Just recently, ten Russian spies caught in the US were exchanged for four Russian prisoners convicted for espionage: former army officers, Sergey Skripal, Alexander Zaporozhsky and Gennady Vasilenko and arms control researcher Igor Sutyagin.
Of those four, Sutyagin’s case is by far the best known in Russia — precisely because Sutyagin was never a spy.
Sutyagin was a political prisoner, a victim of the spy-mania campaign. Unlike the other three Russian prisoners, he never even handled classified information. Nevertheless, in 2004 he was convicted for high treason and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, merely for monitoring Russian newspapers and magazines and sharing publicly available information with foreign colleagues. It was in Sutyagin’s case that the Russian courts accepted the FSB’s magic formula: publicly available information, when put together, may constitute a Russian state secret. What followed was a campaign of prosecutions against Russian academics who dared any collaboration with foreign colleagues. Many of them, such as physicists Valentin Danilov and Igor Reshetin, are still serving their lengthy prison terms.
Sutyagin worked as a researcher for the U.S. and the Canada Institute in Moscow. While visiting London in late 1990s, he was approached by a British consultancy, Alternative Futures, and contracted to write reports on Russian nuclear submarines and missile warning systems.
According to Sutyagin’s friends, he later got worried about his British job because, while the firm duly paid his money, he never saw his reports published as promised. He sensed a crime might be taking place and decided to share his suspicions with the FSB. Sutyagin was immediately arrested and spent about five years in jail awaiting trial.
The FSB prosecutors claimed that Alternative Futures was a CIA front company and that Sutyagin’s employers, Nadia Locke and Sean Kidd, were intelligence officers well-known to the FSB. The indictment accused Sutyagin of giving them information on such topics as “The structure of the space-based tier of missile warning,” “The structure and deployment of level readiness forces,” “The generalised structure of Soviet /Russian defence expenditure in 1989-1998,” and “The condition of forces and facilities of Russian air defence.” Sutyagin pleaded not guilty on the grounds that all the information in his reports had been publicly available anyway. He was only paid for monitoring open publications.
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