American Spy Nabbed in Russia?

Anna Nemtsova on Russia’s claim to have arrested an American spy

FSB Public Relations Center/AP

In an episode resembling an Austin Powers parody, Russian authorities on Tuesday announced the arrest of a man they claimed to be a CIA spook working as he tried to recruit a Russian citizen for a large sum of money in Moscow.

According to the Russian Federal Security Service, the man who they identified as Ryan Christopher Fogle is an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow but worked undercover for the American intelligence agency.

The FSB agency, which succeeded the KGB, put out a statement about the arrest and released what officials said were several photos of the detention to Russian journalists.

In one picture, a man wearing a long blond wig and a checkered shirt can be seen lying on the ground with another man wearing a green T-shirt and safari shorts sitting on top of him, twisting his arms behind his back. The caption on the Russia Today website, the state-sponsored English-language television, says: “CIA agent trying to recruit Russian intelligence officer detained in Moscow.”

Another picture shows the man without his blond wig detained at an FSB office. Russian TV also showed footage of what appeared to be the arrest. In the video, a voice in the background tells American officials that the Russian citizen targeted for recruitment is a security official specializing in fighting terror in the North Caucasus, and that the U.S. diplomat has committed “a crime against Russia.”

According to authorities, the man was carrying written instructions for the recruitment of the Russian citizen as well as several wigs, a Moscow street atlas, three paper envelopes stuffed with 500 euro bills, a cell phone, a compass, a flashlight, a lighter and a folding knife. The instructions, in the form of a letter beginning “Dear Friend,” allegedly offered an employee of a Russian law enforcement agency $100,000 for potential cooperation and $1 million for a year of work.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy told The Daily Beast that the embassy did not want to comment on the arrest. But according to The New York Times the Russian Foreign Ministry has summoned the American ambassador, Michael A. McFaul, to respond to the accusation.

The spy story—and what was described as “the evidence discovered on the American spy”—quickly became the subject of much amused commentary on Russian radio and on the Internet. “Though I have no doubt that … the U.S. spies just like our spies spy in the U.S., the use of the classic fake mustache and eyebrows clearly show that the Russians just grabbed an American loser,” Russian parliamentarian Mikhail Borschevsky told Radio Echo.

FSB confirmed to The Daily Beast that the agency provided the photographs to Russian agencies. The official statement by the K.G.B. successor agency said that the agency had “detained a staff employee of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency during an attempt to recruit. Ryan Christopher Fogle was working under a cover as the third secretary at political department of the U.S. embassy in Moscow. It was discovered that he had on him special technical materials, written instructions to recruit a Russian citizen, a large sum of money and supplies for changing his appearance. The detainee was brought to FSB reception and after certain procedures passed to official representatives of the U.S. Embassy. American intelligence has made multiple attempts lately to recruit employees of Russian law enforcement agencies and special divisions. The attempts were registered and controlled by the F.S.B.”

The “supplies for changing appearance” was also a line that the Russians found amusing. Internet users quickly speculated about additional items the spy could have had on him such as “tights and a bra,” as one wit suggested. Another writer wrote that it was “strange that they didn’t find…marihuana, porn magazines, Marlboro and other elements of [la] dolce vita.”

Russian Ministry of Defense officials declared Fogle a persona “non grata,” demanding his departure to the U.S. as soon as possible.

“At a time when the presidents of our countries have confirmed readiness to develop collaboration, including work [on] fighting terrorism, such Cold War–style provocative actions aren’t helping the mutual trust,” the official statement from the Ministry of Defense said.