Russian hit squad in US to hunt for 'renegade'
Published 12/11/2010 | 05:00
RUSSIA has sent a hit squad to kill a renegade colonel in its own foreign intelligence service who fled to the US this summer after exposing an extensive spy ring.
The man, named as Colonel Scherbakov, worked for Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service, a successor agency to the KGB, where he oversaw a top-secret programme to dispatch long-term sleeper agents or 'illegals' to the US.
Russian intelligence sources told the 'Kommersant' newspaper he was the traitor who gave the FBI the names of the 10 sleeper agents in the ring, including the glamorous spy Anna Chapman.
In at least one case, he is even said to have taken part in an interrogation.
In an echo of the Cold War, a Kremlin source was quoted as saying that Colonel Scherbakov would not have long to savour his betrayal.
"We know who he is and where he is," the source said. "Have no doubt that a Mercader has been sent after him already."
Ramon Mercader was the KGB assassin who murdered exiled Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky with an ice pick in 1940. 'Mercader' is a synonym for a hit squad.
"The fate of such an individual is unenviable," the Kremlin source continued. "He will fear revenge every day (of his life)."
The FBI went public with the names Colonel Scherbakov had given it in June just days after he had fled to the US.
The 10 agents he compromised were exchanged for four men convicted by Russia of being Western spies the following month in the biggest spy swap since the Cold War.
Vladimir Putin, who served as a KGB agent in East Germany during the Eighties, hinted this summer that he knew the identity of the traitor.
"This was the result of treason and traitors always end badly," the Russian prime minister said.
The reason for Colonel Scherbakov betraying his own agents was not clear, but the newspaper said his daughter was a long-time resident of the US and that his son had moved there earlier this year.
The colonel turned down a promotion last year because he knew he would have to take a lie-detector test and feared he would give himself away, it added.
Intelligence sources complained that there were a number of suspicious things about the double agent that should have set off alarm bells and been investigated but were not.
Gennady Gudkov, the deputy chairman of the powerful security committee in the lower house of Russia's parliament, said he had known Col Scherbakov was the traitor. He called for a parliamentary inquiry into the fiasco amid calls for Mikhail Fradkov, the head of the SVR, to resign.
"The damage committed by the colonel to the state is too enormous" not to have further repercussions, Mr Gudkov told the Interfax news agency.
The view among Russia's intelligence community was that the incident was one of the worst setbacks it had suffered, he added. (© Daily Telegraph, London)