MOSCOW — A retired Russian military officer has been convicted on charges of spying for the U.S. and sentenced to 12 years in prison, the counterintelligence agency said Thursday, the latest in a raft of espionage cases that come amid tensions between Moscow and Washington.
A court has ruled that retired Col. Vladimir Lazar will be sent to a high-security prison and stripped of his military rank, the Federal Security Service, or FSB, said in a statement.
Prosecutors said Lazar purchased several computer disks with more than 7,000 images of classified maps of Russia from a collector in 2008 and smuggled them to neighboring Belarus, where he gave them to an alleged American intelligence agent.
The FSB said the maps could be used for planning military operations against Russia. Lazar had served with the General Staff of the Russian armed forces in Moscow before his retirement in the early 2000s.
The FSB did not specify when the Moscow City Court's verdict and sentence were handed down. Prosecutors first reported charges against Lazar in April. Russian state television broadcast brief footage from the courtroom, showing the gray-haired, bespectacled Lazar sitting in a cage.
Earlier this month, a court in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg handed an eight-year prison sentence to Alexander Gniteyev, a defense company worker accused of passing information about Russia's latest missile, the Bulava, to a foreign intelligence agency.
And in February, Lt. Col. Vladimir Nesterets, who oversaw missile tests at the Plesetsk Launchpad in northern Russia, was convicted on charges of providing the CIA with secret information on new missiles and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
The series of spy trials come as U.S.-Russian relations have soured over U.S.-led NATO missile defense plans for Europe, which Moscow sees as a potential threat to its nuclear forces, and other disputes.
Vladimir Putin, re-elected to a third term in March, had taken a strongly anti-American posture during his campaign, accusing Washington of staging the mass protests against his 12-year rule in an effort to weaken Russia. He has snubbed the Group of Eight Summit in Chicago earlier this month, a move interpreted by many as an expression of his annoyance about the U.S.
Israeli 'Spy Vulture'
On Jan. 5, Saudi Arabia "arrested" a vulture on suspicion of spying for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. Police allege the vulture, which was shot and wounded while trying to fly the coop, was wearing a GPS satellite transmitter and an identification tag which read, "Tel Aviv University - R65," and had a "a foul odor coming out of its mouth, proof of a Zionist plot."
Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly vowed to press President Barack Obama to release Pollard, an Israeli spy who has been serving a life sentence in the United States since 1987, threatening to reopen a case that has been a source of tension between the two allies for a quarter of a century.
American hikers Shane Bauer, left, Sarah Shourd, center, and Josh Fattal, sit at the Esteghlal Hotel in Tehran, Iran. Though Shourd has been released and returned to the U.S., Iran has set a Feb. 6, 2011 trial date for three Americans arrested more than a year ago along the Iraqi border and charged with spying.
In late June 2010, 10 Russian nationals -- many leading seemingly quiet, suburban lifestyles -- were arrested on suspicion of working for the Russian Federation's external intelligence agency, the SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki). All 10 accused spies pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. Attorney General, and on July 8, the group -- including the notorious "Stalingrad Stunner" Anna Chapman -- was deported back to Russia.
Alan Gross, a Maryland resident and USAID subcontractor who was working to connect the Cuban Jewish community to the Internet, has been accused of being a spy and detained by Cuban authorities since 2009. His family fears he has become a "pawn" in the half-century Cold War between the United States and Cuba.
Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist, was imprisoned in Iran in 2009 after being convicted of spying for the United States. She said she did nothing wrong and was released last May after an appeals court suspended her eight-year sentence.
Mosab Hassan Yousef
The son of a Hamas founder and leader, Mosab Hassan Yousef spent a decade spying for Israel. His request for political asylum in the United States was granted pending a routine background check on June 30, 2010, and the information Yousef supplied is said to have prevented dozens of suicide attacks and the assassination of Israelis, and exposed terrorist groups.
Robert Phillip Hanssen
In February 2001, Chicago resident Robert Phillip Hanssen, a 25-year FBI agent, was arrested at a park in suburban Virginia after dropping a package of documents for his Russian contacts.
Iran 'Teeth' Case
On Jan. 6, the AP reported that Iranian authorities had detained an American woman on espionage suspicions. The report claims the unnamed woman had hidden "spying technology or a microphone" in her teeth when she was detained by customs authorities in the border town of Nordouz in northwestern Iran.
Aldrich Hazen Ames
Aldrich Hazen Ames was arrested by the FBI in Arlington, Virginia on espionage charges on February 24, 1994. At the time of his arrest, Ames was a 31-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who had been spying for the Soviet Union, and later Russia, since 1985. Arrested with him was his wife, Rosario Ames, who had aided and abetted his espionage activities.