FSB Accuses Peace Corps of Snooping

In a wide-ranging interview about spying, the head of the Federal Security Service on Sunday accused U.S. Peace Corps volunteers of attempting to gather information about Russian officials.

Earlier this year, the government refused to extend the visas of 30 of 64 Peace Corps workers already in the country. At the time, the government gave no explanation.

"Some of them were engaged in collecting information about the sociopolitical and economic situation in Russian regions, about government employees and administrators and the course of elections," said FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev, according to Interfax.

After Russia refused to extend the visas, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to intervene, but Russian officials refused to back down. Patrushev, who gave his interview to state-controlled television and Russian news agencies, said the Peace Corps still has about 200 volunteers working in nearly 30 Russian regions.

Peace Corps officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Recounting the FSB's successes, Patrushev noted an alleged attempt by U.S. spies to recruit a Russian defense employee in 2001. In April, allegations emerged that U.S. officials had tried to break the will of a Russian defense worker by giving him drugged cookies and drinks. The alleged espionage effort backfired, and the FSB identified the defense worker's contact at the U.S. Embassy as Yunju Kensinger, a third secretary in the consular department. Patrushev said that Kensinger was expelled from the country and two Russian citizens were arrested. U.S. officials have refused to comment on the allegations.

"We prevented a heavy blow from being delivered to Russia's defense capabilities and security," Patrushev said.

Patrushev also hailed the conviction of businessman Viktor Kalyadin, who was found guilty this summer of providing military information to the United States. Patrushev said Kalyadin was trying to collect information about Russian defense priorities, Interfax said.

In a separate incident, an Azeri officer assigned to maintain contacts with the militaries of former Soviet states was apprehended with documents that "represented a state secret," Patrushev said. He identified the officer as Major General Rasulov. He has been barred from entering the country for five years.

Patrushev also expressed concerns about a Turkish extremist sect operating in Russia and trying to gain information about the situation in the North Caucasus. The alleged sect, Nurcular, set up companies called Serhat and Eflyak to "tackle a broad range of talks in the interests of the intelligence services," Itar-Tass quoted Patrushev as saying. The sect engaged in "Pan-Turkic and Pan-Islamic brainwashing of Russian teenagers," he said.

The FSB blocked the activities of more than 50 of the alleged sect's members in mainly Muslim regions of Russia in the last year, he said.

Patrushev said cooperation with Western security agencies had resulted in the detention in June of Egyptian citizen Abdullah Abdel Hamid Abdel Basit Mahmud, whom he called "the emissary of Middle Eastern extremist organizations in Russia," Itar-Tass reported.

He also said Russia detained a member of the group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a secretive organization that aims to create an Islamic state in Central Asia, and extradited him to Uzbekistan in April.