Russian Spies Targeted U.S. Sanctions

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Talking with Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn was one of many ways Moscow tried to get inside information about America’s financial war against the Kremlin.

The last major Russian spy arrested on U.S. soil was busted for seeking the kind of information retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has been accused of dishing out.

During a White House press conference on Thursday, President Donald Trump defended Flynn, his former national security adviser, for talking about U.S. sanctions against Moscow with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak while Barack Obama was still in office. It’s an act that may have put Flynn in legal jeopardy; The Washington Post reported Thursday that Flynn denied to the FBI having such conversations, despite evidence that he did.

Recently filed court documents show just how important information about sanctions was to Russian intelligence.

Those documents involve a two-year-old case against Evgeny Buryakov, a Russian bank employee who admitted to being an unregistered agent of Russian intelligence in the U.S. Buryakov pleaded out and the case never went to trial. But case filings show that the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, was keenly interested in the U.S. government’s attempts to use financial sanctions to retaliate against Russian military aggression.

His handlers asked Buryakov to look for information on the “effects of economic sanctions on our country,” according to court documents, and he complied. The FBI sent an undercover operative to keep him interested.

In August 2014, an undercover agent showed Buryakov a document from the Treasury Department marked “Internal Treasury Use Only,” that “contained information regarding Russian individuals subject to sanctions,” according to court filings. (It’s not clear whether the papers in question were actual internal Treasury Department memos.) Buryakov told the undercover that he wanted more information.

A few weeks later, the undercover agent and a confidential source fed him another document, telling him that “the Treasury Department was using the document in connection with its deliberations regarding additional sanctions,” which Buryakov promptly fed to his handlers at Russia’s foreign intelligence service.

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