Remember Anna Chapman and those 10 other Russian sleeper agents arrested last year?
Following a public records request by the Associated Press, the FBI on Monday released video, surveillance photos and documents related to the over-decade long “Operation Ghost Stories,” which led to the arrest of the spies in June 2010.
The operation followed the 11 Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) operatives, called “illegals” because the deep-cover assignment had them pose as civilians instead of operating through Russian embassies or the military. Some of the spies settled down in the suburbs and raised families. Chapman, who became the face of the ring after the arrests, had a real-estate company and perhaps played her role of New York City socialite a little too well.
According to the FBI documents, the goal of the operation was for the agents “to become sufficiently ‘Americanized’ such that they can gather information about the United States for Russia, and can successfully recruit sources who are in, or are able to infiltrate, United States policy-making circles.”
From the AP:
The linchpin in the case was Col. Alexander Poteyev, a highly placed U.S. mole in Russian foreign intelligence, who betrayed the spy ring even as he ran it. He abruptly fled Moscow just days before the FBI rolled up the deep cover operation on June 27, 2010. Poteyev’s role in exposing the illegals program only emerged last June when a Russian military court convicted him in absentia for high treason and desertion.
Though many of the documents released were redacted, there are some snippets from recorded conversations between the agents that shed some light on the caliber of the Russian spies.
Chapman was, at one point, surveilled at a Verizon store, where she purchased a Motorola phone and tossed the purchase agreement. The FBI collected it, and learned that she had signed up as Irine Kutsov of “99 Fake Street,” apparently in Brooklyn.
In another instance, Chapman met with an undercover agent she had never met, and handed over her malfunctioning laptop. The agent asked Chapman if she’d prefer that he give it to the consulate, or if she wanted to take it with her on an upcoming trip to Moscow. “It would be more convenient if I gave you it,” Chapman said.
In one particularly choice exchange, the agent instructs Chapman to deliver a fake passport to another undercover agent:
Agent: I can show you, but this is what I mean by next step because this is not laptop to laptop, this is person to person. She is just like you OK.” Chapman: Is she in New York? Agent: Are you ready for this step? Chapman: Shit, of course.
From the latest release, here’s surveillance video of Chapman meeting with an undercover agent at a coffee shop in New York City on June 26, 2010:
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Mikhail Semenko, an agent living in Washington, D.C., also met with an undercover agent. When describing a successful attempt at sending a communication, Semenko said that when the communication went through he was ‘like…totally happy.’”
The documents also describe a conversation between Juan Lazaro and Vicky Pelaez, known as “The Yonkers Conspirators,” who, in one conversation, expressed frustration with the “Moscow Center’s disappointment with the quality of Lazaro’s then-recent reporting”:
Lazaro: “They tell me that my information is of no value because I didn’t provide any source…it’s of no use to them. Pelaez: Really? Lazaro: Yes. They say that…without a source…without stating who tells you all of this…It isn’t…your report isn’t….” Pelaez: (interupts) “Put down any politician from here!”
“If they don’t like what I tell them too bad,” Lazaro added later in the conversation.
Here’s “Tracey Lee Ann Foley” attending the graduation ceremony for “Donald Howard Heathfield.” Heathfield and Foley lived in the U.S. since 1999, and were known in the documents as the “Boston Conspirators.” Heathfield is believed to have taken his identity from a dead Canadian citizen, which investigators put together through a Canadian death announcement:
In this picture, Michael Zottoli (back) and Richard Murphy (front, with backpack), meet in Columbus Circle, New York in June 2004.
In 2006, Zottoli was filmed recovering a package from a dead drop. According to the FBI documents, the buried package contained money, and was buried beneath a patch of weeds and marked with a brown beer bottle:
“The New Jersey Conspirators,” “Richard Murphy” and “Cynthia Murphy,” were trying to convince their superiors in Moscow to let them own their home in Montclair, New Jersey. According to the FBI documents, the Murphys said in one communication: “From our perspective, purchase of the house was solely a natural progression of our prolonged stay here. It was a convenient way to solve the housing issue, plus to ‘do as the Romans do’ in a society that values home ownership.”
Here’s a video of Christopher Metsos completing a brush pass in May, 2004 with a Russian official:
The spies were eventually charged with failing to register as foreign agents. Ten of them were sent back to Russia in exchange for four Russians imprisoned for spying for the U.S.
The eleventh, Christopher Metsos, disappeared in Cyprus after he was released from prison on bail.