New York In the biggest spy swap since the Cold War, 10 Russian agents who infiltrated suburban America were deported Thursday in exchange for four people convicted of betraying Moscow to the West.
The spies left New York for Moscow hours after pleading guilty to conspiracy in a Manhattan courtroom and being sentenced to time served and ordered out of the country, said a law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.
The spy swap carries significant consequences for efforts between Washington and Moscow to repair ties chilled by a deepening atmosphere of suspicion.
The U.S. defendants were captured last week in homes across the Northeast. They were accused of embedding themselves in ordinary American life while leading double lives complete with false passports, secret code words, fake names, invisible ink and encrypted radio.
One spy worked for an accounting firm, another was a real-estate agent, another a columnist for a Spanish-language newspaper.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the “extraordinary” case took years of work, “and the agreement we reached today provides a successful resolution for the United States and its interests.” White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said on PBS’ “News Hour” that President Barack Obama was aware of the investigation, the decision to go forward with the arrests and the spy swap with Russia.
Whether the agents provided Russia with valuable secret information is questionable.
“None of the people involved from my understanding provided any information that couldn’t be obtained on the Internet,” defendant Anna Chapman’s attorney, Robert Baum, told The Associated Press.
In Russia, the Kremlin said President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree pardoning four convicted foreign spies so that they can be exchanged for the 10 U.S. defendants.
The Kremlin statement carried by the Russian news agencies says that Medvedev has pardoned Russian citizens Alexander Zaporozhsky, Gennady Vasilenko, Sergei Skripal and Igor Sutyagin.