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Russian Spy Chief Reportedly Met With U.S. Intelligence Officials Despite Sanctions

Sergey Naryshkin speaks during the European Social Charter Conference in March 2016 in Turin, Italy, prior to his appointment to head Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service.
Mikhail Svetlov
Getty Images
Sergey Naryshkin speaks during the European Social Charter Conference in March 2016 in Turin, Italy, prior to his appointment to head Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service.

The head of Russia's foreign spy service reportedly traveled to the U.S. earlier this month and met with top Trump administration intelligence officials, despite being on a U.S. sanctions blacklist.

In a tweet, Russia's embassy in Washington acknowledged the visit, citing the official ITAR-Tass news agency: "Sergey Naryshkin has visited the United States for consultations with #US counterparts on the struggle against terrorism ..."

Naryshkin is the head of the SVR, the foreign intelligence service that was once part of the KGB. He has been on a U.S. Treasury Department list of sanctioned individuals "for involvement in the situation in Ukraine" since 2014, when he was chairman of the Duma. Naryshkin was appointed to the top post at the SVR in 2016.

The sanctions are meant to freeze any assets of the individuals under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit "transactions by U.S. persons or within the United States involving the individual."

Reuters cites two unnamed U.S. sources as having confirmed the meetings, which included "U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other U.S. intelligence officials."

Coats' office has said that it cannot discuss the schedules of U.S. intelligence officials and 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."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the meetings "a serious national security issue."

"Russia hacked our elections. We sanctioned the head of their foreign intelligence. Then the Trump administration invites him to waltz through our front door," Schumer told reporters.

As The Associated Press writes: "Schumer and other Democrats suggested that Naryshkin's visit may have influenced President Trump's decision not to impose new sanctions on Russia before a deadline Monday. The administration instead released a list of more than 200 Russian officials, politicians and 'oligarchs,' defined as people with a net worth of more than $1 billion — who it said could be penalized."

"Which other sanctioned Russian intelligence agency figures has the Trump administration let into our country and, most importantly, is his visit why the Trump administration decided to forgo sanctions?" Schumer asked.

The Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported last week that the Russian operation "Cozy Bear," which is thought to be responsible for hacking Democratic National Committee emails, was operated by the SVR, according to Reuters.

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Mike Pompeo recently told the BBC that he has "every expectation" that the Russians will try to disrupt the November 2018 U.S. elections and that he has not seen any "significant decrease" in such Russian activity.

On Tuesday, the Russian embassy issued tweets dismissing Pompeo's remarks and reiterating Moscow's disavowal of the hacking campaign.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.