Former top Russian spy Sergei Tretyakov dies at 53

By BRETT ZONGKER (AP)

WASHINGTON — A former top Russian spy, Sergei Tretyakov, who defected to the United States in 2000, has died at his home in Florida, according to medical records and an author who wrote a book about the retired spy.

Tretyakov died June 13 at age 53, according to a Social Security death record. His widow, Helen Tretyakov, told Washington’s WTOP-FM Radio that he died of natural causes.

The medical examiner’s office in Sarasota County, Fla., is conducting an autopsy on Tretyakov. A woman who answered the phone at the office said it would be completed sometime after July 26.

Tretyakov’s widow had asked friends to not immediately reveal the death, according author Pete Earley, who wrote a 2008 book about Tretyakov and announced the death Friday in a blog post.

News of the death comes after an unusual spy swap between Russia and the United States.

Tretyakov was Russia’s deputy head of intelligence at its United Nations mission in New York from 1995 to 2000.

He defected in 2000 to the United States with his wife and daughter, after serving as a double agent passing along secrets to the U.S. government.

In a 2008 interview promoting the book by Earley, Tretyakov said his agents helped the Russian government steal nearly $500 million from the U.N.’s oil-for-food program in Iraq before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. He told The Associated Press he oversaw an operation that helped Hussein’s regime manipulate the price of Iraqi oil sold under the program. In return, Russia skimmed profits.

Tretyakov called his defection "the major failure of Russian intelligence in the United States" and warned that Russia, despite the end of the Cold War, harbors bad intentions toward the United States.

Tretyakov said he had found it immoral to continue helping the Russian government.

"I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not very emotional. I’m not a Boy Scout," Tretyakov said. "And finally in my life, when I defected, I did something good in my life. Because I want to help United States."

Associated Press Writer Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Fla., contributed to this story.

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