Four Famous Cases of Americans Accused of Espionage

Tim Tracy is not the first American to go through this ordeal.

ByABC News
April 27, 2013, 1:46 PM

April 29, 2013— -- Timothy Tracy must be going through some tough times right now.

The 35-year-old filmmaker from Hollywood, California, was arrested in Venezuela on Wednesday just as he was leaving the country.

Tracy was apparently in Venezuela to make a documentary. But he is being accused by the Venezuelan government of giving payments to "radical" opposition groups, and of carrying out plans to destabilize the highly divided country.

Curiously, Tracy is not the first American to experience such an incident. Here are some stories of Americans who have been accused of espionage and similar acts in countries that are not friendly with the U.S. Some were quickly released through diplomatic negotiations, and others had to spend years in foreign jails. One of the members of this notorious club still lingers in a Cuban jail.

Two Journalists in North Korea

In March 2009, Euna Lee and Laura Ling were working on a documentary about North Koreans who escape to China, for Current TV. After briefly crossing from China into North Korea to film some images, the journalists were captured by North Korean guards who had chased them into the Chinese side of the border. The journalists were then taken deep into the hermit kingdom, where they were accused of entering the country illegally, and of taking "hostile" actions against North Korea.

Lee and Ling were sentenced to 12 years in forced labor by a North Korean court. But they were released six months into their ordeal thanks to a series of discrete diplomatic negotiations, which culminated with a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and Bill Clinton, who acted a special envoy for President Obama.

The American Hikers in Iran

In July 2009, Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were working in Iraq's Kurdistan region, where locals suggested that they visit a waterfall that was close to the border with Iran.

The three Americans hiked towards the waterfall, which was located in a remote mountain range, and were arrested by Iranian border guards, who accused them of crossing illegally into the Islamic Republic.

Shourd spent a year in jail and was released on humanitarian grounds in 2010, as she was going through serious health complications. Bauer and Fattal had to stay in prison in Iran. In August 2011, they were convicted of espionage and entering the country illegally, and received eight-year prison sentences.

Curiously however, the Iranian government decided to release Bauer and Fattal, just a month after their sentences had been handed out to them by courts, claiming it was taking a humanitarian action. The release of the American hikers also occurred after the government of Oman interceded on their behalf, and made bail payments of $465,000 for the freedom of each hiker. Oman has good relations with Iran and the U.S.

Alan Gross in Cuba

In 2009, Alan Gross made five trips to Cuba, in which he delivered satellite phones, computers and Internet equipment to Jewish community groups on the island.

This was all part of a democracy program, funded by USAID, for which Gross was working as a subcontractor. But Cuba said Gross never had the appropriate permits to bring large amounts of communications equipment into the island. Gross was arrested during his last trip to Cuba in December 2009, and accused of espionage.