MOSCOW, Dec 2, 1999 -- (>Reuters) Russia's Foreign Ministry gave the United States a protest note on Wednesday accusing an American diplomat of spying and telling her to leave the country, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
"The note expressed a firm protest to the U.S. embassy in Moscow in connection with activity harming Russian security," Tass said. "The Russian side declared that on this basis, Cheri Leberknight is to leave Russian territory."
Russian press reports identified Leberknight as a second secretary in the political section at the U.S. embassy.
The U.S. State Department confirmed "an incident" involving one of its diplomats had taken place, but gave no other details. The embassy confirmed that an employee by that name worked in the political section, but declined further comment.
Russia said on Tuesday it had caught the diplomat red-handed attempting to obtain military secrets from a Russian citizen and bearing a collection of spy gadgets to thwart detection. It hoped the incident would not harm its already strained relations with the United States.
Tass quoted the Ministry's information department as saying that the note had been handed to an embassy representative. It was not clear how much time she would be given to leave or whether she would be permanently barred from Russia.
The announcement was the latest tit-for-tat spy allegation. Russia's ties with the West are at their lowest ebb since the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The FSB domestic security service said it had briefly detained a second secretary at the U.S. embassy after catching her in Moscow trying to obtain state military secrets from a Russian citizen.
FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich said she was caught with a collection of exotic spy equipment, including a gadget he said was designed to reveal and thwart attempts to monitor her conversations and invisible ink tablets.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the incident was unhelpful in righting ties with the United States, strained by Russian opposition to the NATO bombing in Yugoslavia and U.S. criticism of Russia's military actions in Chechnya.
"We hope and expect that this should not interfere with relations between the United States and Russia, but certainly, such episodes do not help improve the climate and atmosphere," he told reporters on Thursday.
The announcement was issued a day after U.S. military officials said they had charged U.S. Navy code breaker Daniel King with passing secrets to Moscow in 1994, an offence that could carry the death penalty.
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