Remember the tale of the comically inept Russian spies whose small-time exploits had us laughing all summer? Now it turns out there might actually be lives at stake in the matter.
For the first time, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev confirmed reports that the spymaster who allegedly tipped off U.S. authorities to the Russian spy ring, a “Colonel Shcherbakov,” defected to the United States just before the spies’ arrest in June. According to a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Russia’s intelligence agents have located Shcherbakov and have already sent a professional assassin to kill him. (The Financial Times advises against reading too much into this statement, quoting a Kommersant reporter who says it could just be an example of “spy humor.”)
More on TIME.com: Notorious Russian spies throughout history
Over at Swampland, our colleague Massimo Calabresi looks at what the defection means for U.S. intelligence:
If true, the defection of Col. Shcherbakov would be a very unusual human intelligence coup for the U.S. against Russia. Traditionally the Russians better Americans on humint, while the U.S. has the upper hand on signals and other technical intelligence.