By
Weekends With Alex Witt
updated 5/18/2013 5:18:50 PM ET 2013-05-18T21:18:50

With relations strained over Syria negotiations, another bump was added to the rocky road of U.S.-Russia relations when U.S. diplomat Ryan Fogle was arrested by Russian authorities this week accused of being a CIA spy attempting to turn a Russian intelligence agent.

Million dollar salaries, cheap wigs, and international espionage—it’s just the latest case of Cold War habits dying hard.

With relations strained over Syria negotiations, another bump was added to the rocky road of U.S.-Russia relations when U.S. diplomat Ryan Fogle was arrested by Russian authorities this week accused of being a CIA spy attempting to turn a Russian intelligence agent.

Shortly after his arrest Fogle was turned over to the U.S. Embassy and expelled from the country. Evidence presented against the State Department employee included a “spy kit” of wigs, a road map, and older model cell phones.

Peter Earnest, executive director of the International Spy Museum and former CIA agent, joined Weekends with Alex Witt to discuss the facts of the case. “Moscow’s a very tough place to operate, we learned how to do it during the Cold War,” he said. Referring to his experience, he added, “Often we resorted to very very basic tradecraft, because a lot of the hi-tech stuff can be hacked into.”

Another element to the Russian case is a letter allegedly carried by Fogle offering an unnamed Russian security officer a one million dollar per year salary to work as a double agent.  Earnest says that an offer like this could be legitimate, but that the lack of details surrounding the case makes it difficult to weigh the validity of the evidence.

While the known elements of the case smack of 1960’s pulp fiction, Earnest says the normalization of relationships between the US and Russia has changed the way espionage incidents are managed,

“When something like this happens it can be treated like a bump in the road and not distract them from other things that are going on like trying to negotiate for cooperation in Syria, or it can be made into a major incident.”

One part of that relationship appears to show no sign of slowing down is the spy vs. spy mentality maintained by both states, as Earnest says, “The Cold War ended, the spying goes on.”

Video: Russia-US relations strained amid spying scandal?

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    >>> call him the man with the golden wig. ryan fogle was arrested by russian authorities this week accused of being a cia spy and trying to recruit a russian terrorism agent. joining me is a former spy, peter ernest. he's now the executive director of the international spy museum in washington, which sounds like a very interesting job. welcome to you, peter. thank you for being here.

    >> thank you for asking me. let's talk about what's going on. the russians laid out fogle's alleged spy kit. it didn't look that impressive. cheap looking which is. a road map . an old cell phone. come on is that all it takes?

    >> i would say don't be too deceived by the paraphernalia that was laid out. moscow is a tough place to operate. we learned how to do it in cold war . we reverted to a lot of basic trade craft. hi-tech stuff can be broken into. it may look like keystone cops but can be very useful in the kind of situations of handling an agent in moscow.

    >> all right. we learned that mr. fogle was released to the u.s. embassy . it happened pretty quickly. does that surprise you in

    >> no, it didn't. as you recall, when we rounded up the ten russian illegals in 2010 --

    >> remember that?

    >> you'll recall what we did, first of all, we publicized it much as they are doing. we publicized their names, jobs and families. then we traded them back to the russians for four russians who allegedly had spied for us. it's like the agricultural department's catch and release program i think.

    >> kind of.

    >> let's talk about back in the day, when you were actually a spy, if this had happened and the soviets had caught him what would have happened to him?

    >> well, you know, much depended on the situation and what was going on overall. i mean these were the two superpowers. it was the period of the cold war . often these things happen for a reason . this was clearly orchestrated. they were ready to film it, ready to put it on tv. very shortly after it occurred. now what was it for? was it in retaliation for the arrest of the illegals? we can't be sure. i think the thing to keep in mind when you deal with states like the united states and russia, their relationship goes on. so when something like this happens, it can be treated like a bump in the road and not distract them from other thing that are going on like trying to negotiate for cooperation in syria, or it can be made into a major incident. very much depends on the intent of the state carrying it out. in this case russia.

    >> but, the letter that fogle was carrying allegedly it offered his russian contact a million dollars a year. put that in perspective. is that a normal -- i mean can you believe that would have been legitimate?

    >> well, yes, i can believe it could be legitimate. however, we have no feel at all for the back ground of this case. i frankly think this may be a case we used to call a dangle operation. somebody was placed in the way of say our intelligence folks and it's much like what we would call a sting operation in our country. and perhaps they bit. we just don't know because none of the details have been released.

    >> very quickly, peter, does this kind of thing happen all the time? is there spying 24/7?

    >> the cold war ended the spying goes on.

    >> okay. thank you very much. peter ernest good to talk with you.

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