Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University who studies the Russian security services, said the public exposure of Fogle and the pictures splashed across Russian television suggest a political purpose behind the detention. He said these kinds of spying incidents happen with some frequency but making such a big deal of it is rare.
"More often, the etiquette is that these things get dealt with quite quietly — unless they want to get a message out," Galeotti said. "If you identify an embassy staffer who is a spy for the other side, your natural impulse is to leave them be, because once you identify you can keep tabs on them, see who they talk to, and everything else. There's no reason to make a song and dance, detain them, eject them."
Russia and the United States have been at odds lately over Syria, the adoption of Russian children and U.S. sanctions against Russian officials accused of human rights abuses.
Galeotti, however, said the Fogle case was unlikely to affect the recent increased cooperation between U.S. and Russian counterintelligence agencies over the Boston Marathon bombings.
"Everyone goes into intelligence sharing knowing there's a parallel process where everyone spies on everyone else," he said.