Tom Balmforth examines what the recent arrest of ten Russian agents charged with “deep cover” intelligence gathering in the United States could mean for U.S.-Russian relations.
Ten alleged Russian spies were arrested and charged on Sunday with “long-term, deep cover” operations on United States territory. An eleventh person who had been on the run using a Canadian passport was detained this afternoon in Cyprus. He is thought to be the final member of the spy ring.
All eleven are charged with “conspiring to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation within the United States,” punishable by up to five years in prison, and nine of them have been charged with “conspiracy to commit money laundering,” which carries a 20-year sentence.
The spies from the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service, were gathering intelligence on nuclear weapons, arms control positions, Iran, political changes in parties, and leadership changes within the CIA, according to documents drawn up over the course of a “multiyear” FBI investigation.
The SVR agents were working under false identities, often as couples, and had been living in the United States since the 1990s. To minimize contact between members of the spy ring, handlers communicated with operatives via closed wireless networks. The U.S. Department of Justice Web site details how one Russian agent, known as Anna Chapman, was seen “on multiple occasions” “in the vicinity” of “Russian government official number one” - presumably the handler. Chapman was eventually caught on June 26 in an FBI sting operation, where an American agent known as “UC-1,” posing as a Russian consulate employee, arranged a meeting with Chapman to help her with technical difficulties that Chapman was experiencing with her laptop.