American spy-catchers uncovered a suspected Russian mole that had been working in the U.S. embassy in Moscow for over 10 years, according to the British newspaper The Guardian, citing an anonymous source close to the matter.
The paper alleges the female agent had access to the intranet and email systems of the U.S. Secret Service, giving her access to potentially classified material, including the schedules of the president and vice-president.
The report also claims that when the spy was finally outed, the Secret Service not only failed to launch an investigation, but tried to cover up the security breach by using the Russia-ordered expulsions of 750 U.S. embassy staff members as a “cover for her removal.”
Allegations of a Cover-up
“The Secret Service is trying to hide the breach by firing [her],” the anonymous source told The Guardian. “The damage was already done but the senior management of the Secret Service did not conduct any internal investigation to assess the damage and to see if [she] recruited any other employees to provide her with more information.”
The Guardian did not disclose the suspected spy’s name or role, and said the woman had not responded to attempts to contact her.
In a statement, U.S. Secret Service officials rejected the British paper’s claims of a cover-up and high-level security breach as “categorically false” and said “the article is wrought with irresponsible and inaccurate reporting based on the claims of ‘anonymous’ sources.”
U.S. National Security Compromised?
The Secret Service said that all non-U.S. staff members, formally termed Foreign Service Nationals (FSN), are assumed to be susceptible to “foreign intelligence influence,” and so “all FSNs are managed accordingly to ensure that U.S. Secret Service and United States Government (USG) interests are protected at all times.”
That the Russian spy could have had access to information that compromised U.S. national security, the Secret Service added, was “erroneously reported.”
Michael McFaul was the U.S. Ambassador to Russia under the Obama administration and told MSNBC that he was unaware of any suspicious activity by the undercover agent, “although it sounds like this woman worked for me when I was there.”
McFaul said that there are risk-mitigation procedures in place to prevent non-U.S. staff from having access to sensitive information.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that she had access to classified information. That just does not happen in the embassy for Russians, for foreign nationals working there,” McFaul said.
“Oftentimes, we would run counter-intelligence on someone like that to follow them, to understand what they’re doing, to try and get greater fidelity as to how the FSB [Russian Federal Security Service] works,” he added.
To Catch a Spy
A senior administration official told CNN that the Russian spy was the subject of a counter-intelligence operation after coming under suspicion during a State Department security sweep in 2016.
She was found to be actively providing Russians with intelligence.
“We figure that all of them are talking to the FSB,” the source said of any foreign nationals working for the embassy, but the suspect “was giving them way more information than she should have.”
American agents set up a sting.
“We knew it was happening and it was just a process of playing it out and giving her specific information that we saw her give back to the FSB,” the source revealed.
The Russian spy was eventually caught, and in the summer of 2017 was dismissed.
The source also countered the British newspaper’s claim that the espionage activity compromised U.S. national security.
“She did not have access to highly classified information,” the official said.
The Secret Service said that any claims “regarding a potential security ‘breach’ of U.S. Secret Service systems, information, or reporting is unfounded.”