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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dinner With Sutyagin, Pasko, Moiseyev

WASHINGTON -- When Russian security agents arrived, they saw danger lurking in the 15 newspapers piled on the scientist's desk.

The year was 1999, and the Russian and foreign publications before them were available across Moscow at news kiosks. But the investigators from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, demanded answers.

"They said, 'Why do you need 15 newspapers? Who gave you permission for these? Who gave you the right?'" said Vyacheslav Sutyagin, recalling the first encounter between the FSB and his son, Igor Sutyagin, a physicist and arms control analyst.

The younger Sutyagin, 38, is now in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison, awaiting trial on charges he has spied for the U.S. government. The elder Sutyagin, 64, was in Washington this week to plead his son's case.

On Wednesday Sutyagin was to meet with U.S. State Department officials -- along with relatives of two other men targeted as spies by the FSB: Vladivostok naval officer Grigory Pasko and Russian diplomat Valentin Moiseyev.

The tactics used and cases built by the FSB against those three men -- Sutyagin, Pasko and Moiseyev -- have been sharply criticized by rights advocates and legal experts in Russia and abroad. But the father of Sutyagin, wife of Pasko and daughter of Moiseyev said such criticism, once so helpful to their cause, has fallen quiet ever since al-Qaida's 2001 attacks in New York and Washington. "After 9/11, [the behavior of Russian authorities] got much worse," said Galina Morozova, Pasko's wife. "My husband told me, 'I'd like to strangle that [Osama] bin Laden with my own hands. He didn't attack America, he attacked democracy around the world.'"

Before Sept. 11, the United States government would speak out against Russian espionage and treason cases it thought flimsy or politically motivated -- like the case against Alexander Nikitin, an environmentalist who criticized the Russian navy's handling of nuclear waste it generates, and who for his pains was prosecuted by the FSB under then-director Vladimir Putin. (As president, Putin has publicly suggested that environmentalist groups harbor spies.)

These days, however, the situation is reversed: Governments and rights advocates worldwide have been criticizing the U.S. government, which has detained unspecified hundreds of people on suspicion of terrorism. Many of those detained have been held for more than a year; fewer than 20 have faced relevant charges; most of have not been named or allowed to speak to the public; and there is no timetable for releasing them.

That harsh new American reality, plus efforts to build international coalitions against terror groups and regimes the Bush administration has labeled evil, makes it harder to drum up attention or sympathy in Washington for complaints about Russian judicial oppression.

"I'm well aware that when [U.S. politicians] are trying to decide what to do about Iraq, and how to maintain Russia as an ally in that matter, no one wants to create additional obstacles," Morozova said.

Nikitin -- acquitted in 1999 by the Supreme Court after a torturous four-year process that included 11 months in jail -- benefited from pressure exerted by the United States and other foreign governments on his behalf. He now lives in St. Petersburg. Over dinner at a Chinese restaurant across from the U.S. Capitol, the relatives of Sutyagin, Pasko and Moiseyev spoke wryly of their envy of him. "Nikitin was luckier," said Morozova, adding that the Nikitins and Paskos had become close friends. "He was tried in a different court, at a different time, under a different president."

Pasko was less lucky. He was convicted of treason last December and given a four-year sentence. (He and Nikitin are often compared: Both were navy captains who asserted that the navy has been reckless with nuclear waste. Nikitin was arrested in 1996 in St. Petersburg, Pasko in 1997 in Vladivostok. But Nikitin was a retired officer, and so tried in a civilian court and eventually freed; Pasko, an active duty officer, was tried in military court.)

Then again, perhaps others out there envy Pasko, Moiseyev and Sutyagin, said Karinna Moskalenko, a lawyer representing all three during the trip to Washington. "It's lucky these cases happened when they did," Moskalenko said. "If they were only starting today, we would never hear about them. They would be unfolding in secret."

Perhaps. But even if so, that's cold consolation for Nadezhda Moiseyeva, 24, who well remembers July 4, 1998, the day her father was arrested.

"Eight FSB agents came to our home that night without a warrant and conducted a search. They took our money and the computer," she recalled. The agents suggested her father come in for questioning. "The next time I saw my father was nine months later."

Moiseyev was an expert at the Foreign Ministry on the Korean peninsula. He was arrested in 1998 and accused of spying for South Korea.

The evidence for that has been picked apart methodically by Moiseyev's defense: For example, the FSB asserts Moiseyev met a South Korean agent in Moscow on a date when Moiseyev was in North Korea with a diplomatic delegation; while a purportedly "secret document" Moiseyev gave to a South Korean colleague was actually a copy of a speech Moiseyev gave at a symposium.

After many twists and turns, Moiseyev, 56, was convicted in August and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison. He is now in Lefortovo's hospital (he has an ulcer), and his daughter hopes for an early release, perhaps by New Year's.

The government's case has also been criticized as weak with regard to Sutyagin, who worked at the prestigious U.S.A. and Canada Institute. Sutyagin never had access to top secret materials, and he says his writings about military matters drew solely upon open sources -- sources like those 15 newspapers. Though Sutyagin is still awaiting trial, he has already been in jail for three years. His father said prosecutors argue his fluency in English makes it too risky to let him out on bail -- he could flee abroad.

The elder Sutyagin said FSB agents have told his son he is simply too smart to be released because he can cull secrets even from open sources. "They told him he has the mental ability to generate state secrets inside his head," he said.