The Russians next door: A ‘sexy’ spy to ‘great tenants’?
‘Such a nice couple’
AFP – Getty Images used spies next door
This drawing dated June 28, 2010 shows five of the 10 arrested Russian spy suspects in a New York courtroom.
- It’s a tabloid editor’s dream come true: Ten people are accused of being undercover Russian spies, and one of them is even photogenic enough to deserve her own slide-show (see The New York Post’s tribute to what they are calling“Sexy Russian Spy Anna Chapman”here).But for the neighbors of the ten people arrested throughout the Northeast, it was more of a nightmare. Who were these people who they had come to trust as a professor, a newspaper columnist, and an architect, among other well-respected professions?Video: FBI arrests 10 in alleged Russian spy ring“They’re such a nice couple,” Susan Coke, a real estate agent who sold a home in Montclair, N.J. to two of the suspects — who called themselves Richard and Cynthia Murphy — told The New Jersey Star-Ledger. “I just hope the FBI got it wrong.”
Scroll down to learn more about the suspects. You can read the the court filing about the alleged spy program here, and the Department of Justice’s court complaint against two of the suspects, Mikhael Semenko and Anna Chapman, here.
Information compiled by msnbc.com’s Elizabeth Chuck and Ryan McCartney.
- Anna Chapman, New York, N.Y.:Chapman, 28, said she was the founder of an online real estate company worth $2 million. She said she had a master in economics, was divorced, and lived in Manhattan’s Financial District, The New York Post reported. According to the New York Daily News, Chapman is the one who figured out her alleged spy network was being monitored on Saturday, prompting the FBI to make the arrests Monday.Sources: New York Daily News, New York Post
- Richard and Cynthia Murphy, Montclair, N.J.:Richard was an architect, a neighbor told The New Jersey Star-Ledger, and Cynthia had just gotten an MBA. Richard said he was from Philadelphia; Cynthia said she was from New York. She worked as a vice president at a Manhattan firm, Morea Financial Services, Politico reported. The couple lived with two young daughters, Katie and Emily, in a home on Marquette Road in Montclair that they purchased for $481,000 in the fall of 2008. The two had come to the U.S. in the mid-1990s, first living in an apartment in Hoboken, N.J.Sources: Star-Ledger, New York Daily News, Politico
- Juan Lazario and Vicky Palaez, Yonkers, N.Y.Neighbors said they knew Juan to be an economics professor at a college in New Jersey, and Vicky to be a columnist for New York’s Spanish-language newspaper, El Diario La Presna. They lived with two sons, according to the New York Daily News.Source: New York Daily News
- Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills, Arlington, Va.The husband-and-wife pair lived in Seattle before they moved to Arlington, Va. in October 2009. Zottoli, 40, said he was a U.S. citizen who was born in Yonkers, N.Y., and Mills, 31, said she was a Canadian citizen. Records reveal that the two moved around several times between 2002 and 2009.“They were the nicest people,” one former resident manager said of the two, who another neighbor said had a young son and a new baby. “In fact, I wish they had stayed on as tenants. They were really good tenants.”When their Seattle apartment was searched in February 2006, FBI agents reportedly found password-protected computer disks that contained “stenography program employed by the SVR.”Sources: KOMO-TV, Washington Post
- Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley, Cambridge, Mass.The “Boston Conspirators,” as the FBI dubbed them, lived with their two teenage boys in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, according to the Boston Herald. He had received a master’s in public administration from Harvard in 2000 and worked as a consultant for a Cambridge-based consulting firm – a job that allegedly enabled him to contact a former high-ranking U.S. government national security official. The two were arrested at their Trowbridge Street apartment.“I’m absolutely floored,” Paul Hesselschwerd, president of Global Partners Inc. where Heathfield worked since 2000, told The Boston Globe. “He’s a good person. He’s lived in the United States for a long time. We’re just completely shocked.’’Craig Sandler, a former classmate of Heathfield, told The Boston Globe the alleged Russian spy was friendly and intelligent.“It never crossed my mind that he might be a spy,” Sandler said Tuesday. “But it’s not completely flabbergasting. He seems like a guy who would make a pretty good spy.”Sources: Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Harvard Crimson
- Mikhael Semenko, Arlington, Va.Semenko, 28, was a travel specialist at Travel All Russia LLC, according to a spokesman from the company based in Arlington, Va.The alleged spy began working for Travel All Russia in 2009 and was described as a friendly and diligent worker who had a strong command of several languages, including Russian (native), English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese, according to a statement released by the company after the arrest. A LinkedIn profile that says Semenko worked at Travel All Russia indicates he was particularly interested in non-profits, think tanks, public policy and educational institutions. Semenko was based in the Washington, D.C., area at the time of his arrest and attended or was attending Seton Hall University, the LinkedIn profile says.According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, FBI officials apparently met Semenko on Saturday just blocks from the White House, at the intersection of 10th and H Street. “Could we have met in Beijing in 2004?” the undercover agent asked. “Yes, we might have but I believe it was in Harbin,” Semenko reportedly replied. See below for other code words and phrases the suspects used.Sources: Daily Telegraph, LinkedIn
- Code words, phrases suspects used Following are among the phrases used by the alleged agents, their handlers and, deceptively, by U.S. counter-espionage officials in exchanges designed to verify a contact’s identity.”Excuse me, but haven’t we met in California last summer?””No, I think it was the Hamptons.””Could we have met in Beijing in 2004?””Yes, we might have, but I believe it was in Harbin””Excuse me, did we meet in Bangkok in April last year?.””I don’t know about April, but I was in Thailand in May of that year.”Source: Reuters
Russian spies: High-tech gear, plus old Cold War methods
The accused Russian spies arrested this week used a combination of very advanced methods and equipment as well as old-style spycraft like the ‘dead drop.’
FBI agents outside 35B Trowbridge Road in Cambridge, Mass., a residence owned by Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Heathfield and Foley were arrested Sunday by the FBI on allegations of being Russian spies.
By Peter Grier, Staff writer
posted June 29, 2010 at 7:44 pm EDT
Why is it called a “dead” drop? Because it involves one person dropping off something at a pre-arranged location, and a second person picking it up after the first has left. If the two meet face-to-face it’s called a live drop.
Anyway, traditional methods were a hallmark of the KGB during the years of the Soviet Union. That appears to have persisted with the SVR, Russia’s intelligence service. Here are some highlights of that long history of tradecraft, as recounted by FBI historians.
THE HOLLOW NICKEL. In 1953 the FBI obtained a curious artifact – a hollow nickel that contained a microphotograph of ten columns of typewritten numbers. A newsboy had received the nickel in change while collecting from a customer.
The hollow nickel had been made from two coins with a tiny hole drilled through the “R” in the word “Trust.” For four years, US intelligence tried to decipher the numbers, and solve the mystery of the nickel, to no avail.
Finally, in 1957, a key appeared in the person of Reino Hayhanen, a Soviet spy who defected to the US rather than return to the USSR. The KGB had supplied Hayhanen with a hollow Finnish coin for dead drops that was marked by the same tiny hole as the nickel. With this hint the FBI finally decrypted the message, which turned out to be a welcome-to-the-US letter for Hayhanen from his Moscow superiors.
Hayhanen eventually led agents to one of his spy masters in the US, Col. Rudolf Abel. Convicted of espionage, Col. Abel was swapped in 1962 for captured US U-2 pilot Gary Powers.
WALKIE-TALKIES AND FAKE BRICKS. In 1970 a Grumman aircraft engineer who lived in the New York area struck up a friendship with a Russian who introduced himself as Sergey Petrov. Petrov claimed to be a translator of scientific documents at the UN.
Petrov was quite interested in the engineer’s work on the design of the new F-14 Navy fighter. He asked for any documents related to the plane – and said he’d pay the engineer a stipend if things went well.
The engineer went to the FBI. Over the next few months, he and Petrov met at Long Island restaurants for document exchanges. The Soviet spy gave his new friend a special camera, so he could bring pictures instead of actual paper. Eventually he outlined a plan in which the engineer would place microphotos in fake bricks made of plaster of Paris. Then the engineer would contact Petrov on a walkie talkie and tell him when he had dropped the brick at a location near the Tappan Zee Bridge, north of the city. This would eliminate the need for dangerous face-to-face meetings.
The FBI arrested Petrov shortly thereafter. He was indicted on espionage charges in July, 1972. In August of that year, the White House told the courts to drop the charges. Petrov was freed, and he returned to the USSR.
“It was decided by top US officials that this dismissal would best serve the national and foreign policy interests of the United States,” concludes an FBI summary of this case.
RAMON’S HOMEMADE TRADECRAFT. Robert Hanssen was a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent who spied for the Soviet Union, and later Russia, from 1979 to 2001. His acts did dreadful damage to US security, and caused the death of a number of US intelligence assets inside the USSR.
One of the reasons he was able to carry out 22 years of such high-level espionage was that he was careful to conceal his identity and place of work from his Soviet handlers. That way he could not be turned in by any US mole within the KGB.
The Soviets knew him by the code name “Ramon Garcia”.
Hanssen began his career as a turncoat by writing the KGB a letter. He subsequently refused all Soviet offers to meet in a third country, and all Soviet tradecraft. He was an FBI counterintelligence agent, after all, and figured he would survive best by designing his own routines.
Hanssen never showed any outward signs that he was receiving large sums of money, as he knew that might raise FBI suspicions. He set his own dead drop locations, which included a footbridge near Vienna, Virginia, a wooden utility pole near a Vienna bus stop, and the top of a “Foxstone Park” sign in the same area.
An FBI hunt for a suspected internal leaker finally discovered Hanssen after years of pursuing false leads. As then-FBI director Louis Freeh pointed out when the arrest was announced on February 20, 2001, Hanssen’s homemade tradecraft had been so effective that American counterintelligence learned his real name before his Russian spymasters did.
“They are learning of it only now,” said Director Freeh that day.
Hanssen, aka “Ramon,” is now serving a life sentence at the Supermax federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.
In spy swap, agents were pawns in a practiced game
WASHINGTON – In the rapid-fire spy swap, the United States and Russia worked together as only old enemies could.
Less than two weeks after the FBI broke the spy ring in a counterintelligence operation cultivated for a decade, 10 Russian secret agents caught in the U.S. are back in Russia, four convicted of spying for the West have been pardoned and released by Moscow, and bilateral relations appear on track again.
In describing how the swap unfolded, U.S. officials made clear that even before the arrests, Washington wanted not only to take down a spy network but to move beyond the provocative moment.
So the U.S. made an offer. Russia was ready to deal.
Channels of communication that once coursed with world-shaking superpower crises were reflexively put into play. Moscow and Washington not only have a history of nuclear-tipped tension but also long experience keeping those tensions in check.
Just imagine if the U.S. had been caught up in a spy flare-up with Iran instead.
“This case has been done with electrifying speed,” said John L. Martin, who oversaw Cold War espionage prosecutions and trades during a 27-year career at the Justice Department. “I’ve never seen so much pressure to do it quickly.”
The detailed case against the network of secret Russian agents was brought to the attention of the White House in February, officials said. On June 11, President Barack Obama was briefed on the matter.
Well before FBI agents moved against the operatives late that month, Washington had in mind that they might become bargaining chips to free Russians imprisoned for betraying Moscow and helping the West.
The U.S. arrests were not made to facilitate a swap, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence. Rather, they were precipitated, at least partly, by the plans of several of the Russians to leave this country this summer. He said that as the time approached to take down the ring, the question officials asked each other was, “Once the arrests take place, what do we do?”
CIA and FBI officials decided that because the sleepers had been observed and tracked by U.S. agents for so long, there was nothing to be gained or learned from them, the official said. Once in custody, the operatives “provided an opportunity for us to get something from the Russians.”
The idea of a swap advanced.
The CIA was assigned to make the initial approach, “testing the waters, and following through,” the official said. About a day after the arrests were made, the CIA contacted the Russian service to say, “We had a proposal to resolve the situation.”
The Russians, despite crying foul in public over the arrests, were ready to privately listen.
That set the stage for three phone calls between CIA Director Leon Panetta and Russia’s spy chief, Mikhail Fradkov. Panetta identified the four prisoners being held in Russia that the U.S. wanted to free, several U.S. officials said.
“I think the U.S. government had its end game lined up when it started this process,” said attorney Peter Krupp, who represented Donald Heathfield, one of the U.S. defendants.
“The Justice Department and perhaps the State Department moved mountains that couldn’t be moved by local officials to orchestrate a meeting between my client in Boston on Saturday of the Fourth of July weekend,” said Krupp.
Daniel Lopez, who represented defendant Mikhail Semenko in the case, says he has handled over 1,000 criminal cases “and I’ve never seen one move this quickly.”
On Monday, four days after becoming Semenko’s court-appointed lawyer in Alexandria, Va., Lopez got a phone call from a federal prosecutor telling him that “it would be in your client’s best interests to agree to come to New York as fast as you can because either he is ‘on the bus’ when it’s leaving or he is not.”
“I said ‘Do we have a plea agreement in this case?’ And he said ‘yes,'” Lopez recalled. But Lopez had no idea yet that his client was to become part of a spy swap.
All 10 defendants were assembled in New York from various jails to enter guilty pleas, complete the swap arrangements and be deported.
Once Russian diplomats talked to defendants or their lawyers to lay out what was going on, it became clear from their side as well that the operatives were merely pawns in a chess game controlled by Washington and Moscow.
Lopez said two Russian diplomats approached him Thursday as his client waited to plead.
“I said, ‘What is going to happen to my client’s belongings?'” and one diplomat replied, “It’s not important.”
“I said, ‘Well, what is important is for my client to know when he is going to leave.’ One of them said, ‘He’s leaving today … as soon as this is over, we’re going to the airport, straight to Europe and from there to Russia.'”
“I was amazed,” said Lopez.
Robert Krakow, attorney for Mikhail Anatonoljevich Vasenkov, said he was surprised to learn Russian officials had met his client without his knowledge. “I was not happy about it,” he said. “But the last thing I want to do is have my needs as a lawyer intrude upon events that are unfolding.”
Prosecutors sent Krakow a plea deal letter close to what was eventually agreed upon. When he first told his client, Vasenkov rejected the idea of going to Russia.
“He said, `No, I’m not going. What am I going to do in Russia?'” the lawyer recalled. Vasenkov, 66, went by the name Juan Lazaro, falsely claimed he was South American and lived in a Yonkers, N.Y., home paid for by Russian intelligence.
“It became clear that the choices were limited,” Krakow went on, and his client agreed to go — promised support for himself and his family in their new life. John Rodriguez, lawyer for Vasenkov’s wife Vicky Pelaez, said the couple had 24 hours to accept the “all-or-nothing” deal to go to Moscow or face years behind bars in the U.S.
Krakow said when he met the Russian representatives, one of them told him his “mission was to get this done.”
“We didn’t like him,” Krakow said. “He was very heavy-handed. It was sort of like the imperative: `This is what we will do.’ His manner was: `This is what’s going to happen.'”
And that is what happened with all 10, leaving only one pawn eluding the chess masters, at least for now. He is Christopher Metsos, on the run after posting bail in Cyprus.