The FBI eavesdropped on meetings involving Russian intelligence personnel in New York City, including a suspected spy posing as a trade representative, by hiding recorders in binders containing supposedly confidential information about the energy sector, U.S. prosecutors said.
The hours of covert recordings from 2013 were disclosed in papers filed in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday in the case of Evgeny Buryakov, a Russian citizen who U.S. prosecutors say posed as a banker while participating in a Cold War-style spy ring.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's eavesdrops enabled the agency to penetrate the workplaces of Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR, and hear about Buryakov's work for it, prosecutors said.
They also captured one Russian agent, also charged in the case, complaining about the lack of excitement in his job, saying he expected it "would be just slightly more down to earth than in the movies about James Bond."
The disclosure came ahead of an April 4 trial for Burkyakov, who was arrested in January 2015 as prosecutors unveiled charges against him and the two other Russians, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy.
Prosecutors say the trio conspired to gather economic intelligence for Russia, including information about U.S. sanctions against the country, and to recruit intelligence sources in New York City.
Neither Sporyshev and Podobnyy, who made the James Bond comment, were arrested, as they enjoyed diplomatic immunity in their respective roles as a Russian trade representative and an attaché to the country's mission to the United Nations.
Buryakov, who worked at Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, has pleaded not guilty. Neither his lawyer nor the Russian consulate responded immediately to requests for comment.
According to prosecutors, in April 2012, Sporyshev met an undercover FBI employee posing as an analyst at a New York energy firm at an oil and gas industry conference.
Over the next two years, they met to discuss the industry and other economic and political issues, prosecutors said, with Sporyshev providing gifts and cash for information.
In 2013, the FBI employee began providing Sporyshev with the binders containing purported industry analysis he wrote, supporting documents, and "covertly placed recording devices," prosecutors wrote.
As the undercover employee said his company would fire him if it learned he disclosed confidential information, Sporyshev would promptly return the binders after reviewing them, prosecutors said.
The recordings that resulted captured statements of Sporyshev, Podobnyy, and other Russian intelligence personnel from January to May 2013, prosecutors said.