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Someone forgot to tell 'em the Cold War ended....
June 28, 2010 4:01 PM   Subscribe

The US Department of Justice has announced arrests in four states of ten alleged members of a “deep-cover” Russian spy ring whose ultimate goal was apparently to infiltrate U.S. policy-making circles. So much for burger diplomacy?

According to ABC and others, the Russians allegedly used Cold War tactics to send information to Moscow, including steganography and radiograms.

Russian Spies Met At Fort Greene Coffee Shop, Grumbled About Work Stuff.
posted by zarq (70 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
BBC:
They allegedly got close to a scientist involved in designing bunker-busting bombs and a top former intelligence official.

Five of the suspects will appear later in a Manhattan federal court - a couple known as "Richard Murphy" and "Cynthia Murphy", who were arrested in Montclair, New Jersey; Vicky Pelaez and a man known as "Juan Lazaro," who were arrested in Yonkers, New York state; and Anna Chapman, who was arrested in Manhattan, New York City. Another three - Mikhail Semenko and a couple known as "Michael Zottoli" and "Patricia Mills" - will appear in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, after being arrested in Arlington, Virginia. The final two people - a couple known as "Donald Howard Heathfield" and "Tracey Lee Ann Foley" - were arrested in Boston, Massachusetts, and will appear in a federal court in the city.

A suspect known as "Christopher R Metsos" remains at large.

All of the arrested suspects, except Ms Chapman and Mr Semenko, have also been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
posted by zarq at 4:02 PM on June 28, 2010


Also... previously on MeFi. :)
posted by zarq at 4:03 PM on June 28, 2010


Last link. It wasn't working for me earlier, but now it seems to be okay. The DOJ's press release.
posted by zarq at 4:04 PM on June 28, 2010


a “deep-cover” Russian spy ring whose ultimate goal was apparently to infiltrate U.S. policy-making circles.

Really? They couldn't just get a gentleman's degree from Harvard and intern with a senator, then spend 20 years kicking around D.C.? Or form a PAC or a lobbying firm? Or, if all else fails, just pay some lobbyists to push your agenda, and donate to some election funds. All of these approaches seem to have done pretty well recently, and look like a lot less hassle than this John Le Carre shit.
posted by Jakey at 4:10 PM on June 28, 2010 [31 favorites]


It's funny to think there's some poor schmuck living in Moscow, drinking cheap vodka and stressing over his "deep cover" in the Russian defense administration. Every now and again, he sends a forlorn message to the CIA.

"June 2010 update. Russian Army late with payroll checks again. Can I come home now? Please refer to my 275 previous requests for extraction. Anyone there? Hello?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:17 PM on June 28, 2010 [35 favorites]


Dang, this is some old-school, prothonotary-warbler stuff. The decoded message even sounds like Fearless Leader. You were sent to USA for long-term service trip . . .

I kid because it's too frightening to be scared all at once about. Putin scares me more than the CCCP ever did.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:18 PM on June 28, 2010


They still haven't caught Comrade Obama.
posted by doublehappy at 4:23 PM on June 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


God damnit it's gonna be the 80s FOREVER.
posted by The Whelk at 4:24 PM on June 28, 2010 [20 favorites]


All of these approaches seem to have done pretty well recently, and look like a lot less hassle than this John Le Carre shit.

Too many (or not enough?) MeFi posts sync up nicely with what I'm reading at the moment. This was nice (I guess?) to see while reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, especially since I wonder as well why anyone would put up with "John Le Carre shit" in real life. How much of "intelligence" is just strange, complicated gamesmanship?

I'm not thrilled to have Russian spies in our midst, but steganography is pretty awesome.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:24 PM on June 28, 2010


...one of the radiograms expressed concern about the difficulty they've had catching Moose and Squirrel.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:33 PM on June 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


We still have the death penalty for spying during a time of war?
posted by cjorgensen at 4:33 PM on June 28, 2010


First thing that came to my mind.
posted by gimonca at 4:37 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


They couldn't just get a gentleman's degree from Harvard and intern with a senator, then spend 20 years kicking around D.C.?

"She is just like you OK." CHAPMAN then asked, "Is she in New York?" UC-1 then replied, "Shit, of course, she goes to Dalton," CHAPMAN replied, "Oh right." g. UC-1 asked, "So, tell me the notebooks? Are you still having a problem with the notebook? With the connection?" CHAPMAN replied, "Yes. I thought you were flying back so it is alright." UC-1 stated, "Do you want me . . . well [sic] can give it to consulate if you want them to look at it or you can wait and take it home but I'm not the one making the appointment at the Genius Bar."

UC-l then described how she (CHAPMAN) would recognize the person ("1-1") to whom she (CHAPMAN) was to give the Fraudulent Passport. 1-1, UC-l explained, "will come to you so, so the way that she will know you is, you just hold this in your hand like this, just give the Skull & Bones hand shake." At the time that UC-l said this to CHAPMAN, he (UC-l) provided her (CHAPMAN) with a Vogue magazine to hold, so that 1-1 would recognize her (CHAPMAN) at the meeting where the Fraudulent Passport was to be handed over. UC-l then stated that I-I ...
posted by geoff. at 4:37 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what to think of the fact that deteriorating US-Russian relations may be signaled by Obama un-following Medvedev on twitter...
posted by joecacti at 4:38 PM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


How much of "intelligence" is just strange, complicated gamesmanship?

Pretty much all of it. Malcolm Gladwell presses a lot of people's buttons, but as he points out in his story about Operation Mincemeat, there's a lot of "we know that they know that we know that they know that we know, but do they know that?" in intelligence work. But all of that gamesmanship grew up around the fact that intelligence work does serve a purpose, at its base.
posted by Etrigan at 4:38 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"We still have the death penalty for spying during a time of war?"

There hasn't been an officially declared war in the US since WWII.

If we're counting unofficial wars, oh hell yes they'll have to be hanged repeatedly. War on Poverty, War on Drugs, War on Terr, and there's currently a very hot war on ants happening at my apartment.
posted by mullingitover at 4:41 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Steganography! I'm glad I finally know the name for this.

I used to live in Eastern Europe teaching English (along with everyone else, I suppose). We took in this flatmate for a month. He was Russian from Central Asia who had moved to the city as part of a month-long program for a large IT company. The idea was to bring in potential hires from all around the world (Brazil, Taiwan, Mexico, etc.) and have them all do a sort of mini-course, at the end of which some of them would be hired permanently.

Except he didn't stay on until the end; he quit the day before the final exam. His purpose, he admitted, was not to actually pass the training but just to steal the company's documentation. Something he spent most of his time doing, embedding the files in his own personal photos (he had hundreds of tulip photos from Amsterdam) that he would then upload while on the job.

Shortly thereafter, with all the documents he needed, he flew back to his home country and now seems to be wildly successful as an IT entrepeneur.

The balls on this guy.
posted by mammary16 at 4:46 PM on June 28, 2010 [19 favorites]


This bizarre incident has given them their Yuri.
posted by gwint at 4:47 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


A spy agency is a spy agency. They exist, they run spies. Even in places like Canada. The UK reports that Russian spying on the UK remains at Cold War levels. I guess the surprising thing is this lot got caught in a public way.
posted by grounded at 4:53 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


We still have the death penalty for spying during a time of war?
"Each was charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison on conviction.

Nine were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum 20 years in prison on conviction."*
posted by ericb at 5:13 PM on June 28, 2010


This got me to musing a little, and I had a couple of thoughts.

First, it's incredibly easy to move data around in the modern world, and very, very hard to detect.

Second, given that first observation, the only thing really protecting secrecy is the goodwill of the people holding the secrets. And I can't help but wonder, as we choose expedience more and more over idealism, as we leave behind the values we once held, if it won't get harder and harder to depend on that.

We were able to maintain an excellent level of secrecy in prior generations because the people really believed in what America was about, but for that to work, you have to actually be about something.
posted by Malor at 5:17 PM on June 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


It reminds me a lot of the first paragraph of the Bell Jar. Poor Sylvia.
posted by nervousfritz at 5:23 PM on June 28, 2010


So they've caught ten. That means that there are a hundred or so out there who've forgotten to phone home because they're too busy living the dream and could give a rat's ass about the motherland.

I think that works to our benefit in the long run and the local CI crews don't really care, because if they did, you wouldn't be able to book a seat out of JFK on Air India, El Al, Air China, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
posted by jsavimbi at 5:28 PM on June 28, 2010


I know that's the word Business Week used, but those likely weren't "radiograms" they were using...
posted by mykescipark at 5:29 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's amazing that they're placing people in long-term positions, given the changes that have taken place in their region in the past couple of decades. I suppose they figure that countries and governments come and go, but spy agencies are forever.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:45 PM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


What, no number stations?
posted by PHINC at 5:47 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Really? They couldn't just ....

Why do you assume they haven't?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:49 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the various US states spy on each other, and if so to what extent. Neighboring states do occasionally have competing economic interests, but maybe they don't actually need physically present spies to gather all the relevant information.
posted by Zach! at 5:49 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


They want to infiltrate policy-making? They'd be doing us a favor.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:53 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"We still have the death penalty for spying during a time of war?"

Unless this has been updated or overturned, that would be a possible yes. See also here. But I'm no lawyer, so don't come crying to me if you get caught.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:59 PM on June 28, 2010


>I wonder if the various US states spy on each other, and if so to what extent.

In California we spy on NY all the time. My county is trying to build a cottage "tough-guy & ebay-scammer" industry to help us compete in these hard times.

And when I lived in Washington state, we spied on California all the time. We wanted to know when the next invasion was going to occur so we could time our real estate investments accordingly.
posted by circular at 6:01 PM on June 28, 2010


The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:34 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


There wouldn't be much to gain from U.S. states spying on their neighbors, since there's so little states can do to each other, and certainly not in a way that can hurt one another.

What we do have, however, is corporations spying on eachother. I could imagine a situation where a local company has tight connections with the local state government spying on a rival company in another state. Like Boeing vs. Northrop Grumman, or something.

Hmm... I bet the Russians have tons of spies in eastern European countries. A lot of this is probably just cold-war momentum.
posted by delmoi at 6:41 PM on June 28, 2010


"alleged spies used invisible ink"

The g-men were tipped off by the shitload of candles and lemon juice the spies ordered.
posted by digsrus at 6:52 PM on June 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Did somebody mention Harvard? The male half of the couple arrested in Cambridge claims a master's from Harvard's Kennedy School (he was a classmate there of a Massachusetts state rep.

Alas, his patent on predicting the future didn't seem to work for him.

But seems like his company is hiring.
posted by adamg at 7:18 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


God damnit it's gonna be the 80s FOREVER.

You should be so lucky. Ah, the days when pegging was something you did openly to look cool.
posted by codswallop at 7:19 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If they did this as part of a new reality show, they'd each have houses in Malibu built out of 747s.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:23 PM on June 28, 2010


Jessie Gugig, 15, said she could not believe the charges, especially against Mrs. Murphy, who was an accomplished gardener.

“They couldn’t have been spies,” she said. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”


You couldn't get away with scripting something that beautiful. (And it pairs so perfectly with the accompanying article photo of the crowd around their suburban home, post bust.)
posted by availablelight at 7:38 PM on June 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I wonder if the various US states spy on each other, and if so to what extent.

I would do bad things to watch a movie or tv series based on the exploits of the Spy Bureau of Sarah Palin's Alaska.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:10 PM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


You couldn't get away with scripting something that beautiful. (And it pairs so perfectly with the accompanying article photo of the crowd around their suburban home, post bust.)

Hugh Whitemore's play Pack of Lies (Pt1) (Pt2) is pretty goddamn lyrical on the heartbreak and disbelief of having neighbors as spies. (Based on this)
posted by mykescipark at 8:17 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


codswallop: "You should be so lucky. Ah, the days when pegging was something you did openly to look cool."


...either there's a non-Dan-Savage-related definition of the word that I am not aware of or the 80s were far, far wilder than I thought.
posted by griphus at 8:34 PM on June 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


I wonder why we've acted to take it down now. Apparently we've been tracking these folks for years. According to reports this is just the first wave of the arrests and move against a larger organization. I'm guessing that we will discover that these guys are the ones behind the Tea Part, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Maybe the whole see Russian from her house was code for something darker. Someone show me her birth certificate
posted by humanfont at 8:41 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow! The spying just goes on and on...
posted by Kevin Street at 9:07 PM on June 28, 2010


...either there's a non-Dan-Savage-related definition of the word that I am not aware of or the 80s were far, far wilder than I thought.

It was something we did to our stonewashed jeans, which were the style at the time.

Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. "Give me five bees for a quarter," you'd say...
posted by codswallop at 9:14 PM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


according to the DOJ press release, a spy is culpable for up to five years in prison. A money-launderer; which some are being tried for, is culpable for 20 years.

priorities.
posted by captainsohler at 10:23 PM on June 28, 2010


It was something we did to our stonewashed jeans, which were the style at the time

*AHEM* Don't forget the pegged Acid Washed jeans-- at least Stone Washed jeans can still be found in most retailers.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:26 PM on June 28, 2010


a spy is culpable for up to five years in prison. A money-launderer; which some are being tried for, is culpable for 20 years.

Priorities, or leverage against the suspects to glean information from them.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:53 PM on June 28, 2010


According to reports this is just the first wave of the arrests and move against a larger organization.

It makes more sense to think they're trying to prod someone(s) into coming out into the open, whether they turn themselves in, flee or attempt to contact consular officials who're being surveilled.
posted by trondant at 12:04 AM on June 29, 2010


Without wishing to sound contrarian there is nothing particularly surprising in any of this. For those of you wondering if the death penalty still exists for spying during a time of war - do you really not think the US government is doing something similar in Russia? Generally in these situations the other side will then expel citizens it it's country it considers to be undertaking similar activities.

The more interesting question really is timing - as once you expose a spy ring you lose any future intelligence that may be derived from it. Someone somewhere will have made the call that the time was right to break it up. Even if the SVR, or more likely the GRU, are aware of US deep cover agents in place it may well be more beneficial for them to watch them and try and manipulate the situation to their advantage by subtley feeding back false intel.

In this day and age it does seem very 'back to basics' but long term deep cover operations are undoubtedly fruitful.
posted by numberstation at 1:37 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


They didn't get the Intersect, did they?
posted by Servo5678 at 5:32 AM on June 29, 2010


I'm just impressed that the spies were meeting next door to my former local bar in Brooklyn, The Alibi.
posted by josher71 at 5:45 AM on June 29, 2010


You couldn't get away with scripting something that beautiful.

The article said she said it jokingly:

Jessie Gugig, 15, said she could not believe the charges, especially against Mrs. Murphy. “They couldn’t have been spies,” she said jokingly. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”
posted by anniecat at 6:41 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]



In this day and age it does seem very 'back to basics' but long term deep cover operations are undoubtedly fruitful.


Hmmm...you seem to know a little too much about this. Reveal yourself!
posted by anniecat at 7:28 AM on June 29, 2010


I wonder why we've acted to take it down now.

AP:
"In Moscow, Russia called the arrests an unjustified throwback to the Cold War, and senior lawmakers said some in the U.S. government may be trying to undercut President Barack Obama's warming relations with Moscow.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it was regrettable that the arrests came amid Obama's push for a 'reset' in Russian-U.S. ties."
posted by ericb at 8:07 AM on June 29, 2010


I wonder if the various US states spy on each other, and if so to what extent.

Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?
posted by quin at 8:58 AM on June 29, 2010


"The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it was regrettable that the arrests came amid Obama's push for a 'reset' in Russian-U.S. ties.""

Surely the President was fully in the loop on something like this. Maybe it's more of a lay all your cards on the table kind of thing where the Americans say "We caught your spies. Now let's start fresh and begin our relations anew without all the subterfuge."
posted by Kevin Street at 9:31 AM on June 29, 2010


humanfont: "I wonder why we've acted to take it down now. Apparently we've been tracking these folks for years. According to reports this is just the first wave of the arrests and move against a larger organization. I'm guessing that we will discover that these guys are the ones behind the Tea Part, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Maybe the whole see Russian from her house was code for something darker. Someone show me her birth certificate"

hm. Anyone seen fake?

hamburger! don't hurt me!
posted by lysdexic at 12:38 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anna Chapman, one of the alleged Russian spies.
posted by zarq at 4:05 PM on June 29, 2010


Also, the 11th spy has been arrested in Cyprus.
posted by zarq at 4:06 PM on June 29, 2010


Spy case just an awkward blip in U.S.-Russia relations -- "The scandal over the alleged espionage ring is unlikely to do lasting diplomatic damage."
posted by ericb at 4:23 PM on June 29, 2010


NYT: Alleged spy ring — thriller or sitcom?
posted by ericb at 4:24 PM on June 29, 2010


I would do bad things to watch a movie or tv series based on the exploits of the Spy Bureau of Sarah Palin's Alaska.

Now we use the "moose and squirrel" joke, now!

Anna Chapman, one of the alleged Russian spies.

You've got to be kidding me. Let me guess: she was nabbed by a handsome agent in a tuxedo, who apprehended her after driving an Aston Martin off a bridge and over a helicopter. The suspect has yet to be debriefed, as the arresting agent has been, er, interrogating her in his hotel room for three days straight.

In short: I didn't think spies really looked like that.
posted by Amanojaku at 5:33 PM on June 29, 2010


In short: I didn't think spies really looked like that.

Oh, it happens.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:18 PM on June 29, 2010


Oh, it happens.

Yep. A Honeypot is a very real and very effective way of gaining leverage on someone who has access to intel you want. CNN had on earlier today a guy who interviewed Chapman prior to all of this spy stuff coming to light. He said she basically oozed sexuality and lit up the room.

Obviously you don't want all of your people to be quite so obvious, but I'm sure honeypots have been around as long as spying.
posted by Justinian at 2:53 AM on July 1, 2010


Russian spy ring needed some serious IT help
posted by homunculus at 11:44 AM on July 1, 2010


The Dismantling of a Suspected Russian Intelligence Operation from the often-linked Stratfor.

Includes details about the cast of characters, their mission, tradecraft they employed, the FBI's counterintelligence, and analysis of why the FBI decided to move now.
posted by netbros at 1:44 PM on July 1, 2010


Prosecutors: Suspect in Russian spy ring confessed.
posted by ericb at 2:26 PM on July 1, 2010


It sounds like Anya Kuschenko (Anna Chapman) was treating this as some kind of game and freaked out when it turned serious. Her father is a diplomat, she hobnobbed at upper crust parties in London all the time, etc. But then when she was told by the FBI infiltrator that it was time to step up her spying and given a fake passport to deliver to another contact, she bailed and didn't show up for the next meeting. Instead she went to the cops and turned over the passport.

I guess being a spy sounds a lot more fun when it's all about putting on cocktail dresses and partying and a lot less fun when you have to start breaking laws.

But more seriously, these kind of agent provacateur operations trouble me. Too often you end up with a bunch of nobodies sitting around shooting their mouths off being prodded and encouraged by the authorities, given plans, given material, and then arrested for planning something and having material. Except if the feds hadn't done their thing the "criminals" likely would never have done anything but sit around talking shit.

I'm not saying that is what happened here; we don't have the information to judge one way or another. It does, however, happen. And all we know is that Chapman, when asked for the first time to actually do something (by a fed, it turns out) bailed immediately, skipped out on the handler, and went to the cops with the evidence.

She doesn't exactly sound like an imminent threat to U.S. security interests.
posted by Justinian at 7:19 PM on July 1, 2010


Future uncertain for children of accused Russian agents
posted by homunculus at 11:51 AM on July 3, 2010


My friend is involved with a certain academic program in which one of the suspects participated. My friend found this all very funny because the suspect was the only person in the division who never complained about the onerous workload. From now on, the friend is going to use this as leverage in future programs: "I know this is a lot of work, but it's doable! Don't be intimidated! So-and-so who was living a double life never complained once!"
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:52 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


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