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10 Alleged deep-cover Russian spies arrested

The FBI announced yesterday that it broke up a Russian spy network of 10 spies allegedly trying to "Americanize" themselves for long-term operations to gain information about U.S. policymaking.

If you were moaning the end of the Cold War, then this story is for you. If not, then the charges the Justice Department brought are still very intriguing and offer more questions than answers.

The spies were to marry each other, have mortgages, cars, loans, education, credit-cards, and generally integrate themselves into American society. They would have enough of a paper trail to then infiltrate U.S. policymaking circles. But the documents from the Justice Department show that they faced a dilemma -- to apply for a job with the State Department, even their deep cover might be blown in a background check. In other words, even as they Americanized, they had difficulty getting the most sensitive information:

Throughout their time in the United States, the New Jersey Conspirators have proceeded with great caution when it comes to seeking employment with the United States Government for fear that their "legends" are not strong enough to survive a background check.

Nevertheless, they did have some access. One defendant, Cynthia Murphy, had "several work-related meetings" with a "New York-based financer" who was "prominent in politics" and a "current friend" of a current Obama Cabinet official. (It turns out that may have been Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.)  She also relayed info on "prospects for the global gold market" that was considered "very useful." She was also instructed from the "Moscow Center" to get information about Obama's visit to Russia, Afghanistan, and the Iranian nuclear program that "should reflect approaches and ideas of '[Russia] policy team members.'"

The criminal complaint has a lot of things familiar to spy novels: brush passes, fake passports, bags of cash, and so forth.

Given how many "orange bags" of cash were dropped in developing these spies, it seems that a lot of the information could have been gained by just good research. Take, for example, the approaches of the Obama team to Russia. Two people in particular, senior director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs Michael McFaul and Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoller, have published widely and spoken on their approaches towards Russia. (Ms. Gottemoller actually knows a great deal about Russian negotiating approaches to the U.S. Touche!) Couldn't intelligence take a more conventional route and used people with very strong English skills and analytical abilities to pour over written works of these people? Or take "prospects for gold." If the financial crisis proves anything, it's that even the biggest Wall Street insiders can lose billions of dollars even with inside, expert knowledge. Maybe Russia's intelligence service could have read some business journals? Or done research? (Maybe they already do.)

Moreover, information that would be potentially valuable is only of access of people in the government, which they couldn't penetrate.

The other interesting thing about this story is that some of them have social media profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn. (If those profiles are indeed them.) Anna Chapman on Facebook turns out has a lot of Russian friends and is a prime candidate (mildly NSFW) to be a honeytrap. But not a philosopher. ""In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer," she wrote as her Facebook status update. On LinkedIn, there is a Michael Zottoli in Seattle who works at Priemere Global Services, a firm that creates teleconferencing equipment, and has a BA in finance from the University of Washington. John Cook at Yahoo! uncovered that one spy went to the Kennedy School and founded a company called FutureMap, which claims to "sell strategic planning software to governments and corporations."

As Anna Chapman wrote as her Facebook status update on January, "When you speak the truth, you don't have to remember it." Looks iike she did anything but.

******

I think it's too early to judge any foreign policy implications. That countries spy on each other is a story as old as time. Maybe for later.

Speaking of social media, I'm on Twitter as well. My e-mail's foreignpolicyexaminer@gmail.com

 The photo is Anna Chapman on Facebook.

Comments

  • Old Spook 4 years ago

    How come I never got approached by a hottie like her???

    Best I ever got was a sloppy drunk fat KGB guy.

  • Armenak Nouridjanian 4 years ago

    I would like to find out details of federal indictment against suspected Russian spies who were reported by CNN to have been arrested on Cypress. I believe that stealing secrets and intellectual property, vetting officials to commit high treason is an act of espionage that should be prosecuted in any country as a penal offence. But I doubt that this news of Russian spies is just a paper duck. I know that famous high treasoners CIA top shot Richard Aimes was a double crosser who sold out United States for a Russian palace and diamonds,money for which he serves life time sentence. Some young immigrants from Russia simply were framed by anti-immigrant neofascists, in my opinion. I will listen to FBI indictment materials to find out the truth.

  • Boris Badinov 4 years ago

    The most recent arrest in this spy ring took place in Cyprus, not Cypress. Cyprus is a Mediterranean island. Cypress is a city in Orange Country, California. Tiger Wood comes from Cypress. The Turks and the Greeks fought a war over Cyprus.

  • Theo 4 years ago

    Did we all get into a Hot Tub Time Machine and travel back to 1985?

  • john 4 years ago

    it another Hollywood inspired planted propaganda story designed to keep the keep the public hysteria theme alive to be used by the Us oligarchy for their own purposes.

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