In February, the Washington Post reported that the head of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) met secretly with members of the Trump administration in late January, a meeting taking place not long before the administration would announce its decision not to apply fresh sanctions on Russia.
It has now come to light that two more Russian intelligence officials were in the U.S. as well: Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), and Colonel General Igor Korobov, chief of Russian General Staff’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).
The Washington Post said on January 31 that Bortnikov and Korobov came to the U.S. capital last week, and that Bortnikov had met with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, as did Naryshkin.
It wasn’t clear whom Korobov may have met with.
Washington officials indicated the meetings were regarding joint efforts in the fight against terrorism:
In a radio interview in Moscow on January 30, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said Pompeo had indeed met with Russian spy officials, but he did not say where the meeting occurred or say specifically who attended.
"Just in the last week, he has had probably the most important meetings on counterterrorism that we've had in a very, very long time, at the senior levels," Huntsman told Ekho Moskvy radiо.
In a January 29 interview, Pompeo told the BBC that Russia has not scaled back its attempts to interfere with U.S. affairs.
Veteran intelligence officials found the meetings to be unusual given the current political climate surrounding Russia.
CIA directors regularly meet and hold talks with their Russian counterparts on a variety of issues. But veteran and retired U.S. intelligence officers say the presence of all three Russian officials in Washington at the same time, and at a time of intense scrutiny over Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, is highly unusual.
"I can't recall any time in the last 15 years" that all three Russian agency chiefs were in the U.S. capital at the same time, Steven Hall, a former CIA station chief in Moscow, tells RFE/RL. "It's highly unusual."
Hall also said the Russians consider a meeting on U.S. soil to be a major political win, which makes last weeks rendezvous all the more curious.
"Given the political conditions in the United States now, it's flabbergasting to be honest. I can't imagine who would have signed off on that," he adds.