Russia has sent a hit squad to kill a renegade colonel in its own foreign intelligence service who fled to the United States this summer after exposing a sprawling Russian spy ring.
The man, named as Colonel Scherbakov, worked for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, a successor agency to the KGB, where he oversaw a top- secret programme to dispatch long-term sleeper agents or “illegals” to the United States.
Russian intelligence sources told the Kommersant newspaper that he was the traitor who had given the FBI the names of the ten sleeper agents who made up the ring, including glamorous spy Anna Chapman. In at least one case, he is even said to have taken part in an interrogation.
In an echo of the Cold War, a Kremlin source was quoted as saying that Colonel Scherbakov would not have long to savour his betrayal.
“We know who he is and where he is,” the source said. “Have no doubt that a Mercader has been sent after him already.”
Ramon Mercader was the KGB assassin who murdered exiled Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky with an ice pick in 1940. A “Mercader” is a synonym for a hit squad.
“The fate of such an individual is unenviable,” the Kremlin source continued. “He will fear revenge every day (of his life).”
The FBI went public with the names Colonel Scherbakov had given it in June just days after he himself had fled to the United States. The 10 agents he compromised were exchanged for four men convicted by Russia of being Western spies the following month in the biggest spy swap since the Cold War.
Vladimir Putin, who served as a KGB agent in East Germany in the 1980s, hinted this summer that he knew the identity of the traitor.
“This was the result of treason and traitors always end badly,” the Russian prime minister said.
The reason for Colonel Scherbakov betraying his own agents was not clear but the paper said his daughter was a longtime resident of the United States and that his son had moved there earlier this year. The colonel turned down a promotion last year because he knew he would have to take a lie-detector test and feared he would give himself away, it added. Intelligence sources complained there were a number of suspicious things about the double agent that should have rang alarm bells and been investigated but were not.
Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the powerful security committee in the lower house of parliament, said he had known that Colonel Scherbakov was the traitor. He called for a parliamentary inquiry into the fiasco amid calls for Mikhail Fradkov, the head of the SVR foreign intelligence service, to resign.
“The damage committed by the colonel to the state is too enormous,” not to have further repercussions, Mr Gudkov told the Interfax news agency.
The view among Russia’s intelligence community was that it was one of the worst setbacks it had suffered, he added.
The disclosure has stoked speculation that Russia’s intelligence services may be restructured as an investigation into how a double agent could have operated at such a high level continued. “This is a big mix-up that will see heads roll and people demoted,” an intelligence source told Kommersant.
The most valuable of the 10 Russian agents exposed appears to be Mikhail Vasenkov who operated under the name Juan Lazaro. Intelligence sources claimed he had been able to obtain the US President’s travel agenda years in advance. US investigators had broken his leg and three ribs while interrogating him, they claimed.
By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
11 Nov 2010
Source: The Telegraph