Special riot police secured the perimeter of Moscow’s Lefortovo prison yesterday and a gaggle of TV cameras and photographers jostled for the best position as the world braced for what could be largest spy swap since the Cold War.
A convoy of armored vehicles arrived in the morning at the prison, thought to be the central gathering point for people convicted of spying for the West, including nuclear researcher Igor Sutyagin, serving a 14-year sentence for spying for the US.
Sutyagin’s brother and lawyer say he was transferred to Lefortovo earlier this week to take part in the swap. They said Sutyagin saw a list of 11 prisoners in Russia who are being traded for 10 people arrested in the US for being unregistered Russian agents.
Officials in neither country would confirm an exchange was planned. But the machinations — including a meeting in Washington between US officials and the Russian ambassador on Wednesday — had all the hallmarks as the two former Cold War antagonists moved to tamp down tensions stirred by the US arrests.
“A swap seems very much on the cards. There is political will on both sides, and actually by even moving it as far as they have, Moscow has de facto acknowledged that these guys were spies,” intelligence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said.
Five suspects charged with spying in the US were ordered to New York on Wednesday, joining five others already behind bars there, after Sutyagin spilled the news of the swap from his penal colony near the Arctic Circle.
Dmitry Sutyagin said his brother was told he was among a dozen convicted spies who were to be exchanged for Russians arrested by the FBI. He said his brother could be taken to Vienna, then London, as early as yesterday.
Defense lawyers in Moscow and New York have expressed confidence that their clients’ fates would be settled very soon.
In a US federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday, the 10 suspects in New York and an 11th person, who was released on bail by a court in Cyprus and is now a fugitive, were formally charged. The indictment charged all of them with conspiring to act as secret agents and charged nine of them with conspiracy to commit money laundering. It demanded that those accused of money laundering return any assets used in the offense.
Sutyagin, who worked as an arms control and military analyst at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies, a Moscow think tank, was arrested in 1999 and convicted in 2004 on charges of passing information on nuclear submarines and other weapons to a British firm that Moscow claimed was a CIA cover.
He has always denied that he was spying, saying the information he provided was available from open sources. Family and friends say he does not want to leave in a spy swap, given that he had steadfastly denied engaging in espionage, but he has no choice.
The Kommersant daily said the list of prisoners who would form part of the swap included Sergei Skripal, a former military intelligence colonel sentenced in 2006 to 13 years jail on charges of spying for Britain and former Foreign Intelligence Service employee Alexander Zaporozhsky, who was jailed for 18 years for espionage in 2003.
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting
‘SUICIDE’: Media reports said Park Won-soon went missing on Thursday after a staff member filed a sexual harassment claim against him this week Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, viewed as a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential election, was found dead of an apparent suicide hours after he was reported missing, police said, adding that he was the subject of an undisclosed investigation. In a note he is thought to have left behind on his desk, Park offered his apologies. “I thank everyone who was with me in my life. I apologize to my family for only making them suffer from pain,” according to the note that was released by his office yesterday. Park, in his letter, asked to be cremated and have his remains spread