WASHINGTON (CN) – The 10 Russians arrested as unregistered foreign agents pleaded guilty Thursday and were traded to Russia for four prisoners that that country has accused of being spies for America. The 10 accused “sleeper agents” were whisked onto a plane and deported.
The rapid deal brings some elucidation to a puzzling case in which the Russians did not appear to have gained much information about the United States, except about barbecues and such, despite their many years here.
“We drove the terms of this arrangement,” one senior administration official said after the swap was made at the Vienna international airport.
“After many years of monitoring the individuals, we were confident that we would gain no significant national security benefit from their further incarceration.”
The official said the U.S. government took the opportunity to secure the release of four Russian prisoners, some of whom were in poor health.
The 10 Russians pleaded guilty Thursday in Manhattan Federal Court to conspiring to act as Russian agents without registering. They had lived in the United States for years under false names, and were under surveillance by federal law enforcement.
Federal officials arrested them on June 27, after one missed an appointment and the federal agents watching them thought she was planning to flee the country.
The Russian Foreign Ministry denied the charges, though the Russian government acknowledged that they were Russian citizens.
As part of their plea deals, the Russians had to disclose their identities and forfeit money, property and other assets. They also agreed not to return to the United States without permission.
Also as part of the agreement, the Russian agents agreed to turn over to Uncle Sam any money they make from selling their stories.
In exchange for freeing the convicted spies, Russia agreed to release four people it accused of spying for the United States. Those four people had to admit their guilt, in Russia.
The swap, the biggest since the end of the Cold War, was orchestrated by the president’s national security team.