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Friday: U.S., Russia Swap Spies; BP Devises Backup Plan for Well

Spy swap

Unidentified officials stand near the planes at Vienna airport presumed to be carrying the spies being swapped by the United States and Russia. Photo by Dieter Nagl/AFP/Getty Images.

The United States and Russia completed the largest spy swap since the Cold War on Friday, exchanging 10 spies arrested in the United States for four convicted in Russia.

Two planes — one from New York’s La Guardia airport and another from Moscow — arrived in Vienna within minutes of each other, according to reports, and parked nose-to-tail at a remote section on the tarmac. A small bus was seen driving between the two planes.

Of the four spies the United States received, one is believed to be Alexander Zaporozhsky, who may have exposed information leading to the capture of Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, two of the most notorious spies ever caught in the United States.

The Washington Post compares the spies:

“In the world of spy vs. spy, the four Russians released by Moscow on Thursday appeared to have little in common with the 10 ‘sleeper’ agents the Obama administration freed in return. … Three of the four whom Russia traded for them were professionals — once successful career officers in the Russian intelligence service.”

NPR’s Alan Greenblatt is having Cold War flashbacks:

“From the 1960s onward, it was a fairly frequent occurrence for Eastern bloc nations and the West to trade captured and accused spies. Each country wanted to bring home agents with potentially valuable knowledge — and was motivated by the chance to take back prizes from the other side.”

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told Jim Lehrer on Thursday’s NewsHour that “it sends a clear signal to, not only Russia, but other countries that will attempt this, that we are on to them.”

The Economist weighs the deal:

“Did America … bargain too softly? … David Kramer, a former Bush administration official, thinks that America has laid too much stress on the health of its relationship with Russia, and not enough on what it actually gets out of it. He said on a BBC interview this morning … that America should have gained more cooperation on issues such as non-proliferation.”

The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein, who blogs at SpyTalk writes:

“John L. Martin supervised 76 espionage cases during his 26 years at the Justice Department, but he’s never seen one end like this one. Martin said swapping spies who have not been sentenced to time in prison, much less served it, is ‘all but unprecedented.'”

According to their plea agreements with the U.S. attorney’s office, the 10 spies who returned to Russia agreed never to return to the United States without permission from the attorney general, to turn over any money made from publication of their stories as agents. Several also agreed to forfeit assets in the United States.

You can read the plea agreements here.

BP Devises Backup Plan

If the first of two relief wells being drilled to stop the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t succeed, BP officials are considering transferring the oil to non-producing underwater wells miles away.

“That would take some construction and some time. It would probably move us into the late August timeframe,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen.

Drilling on the first relief well is expected to be done by the end of July.

Meantime, BP will attempt to perform several complex technical maneuvers simultaneously” before a tropical storm arrives in the coming days. The Washington Post reports that BP “plans to change caps on the gusher, a tricky task that could greatly improve the ability to capture the oil or perhaps even shut down the well — but that would permit oil to flow unabated during the switch.”

Bombers Kill More Than 50 in Pakistan

Two suicide bombers struck outside a government office along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, killing more than 50 and wounding more than 100, officials said.

Local militant groups have emerged to challenge Pakistani authority in the region, the BBC reports.

China Renews Google’s License

Google said Friday the Chinese government renewed a license it needed to continue using its Chinese Web address, marking a compromise between the company and Chinese regulators since Google decided to stop cooperating with censorship requirements.

“We are very pleased that the government has renewed our ICP license and we look forward to continuing to provide web search and local products to our users in China,” David Drummond, Google’s Chief Legal Officer, wrote in an updated blog post.

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