WASHINGTON – The FBI has arrested 10 people who allegedly spied for Russia for up to a decade — posing as innocent civilians while trying to infiltrate U.S. policymaking circles and learn about U.S. weapons, diplomatic strategy and political developments.
An 11th defendant — a man accused of delivering money to the agents — remains at large.
There was no clue in the court papers unsealed Monday about how successful the agents had been, but they were alleged to have been long-term, deep cover spies. Among them were four couples living in suburbs of New York, Washington and Boston. One woman was a reporter and editor for a prominent Spanish-language newspaper in New York whom the FBI says it videotaped contacting a Russian official in 2000 in Latin America.
These deep-cover agents are the hardest spies for the FBI to catch and are dubbed “illegals” in the intelligence world because they take civilian jobs with no visible connection to a foreign government, rather than operating from government jobs inside Russian embassies and military missions. In this case, they were spread out and seeking a wide swath of information.
The FBI said it intercepted a message from Moscow Center, headquarters of Russia’s intelligence service, the SVR, to two of the defendants describing their main mission as “to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US.” Intercepted messages showed they were asked to learn about a wide range of topics, including nuclear weapons, U.S. arms control positions, Iran, White House rumors, CIA leadership turnover, the last presidential election, Congress and the political parties.
The blockbuster series of arrests of purported deep cover agents following a multiyear FBI investigation could rival the bureau’s famous capture of Soviet Col. Rudolf Abel in 1957 in New York.
Also a deep cover agent, Abel was ultimately swapped to the Soviet Union for downed U-2 spy pilot Francis Gary Powers in 1962.
On Saturday, an undercover FBI agent in New York and another in Washington, both posing as Russian agents, met with two of the defendants, Anna Chapman at a New York restaurant and Mikhail Semenko on a Washington street corner blocks from the White House. The FBI undercover agents gave each an espionage-related delivery to make. Court papers indicated Semenko made the delivery as instructed, but apparently Chapman did not.
The court papers cited numerous communications intercepted by the FBI that spelled out what information was sought.
The timing of the arrests was notable given the efforts by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev to “reset” U.S.-Russia relations. The two leaders met last week at the White House after Medvedev visited high-tech firms in California’s Silicon Valley, and both attended the G-8, G-20 meetings over the weekend in Canada.
source :By PETE YOST and TOM HAYS, Associated Press