Ryan Fogle is having a very bad week. First the American diplomat in Moscow was arrested on charges of espionage while carrying a ludicrous collection of what might generously be called spy gear. Then Russian authorities expelled Fogle from the country. Now the country’s state-run television is claiming that Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) intercepted Fogle’s telephone conversations with the Russian counterterrorism official he was trying to recruit. And if the reports are accurate — a big if — they certainly don’t make the CIA look good.
The transcript, only a small part of which has been released, paints Fogle as a man in a rush: "I think it’s worth meeting today," he allegedly told the Russian official. "It’s not possible tomorrow, it’s only possible today. Well, it’s worth it, as I said, you can earn a million dollars a year and I have $100,000 with me, but it has to be now."
According to Russia’s Channel One, the FSB intercepted two calls minutes before Fogle and his potential asset met at a park in Moscow. "Opposite you is the stairway to the park," Fogle allegedly told his target. "I see you. I’ll be there."
From there, the humiliation only continued, as Fogle was wrestled to the ground by the man he was trying to recruit. The Russian intelligence official "was a combat officer who had taken part in counter-terrorists operations many times himself in the North Caucasus, and himself had very serious military training," an FSB officer told Channel One.
According to Channel One, the FSB had been tracking Fogle since his arrival in Moscow in early 2011. "By that time, Russian counter-intelligence had already possessed information about his affiliation to the CIA staff, and from the moment he arrived in Russia, he was put under the appropriate surveillance. We can now say that this is not the first act of espionage in which the American has taken a personal part," an FSB officer told the station.
If the reporting is to be believed, Fogle spent two years under surveillance and was naive enough to bring a large sum of money to a clandestine meeting without realizing that his prospective asset was about to burn him.
That staggering incompetence is enough to inspire some skepticism about the allegations. Beyond the motivation of making the United States look bad, Moscow could be sending a message to Washington about their counterterrorism cooperation in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing (on Wednesday, Russia’s Kommersant claimed that Fogle was seeking intelligence on the marathon bombing suspects, who both have roots in the North Caucasus). On the other hand, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time the CIA did something stupid.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.| Daniel W. Drezner |