A man claimed by the FSB to be Ryan Fogle, right, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, sits in the the FSB offices on May 14. Russia's security services say they caught the U.S. diplomat who they claim is a CIA agent in a red-handed attempt to recruit a Russian agent. (FSB Public Relations Center/via AP)
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MOSCOW — The capture of an alleged CIA spy in Moscow on Monday by Russian security officials comes against the backdrop of increasingly tense relations between Russia and the United States and could serve to stoke anti-Americanism.
“Ruling political structures need there to be a negative image of the West right now,” said Alexander Konovalov, president of the Moscow-based Institute of Strategic Assessment, said.
Russia’s security agency, the FSB, said Tuesday it had detained Ryan Christopher Fogle — wearing a blond wig and carrying spy gear — on Monday night. Fogle has been identified as a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy political section in Moscow.
The Russian Foreign Ministry ordered him to leave the country immediately. It was the first case of an American being publicly accused of spying in about a decade.
The FSB says Fogle is a career CIA officer and was trying to recruit a Russian officer to work as a spy. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow declined to comment on the reports. The CIA in Washington also declined comment.
Footage carried by the state-owned RT English-language television channel showed a man identified as Fogle being led by the arm by plainclothes men into the headquarters of the FSB.
“We have invited you here to carry out a common procedure that happens during the detention by FSB officers of someone who has committed a crime,” a man’s voice is heard telling Fogle in the footage.
Russia’s authorities in recent months have increased pressure on Russian human rights organizations it accuses of receiving funding from abroad in violation of a law that went into effect last November forcing such groups to register as “foreign agents.”
“He was detained at a very convenient time. It serves to justify the pressure,” Konovalov said.
Fogle was referred to as a “foreign agent” in the Foreign Ministry statement. Russia said Fogle had on him a letter to a potential recruit promising up to $1 million for long-term cooperation. The FSB said Fogle had a large amount of cash on him in plastic sandwich bags, RT reported.
Russia and the United States have been at odds over Russia’s human rights record at home and its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, who President Obama has said needs to be removed from office because of his campaign against a rebellion that has killed 70,000 people.
Konovalov suggested the detention of Fogle was done to distract Russians from other problems with their own government.
A spy case is “good for domestic consumption; when people ask why they can’t get by on their pensions ... they’re shown that there are foreign spies to worry about.”According to a translation of the alleged letter carried by RT, it reads in part:
“This is a down-payment from someone who is very impressed with your professionalism and who would greatly appreciate your cooperation in the future. Your security means a lot to us. This is why we chose this way of contacting you. We will continue to make sure our correspondent remains safe and secret.”
The letter ends with the words: “Thank you for reading this. We look forward to working with you in the nearest future. Your friends.”
One FSB photo shows a table filled with what is purportedly spy gear, including a blond and a black wig, three pairs of glasses, a flashlight, a map of Moscow and small plastic bags filled with 500-Euro notes.
The unusual publicity — complete with video and photos — given to the detention case is particularly noteworthy and is apparently intended either as a warning to the CIA about being too aggressive in its recruitment efforts or to other potential recruits of the risks involved.
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard, Doug Stanglin, Oren Dorell; the Associated Press