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Griner case latest in string of high-profile prisoner swaps

Associated Press (AP) — Delicate negotiations between the United States and Russia led to basketball star Brittney Griner’s return Friday in exchange for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death.”

It’s the latest in a series of high-profile prisoner swaps involving Americans detained abroad. Here is a look at some of the most notable exchanges.



Perhaps the most famous one came at the height of the Cold War when Powers, a high-altitude U-2 spy plane pilot who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, was exchanged on a German bridge for Russian spy Col. Rudolph Abel.

The swap was depicted in Steven Spielberg’s 2015 movie “Bridge of Spies.”

Powers was criticized by some for allowing himself to be captured but cleared of wrongdoing. Documents declassified in 1998 show that Soviet intelligence gained no vital information from him, according his biography on the National Air and Space Museum’s website.



In August 1986, Gennadiy Zakharov, a 39-year-old Soviet physicist and United Nations employee, was arrested by the FBI on federal espionage charges.

Days later Daniloff, the Moscow bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report, was arrested by the KGB after a Soviet acquaintance handed him a closed package containing maps marked “top secret.”

The administration of President Ronald Reagan called Daniloff’s detention a “setup,” though Moscow denied it was retaliation for Zakharov’s arrest.

That September, Daniloff was released and Zakharov was allowed to leave the U.S.



Bergdahl, a U.S. Army sergeant, was handed over to U.S. special forces in May 2014 after nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan and arrived at at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio the following month.

In exchange, the United States released five Taliban prisoners being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Bergdahl had vanished from a base in Afghanistan’s Paktika province near the border with Pakistan in June 2009 and was called a deserter by some. He pleaded guilty to desertion and endangering his comrades in October 2017 and was dishonorably discharged, but was not imprisoned.



Earlier this year Reed, a Marine veteran imprisoned in Russia for nearly three years, was swapped for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been serving a 20-year federal sentence for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.

Reed was arrested in summer 2019 and later sentenced to nine years in prison after Russian authorities said he assaulted an officer while being driven to a police station following a night of heavy drinking.

The U.S. government said he was unjustly detained, and his family maintained his innocence.

Yaroshenko was arrested in Liberia in 2010 and extradited to the U.S on drug trafficking charges.



Four Americans including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari were released from prison by Iranian authorities in January 2016.

The U.S. pardoned or dropped charges against seven Iranians.

Rezaian and Hekmati, who were both charged with espionage by Tehran, said they were tortured while in custody. Abedini was detained for compromising national security, presumably because of Christian proselytizing.



In what was called the biggest spy swap since the end of the Cold War, 10 sleeper agents who infiltrated suburban America were sentenced to time served and deported in July 2010 after pleading guilty to conspiracy.

They included Anna Chapman, whose sultry photos on social media sites made her a tabloid sensation.

They were exchanged for four Russian prisoners convicted of spying for the West.


List compiled by Associated Press writer Mark Pratt in Boston.