The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reportedly dissolved a network of spies stationed in New York City reporting to the Russian government, officials said Monday.
The United States government officially charged three suspects in connection with the ring on Tuesday. The suspects were tasked with gathering information on potential U.S. sanctions on Russian banks as well as the country’s progress regarding alternative energy resources, according to a complaint filed in a Manhattan federal court.
The suspects communicated by meeting outdoors and exchanging items such as bags, umbrellas and magazines to exchange intelligence, according to CNN.
Two of the suspects, Igor Sporshyev, 40, and Victor Podobnyy, 27, retain diplomatic immunity as a result of their employment under the Russian government. However, the third suspect, Evgeny Buryakov, 39, was posing as an employee at a Russian bank in New York while operating under “non-official cover,” officials reported to CNN.
“[NOC agents receive] less scrutiny by the host government, and, in many cases, are never identified as intelligence agents by the host government,” said U.S. law enforcement in an official statement. “As a result, a NOC is an extremely valuable intelligence asset for the SVR [the foreign intelligence agency of the Russian government].”
In addition, Sporshyev and Podobnyy reportedly attempted to recruit United States citizens as intelligence sources, the official complaint said.
The case was related to a 2010 investigation that resulted in the arrests of 10 covert agents. The agents each pled guilty to conspiracy charges and were ultimately returned to their home country, according to Yahoo News.
The Russian Foreign Ministry and Foreign Intelligence Service had not commented as of this writing. The Russian delegation to the United Nations reportedly refused to comment on the incident.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder said that the case demonstrates America’s “firm commitment to combating attempts by covert agents to illegally gather intelligence and recruit spies within the United States.”