IN THE FINAL days of the Cold War, a young diplomat arrived at the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco. Agents in the FBI’s San Francisco field office kept a close eye on the personnel coming and going from the consulate. The six-story building in one of the city’s toniest neighborhoods long served as a hub of espionage activity. The newly-arrived Soviet diplomat in his twenties, Evgeny Fokin, soon raised suspicions that he was a KGB officer operating under diplomatic cover on his first overseas posting. “I do remember he was an intelligence officer. He was KGB at the time,” says Rick Smith, a retired veteran of the FBI’s counterintelligence squad in San Francisco.
Three decades later, that young diplomat is now at the center of another spy story. This one involves Charles McGonigal, a former senior FBI counterintelligence officer who was indicted last month for taking money illegally from Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch with ties to the Kremlin and Russian intelligence services. Fokin was the mysterious “Agent-1” described in court papers, an executive working for Deripaska who slowly corrupted the veteran FBI agent over a three-year period, according to sources and documents reviewed by Rolling Stone.
Arrested last month, McGonigal faces federal charges in New York of violating federal sanctions laws that prohibited him from taking money from Deripaska and laundering those ill-gotten gains. He is also accused in a separate case filed in Washington, D.C., of accepting nearly a quarter of a million dollars in secret payments from a former Albanian intelligence officer, including $80,000 that was handed over gangland-style in a car parked outside a New York City restaurant. “His arrest is a sorry day for the FBI,” a retired senior FBI official tells Rolling Stone. “The bureau has taken a beating the last few years with Trump and others attacking it. His arrest is all we need.”
The damage to the bureau may go deeper than previously understood. In 2020, McGonigal took part in an Atlantic Council panel discussion titled “How Did Russia’s Security Services Capture the Kremlin?” A better question might be: Did Russia’s security services compromise a top FBI counterintelligence agent, here in America? How was one of the FBI’s top spyhunters so easily ensnared? “And how exposed is the FBI, given that it was Fokin, a suspected Russian spy, who snared him?”