Several of the 10 Russian agents detained in the United States in June and handed over to Russia last week will change their identities under a witness protection program, a Russian intelligence official said Tuesday.
The unidentified official told Interfax that the agents, who were swapped with the United States for four Russians convicted on espionage charges, are now in Moscow, where "competent agencies" are debriefing them.
The 10 deep cover agents are being questioned by officials with the Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, to establish what caused their cover to be blown in the United States, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported Tuesday, citing an unidentified SVR official.
All but three of the agents were using false names when they were arrested by the FBI on June 27.
One of them, Donald Heathfield, whose real name is Andrei Bezrukov, triggered the FBI arrests by planning a trip abroad with a college-age son in late June, a U.S. law enforcement official said Monday.
The FBI feared that Heathfield, who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with two sons and his wife, who was another Russian agent, might not return, prompting them to decide to take down a spy network that they had been watching for more than a decade, said the official, who spoke about the matter on condition of anonymity because the government had not given authorization to discuss it.
Meanwhile, Strategic Forecasting Inc., a security think tank, said Tuesday that Heathfield had tried to get the risk advisory group to install software that he said his company had developed.
Heathfield held five meetings with an employee of Texas-based Stratfor in an effort to get the firm to use his program, chief executive officer George Friedman said in a report.
“We suspect that had this been done, our servers would be outputting to Moscow,” Friedman said in an e-mailed report. “We did not know at the time who he was. We have since reported the incident to the FBI.”
An 11th spy suspect, who adopted the name of a dead Canadian boy, vanished after jumping bail in Cyprus.
A previously undisclosed 12th suspect has been detained in the United States and faces deportation, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing an unidentified U.S. official familiar with the matter.
The 23-year-old suspect was monitored by the FBI shortly after he entered the country in October 2009, but investigators were not able to collect enough evidence against him to bring charges. The U.S. official said the man, whose identity and latest location were not disclosed, remained in federal custody and was in the process of being deported.
Separately, Igor Sutyagin, the arms researcher convicted of espionage in 2004 and one of the four prisoners deported from Russia in the spy swap, should receive the documents he needs to remain in Britain by Wednesday, human rights activist Ernst Chyorny said.
“Things are starting to look up for him,” Chyorny said. “Though he still has no plans, he’ll probably remain in the U.K. for the foreseeable future.”
Sutyagin is staying in a hotel near London provided by the British government, said Chyorny, head of the Public Committee to Protect Scientists.
Sutyagin’s brother, Dmitry, said the researcher is in good health “for someone who has spent nearly 11 years in prison” and will remain in Britain at least in the short term, Interfax reported.
(MT, Bloomberg, Reuters)