The U.S. Ambassador in Moscow has lodged a formal protest with the Russian Foreign Ministry over an "attempted smear" of an American diplomat with a purported sex video recorded in a Moscow hotel room.
"This kind of effort to discredit an American diplomat really has no place in the sort of relationship that we are trying to build with the Russian federation," Ambassador John Beyrle told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast tonight on World News with Charles Gibson and Nightline.
American officials say the Russian intelligence agency that replaced the KGB, the Federal Security Service (FSB), produced the video in an attempt to either recruit or discredit the diplomat, Brendan Kyle Hatcher, a 34-year-old married State Department employee who serves as a liaison with religious and human rights groups in Russia.
As recently as this summer, Hatcher attended a meeting with Ambassador Beyrle with the Russian Patriarch Metropolitan Kiril.
When Hatcher rejected the Russian blackmail approach, officials said, the tape was posted last month on a supposed Russian internet news site that has no known reporters and that many Russian journalists believe is closely tied to the FSB.
The Russian Foreign Ministry declined comment to ABC News.
The video begins with surveillance video of Hatcher on a darkened street with a cell phone in his hand. Audio of Hatcher speaking with several women in Russian is dubbed over the scene and a still photograph of a topless woman is posted over the video.
Finally, the video shows footage of Hatcher recorded with a camera hidden in the ceiling of a hotel room. The lights are on and Hatcher is seen on the bed in his underwear. Then the video cuts to the same room without the lights on and shows a man and a woman seemingly having sex on the bed. Hatcher denies he is the man seen in the darkened scenes, and U.S. officials say they believe him.
"Kyle Hatcher has done nothing wrong," said Ambassador Beyrle. "Clearly the video we saw was a montage of lot of different clips, some of them which are clearly fabricated," he told ABC News. "We had our security office back in Washington take a look at that and they are convinced Kyle has done nothing wrong. I have full confidence in him and he is going to continue his work here at the embassy."
A State Department official declined to describe to ABC News how the diplomatic security office determined that video was not authentic, only saying that "a number of individuals viewed the tape, concluded it was a fake, and declined to do forensics."
What could have been just another in a long history of so-called "honey traps" — Russian intelligence attempts to entrap a foreign diplomat with sex for extortion or recruitment — has revealed what some observers see as a new heavy-handed tactic in the long-simmering war between Russia and the West and rekindled the Cold War era of spy versus spy.
The incident also highlights the continuing power and expanse of the FSB, Russia's domestic and counter intelligence agency.
Ambassador Beyrle believes his work drew the ire of "an element" of the Russian government.
Hatcher "is a valued member of the Foreign Service and his job description maybe wasn't to the liking of some people here," Beyrle told ABC News.