Russia Expels Former American Embassy Official

New York Times

A former senior Justice Department official at the American Embassy here was declared “persona non grata” and barred from Russia this month, according to people familiar with the case, possibly because he had rebuffed an effort by the Russian Federal Security Service to recruit him as a spy.

The former official, Thomas Firestone, had been living and working in Moscow as a lawyer for an American law firm, and had extensive contacts in the Russian government. He was detained at Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow on May 5 while trying to return to Russia from a trip abroad; the authorities held him for 16 hours and then put him on a flight to the United States.

Mr. Firestone was contacted in March by Russian intelligence operatives who sought to enlist him to spy for the Russians, according to one person who is familiar with the case. Mr. Firestone turned them down, the person said. It was not clear whether the episode was the cause of his ejection from Russia.

The Obama administration has raised the matter of Mr. Firestone’s expulsion with the Russian government, according to one American government official. Spokesmen for the White House, the State Department, and the American Embassy in Moscow all declined to comment.

Details of Mr. Firestone’s case emerged on Sunday as Ryan C. Fogle, an American Embassy official who was arrested in Moscow last week in an embarrassing spy scandal, finally left Russia, as the Russian Foreign Ministry had demanded. Mr. Fogle, whose official title at the embassy in Moscow was third secretary of the political desk, was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service, and was accused of trying to recruit a Russian counterterrorism officer to spy for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Senior political leaders, including Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, have made clear that they do not intend to let the Russian-American spy games disrupt their cooperation on larger issues of international security, in particular a conference in Geneva aimed at resolving the civil war in Syria.

But word of the approach to Mr. Firestone, and his expulsion, suggested that cold war-style espionage and counterespionage activities inside Russia may have stepped up in recent months. The full extent of these operations is not clear, nor is it clear whether the Firestone and Fogle cases are connected in any way.

Video images of Mr. Fogle’s arrest, released by the Russian authorities, showed him wearing a shaggy blond wig, askew under a baseball cap, and showed an assortment of items he was said to be carrying, including a second wig, a compass, an atlas of Moscow, a pocket knife and two pairs of sunglasses, as well as a large amount of cash and a letter promising his recruit up to $1 million a year for useful cooperation.

A security service official told Russian news agencies after Mr. Fogle’s arrest that he had been under surveillance since he arrived in Russia in 2011, and that the Russian government had complained about him to the C.I.A.’s station chief in Moscow. Separately, the security service told Russian news agencies that several months earlier, it identified another C.I.A. officer working undercover and demanded that he leave the country, but had not gone public with the case. The officer left Russia.

Before leaving government service last year, Mr. Firestone served two tours of duty at the American Embassy in Moscow, where his title was resident legal adviser. When he went into private practice, he joined the Moscow office of Baker & McKenzie, a global law firm. Since then, much of his work has been on anticorruption matters, an area that does not always win robust support in Russian government or business circles.

Baker & McKenzie has removed Mr. Firestone’s biography from its Web site. Reached by e-mail in the United States, Mr. Firestone referred questions to William J. Linklater, the firm’s director of professional responsibility and an expert in white-collar criminal defense.

In a statement, Mr. Linklater said that the Russian government had given no explanation for its action, and that the firm did not believe Mr. Firestone had done anything wrong.

“As you know, Thomas Firestone, one of our colleagues who has been practicing in our Moscow office and formerly was an employee of the United States Embassy in Moscow, was detained and refused admission to Moscow on May 5th,” Mr. Linklater wrote in the statement. “Neither our colleague nor we have been informed of the reason for this action. Only the Russian government knows the reason, and we do not wish to speculate.”

Mr. Linklater declined to answer additional questions, including why the firm had removed Mr. Firestone’s biography from its site.

That biography indicated that Mr. Firestone graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Slavic languages and literature, and later from Harvard Law School; it said he also holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of California at Berkeley.

Mr. Firestone is an expert in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the American law that often allows prosecution of foreign bribery cases in United States courts. Earlier, he worked as an assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District of New York. In Russia, according to the biography, he advised the Parliament and the presidential administration on the drafting of new criminal legislation.

In recent months, the United States and Russia have traded angry barbs over an American law aimed at punishing human rights abuses in Russia. The American law, named for Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in prison in Russia after trying to expose a large government tax fraud, requires the Obama administration to draw up a list of Russians accused of violating human rights, who are to be barred from traveling to the United States or owning property or other assets there.

The Russian government retaliated with a similar law aimed at Americans; it also banned the adoption of Russian orphans by American citizens.

Reached late Sunday, an official with the Russian Foreign Ministry said that it was not possible to comment on Mr. Firestone’s case until Monday.

David M. Herszenhorn reported from Moscow, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington. быстрые займы онлайн займы онлайн на карту срочно https://zp-pdl.com/fast-and-easy-payday-loans-online.php zp-pdl.com unshaven girls

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