Another tale of Russian spooks operating in the US has emerged,
described by the former CIA analyst Mark Stout as a “classic case of
This time New York was its setting. A pair of agents
were, it is claimed in a criminal complaint written by the FBI, running a
third undercover agent for Moscow Centre. The extent of the Russian
bumbling is something to behold.
The third agent, Evgeny Buryakov, in court. Picture / AP
Igor Sporyshev and Viktor
Podobnyy were, until recently, a Russian trade representative and an
attache to Russia’s mission to the UN in New York respectively. Both
were charged with conspiracy under America’s espionage laws. So too was
the man they are accused as running on behalf of their real bosses at
the SVR, Russia’s intelligence service, Evgeny “Zhenya” Buryakov. His
real job was at a Russian bank in Manhattan, named as state-run
The two handlers appear to have approached their job with remarkable incompetence.
Both recently returned to Russia and are thus beyond the reach of the US Justice Department.
They are not beyond the SVR, however, and Siberia might be in their futures.
they underestimated the counterespionage skills of the FBI. Their
conversations inside an SVR office in Manhattan were recorded, their
phone conversations were bugged and physical meetings with Buryakov were
Prosecutors say they violated any privileges of
diplomatic immunity by conspiring with Buryakov, who had no diplomatic
status as a bank employee in New York; they conveyed the fruits of his
espionage, which was mostly economic in nature, to Moscow Centre; and
they also sought to recruit other individuals in New York to spy for
their country. Finding willing recruits was a challenge for them. Their
targets included female students at New York University. “I have lots of
ideas about such girls but these ideas are not actionable because they
don’t allow to get close enough,” Sporyshev is heard lamenting. Podobnyy
is heard to wonder why their lives aren’t more like James Bond’s. “I
wouldn’t fly helicopters, but pretend to be someone else at a minimum.”
According to the complaint, Buryakov wormed his way into conversations
about an impending multibillion-dollar deal between Russia and an
unidentified aircraft manufacturer outside the US and offered a strategy
for Moscow to overcome objections to it by unions in that country.
one occasion, it claimed that he also supplied his masters with
questions that a Russian news organisation should be asking in an
interview about the New York Stock Exchange designed to elicit useful
information for the SVR.
But that was when the men really
blundered. Instead of following their usual protocol of only exchanging
information in face-to-face meetings in public places in the city, on
this occasion they were in a hurry and allegedly told Buryakov to supply
his thoughts on the NYSE interview within 15 minutes on the telephone –
the FBI-bugged telephone.
What really sank them was when
Buryakov took the bait from an FBI agent posing as a representative of
an investor curious about building casinos in Russia.
offered to hand over US Treasury documents about impending US sanctions
on Russia. Too good to be true, and indeed Sporyshev, according to the
complaint, mused aloud that it looked like “some sort of a set-up. Trap
of some sort.” But instead of shutting Buryakov down, he gave him rope.
“You will look and decide for yourself,” he told him.
Taking the Treasury documents is surely Buryakov’s biggest regret as he sits in a New York jail now wondering what happens next.