- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2010

Federal authorities arrested 10 people suspected of carrying out long-term “deep-cover” assignments in the U.S. for Russia that involved integrating into American society as married couples, infiltrating “policy-making circles” in Washington, and recruiting government and business sources.

The arrests occurred after federal agents intercepted messages from intelligence officials in Moscow calling on the defendants to “search and develop” intelligence ties in the United States.

The suspects were taken into custody in New York, New Jersey and Virginia on Sunday as part of a multiyear investigation by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York and the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

(Update: A police spokesman in Cyprus said Tuesday that an 11th defendant — 54-year-old Christopher Robert Metsos, a Canadian citizen wanted by U.S. authorities on suspicion of espionage and money laundering — was arrested in the morning at Larnaca airport while trying to fly to Budapest, Hungary, according to the Associated Press.)

A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in New York said the deep-cover operation began in the 1990s, and terrorism scholars say the case shows that Cold War-style espionage schemes are not a thing of the past.

The complaint, written by FBI agent Amit Kachhia-Patel, said covert agents working for the SVR, successor to the Soviet-era KGB as the Kremlin’s intelligence organ, assumed false identities and lived in the United States on long-term, deep-cover assignments. It said they hid all connections between themselves and Russia, even while acting at the direction and under the control of the SVR.

Known as “illegals,” the complaint said the undercover Russian agents were told in a message: “You were sent to USA for long-term service trip. 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 U.S. and send intels [intelligence reports] to [Center].”

Court documents show that at least one message sent back to Moscow from the defendants focused on turnover at the highest levels of the CIA and the 2008 U.S. presidential elections. Numerous messages intercepted by U.S. investigators were listed in the court documents, including what was described as a private conversation involving an unnamed former legislative counsel for Congress.

Bill Harlow, former spokesman for former CIA Director George J. Tenet, said, “The Cold War espionage we were familiar with in the ‘50s and ‘60s still goes on today.

“This is a pointed reminder that the United States cannot let its guard down or assume that just because diplomatic relations are better, that the Russians or others are not still trying to steal our secrets or influence American policy,” he said.

A separate criminal complaint, written by FBI agent Maria Ricci, noted that upon completion of their training, Russian agents are generally provided with false identities, which are referred to as their “legend,” and that the documents usually include identity and citizenship papers.

“Through the use of these fraudulent documents, illegals assume identities as citizens or legal residents of the countries to which they are deployed, including the United States,” it said. “Illegals will sometimes pursue degrees at target-country universities, obtain employment, and join relevant professional associations; these activities deepen an illegal’s ‘legend.’”

The complaint said the illegals often operate in pairs — being placed together by Moscow Center while in Russia, so that they can live together and work together in a host country, under the guise of a married couple.

“The FBI’s investigation has revealed that a network of illegals is now living and operating in the United States in the service of one primary, long-term goal: 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 policymaking circles.”

The arrests came just days after President Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as part of an ongoing effort to establish renewed relations with the U.S. and Russia in the wake of problems caused by diverging foreign policies and financial disagreements.

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