Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 229

Yeltsin’s saber-rattling in Beijing came as a Russian-U.S. spy wrangle deepened. The row had begun on November 29 when Russian authorities detained Cheri Leberknight, second secretary of the U.S. Embassy’s political section, on espionage charges. Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesmen said that Leberknight had been caught redhanded trying to obtain state military secrets from a Russian citizen. The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned a U.S. Embassy representative to officially protest Leberknight’s actions (see the Monitor, December 1). It also gave her ten days to get out of the country. On December 4 Russian television broadcast film provided by the FSB showing Leberknight’s detention.

The United States answered with an equivalent arrest yesterday. Stanislav Borisovich Gusev, a second secretary at the Russian embassy in Washington, was reportedly caught outside the State Department headquarters collecting information transmitted from a sophisticated listening device planted in a seventh-floor conference room. He was held briefly by the FBI before being declared persona non grata and, like Leberknight, given ten days to leave the country. The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, summoned the Russian ambassador and lodged a formal protest over Gusev’s actions. Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service yesterday protested the arrest and accused the United States of engaging in the Cold War style practice of tit-for-tat spy expulsions (Washington Post, AP, Reuters, December 9).

Several questions remain unanswered about the latest spy arrests. It is unclear, for example, whether Leberknight’s detention was itself linked either to the arrest last month on spying charges of U.S. naval petty officer Daniel King (see the Monitor, December 1), or to broader tensions between Moscow and Washington over the scope of Russian espionage efforts in the United States. The extent to which King’s and Gusev’s activities compromised U.S. security interests also remains under investigation. There were, finally, intimations yesterday that Moscow may consider further expulsions to retaliate for Gusev’s arrest (Reuters, December 9). That could turn a still manageable spy row into a major diplomatic disagreement between Moscow and Washington.