Russian Spy Who Posed as Manhattan Banker Is Heading to Prison

Evgeny Buryakov pleaded guilty to working as a foreign agent.

May 25, 2016, 3:04 PM

— -- A Russian not-so-super spy who got busted after walking into an FBI “trap” was sentenced today to two and a half years behind bars.

In a case that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said sounds "like a plotline from a Cold War–era movie," Evgeny Buryakov was arrested last year and accused of working as a nonofficial cover officer for Russia's foreign intelligence service, known as SVR, at a Russian bank in midtown Manhattan.

“Nonofficial cover agent” generally refers to an espionage agent working in a foreign nation as a private citizen — without the protection of diplomatic immunity they would enjoy if they were hiding behind another government job. As described by the Department of Justice, "SVR [Russian intelligence] agents operating under such nonofficial cover — sometimes referred to as NOCs — typically are subject to less scrutiny by the host government and, in many cases, are never identified as intelligence agents by the host government. As a result, a NOC is an extremely valuable intelligence asset for the SVR."

The FBI was able to uncover Buryakov, along with two alleged accomplices, by employing an undercover agent of its own and allowing the Russians to "recruit" their spy, according to a release by the Department of Justice earlier this year. The "dangle," as the agent is known in espionage parlance, posed as an analyst for a "New York–based energy company."

From then on, the FBI was able to gather information through the undercover agent, including by planting listening devices in "binders containing purported industry analysis" that were taken inside the SVR's offices, the DOJ said.

U.S. officials announced Buryakov’s arrest in January 2015 and this March he cut a plea deal that got him the 30-month prison sentence formally announced today. His two colleagues, who were working under protective diplomatic cover, fled the country.

“Evgeny Buryakov, in the guise of being a legitimate banker, gathered intelligence as an agent of the Russian Federation in New York. He traded coded messages with one of his Russian spy co-defendants, who sent the clandestinely collected information back to Moscow,” Bharara said today. “So long as this type of Cold War–style spy intrigue continues to go on in present-day New York City, the FBI and the prosecutors in my office will continue to investigate and prosecute it.”

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