A US diplomat accused of attempting to recruit a Russian security services staffer as a double agent used a comical "spy arsenal" of equipment, it is claimed.
Ryan Fogle - third secretary of the political department of the US Embassy in Moscow - was allegedly caught redhanded by Russia's counterintelligence agency, the FSB, with an old Nokia phone, aluminium foil, a compass, knife, wigs, sunglasses and high-denomination euro notes.
The FSB published photos of the stuff to suggest Fogle, if the allegations are true, was more likely supplied by the Marx Brothers than anything comparable to James Bond's Q branch.
And the possessions apparently included a one-page letter to “a dear friend”, apparently destined for Russians the US wanted to turn: the document offered a $100,000 down-payment for an interview with the would-be recruit, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to set up a new Gmail account for future secret communications.
"Ever-so-savvy, the document stressed the importance of not divulging any real contact information like phone numbers, email or home addresses when creating an email account for the purposes of spying on one’s own country," Russia Today sarcastically noted in a report that includes a copy of the supposed letter of introduction.
The Gmail account should be set up in a cyber-cafe with a new computer, which ought to be paid for in cash. “We will reimburse you for this purchase,” the letter promises.
Once this is accomplished a message should be sent to unbacggdA@gmail.com, before allowing a week for a reply. El Reg's security desk predicts that this webmail address faces a barrage of spam and 419 scams - perhaps something along the lines of: "I am William Boot of the US Embassy of Ishmaelia and have huge funds at disposal for a discreet person who can act as an agent for the release of funds held in XY bank.
Fogle was detained late on Monday "during an attempt to recruit a representative of one of the Russian security services", the Russian Foreign Ministry said. The diplomat has since been returned to the embassy after he was branded “persona non grata”. The Russian foreign ministry, which summoned the US ambassador for a meeting without coffee, is demanding Fogle's expulsion.
The FSB told journalists that Fogle's alleged actions were far from isolated, WiReD reports.
"Recently American intelligence has made multiple attempts to recruit employees of Russian law enforcement organs and special agencies, which have been detected and monitored by Russian FSB counterintelligence,” the agency claimed in a statement.
A former FBI counterintelligence officer cast doubt on the Russian version of events, specifically that Fogle was ineptly engaged in Cold War-style shenanigans.
"I very much doubt that a highly trained CIA operative is going to be walking the streets of Moscow wearing a really bad blond wig. It's poor tradecraft, and it looks like a setup to me," Eric O'Neill told CNN. O'Neill suggested the embarrassing material was planted on Fogle.
The whole affair is something of an unwelcome distraction at a time the US is trying to build bridges with Moscow ahead of a planned international conference on Syria.
For all the emphasis on high-tech computer espionage, old-school spying involving Russia and the US still takes place. Three years ago ten alleged members of a Russian sleeper spy ring, including photo-friendly Anna Chapman, were deported from the US and sent back to Russia as part of an official swap programme. ®