Ryan Fogle detained by FSB, ordered out of Russia on spying accusation

Russian authorities briefly detained Ryan C. Fogle, a U.S. diplomat whom they accuse of spying, before ordering him to leave the country:

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. . .

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. (Read the full article here.)

Video of Fogle’s arrest is available at WorldViews, as is the letter that Fogle was said to be carrying. Max Fisher notes that it is extremely unlikely that Fogle, if he is a spy, would use a letter or the disguises that Russian authorities say incriminate him:

Based on the available information so far, there seem to be three scenarios that might most plausibly explain what had happened. The first is that the Russian version of events is correct and that Fogle was just remarkably clumsy, putting incriminating information into an otherwise not-very-useful letter and promising impossible-sounding payouts to his source. The second is that Fogle is innocent, a mere embassy official framed to serve some Russian political end, although if this were the case you might expect the U.S. State Department to be protesting much more loudly than it is. A third scenario could be some combination of the two: that Fogle is with the CIA, but that the implausible-looking props and letter were planted. (Read more here.)

Meanwhile, social media users in Russia have responded to the news with a combination of anger and incredulity:

While some Russians seem to have seized on the incident as an example of American overreach — “the United States did not hesitate to do [this] and worse,” one man wrote on VK — many have approached media reports with more skepticism.

One VK user wrote that the story sounded more like a novel than anything else. Another lamented that Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) is not eligible for an Academy Award, implying they had staged the incident. Many of the 120 comments on a Russian YouTube video of Fogel’s detention marvel at his wig: “In the 21st century, with nano technology, he needs a wig?” one comment roughly translates.

Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.

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