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Italian Navy captain, Russian diplomats accused of spying

By Kyle Barnett
Italian Navy captain, Russian diplomats accused of spying
An Italian Navy captain is accused of having a "clandestine meeting" with a Russian diplomat. File Photo by Capt. Cassidy Norman/U.S. Navy

March 31 (UPI) -- An Italian Navy captain has been detained and two Russian diplomats expelled from Italy following reports of an interrupted spy exchange.

"The Italian official was taken into custody, while the position of the foreign national is still under consideration in relation to his diplomatic status," Italian police said.

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The two were detained after police say they caught in a "clandestine meeting," CBS News reported.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio tweeted that two Russian officials had been expelled in the case.The meeting was reported to have taken place at a car park at a shopping center in Rome. The Italian Navy officer was alleged to have received a lump sum of €5,000 ($5869) in exchange for sensitive documents from Italy's defense ministry. After the exchange, the police intervened and seized the money.

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The documents involved "top secret" NATO files and Italian military dossiers containing military telecommunications information, Corriere della Sera, a local daily newspaper, reported.

The newspaper reported this was not the first espionage activity between Italy and Russia; there have been being similar incidents, including in the commercial sector. This is the first case involving state-secret military telecommunications information.

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Italian lawmakers from the opposition party, Brothers of Italy, urged Prime Minister Mario Draghi to urgently address the issue in Parliament.

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La Republicca reported the alleged espionage as the most serious incident in the post-Cold War era, recalling the discovery and expulsion of Russian and Bulgarian spies from Italy in 1989.

The latest episode comes amid strained relations between Russia and the West, with the United States and the European Union imposing sanctions after the jailing of Russian President Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny.

RIA news agency reported Russia's embassy in Italy was optimistic that relations between the two countries would not be affected by the suspected espionage.

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Spying has become much more commonplace in the modern era.

The International Spy Museum speculates as many as 10,000 Washington, D.C. residents are spies.

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