MOSCOW — An American diplomat was briefly detained by the Russian State Security Service and then ordered to leave the country after being accused of trying to recruit a Russian officer to work as a U.S. agent, Russian officials said Tuesday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry posted a statement on its Web site saying it had declared Ryan C. Fogle, who is listed as the third secretary in the political section at the U.S. Embassy, persona non grata. Fogle must leave the country quickly, the Foreign Ministry said.
Catching a foreign intelligence officer red-handed, the statement continued, raises serious questions about relations with the United States, despite a recent, friendly meeting in Moscow between Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“While our two Presidents have reaffirmed their willingness to expand bilateral cooperation, including between intelligence agencies in the fight against international terrorism,” the statement said, “such provocative Cold War-style actions do not contribute to building mutual trust.”
Fogle was detained Monday night or early Tuesday morning, reportedly while in the act of trying to recruit the unnamed Russian. According to Russian news agencies, he was detained on Akademika Pilyugina Street, in a residential neighborhood across from a park in southwest Moscow. Video of Fogle being led to a car by officers from the security service, known by the initials FSB, identifies the location as virtually in front of a housing compound reserved for foreign diplomats, though it is not clear whether he lives there.
There have been no reports on where his alleged meeting to recruit the Russian officer was supposed to have taken place.
On Tuesday, Fogle was turned over to U.S. Embassy officials. The FSB said Fogle’s listed U.S. diplomatic post is a cover and alleged that Fogle is actually a CIA officer.
Ambassador Michael McFaul, in a statement on Twitter, declined to comment. And in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the department would have no immediate comment.
In the hours after Fogle’s arrest, government-controlled media sites in Russia posted photos of rudimentary disguises, cash and a letter full of instructions that he allegedly was using to try and recruit secret agents. The letter, written in Russian, offers up to $1 million yearly for a long-term relationship that provides good information, and includes instructions on how to open a Gmail account from an Internet cafe or coffee house.
The paraphernalia — including two madcap wigs (one dark, one with blond streaks), two pairs of sunglasses, a pair of regular black-framed glasses, a cigarette lighter, a small knife with a serrated blade, a Moscow map and a compass — seemed anachronistic, experts said, and oddly reminiscent of a novelty store or “Get Smart,” the 1960s-era U.S. television series that spoofed secret agents.
“Who uses a compass these days?” asked Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor who studies Russian security affairs. “This would be a phenomenal breach of tradecraft. This isn’t what they teach you at the CIA.”
Fogle was snatched and splashily identified just as the FSB and FBI have been talking about overcoming their mutual mistrust and improving their cooperation in terrorism investigations, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and in advance of the February Winter Olympics at Sochi.
The Boston bombing suspects, who immigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan, are ethnic Chechens, from Russia’s North Caucasus region. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspect who was killed before being captured, spent several months in Russia last year, and U.S. authorities are trying to work with their Russian counterparts to determine whether his time there was linked in any way to his decision to plan the bombing.
Russia’s government-financed RT television channel reported Tuesday that Fogle’s alleged target was a Russian counterterrorism official working in that region.
Later Tuesday, the head of the international affairs committee of the Russian parliament’s lower house, Alexei Pushkov, said on Twitter that the scandal would be “fleeting,” in his opinion. “And it won’t hurt the Lavrov-Kerry talks. But the atmosphere is not improving,” the tweet said.
The photos posted on government-backed media sites on Tuesday show a man identified as Fogle lying on the ground with his hands restrained behind his back and, presumably later, sitting in what is described as an FSB office. There are additional photos of Fogle’s diplomatic identity card, issued by the department of state protocol of the Russian foreign ministry on April 29, 2011, and good until April 29, 2014; his U.S. Embassy pass; a stack of 500-euro notes; and a cellphone.
The allegations against Fogle bear some parallels to a case in 2001, when Russian television showed video that purported to depict an attempt by the U.S. naval attache in Moscow to recruit a Russian source. The attache allegedly offered the Russian $400 to provide information about a naval minefield. That allegation came amid a souring of relations between the two countries.
In 2002, Russia accused two U.S. diplomats of being CIA operatives and of trying to recruit spies. Russian television showed a blurry video of the two men allegedly administering mind-altering drugs to a Russian official in an undisclosed former Soviet republic.
In 2006, Russia accused four British diplomats of spying.
Three years ago, American officials uncovered a network of Russian sleeper spies in the United States and expelled them.
Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.