‘CIA and State’ prepared list of Russians for swap before FBI arrested spies in US

Igor Sutyagin, one of the four Russians convicted of spying who were exchanged for 10 confessed Russian spies.

From the Washington Post:  President Obama’s national security team spent weeks before the arrest of 10 Russian spies preparing for their takedown and assembling a list of prisoners Moscow might be willing to trade for the agents, senior administration officials said Friday.

U.S. officials began negotiating with their Russian counterparts shortly after the spies were arrested late last month, the officials said. Before long, the sides had reached an agreement that included pledges that neither would engage in any further "retaliatory steps," such as a diplomatic freeze or expulsions, and that neither would harass each other’s officials or citizens. …

The first time White House officials learned about the spies was in February, when representatives of the FBI, CIA and Justice Department held a briefing, according to one official. The briefers laid out "the broad contours" of what had been a decade-long investigation of a network of Russian "sleeper" agents placed in this country under false identities, and provided specifics about the individual agents.

Over the next several months, as concern grew that some of the agents were preparing to leave the United States, they discussed the timing of the arrests. Obama was first told about the Russian program and the long-running investigation June 11.

"He was also informed about plans for the arrests, and how that would be effected, what they would be charged with . . . [and] follow-on actions that were contemplated at that time," an official said.

Further presidential briefings followed, as did meetings among top national security officials but without Obama. Throughout those sessions, an official said, "there was a full discussion . . . about what was going to happen on the day after" the arrests.

Although there had been no final decision, the CIA and State Department had begun assembling a list of candidates for a swap, focusing on criteria that included humanitarian concerns and the general category of espionage. …

The timing of the arrests was left in the hands of Justice and the FBI. When they finally moved on June 27, an official said, it was "entirely coincidental" that Medvedev had just left Washington after his seventh face-to-face visit with Obama. (photo: AP)

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