Mr. Fuentes and his wife were told to leave, but security cameras captured the incident. Two days later, he tried to fly to Mexico, but US Customs and Border Protection officers stopped him and searched his phone, revealing a picture of Mr. Poteyev’s vehicle.
After being arrested, Mr. Fuentes provided the details of the plan to American investigators. He believed that the Russian official he had met worked for the FSB, Russia’s internal security service. But covert operations overseas are usually handled by the SVR, which succeeded the KGB, or the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.
One of the former officials said Mr. Fuentes, unaware of the significance of the target, was simply gathering intelligence that the Russians could use later.
Mr. Fuentes’ attorney, Ronald Gainor, declined to comment.
The plot, along with other Russian activities, has drawn a harsh response from the US government. In April 2021, the US imposed sanctions and expelled 10 Russian diplomats, including the SVR station chief, who was based in Washington and had two years left on his tour, two former US officials said. Eliminating the station chief can be incredibly disruptive to intelligence operations, and agency officials suspected Russia was likely to seek reprisals against its American counterpart in Moscow, who had only weeks left in that role, i said. officials.
« We cannot allow a foreign power to interfere with our democratic process with impunity », President Biden said to the White House in announcing the sanctions. He made no mention of the conspiracy involving Mr. Fuentes.
Sure enough, Russia has banned 10 American diplomats, including the CIA station chief in Moscow.
Adam Entus contributed report.