As a powerful snowstorm closed in on New York City, US agents dug up their Cold War playbook and arrested an alleged Russian deep-cover spy who prosecutors say posed as a banker to gain intelligence about the US financial system.
Evgeny Buryakov, along with two handlers posing as employees of the Russian trade representative and the Russian Mission to the United Nations, are alleged to have been employees of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence service. Buryakov was arrested this afternoon, according to the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. His two handlers had already left the United States.
Buryakov used his position as an employee of a Russian bank, unnamed in the Department of Justice’s legal complaint, to recruit sources and gather information about Russian economic interests, which he would then pass to his handlers to be transmitted to Moscow.
However, those hand-offs were surveilled by Federal Bureau of Investigation counter-intelligence agents:
The FBI also tapped a secret office where the three men discussed their work as SVR agents, including their disappointment at the gulf between their work and that of James Bond. They even discussed the US arrest of ten undercover Russian agents in 2010.
Overall, their work as intelligence agents is portrayed as rather middling—one example of their recruitment was an ambitious junior employee at US consulting firm lured into meetings by vague promises of connections with the energy company Gazprom.
At one point, the agents were asked to generate interview questions for an unnamed Russian state-owned news service to relay to officials at the New York stock exchange—including queries about high-speed trading.
But Buryakov should have seen the final sting coming, according to wiretap recordings discussed in the complaint. An FBI informant posing as a wealthy investor sought to meet with Buryakov. His handler fretted in recordings that the purpose of the meeting was “unclear…casino, Russia, like, some sort of a set up. Trap of some sort. I cannot understand what the point is.”
Yet at a meeting in Atlantic City, Buryakov accepted a document from the informant, purportedly a confidential list of Russian individuals facing sanctions by the US Treasury. He met the informant another time and accepted a second ostensibly secret document listing Russian banks facing US sanctions. Immediately after that meeting, FBI agents recorded Buryakov telling his handler he had received “the schoolbooks,” their code word for the documents.
The arrest of the spy underscores the financial battle being waged between the US and Russia, and will no doubt further chill the poor relationship between the two countries.