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Russia Spy Suspects Transferred Amid Talk Of Swap

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Russia Spy Suspects Transferred Amid Talk Of Swap

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Russia Spy Suspects Transferred Amid Talk Of Swap

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And now to the latest twist in a spy story that sounds more Cold War than 21st century. Last month, the FBI arrested 10 people they said were operating under deep cover for the Russian intelligence service. Their assignment, allegedly, was to blend into American society. They were supposed to befriend policymakers and politicians in order to gather intelligence they could send back to Moscow.

Well, now NPR has learned there will be an old-fashioned spy swap. U.S. and Russian officials are in talks to exchange the 10 arrested last month for some unknown number of people accused of spying for the U.S. in Russia.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is here with that story. And Dina, what do we know about these talks?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we got a hint something was going on yesterday when there was this bail hearing scheduled from one of the accused here in the U.S., a journalist named Vicky Pelaez. And so, her hearing was suddenly postponed without warning. And she was actually supposed to get out yesterday, and then she didn't. And then sources told me that the reason that was all put on hold was because these discussions with the Russian officials had already started.

The vague outline of the negotiations is that they would basically trade 10 people arrested here in the U.S. for some people who are in jail in Russia. Essentially, the idea is the people here plead to some lesser charge, and then they're deported and sent back to Russia.

SIEGEL: So what do you think: a prisoner exchange under cover of darkness a la John le Carre, at some border crossing?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it's something like that, but sort of a more modern version. I mean, we know that there's a list of names of prisoners in Russia whove been tried as spies for the U.S. We know that one of the people under discussion is a Russian scientist who's accused of passing secrets to the CIA. His name is Igor Sutyagin, and he's maintained he's completely innocent. But he was convicted in Russia in 2004, and then was sentenced to about 15 years in prison. So he's expected to be part of the exchange.

It's unclear who the other people in the list are, but if you remember, there was that former American FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, who was found guilty of spying for the Soviets. And he apparently gave them quite a number of names. So those names could be on the list, too.

SIEGEL: Any idea of when this swap might take place?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we don't know. You know, they're moving all the suspects to who are in three different states right now they're moving them all to New York. And the thinking is that they're moving them all here so that if something does happen overnight, that theyre able to get the discussion together and the negotiations together, that they would be able to put them all on the same flight to Russia.

But, you know, discussion can still break down, the deal isn't done yet. You know, nobody is commenting on this on the record, so there's still a lot to go from here.

SIEGEL: Is it implicit here, then, that the Russians would acknowledge these were their spies, and that the U.S. would acknowledge that those are our spies?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the Russians have been sort of slicing that rather fine. What they've said is, essentially, they didn't do any harm to the U.S.

SIEGEL: Okay. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, speaking to us from New York.

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