Washington Wants Him, Moscow Uses Him as Leverage. This Russian Hacker Just Became One of Israel’s Most Famous Prisoners

For almost four years, he sat in Israel’s Hadarim Prison without anyone taking any interest in him. He was described as a quiet man who caused no disciplinary problems. Aleksey Burkov, 29, required no special attention from his jailers or anyone else, aside from a few Russian-speaking prisoners with whom he became friendly.

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But last weekend, it became clear to everyone that he was a hacker wanted by both Washington and Moscow. And now, his fate has been tied to that of a woman he has never met – Naama Issachar, the Israeli sentenced by a Russian court last Friday to 7.5 years in jail for having smuggled 9.6 grams of hashish. She was arrested while changing planes in Russia on her way home from a yoga course in India.

Since last weekend, when word got out that Russia had pressed Israel to exchange him for Issachar, Burkov has become one of Israel’s most famous prisoners. What still remains unclear is the chain of events that led to Issachar’s severe sentence, and why Burkov has become “an asset of supreme importance” to Moscow, as one senior Israeli official involved in the case put it. “The story is a mystery,” a senior law enforcement official agreed.

Nevertheless, sifting through past events and talking with the main characters can shed some light on that.

The first chapter of the story took place between 2009 and 2013. During this period, American officials suspect that a website called cardplanet.cc sold credit card details of some 150,000 Americans to online criminals, a massive fraud that added up to around $20 million. Investigations by the U.S. Secret Service – which, aside from guarding the president, is responsible for fighting fraud – eventually pinned a young Russian from St. Petersburg as the site’s main operator.