- Associated Press - Thursday, November 11, 2010

MOSCOW | A Russian legislator specializing in national security on Thursday confirmed a newspaper report that a top intelligence official helped the United States arrest 10 Russian spies this summer.

The spies were arrested in June, several days after a U.S. visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. They were exchanged for four Russians who had been convicted of espionage in their own country. It was the largest spy swap between the countries since the end of the Cold War.

The respected daily Kommersant cited unidentified sources as identifying the Russian official only as Col. Shcherbakov, who it said headed the American section of a Foreign Intelligence Service division specializing in sleeper agents.

Gennady Gudkov, a member of the Russian parliament’s national security committee, later said, “Shcherbakov turned over our agents in the U.S.A. … I knew of this long before the publication today in Kommersant.”

Mr. Gudkov could not be reached for elaboration, including how he knew of Col. Shcherbakov’s purported involvement. His quotes, originally reported by the Interfax news agency, were confirmed by his office.

The newspaper cited a source in the Kremlin administration as saying that Col. Shcherbakov’s whereabouts were known and that a “Merkader” had been sent for him — referring to Ramon Merkader, the Soviet agent who murdered Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940.

The Foreign Intelligence Service, known by the initials SVR, and the Foreign Ministry declined comment on the report.

According to the newspaper, Col. Shcherbakov, who reportedly has a daughter living in the United States, went to the U.S. three days before the start of Mr. Medvedev’s visit.

The newspaper said the sources characterized him as fleeing, but it was unclear how they knew the trip was not simply a personal or professional visit.

After the arrest of the 10 Russian spies, a U.S. prosecutor said they had been under surveillance for years. The extent of Col. Shcherbakov’s purported aid in the arrests was not clear from the Kommersant account.

The newspaper cited the sources as saying that Col. Shcherbakov visited one of the arrested spies, Mikhail Vasenkov, in jail to urge him to confess. Mr. Vasenkov, who went by the alias Juan Lazaro, insisted he was not Russian, and Col. Shcherbakov then presented Mr. Vasenkov’s dossier to U.S. authorities, the newspaper said.

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