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Posted at 11:37 AM ET, 11/11/2010

Report: Russia spy agency in turmoil over defector

By Jeff Stein

Russia’s foreign intelligence service has been roiling with internal recriminations for months over the defection of the official responsible for its American operations, so much so that it has sabotaged progress on missile talks with Washington, a Moscow newspaper is reporting.

The Kommersant newspaper said questions were being raised about why top intelligence officials allowed Col. Shcherbakov (his full name was not supplied) to stay in his job as boss of Moscow’s deep-cover spies in the United States even while his daughter was living here -- an inexplicable security lapse.

His son also left Russia just before Shcherbakov defected in June, the paper said. Days later the FBI arrested 10 Russian spies here, who were later traded for prisoners the Russians held.

The report could not be confirmed, and a CIA spokesperson, citing the Veterans Day holiday, said the agency would have no immediate comment.

[Update: A CIA spokesman said the agency would not comment on the report.]

“For some inexplicable reason, the Foreign Intelligence Service entirely missed the importance of the fact that Scherbakov's daughter lived in the United States,” Kommersant said.

It also said “nobody paid attention when Scherbakov's son (an officer of the Federal Drug Enforcement Service) suddenly left Russia for America not long before the outbreak of the scandal .”

The paper quoted an anonymous source saying, "It's strange indeed that nobody became concerned that a man in so sensitive a position had relatives abroad. This is only one of the countless questions the investigation is currently trying to answer.”

Even in agencies less sensitive than the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, it said, officials were fired for less.

“A man was once fired from the Security Council because some distant relative of his merely intended to marry a foreigner. And the Foreign Intelligence Service is supposed to be even more attentive to matters like that."

“There has never been such a failure by Section S, the American department that Shcherbakov directed,” Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s security committee, was quoted as saying by Kommersant.

The Russians appreciated the fact that Washington -- and in particular the CIA -- never crowed about Shcherbakov’s defection, the paper said. But the spy service’s top officials remained so bitter over the defection that they sabotaged U.S.-Russia talks on antiballistic missiles.

"The Foreign Intelligence Service is so enraged that it keeps torpedoing all and any work with the Americans, even including ABM projects," a senior Russian diplomat was quoted as saying.

“’Scherbakov' is like a curse within the Foreign Intelligence Service nowadays,” it said.

By Jeff Stein  | November 11, 2010; 11:37 AM ET
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