It truly is a sad day when someone who enjoyed the highest level of trust from the United States breaks that trust and the law. And that is just what happened in the case involving Charles McGonigal. Today, the Department of Justice announced the indictment of McGonigal, a veteran of the FBI (1996-2018) whose career path allowed him to ascend to one of the most sensitive positions within the FBI. He was a Special Agent in charge of the New York Counterintelligence Division, and according to the indictment, he’s charged with violating U.S. sanctions on Russia.

It appears that McGonigal put greed before the nation. But by all measures, he seams to have sold himself cheaply.

Did McGonigal’s Actions begin while at the FBI?

McGonigal’s duties from 2016-2018 gave him visibility into all of the counterintelligence operations that were run out of the New York FBI Field Office. The indictment indicates, “as SAC, McGonigal supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs including Oleg Deripaska.” During his time at the NY FBI Field Office, McGonigal also had a secretive relationship with his co-conspirator, Sergey Shestakov, who retired from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and who had confirmed ties to Russian intelligence officers, even though he himself was an officer of the Russian foreign service. Shestakov retired from the Russian MFA in 1993 while posted to New York and went on to  become a U.S. citizen and make a career as an interpreter, oftentimes within the federal courts and United States attorney’s offices in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.

It’s evident that McGonigal and Shestakov both had natural access to the offices that conducted national security-driven counterintelligence and counterespionage cases against Russia and its intelligence apparatus. This alone makes it feel like there may be more to this than currently being revealed.

Deripaska was sanctioned.

The oligarch, Deripaska was sanctioned on April 6, 2018 by U.S. Treasury’s OFAC designating him as an SND (specially designated national) for his actions in support of the Russian Federation.

McGonigal breaks FBI trust.

While still serving as the SAC in NY’s CI Division, McGonigal was introduced by Shestakov to an “employee and agent of Deripaska.” The individual was a former officer of the Russian MFA and was believed, according to the indictment to be an undercover Russian intelligence officer. This individual would make a number of requests of McGonigal and Shestakov in the ensuing years and facilitate their formal engagement for intelligence support to help with the effort to have Deripaska removed from the SDN and sanctions listing.

In addition, this employee of Deripaska requested McGonigal, in his FBI capacity to have his daughter placed in the NYPD. McGonigal pulled out all the stops, calling in favors in an effort to get the young lady placed within the NYPD where she would have visibility into “counterterrorism, intelligence gathering and international liasoning.” He sent a note over the NYPD, “I have an interest in her father for a number of reasons.”

The daughter was placed, and one NYPD Sergeant, assigned to brief the Russian’s daughter reported the situation up the chain in both the NYPD and FBI noting, the indictment tells us, “she claimed to have an unusually close relationship to “an FBI agent” who had given her access to confidential FBI files, and it was unusual for a college student to receive such special treatment from the NYPD and FBI.”

Separately, and post-retirement, McGonigal and Shestakov enter into a number of contracted relationships involving Deripaska, where they are paid between $25,000 and $41,790 per month. The $25,000 was their cut of a legitimate engagement between Deripaska and an international law office, one might call it their bird-dog commission. The latter, $41,790 was the monthly fee for a relationship which began with a “start of business” fee of $51,280, to perform “business intelligence service, analysis, and research.” In other words, conduct private side intelligence collection on behalf of Deripaska.

What possible damage could the former head of the FBI Counterintelligence Division within the NY FBI Field Office possibly do to the nation?

It was illegal.

Whether McGonigal and Shestakov knew of the illegality of their arrangement is quickly answered when you unravel the daisy chain of cutouts and forged signatures of unwitting third parties to hide their hand but to get them their money. Not surprisingly, given Russian methodologies, the funds traveling into the U.S. for the two came via a bank located in Cyprus – seemingly a favorite banking locale for moving funding in support of Russian intelligence operations.

The courts will decide if the relationships predate the singular instance of attempting to place within NYPD a Russian national, the daughter of Deripaska’s representative.

How others see McGonigal’s actions.

“Again, Russia has managed to infiltrate the FBI and recruit a high-level counterintelligence officer tasked with overseeing Russian intelligence operations,” said Olga Lautman, senior fellow for the Center of European Policy Analysis and senior researcher for the Institute for European Integrity to Clearance Jobs. She continued, “Also, It is extremely dangerous that McGonigal had communications with a Russian intelligence officer working for Deripaska and attempted to place that I/O’s daughter into the NYPD to expand the I/O’s reach and access to info. This reminds me of the Hanssen case, except this time FBI acted at a quicker pace to neutralize the mole.”

FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll said: “As alleged, Mr. McGonigal and Mr. Shestakov, both U.S. citizens, acted on behalf of Deripaska and fraudulently used a U.S. entity to obscure their activity in violation of U.S. sanctions.  After sanctions are imposed, they must be enforced equally against all U.S. citizens in order to be successful.  There are no exceptions for anyone, including a former FBI official like Mr. McGonigal.  Supporting a designated threat to the United States and our allies is a crime the FBI will continue to pursue aggressively.”

Insider sells their soul

It’s highly possible that there is more to this story that will come out over time as the prosecution of the indicted begins. The duo faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. What made McGonigal the perfect source, was his sustained access up until his retirement and then his resident knowledge thereafter. We don’t know if McGonigal, as a trusted insider, squirreled away any files on Deripaska or others for use post-retirement. What we do know is he had no problem selling his soul.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of