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How FBI busted Russian spy ring

Posted at 11:06 AM, Mar 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-11 11:06:08-05

The FBI used techniques reminiscent of Cold-War spy tactics to eavesdrop on Russian intelligence agents in New York City: bugging binders full of “confidential” industry information, court documents revealed this week.

The covert practice was revealed in filings for the trial of Evgeny Buryakov on Tuesday, who was arrested in January 2015. Prosecutors allege that Buryakov posed as an employee for a Russian Bank in New York City but was actually working for the Russian foreign intelligence agency, SVR.

Buryakov unknowingly began meeting with an undercover FBI agent who he believed to be an energy company analyst in 2012, according to the court documents.

The undercover agent started to supply the binders to Buryakov in 2013, urging him to return them as soon as he was finished with them because they were sensitive and confidential, the court documents say.

Buryakov complied with this request, allowing the U.S. government to record hours of conversations among Russian intelligence agent between January and May 2013, the documents reveal.

The recordings “make clear” that the men “were operating as SVR officers by receiving taskings from Moscow, gathering responsive information and sending it back to SVR headquarters,” the court documents say.

Two of the agents recorded were Victor Podobnyy and Igor Sporyshev, the documents say.

Podobnyy and Sporyshev were suspects in the ring associated with Buryakov, but left the United States and had diplomatic immunity because they were working for the Russian government. Buryakov, however, was here as a private citizen, operating under what officials call “non-official cover.”

The audio recordings caught moments in which some of the men were not impressed with their work for the intelligence agency, envisioning that it would be a bit more Hollywood, the court documents reveal.

Podobnyy thought the work “would be just slightly more down to earth than in the movies about James Bond,” like using a false identity, the court documents say.

Sporyshev agreed, saying that he thought he would travel abroad with a “different passport.”

The recordings also suggest that this wasn’t Buryakov’s first stint as an intelligence officer, the prosecutors allege.

Podobnyy was recorded telling Sporyshev that Buryakov had been in South Africa under what the prosecutors say was “non-official cover between approximately 2004 and 2009.”

Buryakov’s lawyer did not immediately return CNN’s request for comment Thursday.

He is due in Manhattan federal court on April 4.