|Published:||Jul 09, 2010 10:47 AM EDT|
|Updated:||Jul 09, 2010 7:48 AM EDT|
VIENNA (AP) - U.S. and Russian flights involved in a 14-person
spy swap landed briefly in Vienna, apparently exchanged agents,
then took off again in the largest such diplomatic dance since the
In a carefully scripted exchange, the two planes arrived within
minutes of each other Friday, parked nose-to-tail at a remote
section on the tarmac, then spent about an hour and a half there
before departing just as quickly.
The swap apparently completed, a Russian Emergencies Ministry
Yakovlvev Yak-42 plane left Vienna reportedly carrying 10 agents
deported from the U.S. Minutes later, a maroon-and-white Boeing
767-200 that brought those agents in from New York took off,
apparently with four Russians who had confessed to spying for the
No information was immediately available as to the planes'
destinations. But the Russian flight was thought to heading for
Moscow, while the U.S. charter was likely flying to London.
Igor Sutyagin, an arms control researcher convicted of spying
for the United States, had told relatives of the spy swap while
still in prison and said he was being sent to Vienna and then onto
Vienna has long been involved in such Cold War-like
machinations, the capital of neutral Austria being a preferred
place to work on treaties and agreements meant to reduce
Both countries won admissions of crimes from the subjects of the
exchange - guilty pleas in the U.S. and signed confessions in
In exchange for the 10 Russian agents, the U.S. won freedom for
and access to two former Russian intelligence colonels who had been
convicted in their home country of compromising dozens of valuable
Soviet-era and Russian agents operating in the West. Two others
also convicted of betraying Moscow were wrapped into the deal.
One ex-colonel, Alexander Zaporozhsky, may have exposed
information leading to the capture of Robert Hanssen and Aldrich
Ames, two of the most damaging spies ever caught in the U.S.
U.S. officials said some of those freed by Russia were ailing,
and cited humanitarian concerns in part for arranging the swap in
such a hurry. They said no substantial benefit to national security
was seen from keeping the captured agents in prison for years.
Former intelligence operatives agreed.
The 10 Russian agents arrested in the U.S. had tried to blend
into American suburbia but been under watch for up to a decade by
the FBI. Their access to top U.S. national security secrets
appeared spotty at best, although the extent of what they knew and
passed on is not publicly known.
The lawyer for one of them, Vicky Pelaez, said the Russian
government offered her $2,000 a month for life, housing and help
with her children - rather than the years behind bars she could
have faced in the U.S. if she had not agreed to the deal.
In an elaborate round of dealmaking, U.S. officials met Monday
in Russia with the convicted spies and offered them a chance for
freedom if they left their homeland. Russian officials in the U.S.
held similar meetings with the agents captured by the FBI.
On Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree
pardoning the four after officials forced them to sign confessions.
The Kremlin identified the four as Zaporozhsky, Sutyagin,
Gennady Vasilenko and Sergei Skripal.
Zaporozhsky, a former colonel in the Russian Foreign
Intelligence Service, sentenced in 2003 to 18 years in prison for
espionage on behalf of the United States. He was convicted on
charges of passing secret information about Russian agents working
undercover in the United States and about American sources working
for Russian intelligence.
Skripal, a former colonel in the Russian military intelligence,
was found guilty of passing state secrets to Britain and sentenced
to 13 years in prison in 2006. He was accused of revealing the
names of several dozen Russian agents working in Europe.
Sutyagin, a military analyst, asserts his innocence despite the
confession. He worked with the U.S.A. and Canada Institute, a
respected Moscow-based think-tank, before being sentenced to 15
years in 2004 on charges of passing information on nuclear
submarines and other weapons to a British company that Russia
claimed was a CIA cover. Sutyagin says the information he provided
was available from open sources.
Gennady Vasilenko, a former KGB officer employed as a security
officer by Russia's NTV television, was sentenced in 2006 to three
years in prison on murky charges of illegal weapons possession and
resistance to authorities. It was not exactly clear why he was
involved in the spy swap.