AN AMERICAN diplomat allegedly caught with a range of disguises, including wigs, special equipment and wads of cash, has been expelled by Russia.
Authorities claim Ryan Fogle was detained after he tried to recruit a Russian agent to work for America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The expulsion came as Washington has been seeking to improve relations with Moscow.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said Fogle was a third secretary at the US embassy in Moscow, and had been detained overnight carrying “special technical equipment”, a disguise, a large sum of money and instructions for recruiting his target.
The foreign ministry summoned US ambassador Michael McFaul to discuss the case and released a statement demanding Fogle leave Russia without delay.
“Such provocative actions in the spirit of the Cold War will by no means promote the strengthening of mutual trust,” it said. Russian television showed footage of a man identified as Fogle being arrested, and the state-run Russia Today channel published photographs on its website that it said showed Fogle being detained in a blond wig.
In one photo, a man lies face-down on the ground with his arms pinned behind his back.
Another image showed two wigs, apparently found on him, as well as three pairs of glasses, a torch, a mobile phone and a compass. Also displayed was a wad of €500 notes and a letter addressed to a “Dear friend”.
“This is an advance from someone who has been highly impressed by your professionalism, and who would highly value your co-operation in the future,” the letter said. “We are willing to offer you $100,000 and discuss your experience, expertise and co-operation, and payment could be significantly larger, if you are willing to answer concrete questions,” it said, offering $1 million a year for long-term co-operation plus bonuses.
The FSB said Fogle worked for the CIA and had been handed over to embassy officials at some point after his detention.
The embassy refused to comment. Mr McFaul, a former adviser to president Barack Obama, was holding a live question-and-answer session on Twitter as news of the detention was announced, but refused to take questions on the matter.
Mr McFaul has been criticised by Russian media for his critical views on Russia and for meeting opponents of president Vladimir Putin.
US-Russian relations had thawed under Mr Obama’s first-term “reset” of ties, but have chilled since Mr Putin, himself a former KGB spy, returned to the presidency a year ago.
Mr Putin has accused the US of encouraging protests against him, and Russia has ejected the US Agency for International Development and curbed US-supported organisations in moves it says are aimed at preventing foreign meddling.
Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University who studies the Russian security services, said the public exposure of Fogle and the pictures splashed across Russian television suggest a political purpose behind the detention. He said these kinds of spying incidents happen with some frequency but making such a big deal of it is rare.
“More often, the etiquette is that these things get dealt with quite quietly – unless they want to get a message out,” Mr Galeotti said. “If you identify an embassy staffer who is a spy for the other side, your natural impulse is to leave them be, because once you identify you can keep tabs on them, see who they talk to, and everything else. There’s no reason to make a song and dance, detain them, eject them.”