WASHINGTON – US officials Sunday insisted that a deep cover Russian spy network never managed to pass on any classified information despite working in the United States for more than a decade.
"These individuals have been monitored for quite some time. They tried but they never got classified information and intelligence," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
He told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the Cold War-style spy swap operation between Moscow and Washington was a success for US law enforcement, and was a boost to warming ties between the two nations.
"I think our relationship with Russia is no doubt improving if you look at where it was just a few years ago," Gibbs said.
In a cloak-and-dagger operation carried out in Vienna, Washington on Friday sent 10 spies back to Moscow in exchange for four people charged by Russia with working for Western intelligence services.
All the children of the 10 spies have also been sent to Russia to rejoin their parents, US attorney general Eric Holder said Sunday.
"The children have all been repatriated. We did so consistent with what their parents' wishes were," Holder told CBS "Face The Nation."
Holder confirmed that some of the children were US citizens by the fact they were born in the United States, but said their parents wanted them in Russia.
Some of the children were adults, or almost of age, and they were given the choice of where to go.
"To the extent that they had the ability to make choices, they were old enough to make them, they made their decisions and they've gone back with their parents," he said.
The Russian spies pleaded guilty Thursday and were ordered to leave the United States immediately, avoiding the need for a politically embarrassing trial that risked damaging improving relations.
Holder said the FBI decided to swoop on the underground ring after a decade-long investigation because they risked losing one the key members.
"The husband of one of the couples was in the process of going to France and then on his way to Russia. And the concern was that if we let him go, we would not be able to get him back," Holder told CBS.
The plane that took the four Russian convicts out of Russia reportedly made a brief stop at the Brize Norton air base in central England before landing in the United States.
Holder did not give any figures for how many children were involved, but press reports said the 10 agents could have as many as seven children between them.
© AFP 2013