The Russian media has named a second man in less than a week as an alleged traitor behind the recent spy scandal.
Citing its sources, Interfax news agency said the group of Russian sleeper agents in the US was betrayed by Colonel Poteev of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). He was reportedly deputy head of the department responsible for illegal agents in the US.
Earlier, Kommersant daily said its investigation showed that the traitor was Colonel Shcherbakov, who allegedly headed that department.
Both men are said to have relatives in the US who reportedly fled Russia days before the agents were detained.
After the recent reports, it is not clear if one or two men could have been responsible for the exposure of the spy network. SVR representatives have declined to comment on the matter.
“Colonel Shcherbakov” was “indeed a traitor,” sources told Interfax. But, according to them, he “defected a long time ago, and is unlikely to be related to the detention of the Russian intelligence officers in the US in June.”
“The name Shcherbakov has turned out to be a wrong guess,” Trud daily said. Sources say that the man responsible for the work of illegal agents in the US is not called Shcherbakov, the paper said, commenting on Kommersant’s story.
“I’ve read that article, discussed it with my colleagues and we’ve come to the conclusion that Colonel Shcherbakov is a mythical person,” an unnamed former intelligence officer told Trud.
It also seems unrealistic that “Shcherbakov” could have sent first his daughter and then his son to the US without being noticed, the daily noted. The information that the son had worked in the drug control service has also proved to be wrong.
The paper’s sources were also skeptical about Kommersant’s report regarding the alleged beating of one of the Russian agents, Mikhail Vasenkov, by US counterintelligence officers.
“Intelligence services of all countries usually respect their rivals,” the sources said. “This version could have been evoked by reports of US soldiers’ abuses against prisoners of war in Iraq,” they speculated.
“In connection with constant speculation over the name of the traitor, the new version may be wrong, but there is no doubt that it will evoke a new discussion,” the paper said, adding that the public “is awaiting the official exposure of the traitor.”
Commenting on the emergence of the new name behind the scandal, Kommersant said that the “the biggest SVR failure of recent years could have been the result of not a single instance of treachery in the Russian intelligence community.”
The source, which has called Poteev only by surname, disclosed the traitor’s family situation and circumstances of his escape from Russia that are similar to those attributed earlier to Shcherbakov, the daily said. That concerns, in particular, his son and daughter.
“Simultaneously the sources of Interfax have confirmed the existence of traitor called Shcherbakov inside the SVR,” the daily said. It also recalled that President Dmitry Medvedev, commenting on Kommersant’s investigation of Shcherbakov’s story, said he had known everything “from the beginning.“
“Anyway, the appearance of the new details and another traitor inside the SVR shows that the June spy scandal may have been a complex failure in the work of this special service,” the paper said.
“Both Shcherbakov and Poteev occupied rather high posts, and, thus, could have handed over the information about Russian spy agents to Americans,” the paper added.
It is not ruled out that the investigation that is currently under way inside the SVR will result in “personnel and structural reforms of the service,” the paper said. “Kommersant’s sources earlier assumed that it may be returned under Federal Security Service’s responsibility.”