Did the FBI Investigate a Russian Spy Ring for Three Years and Get nothing but a Google Search?
On March 28, 2014 Igor Sporyshev, according to the Feds, a Russian spy who held himself out as a Trade Representative of Russian Federation, calls banker Evgeny Buryakov and asks Buryakov to research the effects of economic sanctions on “our country.” Buryakov, arrested on Monday morning and currently being held at the federal prison known as the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center, obliged and conducted an “internet search.”
Attorney General Eric Holder, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, John S. Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Randall C. Coleman, the Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation were all patting each other on the back on Monday after the arrest of Evgeny Buryakov, a Russian Banker on charges that he was acting as a “foreign agent.”
On April 2, 2014 Mr. Buryakov called Mr. Sporyshev and asks for a meeting. A “covert physical search” of Buryakov’s computer at the bank where he worked indicated that he had conducted internet searches “Sanctions Russia consiquences” [sic] and “sanctions Russia Impact.” You read that right. The FBI sent in what appears to be an undercover agent to search Buryakov’s office for evidence of espionage, and all they were able to find was an internet search which could have been conducted anywhere from a Starbucks with WiFI to the Kremlin, or anywhere in between.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York filed a Magistrate’s Complaint against Mr. Buryakov, and two of his alleged co-conspirators, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy. Neither Sporyshev nor Podobnyy where arrested as media reports indicate that they have both left the country.
According to the Complaint, Sporyshev, in the U.S. allegedly as a Trade Representative of Russian Federation, was alleged the boss and handler of Buryakov. The complaint states that Podobnyy was an Attaché of the Russian Mission to the United Nations, and a recruiter for Russian Foreign Intelligence Service known by the acronym SVR. It is alleged that Buryakov was what is known as a NOC, or non-official-cover operative of the SVR.
The FBI Counterintelligence Division started an investigation into Russian espionage after the arrest of ten Russian operatives in June 2010. This group was referred to by the Feds as the Illegals. Most people will remember sexy Russian spy Anna Chapman as the face of the Illegals.
Following the arrest of Ms. Chapman and associates, the FBI figured out where in New York the Russian Federation set up a “secure” (or so they thought) office for SVR to send information to and receive instructions from Moscow. This “secure” office was located in a larger office maintained by the Russian Federation in New York, were Podobnyy and Sporyshev had meetings with each other, as well as other as of yet unnamed, alleged intelligence agents. What is obvious in no uncertain terms is that this “secure” office was infiltrated, and bugged by American Counterintelligence officers.
It is in this so called “secure SVR” office that federal agents intercepted conversations between Podobnyy and Sporyshev discuss the “Illegals” operation and how they failed to deliver any real intelligence. Apparently, the “Illegals,” including Ms. Chapman, were operatives from the highly secretive and prestigious Directorate S, known for engaging in deep cover espionage under false names and identities. Podobnyy and Sporyshev discussed how the “Illegals” ineffective, and scoffed at the suggestion that they were a sleeper cell in the U.S. It is alleged that Buryakov, Sporyshev, and Podobnyy were also spies employed by SVR; however, in the less sexy Directorate ER, which focused more on economic espionage.
It has been widely reported how Podobnyy and Sporyshev complained to each other that their roles in SVR weren’t similar to James Bond, and that they could not effectively recruit American women to act as intelligence assets because they were forbidden from having sexual relations with this potential assets. These conversations all apparently occurred at the secret “secure” office of the SVR in New York, a location there is no allegation Buryakov ever entered.
In addition to bugging the “secure” office of the SVR, the FBI also spent a tremendous amount of man-hours following Buryakov, Sporyshev, and Podobnyy. According to the complaint, Buryakov met Sporyshev at least 48 times over the course of the investigation that spanned the years 2012, 2013 and 2014. The allegations are that these meetings where always initiated by a simple message or phone call to request a meeting to exchange innocuous items such as tickets or lists. At the meetings, apparently, Buryakov gave Sporyshev small items such as magazines, or other documents.
One of the incidents that the Feds claim provide probable cause to believe that Buryakov is a spy is a serious of telephone calls between Buryakov and Sporyshev where Sporyshev asks for topics a Russian State News Organization could discuss in an upcoming report. In this conversation Sporyshev asked Buryakov for three questions to ask for the News Agency about the NYSE, and Buryakov came up with ETF’s and their used for destabilization of markets, trading robots, and the interests of the participants of the exchanging in products tied to the Russian Federation.
The agent who makes out the complaint states, neither of the men’s covers – one as a banker and the other as Trade Office Representative – involved advising journalists. This is of course is a ridiculous premise. How a banker and a trade representative aren’t qualified to speak to the press about financial issues is beyond mundane. As an attorney, I have personally answered questions for members of the press to assist them in writing stories on criminal law subjects without being quoted as a source.
After three years of spying on the so called spies, the U.S. government had so little evidence of any actual espionage, that they sent in a mole to fed Mr. Buryakov phony intelligence to see if he would transmit it to his “handler” Sporyshev. This mole, identified as a purported representative of a wealthy investor who wanted to build casinos in Russia.
What most the media accounts have thus far glossed over, is it appears from Mr. Buryakov’s Linkedin page, he works for Vnesheconombank, the State owned “Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs” as the Deputy Representative.
The stated mission of Vnesheconombank is “to enhance competitiveness of the Russian economy, diversify it and stimulate investment activity.” Obviously, meeting the confidential source the Feds sent to make contact with Mr. Buryakov is par for the course of the work he was involved in. The fact that this confidential source allegedly gave Mr. Buryakov unclassified U.S. Government documents regarding the targets of U.S. sanctions against the Russian Federation doesn’t sound at all outrageous in the context that he was purportedly seeking Mr. Buryakov’s assistance to invest in Russia.
The Feds claim that after being wined and dined in Atlantic City for several hours, Mr. Buryakov had a meeting with Sporyshev. The implication is that Buryakov passed the so called U.S. government documents to Sporyshev during that meeting; however, Mr. Buryakov was not charged under the Espionage act, which could carry a death sentence upon conviction, but rather with a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which required for agents to register with the Department of State.
While the Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Deputy director of the FBI all get together to pat each other on the back, the American people should be wondering how much time and money was spent to catch an alleged foreign agent that failed to register as such, who at worst, appears to have conducted a Google or Bing search on U.S. Sanctions against Russia. A job well done, I guess.