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Microsoft entangled in Russian spy scandal

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2010-07-15

Alexey Karetnikov is the twelfth Russian agent to be identified by US authorities in a spy ring investigation that has made headlines around the world, and news has emerged that the 23-year-old worked as a software tester for Microsoft...

The world of technology has not been spared by the recent spy ring investigation that made headlines around the world. The Washington Post has reported that Microsoft employee Alexey Karetnikov was deported to Russia on Tuesday,  on suspicion of being a Russian agent active in the US.

The 23-year-old engineer worked for nine months as an entry-level software tester at Microsoft, the software giant confirmed on Wednesday. “He had just set up shop and obtained absolutely no information,” an unnamed federal law enforcement official was quoted as saying. The official explained that Karetnikov was “just doing the things he needed to do to establish cover”.

Neither the US authorities nor Microsoft wanted to go into further detail, and Karetnikov’s existence was never brought up during the highly publicised spy swap carried out between Moscow and Washington. However, according to the Washington Post, Karetnikov had been on the CIA’s radar since setting foot on American soil in October 2009.

The NeoBit mystery

Karetnikov’s connection to the 11 other Russian spies picked up by US authorities has yet to be formally established yet. But the young engineer’s visa was revoked by the US authorities on June 26, the day before the now-infamous sweep. Karetnikov was officially sent back to Russia on charges of violating US immigration laws.

Unlike the other Russians involved, Karetnikov has no known link to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the country’s main external intelligence agency. On the other hand, his Facebook profile reveals that, after studying at the Saint Petersburg Polytechnical University, he worked for NeoBit, a Romanian company that specialises in business information technology. According to US financial news organisation Bloomberg, this small corporation could be linked to another company with the same name in Saint Petersburg, which counts the Russian defence minister and chief of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which replaced the now-defunct KGB, as members.

At Microsoft offices, the revelations surrounding one of the company’s former employees have made waves. Komo, a news site based in Seattle, tracked down one of Karetnikov’s former colleagues, who said that just a few days before the news surfaced, they “were actually joking about [the spy story] at work!”.

Date created : 2010-07-15

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