What the alarming arrest of a former FBI spy catcher means — and doesn’t mean

This case presents a daunting damage and risk assessment for the U.S. intelligence community.

The FBI arrested one of its former agents Saturday on the suspicion that, before and after he left the bureau, he committed a series of crimes that include taking money from a former foreign agent and violating U.S. sanctions against Russia by working with and on behalf of an oligarch with known ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Charles McGonigal, retired since late 2018, was the special agent in charge of counterintelligence for the FBI’s New York office, the largest in the bureau. Disturbingly, McGonigal’s alleged criminal relationship with foreign intelligence operatives is said to have begun while he was the head of counterintelligence operations there and continued after his retirement. Allegations included in a federal indictment against McGonigal and a former Soviet and Russian diplomat mention their use of shell companies and a forged signature to conceal the involvement of the oligarch. Another indictment just against McGonigal accuses him of taking a large cash payment from a former foreign agent while inside a car.