WASHINGTON, May 14 (RIA Novosti) – US officials were tight-lipped and analysts were bewildered Tuesday over the case of US junior diplomat Ryan Fogle, who was arrested in bizarre circumstances in Moscow and accused of trying to recruit an agent for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
“We can confirm that an officer at the US embassy in Moscow was detained briefly and was released. We’ve seen the Russian Foreign Ministry announcements and we have no further comment,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at the daily briefing for reporters.
Fogle, a third secretary in the political department at the US embassy, was briefly detained the night of May 13 as he allegedly attempted to recruit an officer from one of Russia's special services, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
Russia quickly declared Fogle persona non grata and called for him to be deported.
“Is he still in Russia?” a reporter asked at the State Department briefing in Washington. “Was he a spy?” asked another.
Ventrell’s answer was succinct: “I really have no further information for you.”
The State Department spokesman played down speculation the US diplomat’s arrest could put a damper on recent joint efforts by the United States and Russia to organize an international conference on Syria.
“We have a very broad and deep relationship with the Russians across a whole host of issues and we will continue to work on our diplomacy with them directly,” he said.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the agency that oversees both the State Department and the CIA, did not respond to a request for comment, and the incident was not discussed at the daily White House media briefing.
The US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, was summoned to the foreign ministry in Moscow for a demarche, the diplomatic term for making a formal complaint.
The Russian foreign ministry referred to Fogle as a “CIA agent” in a message about his arrest that was posted on Twitter.
Experts, meanwhile, expressed bemusement at the case.
“The fact that somebody was trying to recruit people who would be sources of information does not shock me,” Mac Destler, director of the international security and economic policy program at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, told RIA Novosti.
“But the reported mode used is a little puzzling, even comical,” Destler said.
Fogle was found at the time of his arrest to be in possession of “special technical devices, written instructions for the Russian citizen being recruited, a large sum of cash and means of changing his appearance,” the FSB said.
A video of his arrest appeared to show him wearing a wig under a baseball cap.
“There have been, post-Cold War, a number of apprehensions on both sides of individuals accused of spying,” said Destler, who added he wondered “if the real news isn’t the arrest but the way certain authorities in Moscow have chosen to highlight it as opposed to getting rid of the person more quietly.”
“Was this a presidential decision in Russia or was it someone lower down who wants to use this, and for what purposes? I don’t have the answers,” Destler said.
A US diplomat who was formerly posted in Moscow, and who asked not to be named, also voiced bewilderment about the incident, telling RIA Novosti: “It seems so highly amateurish as to be hard to believe.”
The timing of the announcement of Fogle’s detention – the Russian authorities broke the news hours after the operation that ensnared the junior diplomat, just as the US ambassador was holding a live Twitter chat forum– also left Americans scratching their heads and seemed to have caught McFaul off-guard.
Asked during his live forum on Twitter if he had anything to say about the arrest, McFaul tweeted a single word: “No.”