the prosecution demanded."

Sergei Skripal, also a KGB colonel, had also retired by the time he was charged in 2004 with having spied for the British Secret Intelligence Service, beginning in the late 1990s. According to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the domestic successor to the KGB, he was paid about $100,000 over time, which was transferred to an account at a Spanish bank.

"Skripal had received the secret information that he reported to the British services from former colleagues after leaving the military," the FSB said in a release at the time of his trial in 2006. The Russian daily Izvestia said at that time that Skripal passed the identities of "dozens of his former colleagues operating in Europe under cover, in particular, their secret meeting venues, addresses and passwords."

Prosecutors originally sought a 15-year sentence. It was reduced to 13 years because he cooperated with investigators, confessed and was in poor health, according to the FSB.

KGB Maj. Gennady Vasilenko was arrested in 1988 in Havana and brought back to Moscow, where he was interrogated about his contacts with Jack Platt, a CIA officer in Washington. According to several published accounts, the two were unable to recruit each other and ended up friends. But after six months of imprisonment and interrogation, Vasilenko was released without charge and fired.

He and Platt eventually went into business together, providing security services in Moscow and the United States for international companies. In 2005, however, Vasilenko, then 84, was again arrested in Moscow and charged with illegal weapons possession. In 2006, he was sentenced to three years in prison; it is unknown whether he was released by the time this week's swap was arranged.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company