Five suspects in the Russia spy case were hastily ordered to New York on Wednesday amid reports that the U.S. and Russia are arranging a spy swap.
The third-ranking U.S. diplomat, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, a former American ambassador to Moscow, had a Wednesday morning meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Kislyak's residence. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Burns and Kislyak did talk about the spy case but their main purpose was to review Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's recent visit to this country.
Toner refused to provide further details and referred questions about a possible swap to the Justice Department, where spokesman Dean Boyd also declined to comment.
A scheduled court hearing in Alexandria, Va., for Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills and Mikhail Semenko was canceled and the trio was ordered to New York where the cases against 10 of the 11 defendants will now be handled. The 11th defendant, Christopher Metsos, has fled after being released on bail in Cyprus.
In Boston, defendants Donald Heathfield and his wife, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, of Cambridge, Mass., waived their right to identity and detention hearings there and were being sent to New York as well.
The other five defendants were already in custody in New York.
Lawyers for Heathfield and Foley would not comment when asked if their decision not to fight their transfer to New York was the first step in a spy swap deal. Assistant U.S. Attorney John McNeil also declined to comment and referred all questions to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where spokeswoman Janice Oh had no comment on reports of a swap.
Earlier, the brother of a man serving a 14-year prison sentence in Russia for alleged spying told reporters in Moscow that the United States and Russia are working on a spy swap.
Dmitry Sutyagin said his brother Igor, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence on charges of spying for the United States, was told by Russian officials that he was included in a group of other convicted foreign spies who are to be exchanged for the Russians arrested by the FBI last month.
The officials met Igor Sutyagin on Monday at a prison in Arkhangelsk, in northwestern Russia, and U.S. officials were at the meeting, his brother said.
According to his brother, Sutyagin said that 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 Russian army colonel who in 2006 was sentenced to 13 years on charges of spying for Britain.
In 1986, the Reagan administration swapped an suspected Soviet spy to the Soviet Union less than a month after his arrest.
The U.S. arrested Gennadi Zakharov, an employee of the Soviet United Nations mission, on spying charges. Three days later, Nicholas Daniloff, a reporter for U.S. News and World Report, was arrested in Moscow on espionage charges that the U.S. claimed had been trumped up in retaliation for Zakharov's arrest. Three weeks later on Sept. 23, 1986, Daniloff was allowed to leave the Soviet Union without charges; Zakharov was allowed to leave the U.S. and Soviet dissident Yuri Orlov was released to the West.
The five defendants being moved from Alexandria, Va., and Boston are among those arrested last month following a multi-year investigation of what prosecutors say was a long-term Russian effort to glean sensitive information.
All 11 defendants are charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. All except Semenko and Anna Chapman are also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
During the U.S. District Court hearing in Boston, Heathfield's lawyer, Peter Krupp said, "My client would like to go to New York to face the charges which are pending against them there. He'd like to do that as fast as he can." "We are in the exact same position," said Foley's lawyer, Robert Sheketoff.
When asked why they had decided to go to New York, Krupp said, "The case is pending in New York, and so to the extent that they can expedite things, get down to New York and deal with the case, it will help them be as supportive as they can with their kids, and if they can resolve the case, great."
Krupp said the charges have been "an ordeal" for the couple and their two children, Alex, 16, and Tim, 20. "Their No. 1 priority has been their kids," said Krupp, who would not say where the two children are now.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler said the hearing, which lasted barely a minute, was convened "on rather short notice."