Yes, Russia Still Spies On the U.S.

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When it comes to human intelligence, the Russian Federation has a leg up on the U.S. in terms of the vestiges of the Cold War great game. The arrest today of 10 Russians for spying is a case in point: none of them were diplomats or had official cover. All of them were what the old Soviet Union used to call "illegals" -- regular folks living and doing regular jobs, but serving as cutouts and go-betweens for other case officers and agents.


The CIA still spies on Russia, but/and I'm not exactly revealing secrets here, most of them have some sort of official cover -- usually, the more bland sounding title in the embassy, the better.  

Russian counterintelligence services have known this for decades. And for decades, the CIA has made efforts to field its version of illegals -- NOCs -- spies operating under "non official cover," but fewer than one in ten of its case officers are NOCs, according to current and former officials. This makes the job of a case officer difficult. It's even more difficult to establish a NOC -- a cover story must be provided -- a "legend" -- that is trackable and verifiable. These days, it's easy to Google someone and discover whether they are who they say they are, so if a Mr. Leonard Panerta were to become a teacher in Moscow, the Russian FSB, which does counteintelligence, can check pretty quickly. 

What type of information is valuable to Russia these days? It's no longer nuclear weapons information, really, or war plans: it's proprietary information, trade secrets, technical specifications of satellite and ballistic missile technology...also political intelligence and economic intelligence. The FBI still has squads of counterintelligence (CI) agents that follow Russian embassy officials in Washington, but it does much less CI work than it did before the age of terrorism. The US has much better signals intelligence capabilities than the Russians, but Russia also quietly outsources some of its spying to other countries, including countries that are ostensibly friendly to the U.S. 

In total, 11 defendants, including the 10 arrested, are charged in two separate criminal complaints with conspiring to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation within the United States. Federal law prohibits individuals from acting as agents of foreign governments within the United States without prior notification to the U.S. Attorney General. Nine of the defendants are also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The defendants known as "Richard Murphy" and "Cynthia Murphy" were arrested yesterday by FBI agents at their residence in Montclair, N.J., and are expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan today. Vicky Pelaez and the defendant known as "Juan Lazaro" were arrested yesterday at their residence in Yonkers, N.Y., and are expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan today. Anna Chapman was arrested in Manhattan yesterday and is expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan today.

The defendants known as "Michael Zottoli" and "Patricia Mills" were arrested yesterday at their residence in Arlington, Va., and are appearing in federal court in Alexandria, Va., today. Defendant Mikhail Semenko was arrested yesterday at his residence in Arlington and is appearing in federal court in Alexandria today. In addition, the defendants known as "Donald Howard Heathfield" and "Tracey Lee Ann Foley" were arrested at their residence in Boston yesterday and are appearing in federal court in Boston today. The defendant known as "Christopher R. Metsos" remains at large.

The charges are filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The charge of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. Attorney General carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. All the defendants are charged with this violation. The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. All the defendants except Chapman and Semenko are charged with this violation.

This case is the result of a multi-year investigation conducted by the FBI; the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York; and the Counterespionage Section and the Office of Intelligence within the Justice Department's National Security Division.

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Farbiarz, Glen Kopp and Jason Smith of the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, and Trial Attorneys Kathleen Kedian and Richard Scott of the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department's National Security Division.

The charges and allegations contained in the criminal complaints are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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