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.
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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.
The goal of the Russian government, Beyrle believes, is to "smear him in the eyes of his contacts."
According to a senior State Department official, the most disturbing element of the video may be the authentic elements that precede the fraudulent portion. According to this official, the tape begins with surveillance video of Hatcher walking Moscow streets some five years ago.
"That portion of the tape is real," the official said.
Hatcher, according to the official, traveled to Moscow as a tourist years before he worked for the US.. government.
The video then cuts to Hatcher, alone, in a hotel room watching television and checking something on a wall near the hidden camera. Within a few seconds, the lights in the room are off and a man and woman begin touching each other. But with the lights dimmed, it is impossible to identify Hatcher as the man on the tape.
"The Bear is back," says former FBI counterintelligence agent David Majors. Majors ran operations against the KGB for more than 20 years at the FBI. He says that while most Americans believed the struggle with Russian ended when the Berlin Wall fell, the KGB's new iteration, the Federal Security Service, or FSB, is as potent as its Soviet predecessor. "The intelligence service of Russian is as aggressive and large as it was when we had to face them in the Cold War," he said.
A month before the Hatcher video surfaced on the internet, another video was released showing British diplomat James Hudson allegedly having sex with two prostitutes. Hudson resigned within a few days, causing an uproar in England.
Hudson offered no public denials and has avoided all media inquiries since resigning.
The Hatcher video was released on the same website, Komsomolskaya Pravda.
According to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist who covers Russian intelligence, Komsomolskaya Pravda is a known propaganda site linked to the FSB.
"I think that [this] information was provided to this website by security services," Soldatov told ABC News.
Soldatov said that only Russian intelligence would be interested in smearing Hatcher and Hudson.
"In the time of the Cold War, this kind of tactic was used mostly for recruiting of diplomats," Soldatov said. "I think now the same tactics are used for—not for recruiting—but just for expelling diplomats."
According to Majors, producing a fake tape would not work as a method to have recruited Hatcher to spy for Russia, but it would work to hurt his ability to work in Russia.
"If you wanted to cause a wedge and cause problems for this guy, you do that. Do you want to cause the American Embassy to be less aggressive on contacting human rights people? It might work. If anything, this is a message to everybody in the future [that] this can happen," Majors said.
According to Ambassador Beyrle, using the internet as a tool in "honey traps" is a new, effective tactic of pressuring a diplomat. But it is still nothing more than "an old game," he said.
"Clearly since we were antagonists for a long time during the Cold War there are possibly people here who still find that difficult to accept and who feel they need to fight against that," Ambassador Beyrle said. "That's unfortunate. I don't think time or history is on their side but we have to deal with it from time to time."