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Friday, December 9, 2022

FBI Busts Cold War-Style Russian Spy Ring in New York City

In a scene right out of the Cold War-era-based FX Network TV series, "The Americans," the FBI arrested a Russian man in connection with a Cold War-style spy ring attempting to recruit spies and gather intelligence in New York City.

Evgeny “Zhenya" Buryakov allegedly posed as an employee in the Manhattan office of a Russian bank while working under “non-official cover”—entering and remaining in the US as a private citizen—as an agent of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, known as the “SVR.”

The criminal complaint stated that, “SVR agents operating under such non-official cover—sometimes referred to as ‘NOCs’—typically are subject to less scrutiny by the host government, and, in many cases, are never identified as intelligence agents by the host government. As a result, a NOC can be an extremely valuable intelligence asset for the SVR.”

Announcing the charges, Attorney General Eric Holder stated, “These charges demonstrate our firm commitment to combating attempts by covert agents to illegally gather intelligence and recruit spies within the United States. We will use every tool at our disposal to identify and hold accountable foreign agents operating inside this country—no matter how deep their cover.”

The Foreign Agents Registration Act, Title 22, United States Code, Section 611, et seq., requires individuals residing in the US who are acting as agents for foreign governments or foreign officials to notify the Attorney General of the United States.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), records indicated Buryakov never notified the US Attorney General of his service as a covert intelligence agent on behalf of the Russian Federation in New York City.

Buryakov was placed under arrest earlier Tuesday in Bronx, New York and charged with one count of conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and one count of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.

Two other suspects — Victor Podobnyy and Igor Sporyshev — were also charged. However, both men no longer reside in the US and are protected by diplomatic immunity from arrest and prosecution while inthe United States.

The criminal complaint revealed the defendants received requests from Moscow Center—the headquarters of SVR—to gather intelligence on a variety of subjects including economic issues, alternative energy sources and potential US sanctions against the Russian Federation.

“The attempt by foreign nations to illegally gather economic and other intelligence information in the United States through covert agents is a direct threat to the national security of the United States, and it exemplifies why counterespionage is a top priority of the National Security Division,” said Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin.

Through a number of lawful investigative methods, including covert placement of video cameras and microphone-type listening devices, the FBI learned of several clandestine meetings and communications between the defendants.

The defendants regularly met and communicated through clandestine methods and code messages to shield their associations with one another as SVR agents while exchanging intelligence-related information.

Furthermore, the FBI’s investigation disclosed Sporyshev and Podobnyy acted as covert intermediaries for Buryakov in communicating with Moscow Center on intelligence matters, since Buryakov could potentially reveal his association with SVR by accessing the SVR NY Office.

Physical surveillance of Buryakov by the FBI between March 2012 and September 2014 revealed four dozen brief meetings between the defendants where they sometimes shared documents or small items, such as a ticket or umbrella, to convey intelligence-related information. They usually met outdoors in order to lower the risk of surveillance.

The FBI managed to obtain electronic recordings of several conversations between Sporyshev and Buryakov.

For example, the criminal complaint stated, “On May 21, 2013, Sporyshev called Buryakov to ask for Buryakov’s help in formulating questions to be used for intelligence gathering purposes by others associated with a leading Russian state-owned news organization (the ‘news organization’). Buryakov responded by supplying Sporyshev with a particular line of questioning about the New York Stock Exchange for use by the news organization.”

The FBI also obtained numerous recorded communications between Sporyshev and Podobnyy discussing their attempts to recruit United States residents, including several individuals employed by major companies.

During one conversation, the two discussed the recruitment of a man working as a consultant in New York City. Podobnyy revealed that his recruiting tactics included cheating, promising favors, and discarding the intelligence source when no longer needed.

“This is intelligence method to cheat … You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go [expletive] himself,” Podobnyy said.

Finally, in the summer of 2014, Buryakov met several times with an FBI confidential source posing as a wealthy investor looking to develop casinos in Russia. Buryakov accepted a number of documents that the source claimed he had obtained from a US government agency and which purportedly contained information potentially useful to Russia.

Mark Stout, a former CIA analyst, told ABC News the criminal complaint seemed straight out of the Cold War.

“This is really a classic case of espionage, I think, in terms of how it was conducted both on the Russian side as well as on the FBI side,” Stout said. “The FBI is very good at this. I would not run up against the FBI trying to run an espionage operation in the United States.”

US Attorney Preet Bharara said, “Following our previous prosecution with the FBI of Russian spies, who were expelled from the United States in 2010 when their plan to infiltrate upper levels of US business and government was revealed, the arrest of Evgeny Buryakov and the charges against him and his co-defendants make clear that – more than two decades after thepresumptive end of the Cold War – Russian spies continue to seek to operate in our midst under cover of secrecy."

He added, “Indeed, the presence of a Russian banker in New York would in itself hardly draw attention today, which is why these alleged spies may have thought Buryakov would blend in. What they could not do without drawing the attention of the FBI was engage in espionage. New York City may be more hospitable to Russian businessmen than during the Cold War, but my Office and the FBI remain vigilant to the illegal intelligence-gathering activities of other nations.”

The bust of the Russian spy ring emerges amid strained tensions between the US and Russia over the Kremlin’s involvement in the Ukraine. Just days ago, President Obama and European leaders threatened new sanctions on Russia after pro-Russian rebels launched a deadly rocket attack on the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

“This investigation is one of many that highlight the determined and prolific efforts by foreign governments to target Americans for the purposes of collecting intelligence and stealing secrets,” said FBI Assistant Director Randall Coleman.

“This case is especially egregious as it demonstrates the actions of a foreign intelligence service to integrate a covert intelligence agent into American society under the cover of an employee in the financial sector," Coleman said. "Espionage is as pervasive today as it has ever been, and FBI counterintelligence teams will continue to aggressively investigate and expose hostile foreign intelligence activities conducted on US soil.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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