(Mother Jones) On September 30, Richard Portwood, a 27-year-old Georgetown University graduate student, received a phone call from an FBI agent who said the bureau wanted to meet with him urgently.
Portwood didn’t know why the FBI would have any interest in him, but two days later he sat down with a pair of agents at a coffee shop near his apartment.
They told him they suspected that Yury Zaytsev, the US director of a Russian government-run cultural exchange program that Portwood had participated in, was a spy.
Since 2001, Zaytsev’s organization, Rossotrudnichestvo, has footed the bill for about 130 young Americans—including political aides, nonprofit advocates, and business executives—to visit Russia.
Along with Portwood, Mother Jones has spoken to two other Rossotrudnichestvo participants who were questioned by the FBI about Zaytsev, who also heads the Russian Cultural Center in Washington.
The FBI agents “have been very up front about” their investigation into whether Zaytsev is a Russian intelligence agent, says a 24-year-old nonprofit worker whom the FBI has interviewed twice and who asked not to be identified.
The FBI agents, according to this source, said, “We’re investigating Yury for spying activities. We just want to know what interactions you’ve had with him.” The nonprofit worker was shocked. . . .
. . . . Based on what the bureau’s agents said during the interviews, the Americans who were questioned concluded the FBI suspects that Zaytsev and Rossotrudnichestvo have used the all-expenses-paid trips to Russia in an effort to cultivate young Americans as intelligence assets.
(An asset could be someone who actually works with an intelligence service to gather information, or merely a contact who provides information, opinions, or gossip, not realizing it is being collected by an intelligence officer.)
The nonprofit worker says the FBI agents told him that Zaytsev had identified him as a potential asset.
Zaytsev or his associates, the agents said, had begun to build a file on the nonprofit worker and at least one other Rossotrudnichestvo participant who had been an adviser to an American governor. . . . (read the rest)
Head of D.C.-based Russian cultural center being investigated as possible spy (Washington Post)
The FBI is investigating whether the U.S.-based director of a Russian government-run cultural exchange program was clandestinely recruiting Americans as possible intelligence assets, according to law enforcement officials.
FBI agents have been interviewing Americans who participated in the Rossotrudnichestvo exchange program run by Yury Zaytsev, who also heads the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Washington. For the past 12 years, the program has paid for about 130 Americans to visit Russia. . . . (read more)