A former senior Justice Department official at the American Embassy in Moscow was not allowed to return to Russia this month, and people familiar with the case say it could be because he refused to spy for the Russians.
Thomas Firestone -- an attorney living in Moscow -- was working for an American law firm, and had extensive contacts in the Russian government, according to a report in The New York Times. Firestone was returning from a trip abroad on May 5 when authorities stopped him at Sheremetyevo Airport, near Moscow. He was held for 16 hours and then put on a flight to the U.S.
A source close to the case told The Times that intelligence operatives from the Russian Federal Security Service had contacted Firestone in March, to recruit him to spy for the Russians. Firestone declined the offer.
It’s not clear whether there is a connection between Firestone’s unwillingness to work with the Russians and his ejection from the country.
The White House has contacted the Russian government about Firestone’s expulsion, according to a U.S. government official who spoke to The Times. But there has been no official comment on the case from the Obama administration, the American Embassy in Moscow or the State Department.
News of Firestone’s ejection came on the heels of the case of Ryan C. Fogle, an American Embassy official at the center of a spy scandal, who was arrested in Moscow last week. Fogle, who worked on the Embassy’s political desk, was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service, for attempting to recruit a Russian counterterrorism officer to spy for the C.I.A.
It’s not clear whether the two cases are connected.
Firestone served two tours of duty at the Moscow Embassy as a legal adviser before going into private practice at a global law firm. His work at Baker and McKenzie focused on anticorruption matters, an expertise that may not have won him favor in Russian government and business circles.
When the Times reached Firestone by email, he referred all questions to the firm’s director of professional responsibility, William J. Linklater. In a statement, Linklater said the Russian government had provided no explanation for its action, and that the firm did not believe Firestone had done anything wrong.
“Neither our colleague nor we have been informed of the reason for this action. Only the Russian government knows the reason, and we do not wish to speculate,” Linklater wrote in the statement.