Is U.S. Getting Ripped Off in Russian Spy Swap?

Experts weigh the presumed deal

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Sparking a flurry of Cold-War-style intrigue, a number of reports suggest that Moscow and Washington are fleshing out a deal to trade spies. Under the presumed agreement, the U.S. would swap the 10 Russian "illegals" captured last week for Igor Sutyagin, a Russian arms-control specialist sentenced to 15 years in a Russian prison for passing weapons secrets to an alleged CIA front. Would the U.S. be getting a good deal?

  • Looks Like a Fair Deal, writes Steve LeVine at Foreign Policy: "The deal may be even: Sutyagin to this day maintains his innocence. He claims that, as a specialist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, he never had access to classified information. What he passed on to the alleged CIA front -- Alternative Futures -- was strictly from open sources, he said. As for the Russians in U.S. custody, prosecutors don't allege that they actually carried out any espionage, only that they didn't register as foreign agents."
  • Are You Kidding? Stephen Sestanovich, a Russia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, disagrees with LeVinel: "It's a relief to have Igor Sutyagin out after what he's been through. But let's recognize there's been a terrible disproportion between the messages sent here: Get caught in a gray area of what's secret and what's not in Russia, and you do 15 years of hard time. Work for years in an elaborately constructed and bankrolled intelligence operation in the U.S. -- complete with assumed identities and constant covert monitoring from Moscow -- and you're handed a get-out-of-jail pass in ten days."
  • A Huge Win for the U.S., writes Russia expert Charles Crawford: "Hard for me at least to see why the Russians would want to do this unless the illegals/sleepers rounded up in the USA were likely to spill so many operational beans during their looming long years on trial and then in prison that it is worth Moscow eating great slabs of humble pie to end the agony asap... The more you look at it, the more this looks like a five-star triumph for the Americans in general and the FBI in particular."
  • This Whole Affair Is Both Novel and Old School, writes Mark Hosenball at Newsweek: "An old-fashioned spy swap would be only the latest anachronism in a case that has many eerie Cold War echoes, ranging from the femme fatale antics of one of the alleged spy ring's younger members (topless photos of Anna Chapman surfaced in a London tabloid over the weekend) to the use of seemingly antique 'tradecraft' like messages written in invisible ink and bales of cash buried under broken beer bottles in remote rural fields. On the other hand, the accused Russian agents also used modern high-tech methods like two-way laptop wireless hookups and the transmission of secret messages to Moscow Center via 'steganography'--an advanced technique in which texts are fiendishly encoded by computer and then embedded in pictures posted publicly on the Internet."
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