The arrest of a high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence agent accused of spying for Russia has highlighted the urgent need for a cleanout of the country’s key security service, a former deputy head of the agency has said.
The Ukrainian security service (SBU) reported on Thursday that they arrested a lieutenant colonel in their ranks on suspicion of “high treason” and published a photograph of bundles of cash found in his home.
The unnamed man is said to have used his mobile phone to photograph documents detailing the location of military checkpoints in Zaporizhzhia, a frontline region in the south-east of the country, and sending the information via an email account registered on a Russian domain.
A photo issued alongside the official statement showed sim cards issued by Russian mobile carriers, bundles of foreign currency, a knuckle duster, two knives and a Russian language guide to learning English.
“Evidence of permanent connections with representatives of law enforcement and state bodies of the Russian Federation was also established,” the statement said. “In particular, close relatives of the traitor are among them.”
Maj Gen Viktor Yahun, who was deputy head of the SBU until, 2015, said there needed to a thorough cleanout of the service, which he said had long had an overly close relationship with its Russian counterpart, the FSB.
Following Russia’s invasion on 24 February last year, more than 60 members of the SBU and the prosecutor general’s office had remained in occupied territory and collaborated with the Russian forces, highlighting the scale of the infiltration of Ukrainian law enforcement by the Kremlin.
The arrest of the SBU lieutenant colonel in Zaporizhzhia on Thursday on treason charges. Photograph: SBU
There have also been multiple arrests of SBU agents on counts of treason in the rest of Ukraine over the last 11 months, including Oleg Kulinich, who was appointed by Volodymyr Zelenskiy in 2020 to oversee operations in Crimea, which has been held by Russia since 2014. He is yet to comment.
In October, Ukraine also requested the extradition from Serbia of Andriy Naumov, who used to head the department of internal security at Ukraine’s state security service but who left the country hours before Russia’s invasion. He has not commented.
Yahun said: “Kulinich and Naumov were at the top of the ranks and they had access to the most secret of information.”
As late as 2010, Yahun said the SBU had internally celebrated KGB Day, marking the establishment of the communist-era Russian secret service, and there remained pro-Russian agents through the ranks of the service.
Yahun claimed that the biggest attack on a military site near Lviv in western Ukraine last year had been enabled by a 77-year-old former SBU agent who had passed on the coordinate details and that he feared many in the service still considered themselves Russian.
While the generation that worked for the Soviet security services had retired, Yahun added, the recruitment practices of the SBU meant that their sons and daughters were now in the agency.
“They grew up with the same values as their fathers,” he said. “Ukraine made a major mistake in not following the lead of the Baltic nations following independence in reforming the security services from ground zero.”
“Of course there were always patriots in the SBU, but they have been in the minority,” he said. “It is getting better and since 24 February President Zelenskiy has cleaned the top ranks, so I do not believe any vital strategic information has been passed to Russia. Now they are moving their way down the ranks.”
Yahun said some SBU agents had been bribed and blackmailed into working for Russia, while others were double agents. “Others just regard themselves as Russian,” he said. “There was an arrest of a woman in her 40s working in the SBU who had been found to have been sharing Russian propaganda on social media.”
One morning in October 2017, Allison Guerriero noticed something unusual on the floor of her boyfriend’s Park Slope, Brooklyn, apartment: a bag full of cash. There it was, lying next to his shoes, near the futon, the kind of bag that liquor stores give out. Inside were bundles of bills, big denominations bound up with rubber bands. It didn’t seem like something he should be carrying around. After all, her boyfriend, Charles F. McGonigal, held one of the most senior and sensitive positions in the FBI.
“Where the fuck is this from?” she asked.
“Oh, you remember that baseball game?” McGonigal replied, according to Guerriero’s recollection. “I made a bet and won.”
McGonigal had two high-school-age children and a wife — or “ex-wife” as he sometimes referred to her — back at home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He would return there once or twice a month. But McGonigal had led Guerriero to believe that he was either divorced or soon would be. She didn’t question his story, nor did she question the story about the bag full of cash.
A few days before, Guerriero had sat on the couch with McGonigal in the one-room garden sublet to watch McGonigal’s Cleveland Indians beat the Yankees. Much later — after Guerriero’s cancer diagnosis, their breakup, and McGonigal’s retirement from the FBI — McGonigal would be indicted on suspicion of, among other things, accepting $225,000 in cash from a former employee of Albania’s intelligence agency. That total includes one $80,000 chunk that was allegedly handed over in a parked car, outside a restaurant, on October 5, 2017. October 5 and 6 also happened to be the days when the Indians beat the Yankees in the first two games of the American League Division Series. Today, Guerriero no longer believes the bag of cash contained winnings from a sports bet.
One of McGonigal’s attorneys, Seth DuCharme, declined to comment.
Guerriero was 44 when they met, a former substitute kindergarten teacher who volunteered for law-enforcement causes and was working as a contractor for a security company while living at home with her father. McGonigal, then 49 years old, had just started his new job at the FBI’s New York office.
Guerriero says their affair lasted for a little more than a year. McGonigal’s Brooklyn sublet may have been modest, but he lived large. He courted Guerriero at high-end restaurants. He would give her gifts of cash — $500 or $1,000 — for her birthday and for Christmas. He once joked about framing his divorce papers for her, as a Christmas gift, but those papers never materialized. He took her to watch New Jersey Devils hockey games in a private box. She recalls that McGonigal once gave a hundred-dollar bill to a panhandler on the street. “I’m a little better off than him. I can spare a hundred dollars,” Guerriero remembers McGonigal saying, after she expressed astonishment.
That day in October wasn’t the only time that Guerriero remembers McGonigal carrying large amounts of cash. After he brushed her curiosity aside, she tempered her suspicions. She told herself it was probably “buy money” for a sting operation, or a payoff for one of McGonigal’s informants. She had dated federal law-enforcement officials before. She knew not to ask too many questions about work.
“Charlie McGonigal knew everybody in the national security and law-enforcement world,” Guerriero said, in an interview with Insider. “He fooled them all. So why should I feel bad that he was able to deceive me?”
The dual indictments lodged against McGonigal earlier this week in New York and Washington, DC, are the culmination of a grand-jury investigation that Insider exclusively reported on last year, and they lay out breathtaking allegations of subterfuge and corruption. But Guerriero says that McGonigal’s deceptions extended beyond his duties as a counterintelligence chief and into their personal life. Two sources who knew both McGonigal and Guerriero in New York told Insider that they believed Guerriero’s account of the relationship, including her claim that McGonigal had led Guerriero to believe that he was effectively single. And Guerriero’s father told Insider that McGonigal would regularly drive to his house, where Guerriero lived, to pick her up.
“I was deceived about it,” Guerriero’s father said. “He seemed to be a straight shooter. If I’d had known he was married, I would have said something.”
Federal prosecutors charged McGonigal with money laundering and making false statements in his mandatory employee disclosures to the FBI. He was also charged with taking money from a representative of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who McGonigal had once himself investigated, in violation of US economic sanctions against Russia; the indictment alleges that Deripaska paid him to investigate a rival oligarch. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
McGonigal was not an ordinary FBI agent. He led the WikiLeaks investigation into Chelsea Manning as well as a search for a Chinese mole inside the CIA. While working at FBI headquarters in Washington, he played a role in opening the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts that was later dubbed Operation Crossfire Hurricane.
But it was McGonigal’s final FBI job, special agent in charge of the counterintelligence division at the FBI’s New York field office, that was his most important assignment at the bureau. It was his job to find enemy spies and recruit his own.
“New York City is a global center for espionage and counterespionage,” says one senior law-enforcement insider who was closely familiar with the specifics of McGonigal’s role. “You have visits from foreign business elites and politicians. You have the United Nations. You have ethnic populations. Who runs the pitches to recruit spies from all those other countries? The FBI. So the access you get in that job is extraordinary. It’s almost bottomless. So if you’re running FBI counterintelligence in New York, you can get your hands on almost anything you want, and you don’t always have to make excuses for why you’re asking for it.”
The impact of the McGonigal indictments is still rippling out through the law-enforcement world. The charges accuse an official at the heart of the Trump-Russia investigation of secretly selling his own access, accepting bundles of cash in surreptitious meetings with someone who had ties to Albanian intelligence. McGonigal, a top-tier member of the city’s law-enforcement community, a man who had fully integrated himself into a powerful circle of trust where favors get swapped and sensitive intelligence gets circulated, is accused of himself being on the take. If the indictments are correct, McGonigal was leading a dangerous double life, right under the noses of some of the sharpest cops in America.
But what might be most striking about the case against McGonigal is how cheaply he is alleged to have rented out his law-enforcement powers. One indictment suggests that for $225,000, McGonigal’s associates got him to lobby the Albanian prime minister about the awarding of oil-field drilling licenses and then open an FBI investigation connected to a US citizen who had lobbied for one of the prime minister’s political opponents. Arranging a meeting for an executive from a Bosnian pharmaceutical company with a US official at the United Nations was said to be a pricier item — $500,000, one indictment claims. It is unclear whether that money ever materialized.
In September 2018, McGonigal left the FBI to work as a vice president at Brookfield Properties, a multibillion-dollar real-estate company. His salary there was most likely higher than what he made inside the government, but it wasn’t anywhere near the C-suite or oligarch-scale money that courses through New York’s penthouse condos and boardrooms. One law-enforcement source estimated that McGonigal stood to make roughly $300,000 to $350,000 a year, including annual bonuses. “He said he needed to make more money,” said Guerriero, who was still in the relationship with McGonigal when he left the FBI. “He had two kids to put through college.”
The value that McGonigal is accused of providing — his access and his pull — are clear from the indictments. One of them alleges that he arranged for the daughter of a foreign contact, a college student, to get a VIP tour from the New York City Police Department. The indictment identifies that foreign contact as “Agent-1,” an agent of the Russian oligarch Deripaska, former Russian diplomat, and rumored Russian intelligence officer. That description matches Evgeny Fokin, who works for En+, a Deripaska-owned energy company, and was already linked to McGonigal and an associate in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing from November 2021.
Agent-1’s identity remains unconfirmed. Neither Fokin nor En+ responded to requests for comment. A person familiar with the NYPD’s arrangement said the daughter was a guest, not an intern. She didn’t have independent access to police facilities, they said, and was given no work to do.
Guerriero recalls McGonigal using the FBI’s resources for their relationship. Once, they had sex in an SUV that she understood to be federal government property. After she was found to have breast cancer, Guerriero recalls, McGonigal would occasionally send a junior agent in an FBI sedan to give her rides from New Jersey to her cousin’s apartment in New York. Despite the ongoing deception about his marital status, McGonigal was “caring, loving, and concerned” during the period of her illness, she says.
In late 2018, McGonigal and Guerriero broke up. She remembers receiving an anonymous and hostile note in the mail. Soon after, McGonigal told her he was still married and had no plans to divorce his wife. “I was shocked,” she said. “I was very much in love with him, and I was so hurt.” She started drinking heavily to cope. A few months later, Guerriero, after a bout of drinking, dashed off an angry email to William Sweeney, who was in charge of the FBI’s New York City bureau, and who, she recalls, had first introduced her to McGonigal. She remembers telling Sweeney in the email that he should look into their extramarital affair, and also McGonigal’s dealings in Albania. McGonigal had already befriended Albania’s prime minister and traveled to the country extensively, dealings that would appear later in one of his indictments. Guerriero told Insider that she had deleted the email.
Sweeney didn’t reply to a request for comment made through Sweeney’s current employer, Citigroup. Insider couldn’t confirm that Guerriero had sent the email or that Sweeney had received it. Regardless, by November 2021, the FBI was looking into McGonigal. Two agents showed up at Guerriero’s door, she says, showed her a picture of McGonigal with the Albanian prime minister, and interviewed her about their interactions. She also received a grand-jury subpoena requesting all of her communications with McGonigal as well as information about any “payments or gifts” he may have given her.
Guerriero acknowledges that the combination of her alcohol abuse and her health problems led to some extreme behavior, including her sending hostile emails to McGonigal’s family, the contents of which she says she cannot recall. “I really did go overboard,” she said. “I harassed them. I’m not going to deny that. I was horrible to them.”
By her own account, Guerriero contacted one of McGonigal’s children despite being prohibited from doing so by a court order, an incident that led to her spending the night in a New Jersey jail. The court order stemmed from a 2019 police report, obtained by Insider, that McGonigal’s wife, Pamela, filed with the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland. The report states that McGonigal and Guerriero “had a relationship” and that Guerriero had repeatedly harassed her with unwelcome emails and phone calls — including 20 calls in one day — despite her asking Guerriero to stop.
Guerriero confirmed that her contact with the McGonigal family led to a separate restraining order issued in New Jersey. “I am ashamed and embarrassed and sorry for my actions during the time that I was drinking,” she said.
Allison Guerriero knew Rudy Giuliani from law-enforcement circles. Giuliani let her stay in a guest room at his residence after Guerriero’s father’s house caught fire in 2021. Allison Guerriero
Guerriero’s troubles worsened in early 2021, when she was badly burned during a fire at her father’s house. She asked friends for help through a GoFundMe. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City, whom she knew from law-enforcement circles, let her stay in a guest bedroom. Since then, Guerriero has been a frequent on-air caller for Giuliani’s radio shows. She maintains that the 2020 election was marred by widespread voter fraud, a belief pushed by Giuliani that has been repeatedly debunked. “Whatever Giuliani says about the 2020 election is what I believe,” she said. During her relationship with McGonigal, Guerriero says, they never talked about politics. “I thought he was apolitical,” he said, “which is something I continue to believe.”
The FBI declined to address the specifics of Guerriero’s story. Instead, it sent a statement from Director Christopher Wray, who said the FBI holds employees to “the highest standard” and treats everyone equally, “even when it is one of our own.” Insider spoke with three of McGonigal’s former law-enforcement colleagues who expressed shock about the indictments. “It’s heartbreaking,” said one, who had worked alongside McGonigal at the FBI. “This is an incredible organization filled with truly dedicated men and women. This sets our image and reputation back.”
Guerriero’s father said his view of the FBI had already been tarnished by the way that McGonigal treated his daughter. “I’ve always had huge admiration for the FBI,” he said. “I idealized the agents that I saw in the movies. I thought these people were gods, that they never did anything wrong. It was so disappointing.” He did say, however, that McGonigal had called him after the relationship ended to apologize for his behavior, and that he had accepted McGonigal’s apology.
The FBI is in crisis. It pains me, as a former special agent and the former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to warn that if we don’t fix it now, we risk irrevocably breaking not only the greatest law enforcement agency in the world, but America’s trust in this invaluable institution.
If you needed any more graphic evidence of institutional and cultural rot affecting the bureau, just this week Charles McGonigal, the former special agent in charge of counterintelligence in the FBI’s New York field office was arrested for ties to Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch.
It should be common sense that a senior agent should not be working for a criminal, any criminal, let alone a Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin, but apparently common-sense ethics are no longer common, and that speaks volumes about the state of the FBI.
The seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen outside its headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 15, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
From this most recent and staggering security vulnerability, to leadership failures and a lack of accountability at the top, to a seemingly creeping lack of accountability in field offices and the appearance of politicization across the FBI, much of the country now doubts the bureau’s credibility and integrity.
Many now believe that the FBI is merely an arm of one political party, and for a good portion of the country, they believe that the bureau is being “weaponized” against them or their political beliefs.
Why should we be surprised that Americans feel this way when the highest profile cases are handled not with discretion, focus and equal justice under the law, but instead with unwarranted partisan intent from the start?
Hunter Biden introduces his father, Vice President Joe Biden, during a World Food Program award ceremony on April 12, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Kris Cnnor/WireImage)
There is no shortage of cases tainted by politics. There was the poor handling of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election (one certainly further called into question with this latest arrest). The appalling management of the Hunter Biden investigation. The poor tactics in the plot against the Michigan governor. The alleged involvement in content moderation on social media platforms. The appalling double standard of the investigations into mishandling of classified information by both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.
The House Judiciary Committee Republican staff wrote, “The problem lies with the FBI structure that centralizes high-profile cases in D.C., in the hands of politicized actors with politicized incentives.” It is the equivalent of the legal concept of the fruit from the poisoned tree, except instead of contaminated evidence, it is the cases themselves that are compromised from the start.
Why should we be surprised when Americans now doubt the efficacy of the bureau when stories of FBI malfeasance and illegal behavior appear regularly in the press: destruction of documents, accepting bribes from organized crime figures, alleged ties to Russia, and an FBI audit report alleging breaking their own rules over 700 times in 18 months when investigating “politicians, candidates, religious groups, news media and others.”
FBI agents approaching a crime scene. (Getty Images)
Not all agents are bad, and I contend there are far more good agents than not; but bad agents are a stain on the character of the bureau and an insult to their colleagues who follow the rules, uphold the law, and act with integrity.
If the bureau is to survive, it needs to take immediate action.
We need to make common sense common again, and that starts at the top. It must be made abundantly clear that working for or on behalf of a foreign agent – whether under sanctions or not – is not an acceptable post-bureau career option. There must be a cooling-off period for retired senior agents before even considering entering the employment of foreign agents, and there must be an ethics and accountability board reviewing these positions.
Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence for the FBI’s New York office, leaves Manhattan Federal Court on Jan. 23, 2023, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
The FBI must remove politics from high-profile cases. This includes the Department of Justice lawyers. It is my sense that this is where the trouble begins.
To ensure compliance with DOJ and FBI guidelines and rules, a third-party review that is outside the prosecutor’s and agent’s purview should now occur at the outset of a public integrity case, before it goes to a judge. Ensuring that the bias is not the impetus will be crucial for DOJ lawyers and the FBI to regain the public’s trust and regaining the public’s trust must be the top priority.
FBI leadership must clearly communicate expectations of ethical behavior and take quick and certain action when anyone violates those expectations. This includes addressing agents’ vocal social media commentary highlighting political bias. There is no place for this in the FBI. There must be a pervasive working culture of ethics and accountability at all levels across the organization. Working agents need to see these high standards at work in their leadership every day.
The Justice Department in Washington, D.C. (Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images)
Congress must also resume its oversight responsibility. We cannot afford partisan politics to cloud the oversight of this most important institution.
Just as we cannot allow the FBI itself to become a partisan tool, we should demand that our elected representatives do their duty and provide the robust and consistent oversight of the FBI’s activities and hold the leaders accountable without political theater.
It is important to note that agents all over the country are following the FBI creed of fidelity, bravery and integrity, and risking their lives to make us safer. These agents deserve better and our country deserves better.
President Biden and FBI leadership must recognize this and act now, rather than play politics with the public’s trust.