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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Alleged U.S. Spy Paid for Sub Base Data

Richard Dann Oppfelt, the U.S. businessman accused of being a spy by Russia, admits that he paid for information about a Russian submarine base but protests his innocence, saying that the FSB, Russia's internal security agency, "took everything out of context."


Speaking Wednesday in a telephone interview with The Moscow Times from Mill Creek, Washington, Oppfelt gave his version of a series of events that the FSB has said amounts to espionage.


Oppfelt said the FSB had interviewed him in April during his latest business trip to Kamchatka in the Far East, asking him about an incident last year in which, by his own admission, he paid for information about a Russian submarine base in the area.


But he said that the deal was part of his trading business and that he had been allowed to returned to the United States of his own volition on May 10. He only learned well after his return that FSB officials had announced on May 12 that he had been expelled for "activities not consistent with his business."


"My number is unlisted, so reporters called my mother, on Mother's Day, the day the story broke," he said. "It was, like, Happy Mother's Day, Mom -- your son's a spy."


Oppfelt's clash with Russian security officials is the latest in a series of international incidents involving the FSB in recent weeks. On May 7, FSB officials announced their intention to expel nine British diplomats for espionage. The following day, Russia expelled an Estonian diplomat for espionage, and Estonia quickly responded by expelling a Russian diplomat from Tallinn.


By his own account, Oppfelt has had a long history of association with Russia and the Soviet Union, dating back to 1974, when he joined U.S. naval intelligence, where he worked as an interpreter of Russian radio transmissions.


After he left the service, he worked in the early 1980s for a Seattle-based company called Marine Resources, a joint Soviet-American commercial fishing venture. In that job, he was posted on Russian fishing vessels as an American representative at a time when Russian-American communication in the Far East was still rare.


Recently, Oppfelt started up "The information that was being offered was very much of a non-classified nature," he said. "Living facilities, warehouses, loading facilities, possibly conversion into a commercial fishing port. I also understood that the site opened up onto a very scenic beach fjord, so tourism or commercial fishing were logical business applications." After hearing this information, Oppfelt was later approached by his friend's friend with a request for "remuneration."


"He named the price, and I thought, okay, it's business expenses, I'm not going to quibble about 300 bucks."


These events occurred in November. Oppfelt was not approached by the FSB until this spring, by which time he had already been back and forth to the United States several times. He was taken in for questioning on April 30 after being pulled over by a GAI traffic officer.


Finding Oppfelt's documents out of order -- his visa had not been registered -- the GAI officer escorted Oppfelt to the local UVIR office, which deals with registration of foreign visitors, where an FSB colonel and a representative of the army intelligence wing were waiting for him. Oppfelt was questioned on "a variety of topics," but mainly on the submarine base discussions with his friend, which had been videotaped by a hidden surveillance camera.


"They tried to take my whole life and paint a picture of a pattern of activity on my part, beginning with my navy career," he said.


Oppfelt was released but remained in Petropavlovsk until May 10, when he returned to Seattle on a pre-booked ticket. He said he was "not debriefed," although he spoke with State Department officials on the phone to ask about his chances of being allowed to return to Russia to continue his business.


"One thing I worry about is that the incidents in question happened so long ago and only came up now. ... I hope I'm not the first of many," Oppfelt said. "So my message is: Cover your butt."