- Associated Press - Monday, June 27, 2011

MOSCOW — The cover of the highly placed U.S. mole in the Russian intelligence service was blown.

Col. Alexander Poteyev had betrayed his ring of 10 sleeper spies — including Anna Chapman, the red-haired agent with the lingerie-model looks — and the FBI was about to nab them.

Now he was at risk of being arrested by Russian authorities.

Col. Poteyev’s plight last summer was so precarious that he had to rush from a meeting in his office for a train to flee the country. He later texted his wife by cellphone that he was “leaving not for some time, but forever.”

The details of Col. Poteyev’s escape and farewell message to his wife were included in a summary of evidence read in the Moscow District Military Court by a judge who convicted him in absentia Monday of high treason and desertion, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

The 59-year-old colonel also was stripped of his rank and state medals.

Ms. Chapman, one of the 10 agents deported from the U.S. in July 2010, testified at the closed trial that only Col. Poteyev could have provided the information that led to their arrests, Russian news agencies reported, citing a summary of the evidence read by the judge as he issued his ruling.

Miss Chapman testified that she was caught after an undercover U.S. agent contacted her using a code that only Col. Poteyev and her personal handler knew, the reports said.

She said she immediately felt that something was wrong and called her handler in Moscow, who confirmed her suspicions. Miss Chapman and the others were arrested not long after that, on June 27, 2010 — a year ago Monday.

The agents were deported in exchange for four suspected Western agents who had been imprisoned in Russia. It was the biggest spy swap since the Cold War.

The court said Col. Poteyev apparently got word that the agents were being rounded up in the U.S. and had to hurry out of Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.

It said Col. Poteyev fled to Belarus, crossed the border into Ukraine and then moved west to Germany and, finally, on to the United States using a passport in a different name.

Col. Poteyev’s grown son and daughter reportedly have been living in the United States for years.

The court said Col. Poteyev had overseen the Russian sleeper agents in the U.S. as deputy head of the “S” department of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.

The court said Col. Poteyev had begun working for U.S. intelligence around 1999-2000 — betraying the agents, their means of communication and financial information.

It said Col. Poteyev had sought to hamper the agents’ work by forcing them to meet in unsafe places and providing them with inferior equipment.

The CIA may have recruited Col. Poteyev in the 1990s when he did two stints at Russian diplomatic missions in the United States, the newspaper Izvestia reported.

Col. Poteyev was a veteran of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, where he served with an elite KGB commando team code-named “Zenith” in the 1980s.

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