Russian intelligence recruited a Mexican citizen to track down the whereabouts of an FBI informant in Miami who previously provided the U.S. government with information on Russian operations “implicating national security interests of the United States.”
After renting out a specific Miami property at the direction of the official, Fuentes allegedly traveled to Moscow earlier this month for more instructions. At this meeting, Fuentes was given the description of the informant’s car, was told to locate it, to obtain the license plate number, and to take note of “the physical location” of the vehicle.
The informant was described only as a “confidential human source” for the FBI counterintelligence division who had provided information on Russian espionage activities in the state, the Herald reports.
Fuentes and the official planned to meet again in April or May 2020 so Fuentes could share what he found out about the informant's vehicle, federal prosecutors say.
But the plan was foiled when Fuentes and his Mexican wife arrived in Miami from Mexico City on Feb. 13, and he took a Chrysler sedan rental car to the residence of the informant the following day. He tried to enter the condominium complex by tailgating behind another vehicle.
The sedan drew the attention of a security guard, who approached the vehicle. As the guard was making the approach, Fuentes’ wife allegedly exited the car and took a photo of the license plate on the informant’s car.
The guard questioned the pair about their business at the building, and Fuentes gave the name of someone he claimed to be visiting. The guard didn’t recognize the name, and told him to leave.
Two days later, Fuentes and his wife were preparing to board a flight to Mexico City at Miami International Airport when a Customs and Border Protection agent inspected the wife's phone. The agent discovered the license plate photo in her “recently deleted folder.”
Fuentes admitted to asking his wife to take the photo, and a review of Fuentes’ phone showed that his wife had sent the picture to him via WhatsApp message. He later admitted to officials that a Russian official had tasked him with the operation, and messages on his phone showed the official initiated and directed their meetings.
It was not immediately clear where Russian intelligence recruited Fuentes, but he reportedly resided in Singapore and had ties to other parts of the world as well.
In his first court hearing on Tuesday, he told the judge, “None of my family knows I’m here.”
Fuentes admitted to having a second family in Russia: a wife and two daughters. He said he had visited them while he was in Russia having meetings with the official. The official allegedly told Fuentes he could help get his Russian family out of the country.
“We can help each other,” the agent is said to have told him.
It’s possible the “confidential human source” targeted by Fuentes and the Russian official was a defector. In 2017, a CIA source with access to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and files reportedly defected after alerting the U.S. about Putin’s plans to meddle in the 2016 election. Reports said the former Russian foreign policy official ended up in the Washington area.