Biglaw, Dewey & LeBoeuf, Dewey Ballantine

A Biglaw Lawyer Who Was Asked to Spy for Russia

So this isn’t a proper “Career Alternatives for Attorneys” post, but if the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) — the successor to the KGB — had their way, we would one day soon watch Spencer Mazyck of Bloomberg sitting down to interview a Russian spy.

When you think about it, Biglaw attorneys share a lot of qualities with spies: working long, odd hours; poring over reams of government documents searching for a few nuggets of information; and feeling that any mistake could cost them their lives.

If you feel you have what it takes to become a spy, give Russia a call because they’re all butthurt over losing out on a potential Biglaw spy…

Back in March, Russian officials contacted Thomas Firestone, of counsel at Baker & McKenzie. Back then, Firestone worked in the firm’s Moscow office, specializing in anti-corruption risks and compliance. Firestone declined Russia’s offer.

Firestone previously worked as a federal prosecutor and legal advisor to the U.S. embassy, making him a curious choice to approach as a potential traitor.

“Tom is, for my money, one of the sharpest — in every sense — critics of corruption in Russian business and the dark arts of reiderstvo, ‘raiding’ in particular,” blogged Russian security analyst and New York University professor Mark Galeotti. By raiding, he’s referring to the practice of bribing public officials to launch criminal investigations into competing businesses. “Tom clearly enjoyed Moscow, with all its crass energy and sharp edges, but I confess I am astonished if the FSB really thought he was likely to be open to recruitment.

You have to start that process when they’re young, before they’ve taken oaths to the government and started to draw Biglaw salaries. Rookie mistake, Russia.

But then again, Russia is hardly the cutting-edge espionage outfit it was during the Cold War. Remember the clumsy “Illegals Program” of Russian spies described by the Guardian thusly:

But something, surely has changed. The tradecraft used by the alleged SVR ring was amateurish, and will send shivers down the spine of the rival intelligence organisations in Russia. This was bungling on a truly epic scale. No secrets about bunker-busting bombs were actually obtained, but the network was betrayed. The defendants are not charged with espionage, but with charges like conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government. To have a spy ring uncovered before they could actually do any serious spying is doubly embarrassing.

Anna Chapman. Because it’s actually relevant and not gratuitous at all.

Remember the highest profile spy in this ring, Anna Chapman, was not a CIA mole, but a New York real estate agent. She did, however, allegedly hook up with former Dewey & LeBoeuf (now DLA Piper) M&A partner John Altorelli, so she could pass the Kremlin important intel. Intel like: “Dewey is managed worse than this poor excuse for a spy ring.”

Bringing us back to the case of Thomas Firestone. After Firestone declined to become James Bond’s latest foil, he left the country on an unrelated trip and when he attempted to return on May 5, Russian authorities detained him at the airport for hours and ultimately expelled him. The next time you complain about TSA, consider being detained by the Russians for hours. There’s a big gap between “taking off your shoes” and “going to the gulags.”

According to the firm’s website, Firestone has landed in Baker & McKenzie’s D.C. office. For their part, the firm is pretty tight-lipped about the whole affair:

Reached by e-mail in the United States, Mr. Firestone referred questions to William J. Linklater, the firm’s director of professional responsibility and an expert in white-collar criminal defense.

In a statement, Mr. Linklater said that the Russian government had given no explanation for its action, and that the firm did not believe Mr. Firestone had done anything wrong.

“As you know, Thomas Firestone, one of our colleagues who has been practicing in our Moscow office and formerly was an employee of the United States Embassy in Moscow, was detained and refused admission to Moscow on May 5th,” Mr. Linklater wrote in the statement. “Neither our colleague nor we have been informed of the reason for this action. Only the Russian government knows the reason, and we do not wish to speculate.”

There is an alternative theory out there that the Russians never really expected to flip Firestone, but rather approached him in order to use his refusal to join the cause as a pretext to expel him. Professor Galeotti explains:

“Honestly I’d see it as much more likely that, as a perennial thorn in the side of corrupt officials and ‘raiders’ alike, certain interests finally decided they wanted him out of their city and out of their hair.”

The expulsion could also be a response to the recently enacted Magnitsky Act, named after the lawyer and auditor Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison after pointing out that high-level officials were totally ripping off the state treasury. The new law grants the U.S. government the powers to freeze assets and deny visas to Russian officials deemed corrupt or suspected of human rights abuses, and maybe Firestone became their public retaliation.

But assuming Russia was sincere in its recruitment of Firestone, its biggest mistake was going after a guy who already had a job. Pay attention to the market. There are scores of unemployed associates out there happy to jump into the exciting world of international espionage.

The salary is enough to cover loan payments, right?

Russia Expels Former American Embassy Official [New York Times]
U.S. Lawyer Booted From Russia for (Allegedly) Refusing to Serve as Kremlin Spy [Wired]
‘Russian spies’ Bungle Was Epic [Guardian]

Earlier: Former Dewey & LeBoeuf Partner Kisses and Tells (About D&L, Not His Alleged Affair With a Russian Spy)

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