Two Russian spy chiefs traveled to Washington to meet with CIA director Mike Pompeo last week, even though one of them is banned from the U.S. because of sanctions, new reports say.
Pompeo met with Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and Alexander Bortnikov, who leads the FSB, the modern equivalent of the Soviet spy outfit KGB, the Washington Post reported today. The head of Russia’s GRU military-intelligence unit also came to Washington, but it’s not clear if he was in the meeting, which was said to be about counterterrorism strategy.
The meeting raised eyebrows for three reasons: It was announced by Russia’s ambassador and reported on by the Soviet news agency TASS before it was reported by anyone in the U.S.; the main attendee was supposed to be barred from the country; and current and former U.S. intelligence officials told the Post they can’t remember so many Russian spy and security officials meeting with U.S. at once.
Naryshkin was sanctioned and barred from entering the U.S. in 2014 by the Obama administration, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mother Jones noted on Tuesday. He was put on a “Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons” list maintained by the Treasury department.
The meeting wasn’t noticed at the time but was announced by Moscow’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, on Tuesday — the meeting the same day that the White House announced that further Russian sanctions passed overwhelmingly by Congress would not be enacted. The White House did release a list of Russian oligarchs potentially subject to sanctions on Tuesday, but it was criticized as sloppy and cobbled together from sources such as Forbes magazine.
“This is an extreme dereliction of duty by President Trump, who seems more intent on undermining the rule of law in this country than standing up to Putin,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“The Trump administration must immediately come clean and answer questions,” Schumer said of Naryshkin’s visit and whether it was related to Trump’s brushing-off of sanctions. “Which US officials did he meet with? Did any White House or National Security Council officials meet with Naryshkin? What did they discuss? Surely he didn’t come alone. So which other sanctioned Russia intelligence agency figures has the Trump administration let into our country?”
A CIA spokesman said there was nothing to see here. “While we do not discuss the schedules of U.S. intelligence leaders, rest assured that any interaction with foreign intelligence agencies would have been conducted in accordance with U.S. law and in consultation with appropriate departments and agencies.”
The Post noted that Moscow and the U.S. have shared information on terrorism in the past, but the process is not usually so robust or close.