The Cold War-style intrigue over a reputed spy ring nabbed in the United States deepened Wednesday as word emerged of a possible scheme to swap Russians who hid in American suburbia for an imprisoned arms-control researcher and others who passed secrets to the U.S.
Dmitry Sutyagin says his brother Igor, who is serving a 14-year prison term, was told he is among convicted spies who are to be exchanged for Russians arrested by the FBI.
Officials from both the United States and Russia refused to comment on the claim, but Dmitry Sutyagin said his brother could be whisked off to Vienna and then to London for a planned exchange as early as Thursday.
In the U.S., American officials were meeting with the Russian ambassador in Washington and a hearing for three alleged spies was canceled in Virginia. They were ordered to New York along with two other alleged spies who waived their right to a local hearing in Boston.
The other five defendants were already in custody in New York.
Igor Sutyagin was told by Russian officials that he and other convicted spies are to be exchanged for the 10 Russians arrested by the FBI last month, his brother said. U.S. officials were also at the meeting held Monday at a prison in Arkhangelsk, in northwestern Russia, his brother said.
The spy swap, if confirmed, would continue a pattern of spy exchanges began during the Cold War. In one of those most famous cases, downed U.S. U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was exchanged for KGB spy Col. Rudolph Abel in 1962.
Sutyagin said he was forced to sign a confession, although he maintains his innocence and does not want to leave Russia, his homeland, his brother said.
"For him this all was a huge shock, totally unexpected," his brother said at a news conference. "For the first time in all these years I see him so depressed. He is mostly upset because of two things: he had to sign that paper, basically admit his guilt, and that he has to leave the country."
After the meeting, Sutyagin was transferred to Moscow's Lefortovo prison, which is run by the main KGB successor agency.
"Regardless of this exchange, Sutyagin knows that he is not guilty, he did not commit those crimes, and for him it is very painful that he is accused of it and found guilty," said his lawyer Anna Stavitskaya. "He is very upset that because of this situation his good name could be put in doubt."
Sutyagin's mother, Svetlana Sutyagina said that he also realized that rejecting the swap offer would mean keeping some of the alleged Russian spies in custody.
According to his brother, Sutyagin said the Russian officials had shown him a list of 11 people to be included in the swap. The brother said Sutyagin only remembered one other person on the list — Sergei Skripal — a colonel in the Russian military intelligence who in 2006 was sentenced to 13 years on charges of spying for Britain.
The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Federal Penitentiary Service said they had no comment on the claim and a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy was not immediately available for comment.
In Washington, both FBI spokesman William Carter and the State Department declined to comment. However, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, a former American ambassador to Moscow, had a Wednesday meeting scheduled with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Officials declined to comment on the reason for the meeting.
Sutyagin, who worked as an arms control and military analyst at the Moscow-based U.S.A. and Canada Institute, a top think tank, was arrested in 1999 and convicted in 2004 on charges of passing information on nuclear submarines and other weapons to a British company that investigators claimed was a CIA cover. Sutyagin has all along denied that he was spying, saying the information he provided was available from open sources.
His case was one of several incidents of Russian academics and scientists being targeted by Russia's Federal Security Service and accused of misusing classified information, revealing state secrets or, in some cases, espionage.
The United States arrested 10 people on June 27 and charged them with being in an alleged spy ring and trying to obtain information about American business, scientific and political affairs. Prosecutors say for the last decade the alleged spies engaged in secret global travel with false passports, secret code words, fake names, invisible ink and encrypted radio.
They have been charged with acting as unregistered foreign agents.
All of those arrested in the U.S. are still being detained and the U.S. government has opposed granting them bail. Anna Chapman, 28, was denied bail. U.S. citizen Vicky Pelaez was granted $250,000 bail with electronic monitoring and home detention but the government is appealing the decision.
A scheduled Wednesday court hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, was postponed for three suspects in the Russia spying case — Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills and Mikhail Semenko — according to defense lawyer Daniel Lopez, who represents Semenko. Lopez refused to elaborate.
At another U.S. hearing on Wednesday, a Boston-area couple in the case — Donald Heathfield and his wife, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, of Cambridge, Mass. —waived their right to identity and detention hearings in Boston and will go to New York to answer the spy charges.
An 11th suspect in the spy ring, Christopher Metsos, was arrested in Cyprus last week, but disappeared after being released on bail, triggering a manhunt by embarrassed Cypriot authorities.
Associated Press writers Jim Heintz in Moscow, Pete Yost and Matt Lee in Washington, Matt Barakat in Alexandria, Virginia and Denise Lavoie in Boston contributed to this report.
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