Russian Scientists: Work with Foreigners, Go to Prison

Igor Sutyagin, the convicted Russian spy, still has a neat folder with the secrets he allegedly sold to the CIA. In London the other day, when we met at the military think tank where he works, he laid them out for me like tarot cards across a table. They were mostly newspaper clippings, along with copies of Russian military journals, their ink faded and edges worn thin. In the mid-1990s, two Americans paid him to collect such clippings in search of tidbits about the Russian military, and to supplement his tiny academic salary, he was glad to accept the work. But amid the spy craze that has become state policy in Russia, this side job was enough to convict Sutyagin for espionage in 2004. He spent 11 years in prison for it.

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To this day, his name is shorthand in Russia’s scientific community for a common warning — a kind of spook story about how even the most straightforward work with foreigners can get you branded a spy. There have been a handful of similar cases over the past decade, but Sutyagin’s was the first and remains the most famous. Staring down at his file of secrets, he sums up his lesson like this: “Think 10 times before working with any foreigners,” he says. “You might end up in prison.”

Now living in London, Sutyagin is still jittery from his time in the camps and does not like to think about his trial or the lives of his peers back home. He has only one piece of advice for them: “Leave.” …

Will Russian Science Be Stunted by Putin’s Fear of Espionage?