Tit For Tat For Tit: Russia expels two US diplomats over unprovoked attack at US Embassy Moscow

Posted: 3:12 am ET
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On June 6, a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)  guard reportedly attacked one of our accredited diplomats posted in Moscow. About three weeks later, somebody told the Washington Post about the attack.

This previously unreported attack occurred just steps from the entrance to the U.S. Embassy complex, which is located in the Presnensky District in Moscow’s city center. After being tackled by the FSB guard, the diplomat suffered a broken shoulder, among other injuries. He was eventually able to enter the embassy and was then flown out of Russia to receive urgent medical attention, administration officials confirmed to me. He remains outside of Russia.

RFE/RL reported the response from Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on June 30  — that the guard attempted to stop the man to check his identity, but the man struck the guard in the face with his elbow before running into the embassy. “In the tussle that followed, the unknown man shoved away the guard employee and disappeared into the embassy,” she said.

Here’s TASS with a quote from the Russian deputy foreign minister about the incident:

“A video of that incident was broadcasted on July 7 by the NTV channel and speaks for itself – in the middle of the night some man wearing a hat pulled on his eyes, though it is summer, rushes from a taxi to the embassy entrance without any attempts to present a pass,” the Russian deputy foreign minister said. “Then, as the police on guard in order to prevent any threat for the diplomatic mission from the stranger, hurries to the person, the man gives him a punch by elbow into the face, thus actually committing a crime.”

Well, now, here’s the video, which was released earlier this week by Russian state-owned NTV.

Can we please file the deputy under the “Baghdad Bob” folder?

In any case, on July 7, WaPo reported that Congress is now investigating the attack on the U.S. diplomat in Moscow.

On Friday, July 8, State Department spox, John Kirby told reporters for the first time that Russian diplomats were expelled from the US on June 17 in response to the attack. “We are extremely troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past couple years,” Kirby said.

Gotcha. One month, two days.

On July 9, Russia’s Sputnik News confirmed from the Russian Foreign Ministry that “Washington urged Russian diplomats to leave the US, while not voicing any complaints concerning their activity.”

Also on July 9, TASS reported that “two CIA officials working for U.S. Embassy were declared persona non grata.”  Apparently, Moscow has also warned Washington that “further escalation of bilateral relations will not remain unanswered.”

Here’s something to read via The American Interest:

The Obama Administration really wanted to keep this incident quiet. Whether due to wishful thinking or for reasons knowable only to those on the inside, the White House seems to think it can make progress with Russia on both the Ukraine and Syria portfolios. The harassment of State Department personnel in Moscow by security personnel was not exactly a new phenomenon, even though it had increased in intensity since Russia annexed Crimea, fought a covert war in Donbas, and had sanctions imposed on it. The White House probably saw this latest assault, egregious though it was, as fitting into a well-established pattern (one at odds with whatever hopeful signs it thought it was getting directly from the Kremlin).The Administration knew the video of the beating looked bad and could inflame U.S. domestic opinion if it leaked. But to its credit, it did not completely turn the other cheek either. Rather, it stuck to the informal, accepted procedure of quietly PNGing two Russian spies with diplomatic cover and gave zero notice to the press. Whatever the original reason for the assault, the thinking must have gone, it’s important that it not get in the way of improving relations with the Kremlin.

Read more: Kremlin Paranoia Leads to Escalation in Spy War and Why Russia Published Footage of an FSB Agent Beating an American in Moscow.

Below via the DPB with the official spox on July 8:

QUESTION: Okay. On the incident outside the Russian embassy, there’s been more comments out of Moscow or wherever. Seems like they’re bent on humiliating you over this incident. Do you have a response?

MR KIRBY: So I’ve been clear from the podium that we would prefer to deal with this matter in private government-to-government channels. However, because, as you noted, the Russian Government continues to make allegations about this incident, I am now compelled to set the record straight. On the 6th of June, an accredited U.S. diplomat, who identified himself in accordance with embassy protocols, entering the American embassy compound was attacked by a Russian policeman. The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee. The Russian claim the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue.

In addition to the attack on the 6th of June, Russian security services have intensified their harassment against U.S. personnel in an effort to disrupt our diplomatic and consular operations. We’ve privately urged the Russian Government to stop the harassment of American personnel in Russia, and as I said before, the safety and well-being of our diplomatic and consular personnel abroad and their accompanying family members are things we take very, very seriously.

QUESTION: All right. On the individual, the diplomat, there were some reports that he sustained injuries, including maybe a broken arm. Is that true, and has he since left the country, been PNGed, or anything like that?

MR KIRBY: Privacy considerations restrict me from speaking about health, and, as a standard practice, I’m not going to comment on the status of any of our employees serving overseas.

QUESTION: In Congress there’s calls for an investigation. Do you support those? Will you undertake an investigation?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any investigation that we are going to undertake. If that changes or something, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And then what does this say about the broader U.S.-Russian relationship? Is it getting – if you can’t even operate in normal manner in the country, is it getting to a level – a worse level than it’s been in a very long time?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I think it certainly speaks, as I said, of – to the kinds of harassment over the last couple of years – I mean, this is a very graphic example and a very violent one. But it comes on the heels of two years of increasing diplomatic harassment by Russian authorities that is also unprovoked and unnecessary. And as I said I think a week or so ago, Russian claims that they’re getting harassed here are simply without foundation. So you want to have a conversation about in-kind treatment, it’s time for Russia to treat our diplomats with – in the same manner in which they’re treated here when they come to the United States.

And as for the broader relationship, the – our relationship with Russia is complicated, and we certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything. There are areas where we have in the past and I think we’ll continue to seek cooperation with them, such as on Syria and the political process there. There are obviously still areas where there’s tension; Ukraine and Minsk implementation is one of them, and certainly this. There’s no need for this when there’s so many more important things for us to be working on with Russia and so much real, meaningful geopolitical progress that could be had. There’s no place for this kind of treatment and there’s no reason for it.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to make an official complaint about a Vienna Convention violation?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that to say today.

QUESTION: And then lastly, are – do you have – are you considering any countermeasures against Russia in terms of diplomatic presence in the United States, whether it’s expelling embassies, limiting movement, or otherwise responding to this incident?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things on there. I’d say in – certainly in a sign of how seriously we take it, as I said earlier, the Secretary raised it directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the very day that it occurred.

(Ringtone plays.)

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR KIRBY: That’s okay.

We’re well aware that such efforts against U.S. personnel are not always sanctioned by all elements of the Russian Government. So we’re going to look to senior Russian officials with whom we engage to reign in those elements seeking to impede our diplomatic and consular activities in – I’m sorry – in Russia and our bilateral relationship. And again, this has been raised at the very highest levels – this particular incident – and I think you’ll continue to see us do that.

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From Russia With No Love: US Diplomat/Alleged CIA Spy Expelled For Having Two Bad Wigs

The Voice of Russia reported today that US diplomat, Ryan C. Fogle was asked to leave the country for allegedly attempting to recruit a Russian special service officer as a US agent:

A statement from the FSB said that overnight on May 13/14 Russian FSB counter-intelligence agencies detained a member of the US Central Intelligence Agency, named as Ryan Christopher Fogle, who worked as third secretary of the political department of the US Embassy in Moscow.

It is alleged he was caught red-handed, with written instructions, a large sum of money and a wig.
[…]
The foreign ministry said Ryan C. Fogle must return to the United States “as soon as possible,” adding that such “provocative acts in the spirit of the Cold War in no way help strengthen mutual trust” between Moscow and Washington.

We don’t know more than what we’ve read on the news but expulsion also means he will only have a very short window to pack and leave the country.

Of course, we’re also reminded that in September 2009, there were lots of speculation that the FSB was responsible for leaking a story and video of the sex tape purported to be of a US diplomat assigned at the US Embassy in Moscow. That one went on for seven weeks until then Ambassador Beyrle finally complained to the Foreign Ministry over what it says is an effort to smear a diplomat with a fabricated sex tape (see US Embassy Moscow Complains About Russian Sex Video).

So no sex tape this time but a couple of wigs, a compass (?),  a recruitment letter that looks like spam and gmail!

The wigs!

Really, wigs are so 1980’s. Whoever wrote this script did not earn his/her pay. At least in FX’s The Amerikans, whenever the KGB agents had to go in disguise, they wear wigs. But you know, those wigs stay on whether those agents are on a knife fight or in a bed escapade. If those guys can keep their wigs on in a 1980’s show, surely our CIA agents if they have to wear a wig as a disguise, can do better than a blonde wig that gets dislodged when you’re wrestled to the ground? Plus whatever happened to Mission Impossible’s latex masks? Ugh!

A compass!

Over in NYT: “Who uses a compass these days?” asked Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor who studies Russian security affairs. “This would be a phenomenal breach of tradecraft. This isn’t what they teach you at the CIA.”

What’s a compass?

NYMag posted the alleged written instruction found on Mr. Fogle but writes that there is “actually something pretty weird about this story. It’s the recruitment letter (translated here into English from its original Russian by news outlet RT):

Screen Shot 2013-05-14

Click on image to read the text of the recruitment letter (via WaPo)

 

This is how the CIA recruits spies? With a form letter that reads like something you’d find in your in-box courtesy of a Nigerian prince? See (see Apparently the CIA Recruits Russian Spies With a Spammy Form Letter).

Of course, the arrest also happened as the US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul was holding a live Q&A on Twitter.  Coincidence or perfectly timed?

The AP on the video released by FSB:   “The official, whose face is blurred, alleged that Fogle called an unidentified FSB counterintelligence officer who specializes in the Caucasus at 11:30 p.m. Monday. He then said that after the officer refused to meet, Fogle called him a second time and offered 100,000 euros if he would provide information to the U.S. The Russian official said the FSB was flabbergasted.”

Well, they should be. This sounds like awful theater.

In WashDC, State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell is reported to have said that the incident is unlikely to hamper U.S.-Russia relations.

And life goes on.

–DS

Bolivian President Expels USAID For Alleged “Political Interference”

WaPo reports that Bolivian President Evo Morales acted on a longtime threat Wednesday and expelled USAID for allegedly “seeking to undermine Bolivia’s leftist government.” He also harangued Secretary Kerry for calling the Western Hemisphere the United States’s  “backyard.”  Bolivia’s ABI state news agency said USAID was “accused of alleged political interference in peasant unions and other social organizations.”

Screen Capture of USAID/Bolivia

Screen Capture of USAID/Bolivia

USAID Bolivia has put out a fact sheet says in part, “The United States government deeply regrets the Bolivian government’s decision to expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government.”

The USAID fact sheet also indicates that in the last 50 years, USAID has spent nearly $2 billion in Bolivia on education, health, agriculture, food security, alternative development, economic development, and environment programs.  USAID’s budget for Bolivia in FY2011 was $26.7 million from a high of over $72 million in 2008 before U.S.-Bolivia relations soured.

The most recent OIG report we could locate is dated 2008.  At that time, USAID Bolivia had 16 American direct hire employees and 116 foreign national staff and a total funding for FY 2008 of $72,135,552.

President Morales expelled DEA agents from Bolivia in 2008 for alleged conspiracy.  On September 10, 2008, the Bolivian Government also expelled Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, after declaring him Persona Non Grata.   It is not clear if a reduction in staffing followed the reduction of funds for Bolivia in the years following the double expulsion in 2008.

Update on 5/3/13: According to the State Dept:   There are 9 Americans and 37 Foreign Service Nationals (Bolivians) working at USAID/Bolivia.  After the May 1 announcement by President Morales, the Bolivian Foreign Minister called the Embassy to officially inform us of the decision to expel USAID and said USAID would be given a “reasonable” amount of time to end operations. The Embassy has not received a diplomatic note and no further details regarding a timeline were given.

This is not the first time the Bolivian president got upset over remarks made in Washington, of course.  David Greenlee who was Ambassador to Bolivia in 2003-2006 spoke briefly about this as part of the ADST Oral History (Ambassador Greenlee was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2007.  See here — http://www.adst.org/Readers/Bolivia.pdf):

On the political side, our relations quickly deteriorated. Morales couldn’t stop attacking us. Partly, I am sure, it was his personal resentment, still occasionally stoked by intemperate remarks from Washington. The problem there was not the State Department. But off-hand comments, here and there, would give him something to work with. Once Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, for example, said something sneering about Morales on a visit to Paraguay. It played to Morales’ hand, not ours.

Morales looked for anything he could use to demonstrate to his base that we were the enemy and he was “bending our arm.” Once some guy from the U.S. came into Bolivia and allegedly, I have to be careful about my language, blew up a couple of buildings, or parts of buildings. There were deaths and injuries. Morales accused the U.S. of sending him to terrorize the country. The reality was that the guy had been arrested in Argentina for blowing up an ATM machine, and then obtained a Bolivian visa on the border with Bolivia, entered the country, and went on to get a license from the police to sell dynamite. I went over this with Morales, and he even thanked me, and thanked me publicly, for the “clarification.” But within a week he was back with his accusations. “Why is the U.S. always sending us terrorists?” he would say. Morales lives in a parallel universe.

And here is what Ambassador Greenlee said about bilateral assistance back in 2007:

 Relations had always been good, but very asymmetrical. The U.S. was the biggest bilateral assistance donor. Until Evo Morales was elected president at the end of 2005, the U.S. was always courted, paid deference to, because of that. But our presence was overwhelming. We were too big, the way we did things, was too big for the bilateral relationship. It was bad for Bolivia, and it was bad for us. The Bolivians were in the habit, the bad habit, of being supplicants, and we were in the position, the frankly arrogant position, of doling out assistance. The Bolivians wanted help without conditionality, while we needed to know that our aid wasn’t being squandered, that it was going to something that had a developmental purpose or an anti- drug purpose. The Bolivians resented the emphasis on drugs. They saw the cocaine trade as a U.S. problem, but it was increasingly, even on the consumption side, a Bolivian problem in equal measure.

If you want to read more, click here to see the ADST Bolivia Reader.(pdf)

–DS