MOSCOW, October 5 (Itar-Tass) — Another spy scandal is unfolding around Russian citizens in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced it had exposed another "network of Russian secret services." In a press release, it named 11 persons and two firms accused of "illegal exports from the USA of high-tech microelectronics in the interests of the Russian military and secret services." Russia’s Foreign Ministry however said the accusations were purely criminal.
The operation involving U.S. police, officers from the FBI and the U.S. Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division, and officials from the U.S. Department of Commerce was held in Houston’s suburbs overnight to Wednesday. Seven suspects were arrested. Another one was detained next morning at the airport when he was about to leave for Singapore and then for Moscow, the Kommersant writes.
The company owned by Alexander Fishenko, 46, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was engaged in the sale of street-traffic control lights, a fact that was of no discomfort for the U.S. authorities, writes the Komsomolskaya Pravda. They claim that the Russian spies have exported to Russia military spare part worth tens of millions of U.S. dollars. Materials of the case include an expert note saying that those arrested might have been involved in the theft of American chips and microprocessors, similar or identical to those mounted on Russian anti-ship missiles and MiG-35 fighters.
Mikhail Lyubimov, a retired foreign intelligence colonel and a writer, told the newspaper the case is a petty criminal one rather than espionage.
“It looks like a shady business of our compatriots who still think they can behave as though they are at home. I would not draw any lines between state and technical espionage. The former case means that some kind of industrial secrets are stolen in the interests of a state. We see a sheer criminal case here,” he said.
Russian defense-related companies have denied any connection to the scandal, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily writes. A source in the defense sector said that register of defense-related enterprises featuring 1,353 design bureaus, research institutes, plants and other organizations has no mention of Russian companies appearing in the case. According to the source, from 60 to 70 percent of hardware components, and up to 90-95 percent in certain categories, are exported. More to it, some of devices mentioned in the case can be bought in any electronics store elsewhere across the globe.
Another juicy spy scandal is likely to have been plotted as part of the presidential election campaign in the United States, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta cites Alexei Rostovtsev, a retired colonel of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. “Experience proves that investigation should have taken months, if not years. And it looks strange that they were arrested now, a month ahead of the elections,” he said. “The scandal seems to be playing into the hands of American secret services that seek to remind of their role not only in the fight against terrorism but in what concerns exposing spies. It is a good reason to seek more lavish financing. They lived quite well under George Bush Jr, when abundant resources were pumped into law enforcement agencies, including intelligence.”
According to Rostovtsev, in case espionage charges are sustained, those accused might be swapped some time in future. “Since the Abel-Powers swap, there have been lots of such exchanges, both secret and open. For example, in 2010, Moscow and Washington agreed to exchange ten Russian agents arrested in the United States, including Anna Chapman, for four persons arrested in Russia. Nonetheless, it looks quite improbable that there is incontrovertible evidence against all the eleven people charged with spying for Russia in the latest case. Just one or two of them can be seriously suspected. Only them. The rest engaged in petty commercial activities,” he said.