US, Russia swap 14 spies in Vienna

2010-07-09 18:46

Moscow - The US and Russia orchestrated the largest spy swap since the Cold War, exchanging 10 spies arrested in the US for four convicted in Russia in a tightly choreographed diplomatic dance Friday at Vienna's airport.

The exchange was a clear demonstration of President Barack Obama's "reset" ties between Moscow and Washington, enabling the US to retrieve four Russians, some of whom were suffering through long prison terms.

At least one of the four - ex-colonel Alexander Zaporozhsky - may have exposed information leading to the capture of Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, two of the most damaging spies ever caught in the US.

Moscow avoided having 10 spy trials in the United States that would have spilled embarrassing details of how its agents, posing as ordinary citizens, apparently uncovered little of value but managed to be watched by the FBI for years.

The handover allowed Vienna to add yet another distintive event to its long history as a key site for diplomacy, the capital of neutral Austria being the preferred place to work on treaties and agreements to reduce US-Soviet tensions during the Cold War.

Improved relations

After not commenting for days, the US justice department finally announced a successful completion to the spy swap after the two planes involved touched down in Moscow and London.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the swap, but said only that those involved had been "accused" or "convicted" of unspecified offenses - a statement that underlined Russia's apparent discomfort with the scandal that erupted nearly two weeks ago.

The Kremlin has clearly been worried the arrests would undermine recent efforts to improve relations with Washington.

Ordinary Russians took little satisfaction from the agents' undercover exploits.

"They obviously were very bad spies if they got caught. They got caught, so they should be tried," said Sasha Ivanov, a businessman walking by a Moscow train sttaion.

One alleged Russian spy wanted in the United States - the paymaster for the whole spy ring - was still a fugitive after jumping bail in Cyprus.

Neither the US or Russia have commented on his whereabouts.

To start the whirlwind exchange, two planes - one from New York's La Guardia airport and another from Moscow - arrived Friday in Vienna within minutes of each other.

They parked nose-to-tail at a remote section on the tarmac, exchanged spies using a small bus, then departed just as quickly. In all, it took less than an hour and a half.

The Russian Emergencies Ministry Yak-42 then left for Moscow carrying the 10 people deported from the US, and a maroon-and-white Boeing 767-200 that brought those agents in from New York whisked away four Russians who had confessed to spying for the West.

The US charter landed briefly at RAF Brize Norton air base in southern England, where a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said two of the four Russians were dropped off before the plane headed back across the Atlantic.

Humanitarian concerns

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had signed a decree pardoning the four Thursday after officials forced them to sign confessions.

The Kremlin identified them as Zaporozhsky, Igor Sutyagin, Gennady Vasilenko and Sergei Skripal.

Sutyagin, an arms researcher convicted of spying for the United States, had told relatives earlier he was being sent to Britain.

Skripal was convicted of spying for Britain, but there was no confirmation he was left in the UK.

Both the US and Russia won admissions of crimes from the subjects of the exchange - guilty pleas in the US and signed confessions in Russia.

In exchange for the 10 Russian agents, the US won freedom for and access to two former Russian intelligence colonels who had been convicted in their home country of compromising dozens of valuable Soviet-era and Russian agents operating in the West.

Two others also convicted of betraying Moscow were wrapped into the deal.

US officials said some of those freed by Russia were ailing, and cited humanitarian concerns for arranging the swap in such a hurry.

They said no substantial benefit to US national security was seen from keeping the captured low-level agents in US prisons for years.

"This sends a powerful signal to people who cooperate with us that we will stay loyal to you," said former CIA officer Peter Earnest.

"Even if you have been in jail for years, we will not forget you."

Blended in

The 10 Russian agents arrested in the US had tried to blend into American suburbia but been under watch by the FBI.

Their access to top US national security secrets appeared spotty at best, although the extent of what they passed on is not publicly known.

The lawyer for one of them, Vicky Pelaez, said the Russian government had offered her $2 000 a month for life, housing and help with her children - rather than the years behind bars she could have faced in the US if she had not agreed to the deal.

Zaporozhsky, a former colonel in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, sentenced in 2003 to 18 years in prison for espionage on behalf of the United States, passing secret information about undercover Russian agents working in the United States and about Americans working for Russian intelligence.

Skripal, a former colonel in the Russian military intelligence, was found guilty of passing state secrets to Britain and sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2006.

He was accused of revealing the names of several dozen Russian agents working in Europe.

Sutyagin asserts his innocence despite the forced confession. He worked with the USA and Canada Institute, a respected Moscow-based think-tank, before being sentenced to 15 years in 2004 on charges of passing information on nuclear submarines and other weapons to a British company that Russia claimed was a CIA cover.

Sutyagin says the information he provided was available from open sources.

Gennady Vasilenko, a former KGB officer employed as a security officer by Russia's NTV television, was sentenced in 2006 to three years in prison on illegal weapons possession and resistance to authorities. It was not exactly clear why he was involved in the spy swap.

The U.S. deported agents using the names Anna Chapman, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, Donald Howard Heathfield, Juan Lazaro, Patricia Mills, Richard and Cynthia Murphy, Vicky Pelaez, Mikhail Semenko and Michael Zottoli.

All pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiring to act as unregistered foreign agents.

Several of the agents had children, both minors and adults, and it was not clear yet exactly which country the children would end up in.

Chapman, 28, whose active social life was splashed all over the tabloids, was accused of using a special laptop to transmit messages to another computer of an unnamed Russian official.

Chapman is her married name, her maiden name was Kushchenko.

She is now divorced from a British man who says his Russian father-in-law used to be a high-ranking KGB official.

Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley were the aliases for Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova, who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and had two sons, 20 and 16.

She posed as a real estate agent around Boston, he worked as a sales consultant at Global Partners Inc, a Cambridge-based international management consulting firm and also had his own consulting company.

Stolen identity

Another convicted couple, Mikhail Kutsik and Natalia Pereverzeva, had been living in Seattle and Arlington, Virginia, under the aliases Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills.

They had two children, ages 1 and 3, and before the plea bargain were already planning to send the children to live with relatives in Russia.

Vladimir and Lydia Guryev, had been living in Montclair, New Jersey, under the names Richard and Cynthia Murphy.

While he stayed at home with their two daughters aged 7 and 11, she had a well-paying job as a tax consultant in New York City.

It was not clear where the girls, who had always lived in the United States, would live now.

Lazaro, 66, whose real name is Mikhail Vasenkov, brought his wife, Vicky Pelaez, into the conspiracy by having her pass letters to the Russian intelligence service on his behalf.

She was a journalist for a Spanish newspaper in New York. Pelaez is her real name. She has two sons, 38-year-old and a 17-year-old, and her lawyer said the youth might remain in the United States living with his brother.

Semenko of Arlington, Virginia, worked at the Travel All Russia agency.

The fugitive who jumped bail in Cyprus after being arrested on an Interpol warrant is the suspected paymaster for the US spy ring.

Canadian authorities say he was traveling as Christopher Metsos, a 54-year-old tourist on a Canadian passport that stole the identity of a dead child.

Authorities have not released any other identity for him and his whereabouts were not known

- AP

Read more on:    us  |  russia  |  austria  |  espionage
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

 

Inside News24

 
 

Madonsela to probe ANC food-for-votes claims

Public protector Thuli Madonsela has launched an investigation into whether the ANC has used state resources for its electoral campaign, says a report.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Nokia Lumia 800

The stunningly social Nokia Lumia 800 features head-turning design, ...

From R2395.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be good at organising events but they do take their toll on your energy levels. You may need some time out today just to...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.