A former high-level F.B.I. official has been indicted in New York and Washington, D.C., on charges of taking money from a former foreign intelligence service agent and conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on Russia by taking secret payments from a Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, the authorities said on Monday.
The former official, Charles McGonigal, who had been the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division in New York before he retired in 2018, had supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Mr. Deripaska, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan said.
Federal prosecutors said Mr. McGonigal, 54, broke U.S. law by agreeing to help Mr. Deripaska, who himself was indicted last year on sanctions charges, attempt to get off the sanctions list and by investigating a rival oligarch. The charges are an extremely serious and rare accusation against an F.B.I. official, and they demonstrate that the reach of Russia’s oligarchs can extend into the heart of American law enforcement.
“This is an unprecedented case, which rightly or wrongly will fuel political criticism and concern about the F.B.I.,” said Jonathan C. Poling, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s national security division. “The charges demonstrate D.O.J. clearly intends to send a strong message, including to former officials that worked in national security fields.”
The indictment unsealed in Washington on Monday charged that Mr. McGonigal, while working for the bureau and after he retired, concealed from the F.B.I. a relationship with a former Albanian intelligence officer from whom he received $225,000 in cash. That person became an F.B.I. source in a criminal investigation involving foreign political lobbying that Mr. McGonigal supervised, the Justice Department said in a statement.
Michael J. Driscoll, the assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.’s New York office, said the bureau was committed to the enforcement of economic sanctions designed to protect the United States and its allies.
“Russian oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska perform global malign influence on behalf of the Kremlin and are associated with acts of bribery, extortion and violence,” Mr. Driscoll said. “There are no exceptions for anyone, including a former F.B.I. official like Mr. McGonigal.” [Continue reading…]
The charges against McGonigal alarmed his former colleagues in part because of his depth of knowledge of so many elements of U.S. espionage. McGonigal was an expert on Russian intelligence activities targeting the United States, as well as U.S. efforts to recruit Russian spies, said several former intelligence officials who worked with him and spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive matters.
His position at the New York field office would have given him direct access to past and current recruitment efforts, work that was coordinated with the CIA, these people said. McGonigal was well known at the CIA among officers that dealt with Russia and counterintelligence matters, and he knew the details of some intelligence operations targeting Russia, former officials said.
McGonigal has not been charged with espionage, but the former officials who worked with him said his knowledge and experience would have put him at high risk of being recruited by a foreign government. [Continue reading…]