US authorities have arrested 10 suspected long-term "deep cover" agents suspected of spying for the Russian intelligence services, Justice Department officials said on Monday. An eleventh suspect remains at large.
AFP - Coded radio messages. Buried money. False identities. Hidden video cameras in hotel rooms. The complaints unveiled Monday against 11 Russian agents read like the pages of a Cold War spy thriller.
The Justice Department documents outline the activities and spycraft of a ring of alleged "deep-cover" long-term agents who had adopted American or Canadian identities to spy against the United States on behalf of Russia.
They were arrested after what the FBI counterintelligence division said was a multi-year investigation into a network of covert agents of the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence agency, directed by SVR headquarters in "Moscow Center."
The FBI probe involved the use of hidden listening devices in the suspects' homes, covert video cameras in restaurants and hotel rooms and the monitoring of their email and telephone conversations.
Some of the surveillance detailed in the complaints dates as far back as 2000 indicating that the US authorities were aware of the activities of at least some members of the espionage ring for many years.
According to the complaints, the suspects were observed receiving bags and packages of money from Russian officials in the United States on numerous occasions, including from officials attached to the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York.
One suspect was videotaped receiving money from Russian officials in an unidentified South American country, according to the complaints, while another got a shopping bag of cash on a park bench.
In June 2006, two of the suspects travelled to Wurtsboro, New York, where they "dug up a package containing money that had been buried in the ground" by another suspect two years earlier.
The suspected agents allegedly communicated with "Moscow Center" through various methods including using drop sites, steganography -- special software to encrypt data -- and radiograms, coded radio bursts that can be picked up by a radio receiver set to the proper frequency.
Steganography involves using special software to hide encrypted data in pictures that are placed on public websites, according to the complaints.
"These images appear wholly unremarkable to the naked eye," they said, but data can be extracted and decrypted using a special software program.
The FBI said password-protected computer disks were seized at the suspects' homes in Boston, Seattle, and Hoboken, New Jersey, which contained a steganography program employed by the SVR.
The search of the Seattle apartment turned up a radio for receiving short-wave radio transmissions and spiral notebooks, "some pages of which contain apparently random columns of numbers."
"The spiral notebook contains codes used to decipher radiograms as they came in," the complaints said.
The suspects also communicated with their handlers in by setting up a private wireless network between paired laptop computers.
On one occasion, a suspect was observed sitting in a coffee shop with her laptop open while a minivan driven by a Russian official drove by allowing them to exchange data.
Safety deposit boxes turned up birth certificates used to create false identifies, including one of a Canadian man who actually died in 2005.
The FBI said a 2009 message to two of the suspects, Richard and Cynthia Murphy, clearly outlined their mission.
"You were sent to USA for long-term service trip," it said.
"Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc -- all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels (intelligence reports) to C (Moscow Center)."
The suspects were urged to cultivate sources who were referred to in communications with Moscow Center by such code names as "Farmer," "Cat" and "Parrot."
"Your relationship with 'Parrot' looks very promising as a valid source of info from US power circles," said one message from Moscow Center.
Date created : 2010-06-29