Light Sentence in Espionage Trial Shows New Tactic to Reward Cooperation
By Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan
(Argentura) — The surprisingly lenient sentence — four years in prison — in the case of Gennadiy Sipachev, the amateur cartographer from Yekaterinburg who was accused of handing secret maps over to the Pentagon, shows that the Federal Security Service (FSB) is again changing its tactics in “espionage” cases.
Sentences in such trials always bear a demonstrative nature and are little linked to the real damage the spy has dealt the country’s defensive ability; it is above all a signal sent by the Kremlin. If, for example, academics Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Danilov receive 15 and 14 years in prison respectively, it is a direct hint that the scientific community should forget about unsanctioned foreign contacts. The question is what signal the Kremlin is sending in the case of Sipachev.
Not a great deal is known about this case — it was, as usual, classified at the request of the FSB, and since Sipachev took the path of cooperation with the investigation his attorneys did not report anything substantial to the press.
As far as can be understood from the part of the sentence which was made public to journalists, Sipachev, who was detained in 2008, “at the assignment of the intelligence services of the US Defense Department acting under cover of another organization, saved and transferred abroad via the Internet a map of the Russian Federation’s General Staff containing information which consists of a state secret.” That information was maps which, judging by the sentence, are needed by the Pentagon “during the adjustment of cruise missile guidance systems to increase the accuracy of hitting the target.”
In general the charge is phrased in approximately the same way as in the case of Sutyagin and Danilov — the transfer of secret information to foreign intelligence. However, unlike the two academics Sipachev was accused not of espionage (up to 20 years imprisonment) but just of revealing a state secret, which stipulates a maximum of seven years imprisonment.
It is possible that Sipachev’s lenient sentence is a reaction by the Kremlin to high profile scandals and criticism from PACE, the Strasbourg (European) Court of Human Rights, and other international organizations in whose activity Russia takes part. The secrecy under which such trials are conducted; gerrymandering with jurors, as occurred in Sutyagin’s case; a host of judges replaced during the course of a trial, as occurred in the case of diplomat (Valentin) Moiseyev; and also the usual procedural violations, a host of which were permitted in each such trial — all this has become the object of international attention.
Moiseyev has, at that, already won his case in the Strasbourg court and received compensation of 28,900 euros for the mistakes of the Russian authorities.
Furthermore, it is known that the infernal terms of imprisonment received by the academics give rise to particular incomprehension in Europe. For example, a PACE resolution adopted in April 2007 directly noted that punishments decided by the Russian courts, especially in the case of Danilov and Sutyagin, are excessively harsh. As an example of how Europe acts in similar cases the example of (David) Shayler, a former employee of British counterintelligence who revealed the secrets of the security services to the press, was cited. He received six months in prison, and was released after seven weeks.
Evidently, the Kremlin has indeed got tired of accusations of spy mania. A few years ago a new tendency on the part of the FSB emerged — counterintelligence started rejecting the “Espionage” and “Revealing a State Secret” articles of the Criminal Code, replacing them with charges of economic crimes.
This tactic was first tested on Oskar Kaybyshev, director of the Problems of the Super-Plasticity of Metals scientific research institute, who — over a contract to supply spherical tanks to a South Korean firm — was accused not of espionage but of the illegal transfer of dual purpose technology. In 2006 he received six years suspended.
The FSB has taken useful experience into account — spies were not made either out of Academician Igor Reshetin, general director of TsNIIMASH-Eksport, Sergey Tverdokhlebov, his first deputy for the economy, and Aleksandr Rozhkin, his deputy for security; they were indicted with the misuse of funds and breaching export control rules, and subsequently with transferring dual purpose technology to China and smuggling. However, in the case of TsNIIMASH-Eksport the sentence was harsher — the three accused received from five to 11 years.
As it soon emerged, that was also a signal on the part of the FSB. A few days after the sentencing a letter was published from one of those convicted which, in a section called “Systemic Mistake of Defense,” directly said: “If the director had held a dialogue with the security bodies, there would have been no terrible consequences at all and his personal position and the position of the firm on the space technology market would have only been strengthened. The firm would have received a singular type of protection, in the good sense of that word, in the form of the FSB’s Economic Security Service.”
It seems that the lenient sentence in Sipachev’s case is another signal that it is not only necessary but also helpful to cooperate with the security bodies. As is especially noted, for the first time in the practice of state treason cases a pre-trial agreement on cooperation was concluded, according to which Sipachev fully admitted his guilt and actively cooperated with the investigation. This opportunity appeared in Russian practice not long ago at all — true, it was intended that a deal with justice would be used to bring members and leaders of organized criminal groups to book. This has a point when it is necessary to interest in cooperation a bandit who will surrender the whole group in exchange for being freed from punishment.
True, in espionage cases such deals are not so effective, since the agent is usually not working as part of a group and knows little about foreign intelligence (and often does not even know precisely for whom he was working, if he was recruited under another flag).
Applying this practice in the Sipachev case, the FSB has graphically shown that admitting guilt in cases of espionage, active cooperation by the accused with the investigation, and equally the silence maintained by Sipachev’s attorneys in defending their client will be rewarded. The message is, in general, clear.
True, what remained beyond the framework of the message was why the civilian Sipachev, who did not have access to secrets, received a prison term while whoever supplied the amateur collector with secret maps did not end up in court.
This article was also published in the Yezhednevnyy Zhurnal, May 19, 201, and is reprinted with permission of the author.