REVEALED: How Russian spy gave nuclear submarine secrets to CIA spooks in Birminghamhttp://www.sundaymercury.net/
IT IS the international espionage plot that has made headlines around the world.
Ten Russian spies seemingly living a normal surburban life in America were secretly taking orders from paymasters in Moscow.
It was a successful operation – until the ring was smashed by FBI agents.
Anxious to avoid an international incident, not to mention further blushes, Russia and America agreed a spy swap deal.
The American ring, including sexy redhead Anna Chapman, went East – while four spies held in Russia headed West.
The biggest fish in the net is weapons expert Igor Sutyagin, 45, who was jailed in Russia for passing secrets to the CIA.
And today the Sunday Mercury can reveal how he plied his secret trade in ... Birmingham.
In the 1990s Sutyagin was a young research assistant working for the Moscow-based US-Canada Institute, when he attended a conference run by Birmingham University at Wast Hills House.
The lush country pad near Kings Norton – once home to the Cadbury family – was used to host seminars on international relations, allowing academics from the city to rub shoulders with four-star generals from the former Soviet state.
It was during one of the conferences in 1998 that arms control expert Sutyagin handed Russian secrets to the West, a deal which would eventually land him in prison for more than a decade.
Tony Mason, then head of Birmingham University’s Centre for Studies in Security and Diplomacy, arranged the conference which gave Sutyagin the opportunity to betray his homeland.
And he remembers the intriguing set of circumstances that led the Russian and a shadowy representative from a bogus company called Alternative Futures to the heart of the Midlands.
Prof Mason reveals how a flurry of last-minute calls and faxes saw Sutyagin and Alternative Futures being invited to the £300-a-head event.
“The conference was designed to bring together academics, diplomats, military officers and the media to discuss, in an informal atmosphere, topics of mutual interest between the UK and Russia,” he said.
“But neither Alternative Futures nor Mr Sutyagin were on the original guest list for the conference.
“A few weeks before the event I was contacted by fax by Alternative Futures, a political risk consultancy based in the City of London, asking for an invite.
“I had not heard of them before, but I did not believe there was anything suspicious, and so agreed to their request.”
“He was included at very short notice,” he recalls.
“This followed a request from the US-Canada Institute after their original representative had pulled out.
“Again, I did not think anything about it. Some time after the conference, I received a phone call from a man in the United States, purporting to be an academic colleague of Mr Sutyagin.
“He told me Mr Sutyagin had been arrested for spying – and could I tell him anything about Alternative Futures?”
The conference, it emerged, had been at the centre of what would blow up into an international incident.
The Russians claimed that Sutyagin had divulged secret military information to Alternative Futures which, far from being a consultancy business, was acting on behalf of foreign intelligence services.
Russia’s FSB security service – replacement of the notorious KGB – said he had handed over secrets about his country’s nuclear submarine programme to the company for a payment of £14,000.
In 2004, Sutyagin was jailed for 15 years. He admitted working with the elusive company to supplement his wages, but denied espionage, saying he had no knowledge that Alternative Futures was a front for the CIA.
The company, meanwhile, had mysteriously vanished without trace.
Father-of two-Sutyagin had nine years still to serve when last week’s spy swap was agreed, and was surprised to be freed.
Yesterday it emerged that US officials had hatched the spy swap more than two weeks before they rounded up the foreign spooks on their soil.
The 10 people spying on America – including four couples – had been dispatched by Moscow to live normal lives in suburbia while trying to get close to sensitive political, economic and military circles.
A number of the couples had children who were raised as Americans, knowing nothing of their parents’ double-life.
But it was glamorous Anna Chapman (real name Anya Kushchenko) who grabbed the headlines. The 28 year-old redhead was caught at a Starbucks coffee shop accepting a fake US passport from an undercover FBI agent.
She now says that she wants to live in the UK, where she has citizenship after her failed marriage to British businessman Alex Chapman.
The other spies released by the Russians are Sergei Skripal, a former colonel who helped MI6 unmask Kremlin agents working in Europe; Alexander Zaporozhsky, a former colonel in the Russian foreign intelligence service, jailed for espionage, and Gennady Vasilenko, a former KGB officer employed as a security officer by Russia’s NTV television.