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U.S.-Russia spy swap done with practiced ease

July 10, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The speedy spy swap was completed smoothly between U.S. and Russia, as both sides hold longtime histories as old enemies.Less than two weeks after the FBI broke up a Russian spy ring imbedded in U.S. soil for over a decade, 10 Russian agents caught in the U.S. are back in Russia, four convicted of spying for the U.S. have been released by Moscow, and bilateral relations seem to be back on track again.

Officials wanted the swap proceedings to be swift and removed from drama.

Channels of communication that once coursed with world-shaking superpower crises were reflexively put into play. Moscow and Washington not only have a history of nuclear-tipped tension but also long experience keeping those tensions in check.

"This case has been done with electrifying speed," said John L. Martin, who oversaw Cold War espionage prosecutions and trades during a 27-year career at the Justice Department. "I've never seen so much pressure to do it quickly."

The detailed case against the network of secret Russian agents was brought to the attention of the White House in February, officials said.

Officials said they had planned to use the Russian operatives as bargaining chips to free Russians imprisoned for betraying Moscow and helping the West.

About a day after the arrests were made, the CIA contacted the Russian service and proposed the idea of a swap.

Soon thereafter on Wednesday, all 10 defendants were assembled in New York from various jails to enter guilty pleas, complete the swap arrangements and be deported.

Officials involved in the swap said the entire spy case moved quicker than they expected.

An 11th suspect, who jumped bail last week after being arrested in Cyprus, remains on the loose.

The defendants were accused of living seemingly ordinary lives in America while they acted as unregistered agents for the Russian government, sending secret messages and carrying out orders they received from their Russian contacts.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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