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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FSB Says It Caught U.S. Spy in the Act

The Federal Security Service has detained a U.S. diplomat, claiming that its counterintelligence agents caught the alleged CIA spy "red-handed" Monday while trying to obtain secret military information from a Russian citizen.

FSB public relations chief Alexander Zdanovich said Tuesday the diplomat was carrying various spying devices, including a black electronic box to prevent her conversations from being monitored and invisible ink tablets.

Zdanovich, speaking on NTV, held up a black-and-white photograph of the woman but did not give her name.

Interfax reported the diplomat to be Cheri Leberknight, 33, which the FSB and U.S. Embassy neither confirmed nor denied.

The diplomat is a CIA operative who was caught "red-handed while conducting an espionage operation ... trying to obtain documents of a military and strategic nature that constituted a state secret," Zdanovich said on NTV.

The FSB spokesman said the case was not a tit-for-tat response to reports Monday that U.S. military officials have arrested a Navy code breaker on charges of passing classified information to the Russians in 1994.

The U.S. diplomat was briefly detained and immediately taken to FSB headquarters at Lubyanka, where Russian Foreign Ministry officials and the U.S. consul were summoned, Interfax reported.

The detainee was then placed in the hands of a U.S. Embassy representative.

Embassy officials confirmed that the diplomat served as the second secretary in the embassy's military-political section but refused any comment.

The CIA said it does not comment on "these types of allegations."

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov appeared Tuesday on NTV saying the ministry would send an official note of protest to the U.S. Embassy by the end of the evening.

"The Russian side expressed its resolute protest to the consul of the diplomat's actions, which were incompatible with her status," Zdanovich said.

Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Foreign Ministry would comment on whether the note had been sent.

The Russian side "has exhaustive proof that the U.S. Embassy staff member was engaged in activity incompatible with her official status," Ivanov said. The foreign minister added that he hopes the diplomat "will leave Moscow shortly."

The last time Russia accused a U.S. diplomat of espionage was in February 1994, when U.S. Embassy counselor James Morris was expelled from Moscow. The expulsion came in response to the expulsion of a Russian intelligence officer in Washington.

Ivanov expressed hope that the spying incident would not further hurt already tense U.S.-Russian relations.

"We're counting on this incident not to damage bilateral relations," he said on NTV, adding that "the episode doesn't promote the improvement of the climate in relations."

U.S. military officials said Monday night that a Navy code expert has been charged with passing secrets to Russia five years ago, The New York Times reported.

The expert, Petty Officer First Class Daniel King, 40, was arrested Nov. 5 after failing a routine polygraph test and is in custody at Quantico, Virginia, awaiting the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, the officials said.

Officials in the Navy and CIA said King was accused of passing intelligence about submarines to the Russians while he worked in a Navy unit of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland.

The exact nature of that intelligence has not been determined, but the Navy and CIA officials said the security breach was far less serious than those caused by other recent espionage cases. The officials said King's offense seems to have been committed in a single incident.

The officials familiar with the case said the defendant, who was an 18-year Navy veteran, told questioners that he had mailed a package of classified material to the Russian Embassy in Washington in 1994 and that he had no further contact with the Russians. King said he had been motivated by anger at personal problems rather than greed and received no money, the officials said.

Commander Greg Smith, a Navy spokesman, confirmed that King had been charged with espionage and the less serious count of disclosing classified information to an unauthorized person. Smith said the investigation was continuing.