Spies exchanged in Vienna

4 held by Moscow traded for 10 deep-cover agents

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The last major spy exchange of its type took place in June 1985 when five Soviet intelligence agents who had been caught spying on behalf of the KGB in the 1980s were traded for a group of 25 U.S. and allied agents.

That exchange was followed by a second swap in February 1986 that freed human rights activist Nathan Sharansky, who was not a spy, and both exchanges took over two years of secret negotiations in Berlin and Washington, said former Justice Department lawyer John Martin, who took part in that swap.

U.S. officials said the main Russian to be set free in the deal is Igor V. Sutyagin, who was serving a 14-year sentence on charges of spying for the United States. He reportedly had been transferred to Vienna, Austria, and then to Britain as part of the exchange.

The Kremlin said the other three were Sergei Skripal, a colonel in Russia’s military intelligence service serving a 13-year sentence on charges of spying for Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence service; Aleksandr Zaporozhsky, another former Russian intelligence agent, serving an 18-year sentence; and Gennadi Vasilenko, a former KGB major, arrested first in 1998 for allegedly spying for the CIA and again in 2005 on illegal weapons charges.

An 11th member of the U.S.-based spy ring, who was identified in court papers as Christopher Metsos, fled to Cyprus before his arrest and was detained by Cypriot authorities who released him on bond and he fled again.

Court papers identified Mr. Metsos as the spymaster who met with several of the U.S.-based agents and provided them with cash.

Each of the 10, including four married couples, were required under the plea to reveal their true identities.

The couple known as Richard Murphy and Cynthia Murphy disclosed that they were Russian agents Vladimir Guryev and Lydia Guryev. Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills revealed they were really agents Mikhail Kutsik and Natalia Pereverzeva, and Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley admitted to being agents Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova.

Juan Lazaro confessed to being Mikhail Anatonoljevich Vasenkov, a Russian agent.

Vicky Pelaez, the only U.S. national in the group, agreed to leave the country as part of the plea deal and never return. Pelaez, Anna Chapman and Mikhail Semenko admitted working for the Russian SVR intelligence service in the United States under their true names. Chapman and Semenko also admitted they are Russian citizens.

The Justice Department did not identify the four people who the statement said were held for their “alleged contact with Western intelligence agencies.”

“This was an extraordinary case, developed through years of work by investigators, intelligence lawyers and prosecutors, and the agreement we reached today provides a successful resolution for the United States and its interests,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said.

Critics of the exchange said it was carried out too quickly, likely limiting the ability of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to learn about SVR operations and activities in the United States.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican and ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in an interview that he is concerned the U.S. side made too many concessions in the deal.

“The key here is did we get all the intelligence we needed to make sure that we got better insights into what [the Russians] are doing and trying to do against us? I don’t know,” he said.

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