Three suspected Russian spies were arrested by the FBI Thursday for trying to illegally export sensitive military technology to Russia.
The alleged spies included two Russian nationals, and one naturalized U.S. citizen of Russian descent. The FBI criminal complaint notes the three men approached suppliers and manufacturers to circumvent the U.S. ban on exports to Russia. The three men went so far as to create a shell corporation to disguise their motiviations, before setting off FBI alarm bells.
The export rules are in place to prevent Russian technological development and weapons proliferation. The technology could reportedly be used by Russia to improve its radar capabilities and missile guidance systems. Each of the defendants now face a $1 million fine and up to 25 years in federal prison if convicted.
Eleven Russian spies were discovered in a spy ring in 2010. The ring included a couple who had been lived in the U.S. for nearly a decade, posing as a normal American family. The ring was part of a Russian “illegals program,” which infiltrates spies into the West without diplomatic cover. The agents were responsible for gathering intelligence on the U.S. nuclear weapons program, the CIA, and and other topics of interest to the Russian government.
The FBI criminal complaint against the spies notes that they passed bags to each other on crowded trains, forged passports, passed messages in invisible ink, and had a suitcase of money buried in a field in upstate New York. The FBI followed members of the ring to an unnamed South American country, where Russian diplomats handed them huge bags of cash and exchanged messages in invisible ink.
The spies were later expelled to Russia in a prisoner exchange deal in June 2010.
“It’s a return to the old days, but even in the worst years of the cold war, I think there were no more than 10 illegals in the U.S., probably fewer,” former KGB General Oleg Kalugin told The New York times in 2010.
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