Russia is to expel a US diplomat it claims was caught disguised in a blond wig while trying to recruit a Russian agent in Moscow.
Russia's security services claimed that Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the US Embassy in Moscow, was a CIA officer. It said Fogle was carrying special technical equipment, disguises, written instructions and a large sum of money when he was detained overnight.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Fogle, who has diplomatic immunity, was handed back to US officials, declared persona non grata and ordered to leave Russia immediately.
Russia's Federal Security Service, the FSB, which is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said Fogle was trying to recruit a Russian counter-terrorism officer who specializes in the Caucasus, a region in southern Russia that includes Chechnya and Dagestan. The suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings are ethnic Chechen brothers and the elder brother spent six months last year in Dagestan, now the centre of an Islamic insurgency.
US investigators have been working with the Russians to try to determine whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev had established any contacts with the militants operating in Dagestan.
It was the first case of an American diplomat publicly accused of spying in about a decade and seemed certain to aggravate already strained relations between Russia and the U.S.
Despite the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States still maintain active espionage operations against each other. Last year, several Russians were convicted in separate cases of spying for the US and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.
Russian state television showed pictures of a man said to be Fogle, wearing a baseball cap and what appeared to be a blond wig, lying face down on the ground. The man, now without the wig, was also shown sitting at a desk in the offices of the FSB. Two wigs, a compass, a map of Moscow, a pocket knife, three pair of sunglasses and packages of 500 euro notes were among the items displayed on a table.
Russian state television also displayed a typewritten letter it described as instructions to the Russian agent who was the target of the alleged recruitment effort. The letter, written in Russian and addressed "Dear friend," offers 100,000 dollars to "discuss your experience, expertise and cooperation" and up to 1 million dollars a year for long-term cooperation. The letter also includes instructions for opening a Gmail account to be used for communication and an address to write. It is signed "Your friends."
President Vladimir Putin has stoked anti-American sentiments among Russians in recent years in what is seen as an effort to bolster his support at home. He also appears to have a genuine distrust of Russian non-governmental organisations with American funding, which he has accused of being fronts that allow the US to meddle in Russia's political affairs. Hundreds of NGOs have been searched this year as part of an ongoing crackdown.