U.S., Russia swap 14 spies in Vienna
Friday, July 9, 2010; 8:16 AM
Two airplanes -- one carrying 10 Russian agents deported from the U.S., the other transporting four Russians jailed for improper contacts with the West -- landed at Vienna's international airport early Friday as part of a rapidly arranged spy swap that stirred memories of Cold War intrigues, news services reported.
After a brief time on the ground, the planes reportedly took off again, according to television accounts and news agencies, apparently to deliver those on board to their respective destinations.
The 10 accused spies who were expelled from the U.S. are headed to Russia, according to an agreement negotiated between Moscow and Washington, while the four who had been jailed in Russia are being sent to the West.
The 10 U.S.-based agents pleaded guilty in a Manhattan courtroom Thursday to acting as unregistered foreign agents for Russia, a charge well short of espionage. They had endured only a few days of jail time since their arrests in the United States last month; in prior cases, spies spent years behind bars before being exchanged.
U.S. officials said there was no point in holding the agents, since authorities had monitored their activities for years and had unraveled their network. Obama administration officials said they had been eager to win the release of the four Russians, some of whom have spent long stretches in prison and are in poor health.
The deal was expected to remove an irritant from the U.S.-Russia relationship, which has improved markedly under the Obama administration. But one senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that "vestiges of an old Russia" are evident in the spying case. "Frankly, that's why we were as aggressive in rolling up this operation as we were," the official said.
President Obama has not spoken to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the spy swap but has been "fully briefed and engaged in the matter," the administration official said. "It did come to the [U.S.] president for his authorization. And he gave it."
Another senior U.S. official said the timing of the spies' arrests, just days after the two presidents happily munched cheeseburgers during a visit to Washington by Medvedev, was coincidental. It was driven "by our knowledge that one individual intended to depart the United States" imminently, the official said.
The U.S. government declined to name the four Russians being released from custody. But a Kremlin statement identified them as Alexander Zaporozhsky, Sergei Skripal and Gennady Vasilenko, all former intelligence officers; and Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear expert at a think tank.
Unlike the 10 "sleeper" agents arrested in the U.S., three of the four had long histories with the KGB, Russia's intelligence service. All had served years in Russian prisons.
The 10 U.S.-based spies walked into Courtroom 26a in Manhattan's federal courthouse in groups of five Thursday afternoon, some wearing beige-and-blue prison jumpsuits and others sporting T-shirts and jeans. One by one, they entered their pleas. The courtroom was silent as the judge asked the defendants to reveal their identities.
The man known as "Richard Murphy" hesitated, apparently unsure which name to use. "Your true identity," said Judge Kimba Wood. Then "Murphy" gave his name: Vladimir Guryev.