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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mobsters Suspected in 1998 Security Scare

The U.S. military has released new details of a security scare involving its highest-ranking officer during a 1998 visit to St. Petersburg, suggesting that what was then described as a minor security threat was actually regarded as a possible kidnapping or assassination attempt by a Russian organized crime group.

The report, cited Thursday by The Washington Times, includes a dramatic description of security agents speeding away with General Henry Shelton, then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife after spotting a dozen men, some of them armed, preparing to block exit routes and keeping watch from a rooftop near the restaurant where the Sheltons and their entourage were dining.

According to written reports by members of the security detail, agents stationed outside the restaurant noticed suspicious-looking men and vehicles gathering at both ends of the one-way street shortly after the Sheltons arrived for dinner, the newspaper said. Agents counted 13 figures and decided to evacuate after a truck arrived and "rendezvoused" with some of the men.

"We quickly exited the doorway and I noticed movement up high ... at the top of a building," the newspaper quoted an agent's report as saying. "I then forced General Shelton and his wife into the limo with the help of [another agent]. I spread my body across the general while holding his wife on the floor of the limo. I shouted three times, 'Go, go, go,' to the driver, and we left the area as fast as possible."

Another agent's report was quoted as saying, "After further investigation later in the evening, it was discovered the individuals outside the restaurant were possibly connected to one of three local crime families in the Russian mafia."

Shelton was in St. Petersburg on June 18-19, 1998, following an official visit to Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart. A spokeswoman with the U.S. Consulate said at the time that the restaurant evacuation had been prompted by "a minor security threat," calling the importance of the incident "minimal."

However, according to The Washington Times, a U.S. army medal citation to one of the agents praised him for quick decision-making that "directly thwarted a possible kidnapping or assassination attempt directed against the chairman."

A spokesman for Russia's Federal Security Service said Thursday that he had no information about the incident, but suggested that the activity outside the restaurant had not necessarily been aimed at Shelton: "The head of the chiefs of staff? Who needs him?" the spokesman said.