Russian pleads guilty to conspiring to work as a spy

Court documents show that Evgeny Buryakov, seen here in a court sketch, began meeting with an undercover FBI agent who he believed to be an energy company analyst in 2012.

Story highlights

  • Evgeny Buryakov pleads guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered Russian agent
  • An undercover FBI agent gave him bugged binders, and hours of conversations were recorded
  • Buryakov will be sentenced on May 25

(CNN)A man faces at least five years in prison after pleading guilty Friday to conspiring to act as an unregistered Russian agent, according to federal prosecutors.

Evgeny Buryakov, 41, who posed as an employee in the Manhattan office of a Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, was arrested in January 2015.
He was an agent working under unofficial cover, the U.S. Justice Department said, meaning that "he entered and remained in the United States as a private citizen." Buryakov was accused of gathering "intelligence on the streets of New York City, trading coded messages with Russian spies who send the clandestinely collected information" to his country's foreign intelligence agency, SVR, according to a statement from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.
    "More than two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russian spies still seek to operate in our midst under the cover of secrecy," Bharara said.
    To gather evidence in the case, the FBI used techniques reminiscent of Cold War movies to eavesdrop on Russian agents: bugging binders full of "confidential" industry information, according to court documents.
    Buryakov began meeting with an undercover FBI agent who he believed to be an energy company analyst in 2012, court documents say.
    The undercover agent started to supply the binders to Buryakov in 2013, urging him to return them as soon as he was finished with them because they were sensitive and confidential, according to court documents.
    Buryakov complied with the request, allowing the U.S. government to record hours of the Russian intelligence agent's conversations between January and May of 2013, the documents say.
    The recordings "make clear" that the men "were operating as SVR officers by receiving taskings from Moscow, gathering responsive information and sending it back to SVR headquarters," according to the court documents.
    Two of the agents recorded were identified in court papers as Victor Podobnyy and Igor Sporyshev.

    It's not like in the movies

    Podobnyy and Sporyshev were suspects in the ring associated with Buryakov but left the United States with diplomatic immunity because they were working for the Russian government.
    Buryakov, however, was in the United States as a private citizen, a court document said.
    The audio recordings caught moments in which some expressed frustration with their clandestine work, expecting it to be more Hollywood-like, the court documents said.
    Podobnyy thought the work "would be just slightly more down to earth than in the movies about James Bond," like using a false identity, the court documents said
    Sporyshev agreed, saying that he thought he would travel abroad with a "different passport."
    The recordings also suggested that this wasn't Buryakov's first stint as an intelligence officer, the prosecutors said.
    Podobnyy was recorded telling Sporyshev that Buryakov had been in South Africa under what the prosecutors say was "non-official cover between approximately 2004 and 2009."
    Buryakov faces a maximum term of five years at sentencing on May 25. His lawyer declined to comment.