The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Dual U.S.-Russian Citizen Admits to Spying on the United States for Moscow

A dual U.S./Russian citizen has pleaded guilty to spying for the FSB.

GettyImages-179598037
GettyImages-179598037

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has called Russia’s cyber-espionage capabilities the most sophisticated in the world. This week, U.S. officials showed that Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, still likes to engage in old-fashioned spying as well. But this time, his agent got caught.

Kelly Currie, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, announced Wednesday that Alexander Fishenko, a dual citizen of the United States and Russia, pleaded guilty to illegally exporting controlled microelectronics to Russia. He also admitted to conspiring to launder money and obstruction of justice.

Fishenko, whom Carlin called “an agent of the Russian government,” was charged in October 2012, along with 10 other individuals and two corporations. Four of those arrested have already pleaded guilty, while the trial for three others is set to begin Sept. 21.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has called Russia’s cyber-espionage capabilities the most sophisticated in the world. This week, U.S. officials showed that Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, still likes to engage in old-fashioned spying as well. But this time, his agent got caught.

Kelly Currie, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, announced Wednesday that Alexander Fishenko, a dual citizen of the United States and Russia, pleaded guilty to illegally exporting controlled microelectronics to Russia. He also admitted to conspiring to launder money and obstruction of justice.

Fishenko, whom Carlin called “an agent of the Russian government,” was charged in October 2012, along with 10 other individuals and two corporations. Four of those arrested have already pleaded guilty, while the trial for three others is set to begin Sept. 21.

“Fishenko lined his pockets at the expense of our national security,” Currie said. “This prosecution highlights the importance of vigorously enforcing United States export control laws.”

Fishenko’s guilty plea could heighten espionage tensions between Russia and the United States. Putin took in NSA leaker Edward Snowden in 2013 after the American revealed the vast extent of American snooping around the world. Russian hackers also recently infiltrated State Department and White House computer systems.

According to federal prosecutors, between 2002 and 2012, Fishenko allegedly shipped about $50 million worth of microelectronics and other technologies to Russia from the United States. This included equipment often used in military systems like detonation triggers, radar and surveillance systems, and missile guidance technology. Russia does not make this kind of technology domestically, prosecutors said.

Here’s how Fishenko’s scheme worked: In 1998, he founded Arc Electronics in the United States, a company which claimed to be a traffic light manufacturer. He also served as an executive of Apex System, a procurement firm based in Moscow. Fishenko used his U.S.-based company to illegally ship technology to Apex, which then supplied the illicit goods to Russia’s military and intelligence services.

Prosecutors cited a letter from a lab linked to the Federal Security Service, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency. They said it proves Moscow’s spooks got their hands on the American technology: Namely, they complained that Fishenko’s equipment — routed through an affiliate of Apex — didn’t work properly.  

Fishenko, 49, is possibly looking at a lengthy prison sentence. He faces up to 20 years in jail for each violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Arms Export Control Act, as well as up to 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice and money laundering conspiracy. In addition, he could serve up to 10 years behind bars for acting as a Russian agent.

In January, the FBI arrested alleged Russian spy Evgeny Buryakov, who officials claim posed as a banker in the New York office of an unidentified Russian bank. He stands accused of working for Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service to collect information on U.S. markets and financial institutions.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Corrections, Sept. 10, 2015: Fishenko allegedly shipped about $50 million worth of microelectronics to Russia between 2002 and 2012. A previous version of this article mistakenly said that this happened between 2008 and 2012. Also, Evgeny Buryakov, the alleged Russian spy, was arrested in January of this year. A previous version of this article said that he was arrested in June.

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.