Thu, Jul 15, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Russia interrogates 10 sleeper agents deported from US

THE GUARDIAN AND REUTERS , MOSCOW AND LONDON

Russia is interrogating 10 of its sleeper agents deported from the US at a secret facility, reports in Moscow said. Intelligence officers want to be sure that a double agent did not betray the team to the FBI.

The 10 flew to Moscow on Friday in a tense “spy swap” with four spies accused of spying for the West, but nothing has been heard of them since they were whisked away from the capital’s Domodedovo airport in a convoy.

Quoting a source in the security services, Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper reported the agents were first taken to the headquarters of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) in Yasenevo on the outskirts of Moscow, but are now at an unspecified location.

“Specialists are working with the agents,” an unnamed source was quoted as saying. “They are trying to find out which intelligence officers [who handled the agents] may have made a blunder. They are talking to them and carrying out various tests, including with lie detectors.”

The source added that an “enormous amount of work” was being done to establish whether there was a traitor in the SVR who had betrayed the agents. High-ranking SVR officers are thought to have been aware of the agent network since it became active in 2001.

The deported agents are staying in hotels at a closed SVR facility. Their relatives can visit them but they will not be allowed to leave the territory for two weeks or more while the “work on mistakes” is conducted, the source added. If it transpires the “illegals,” as FBI officers dubbed the agents, committed no mistakes they will be released.

The capture of the agents, who used a farcical mix of high and low technology including invisible ink and odd code phrases in ungrammatical English to communicate with their handlers, has caused some discomfit in Moscow.

Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB colonel, said: “Now we know that not only our court system and law enforcement agencies are bad, the last bulwark of the image of our legendary special services has also crumbled.”

Opinion is divided over the future of the agents. Some commentators have predicted Anna Chapman — dubbed “Agent 90-60-90” — could become a chatshow host or model.

But Andrei Soldatov, an espionage expert and editor of agentura.ru, said it was likely they would stay under wraps.

“They will probably go to be instructors at the SVR academy, which is a kind of cemetery of agents expelled from other countries,” he said.

Meanwhile, Britain has stripped Chapman of her British citizenship, Britain’s home office said on Tuesday.

Chapman lived in Britain for several years after marrying an Englishman in 2002.

“The Home Secretary [Theresa May] has the right to deprive dual nationals of their British citizenship and, once deprived, to exclude them from the UK where she considers that to do so would be conducive to the public good,” a ministry official said.

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