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Some of the agents used e-mails to itemize their expenses in this country — including telephones bills, insurance, education expenses, medical bills, and lawyers fees. They often included exchange rates for the U.S. dollar and the euro.

As married couples, they often had children together, which further deepened their cover.

Loosely described, they were talent spotters in place in this country since the 1990s — looking to cultivate and recruit government, political and business insiders who could be turned by other Russian intelligence operators into secret informers.

An intercepted message laid it out even more clearly: “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 policy-making circles in U.S. and send intels [intelligence reports] to C [the Moscow intelligence center.]”

The ranking member of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, also said the arrests came as no surprise to him.

“We have always known and suspected these kinds of things go on. We get the intel briefings on this, so it is not a surprise,” he said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the allegations “baseless and improper.”

Obama administration officials downplayed the arrests, attributing them to a distrustful past while emphasizing improving relations between the United States and Russia.

State Department spokesman Philip Gordon said Washington would continue to work to improve the U.S. relationship with Moscow despite the arrests.

“We’re moving toward a more trusting relationship. We’re beyond the Cold War,” Mr. Gordon said. “I think our relations absolutely demonstrate that. But as I say, I don’t think anyone was hugely shocked to know that some vestiges of old attempts to use intelligence are still there.”

The White House also said Tuesday it did not expect that the arrests would have any impact on relations between Washington and Moscow. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama was “fully and appropriately” told of the arrests, which he called a law enforcement matter.

The defendants were identified by their aliases: Richard Murphy and Cynthia Murphy of Montclair, N.J.; Vicky Pelaez and Juan Lazaro of Yonkers, N.Y.; Anna Chapman of Manhattan; Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills and Mikhail Semenko of Arlington; Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley of Boston; and Christopher R. Metsos, who was arrested in Cyprus.

One complaint, written by FBI agent Maria L. Rici, said the FBI conducted a multiyear investigation of a network of U.S.-based agents of the Russian intelligence agency known as the SVR and the targets of the probe included covert SVR agents who assumed false identities and lived in the United States on long-term, “deep-cover” assignments.

The complaint said the Russian agents worked to hide all connections between themselves and Russia, even as they acted at the direction and under the control of the SVR.

Some of the suspected Russian agents were fluent in Russian, English, Mandarin and Spanish.

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