Three Russian citizens who lived in the United States for years as spies were unremarkable to the casual observer. Yet in the end, they were all in court on Monday accused of being connected to one another through a Cold War-style spy ring.
The defendants, Evgeny Buryakov, Igor Sporyshev, and Victor Podobnyy, lived and worked in New York City under the direction of the Russian government. In addition to passing messages and one another, they also worked to recruit others and gather sensitive economic intelligence on behalf of the Russian government. Some of their work was done at an undisclosed university in the city.
Sporyshev and Podobnyy, the purported ringleaders, tried to recruit U.S. residents from major companies and numerous young women connected to a “major university” in New York, according to court documents.
In spite of their sinister intentions, the accused spies’ lives blended in well with millions of other New Yorkers. They operated from at least March 2012, during which time Buryakov worked as a banker and lived in the United States as a private citizen, not an official agent of the Russian government. He posed as a banker at a Manhattan branch of a Russian bank, Bank-1.
From March 2012 until September 2014, the three accused spies met dozens of times at locations all over Manhattan and the Bronx to exchange information. In about mid-2013, Sporyshev and Podobnyy were recorded sending and receiving intelligence reports to and from Moscow. Only Buryakov was operating under “non-official cover” or as a NOC—just one of three types of spies that Russia sends to the United States. He is not afforded immunity under that status.
The other two, Sporyshev and Podobnyy, served in official capacities on behalf of the Russian government, which may afford them some level of diplomatic immunity. They may not get immunity for acts of aiding and abetting Buryakov, though.
Sporyshev worked in New York City as a Trade Representative of the Russian Federation and Podobnyy was an attache to the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations.
The FBI investigation into their case followed the 2010 arrest of a ring of 10 covert Russian operatives who were also operating in the United States. That ring had conspired to launder money and pleaded guilty. As soon as that case closed, a new case was opened against the three additional spies, according to court documents.