The banker, identified in a criminal complaint as Evgeny Buryakov, is accused of working with agents of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR, as a “non-official cover” agent.
“Specifically, Buryakov is posing as an employee in the Manhattan office of a Russian bank,” the complaint, unsealed today, says.
Buraykov was arrested as part of an alleged spy ring that involved two other individuals, the Department of Justice said. The other two, identified as Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, had worked in the U.S. before on behalf of Russia and were protected by diplomatic immunity. Sporyshev worked as a Trade Representative for Russia in New York until late last year and Podobnyy was an attaché to Russia’s Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, the complaint says.
“These charges demonstrate our firm commitment to combating attempts by covert agents to illegally gather intelligence and recruit spies within the United States,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “We will use every tool at our disposal to identify and hold accountable foreign agents operating inside this country – no matter how deep their cover.”
A “non-official cover” agent generally refers to an espionage agent working in a foreign nation without the protection of diplomatic immunity. As described in another court document, "in many cases [NOCs] are never identified as intelligence agents by the host government. As a result, a NOC is an extremely valuable intelligence asset for the SVR."
Buryakov is listed as the Deputy Representative in the U.S. for Russia's Vnesheconombank, based in Manhattan. A spokesperson at the state-run bank declined to comment to ABC News.
Federal officials say the spy ring was tasked by Moscow with gathering information on, among other things, potential U.S. sanctions against Russia and U.S. efforts to develop alternative energy resources. The three allegedly worked for a particular division of Russian intelligence called “Directorate ER,” which “focuses on economic issues,” according to the complaint.
The FBI began tracking the trio after the 2010 arrests of Anna Chapman and nine other spies known as the “Illegals.” The trio is accused of trying to recruit female spies for Russia.
The three newly uncovered alleged spies regularly met and communicated using clandestine methods and coded messages, in order to exchange intelligence-related information while shielding their associations with one another as SVR agents. To pass information court records say they held clandestine meetings outdoors where they passed bags, magazines or slips of paper.
Mark Stout, a former CIA analyst, said the tradecraft described in the criminal complaint seemed straight out of the Cold War.
“This is really a classic case of espionage, I think, in terms of how it was conducted both on the Russian side as well as on the FBI side,” Stout said. “The FBI is very good at this. I would not run up against the FBI trying to run an espionage operation in the United States.”
Christopher Swift, a national security expert at Georgetown University, said that the high-profile nature of the bust could turn into a “real danger” for American spies in Russia.
“I would not want to be an American diplomat or CIA officer under non-official cover in Moscow right now,” Swift told ABC News. “Tensions with Russia are already running high over Ukraine and the Kremlin is likely to reciprocate.”
ABC News' Jon Williams contributed to this report.