Moscow seeks revenge for US spy exposure

The Australian

RUSSIA has vowed to hunt down and kill a double agent accused of betraying Anna Chapman and nine other agents in a spy ring in the US.

The man, identified as Colonel Shcherbakov, was alleged to be an American mole at the top of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), charged with running operations by undercover agents. He fled Moscow for the US three days before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev travelled to the US for a summit with US President Barack Obama, according to the Kommersant newspaper.

In a chilling reference to one of the Soviet Union’s most infamous assassinations, a Kremlin official warned that a death squad had already been dispatched to eliminate him as a traitor. “We know who he is and where he is. Do not doubt that a Mercader has been sent after him already,” he said.

Under orders from Joseph Stalin, the Soviet agent Ramon Mercader killed the exiled Bolshevik Leon Trotsky with an ice pick in Mexico in 1940.

The FBI announced the arrest of 10 spies straight after Mr Medvedev’s visit in June, sparking the biggest espionage scandal between the countries since the Cold War. It claimed to have been monitoring the Russian agents for up to a decade. They were swapped for four imprisoned Russians in a Cold War-style exchange at Vienna airport in July.

Ms Chapman, 28, is probably the most overexposed spy in the history of Russian espionage. Nicknamed Agent 36-24-36 for her Bond-girl looks, she began her career while living in London, married to Alex Chapman, a Briton.

Since her return to Moscow, she has posed in her underwear for a men’s magazine and donned figure-hugging dresses for the local edition of Heat magazine.

Colonel Shcherbakov was identified as head of US operations for the SVR’s Department S, which manages “illegals” living under false identities on operations that can last decades. Kommersant reported that he had betrayed Mikhail Vasenkov, one of the SVR’s most senior spies, active in the US since the 1960s, by handing his dossier to US agents.

One SVR official said: “Vasenkov is a high-class professional who would never have been exposed if it were not for a traitor.”

An intelligence source told Kommersant that probes had begun into “loads” of officers with links to the US. “This is a big mix-up that will cost many titles and jobs,” the official said.

But Oleg Gordievsky, the former KGB chief in London who spied for MI6 as a double-agent and defected to Britain in 1985, cast doubt on the story. He said that his former Moscow employers were clearly trying to discredit Colonel Shcherbakov by blaming him for the exposure of the US spy ring. “It wasn’t necessary for this colonel to tip off the Americans because the FBI already knew about the spy ring,” he said. “They had been watching them for at least 10 years and had taken no action because they were of little significance.

“As a KGB (SVR) officer, he will now have a price on his head for defecting, but it will be because of what he can reveal about his intelligence knowledge, not about any alleged connection between him and the exposure of the 10 ‘illegals’.”

The Times