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Post Update on US Spy Scandal in Moscow
Created by John Eipper on 05/20/13 4:30 AM

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Update on US Spy Scandal in Moscow (Boris Volodarsky, Austria, 05/20/13 4:30 am)

The "plot thickens" on the spy case in Moscow, as JE recently noted. It has really become more complicated and interesting. I can now tell the story that was behind the recent arrest in Moscow of poor Mr. Fogle, so widely advertised by the Russian media and uncritically repeated by some news agencies and TV channels in other parts of the world.

During one of the December 2012 receptions at Spaso House, the home since January of that year of US Ambassador Michael McFaul, a young American diplomat named Benjamin Dillon, like Mr. Fogle a 3rd Secretary of the US Embassy in Moscow, was introduced to an imposing-looking man whose business card indicated that he was a senior member of the Antiterrorist Centre with its headquarters in Moscow on Ilyinka Street, 200 meters from the Kremlin.

It will be remembered that in 2011, the year when Osama bin Laden was finally found and killed and Mr. Fogle arrived in Moscow, the FSB informed their FBI colleagues that a certain Chechen with a US residence permit named Tamerlan Tsarnayev might be a terrorist threat. The surprised FBI followed up, but found nothing suspicious. It was not their fault--there was indeed nothing at the time. But the Bureau raised a red flag and warned their legal attaché in Moscow, as well as somebody mysteriously known at the embassy as ICE/HSI. For those who are not familiar with the US Diplomatic Service, ICE is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the principal investigative arm of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and HSI is the ICE Homeland Security Investigations directorate. Both FBI/LEGATT (the legal attaché) and ICE/HSI are parts of the embassy's law enforcement working group. After the FBI found nothing on Tamerlan in Massachusetts, their representatives in Moscow asked their FSB counterparts to provide more information.

As expected, nothing followed. I may offer several explanations for this silence. One of them is that from the very beginning the Tsarnayevs could have been a Russian operation. Now, the ICE/HIS and FBI teams in Boston, Moscow, Chechnya and Dagestan are trying to find out whether there is indeed any justification for this theory. But back in December 2012 Benjamin Dillon, a 3rd Secretary of the US Embassy in Moscow, three months before the Boston bombing, saw a good opportunity to find out more about the Chechens in Massachusetts and other possible threats. So using a business card number that his new acquaintance left, Benjamin called the Antiterrorist Centre, trying to set up a meeting. Of course, the conversation was recorded, because since that meeting at Spaso House Mr. Dillon had been under hostile surveillance and the Antiterrorist Centre official was in reality an FSB operative. As a result, in January 2013 the 3rd Secretary was named a persona non grata and quietly expelled from Russia, while Mr. Fogle remained at his Moscow desk.

On 15 April during the Boston Marathon, two bombs exploded killing three people and injuring 264. The so-called Chechen president immediately made a statement that Chechnya had nothing to do with the bombing. The Tsarnayev family members, safely in Russia, in exclusive interviews to the Russian media, tried to play down this terrorist act, claiming like their president that the Tsarnayev brothers were framed, that even if they were found guilty, "they grew up in the US, their views and beliefs were formed there, [and] the roots of evil must be searched for in America." At the same time, the US investigators are focusing on the fact that Tamerlan spent some three months in Moscow between January and March 2012 and another three months in Dagestan. Remarkably, he somehow managed not only to secretly leave the United States and come back unnoticed by the FBI, but he also caught no attention of the Russian FSB in spite of their earlier MLAT request to the Bureau and their total control over the North Caucasus.

In the meantime, the tough measures against Benjamin Dillon who had to leave Moscow on 15 January had to be explained. The arrests on the Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012 and this year also have to be justified. Now Sergey Udaltsov, a political activist and leader of the anti-Putin Left Front movement, currently under house arrest, is being accused of an attempt "to plan and prepare terrorist acts and other actions threatening the life and health of Russians," while in October 2012 he was charged with a conspiracy to overthrow the regime with the help from the West. Naturally, no one except Russian prosecutors believed an NTV documentary showing Udaltsov and his associates conspiring with a Georgian "counter-revolution specialist." With this backdrop, "an American spy" with wads of cash caught at the centre of Moscow is a good show. Besides being very useful for the domestic market, it has an extra value of justifying some foreign policy extravagancies like the shipment of advanced anti-ship missiles to Syria, a tough Russian position on Arctic energy reserves or its lack of real cooperation in what concerns antiterrorist issues.

JE comments:  A fascinating interpretation, as usual, from Boris Volodarsky.  In this complex sequence of events, one cannot help but ask:  have the FSB and the Russian authorities benefited from the Boston Marathon bombings?  Besides the "I told you so" factor, I would presume the FSB is now able to exert a stronger hand in Chechnya and Dagestan, this time with the blessing of the US.  But if this is the case, accusing a low-level US diplomat of spying would work against any renewed sense of cooperation on security matters.

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  • US Spy Scandal in Moscow (Miles Seeley, USA 05/20/13 4:57 PM)
    A very interesting interpretation of some strange events by Boris Volodarsky (20 May), and I thank him for it.

    This all takes me back a few decades, when I worked in counterintelligence against the KGB. I would see analysis like these often, sometimes apparently true and sometimes fanciful. It was always very difficult to get further evidence. But it was never boring.

    JE comments:  Yes, and it seems that the FSB has capably taken over from its KGB predecessor in the "never boring" department.

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