Spy capture or sleuth setup? Detention of alleged U.S. spy in Russia raises questions

(CBS News) The U.S. Embassy in Moscow declined to comment Wednesday on the unfolding drama surrounding an American embassy worker Ryan Fogle, who was taken into custody by Russian intelligence officials on Tuesday. The officials insist they caught Fogle, who serves as third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, trying to recruit a Russian spy in the park.

CBS News' Charlie D'Agata reports that the Russian media is reveling in what, at a minimum, amounts to an embarrassing episode for the U.S. government. Russia's premier security agency released photos of a spy kit that resembles props from a Cold War thriller -- and not a very convincing one -- prompting some to wonder whether the incident amounts to actual espionage, or is merely a poorly constructed setup.

Russia's intelligence agency, the FSB -- the agency that replaced the Soviet-era KGB -- released one picture showcasing two floppy wigs, several pairs of sunglasses, a folding knife, bundles of cash, a map and compass, an outdated cell phone, and perhaps most shocking, a typed letter offering $1 million for a Russian agent to work against his own nation for the U.S.

Items allegedly carried by Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, when he was detained by Russia's FSB, are shown in FSB offices in Moscow, May 14, 2013.
FSB/CBS

The FSB summoned three U.S. diplomats to retrieve Fogle on Tuesday and the trio stood beside Fogle, listening as they were publicly scolded for the incident by Russian officials.

D'Agata reports that the U.S. Embassy officials were warned that, "the FSB is actively helping the FBI in the investigation of the Boston explosions and exchanging other information which could threaten the security of the U.S." and that in the midst of a "a new level of mutual relations" and efforts on the part of both President Obama and Russian President Putin to improve bilateral ties, Fogle's alleged actions on behalf of the U.S. government amount to a "serious crime."

Fogle's detention came as U.S. and Russian agents have been working closely to determine whether Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev had any links with militant Russian opposition groups in the restive southern region of Dagestan.

Ryan Fogle and three U.S. Embassy officials are seen at an FSB office in Moscow
In an image from video released by the Russian FSB spy agency on May 14, 2013, three U.S. Embassy officials are seen next to Ryan Fogle (seated at right), who was detained by the FSB on accusations of espionage.
FSB/Handout

A spokesman for President Putin called the incident "regrettable," but did not threaten further action. In response to a request from CBS News, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow declined to provide a comment.

Wednesday morning, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul to further discuss the spying accusations. McFaul also declined to comment upon leaving the Ministry after a half-hour visit.

Fogle, meanwhile has been or will soon be sent home to the U.S. after being declared persona non grata by Moscow, and there may well be a corresponding expulsion from the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to follow, suggests D'Agata.

In the name of damage control on both sides, a more public investigation into whether the incident is really a case of foiled U.S. espionage, or just a bad setup, is unlikely.

The last major international spying embarrassment came at the Russians' expense in 2010, when U.S. authorities busted a Russian spy ring that included Anna Chapman, who was deported to Russia after living in the U.S. for a decade.

Watch Charlie D'Agata's full report in the player above

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