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Question of the Day
Former Soviet intelligence officials now living in the West scratched their heads over the “Ghost Stories” saga.
“In my view, this whole operation was a waste of human resources, money and just put Russia in a ridiculous situation,” said Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB major general who spied against the U.S. during the Soviet era, in an interview earlier this year. He now lives near Washington.
Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB officer and journalist who has written extensively about Soviet spying in America, said the illegals were supposed to act as talent spotters and scouts, identifying Americans in positions of power who might be recruited to spill secrets for financial reasons or through blackmail. Spies with the protection of diplomatic credentials would handle the more delicate task of recruiting and handling the agents.
Moscow’s ultimate aim, Vassiliev said, was probably to cultivate a source who could provide day-by-day intelligence on what the president’s inner circle was thinking and planning in response to the latest international crisis. But he said there was no evidence the Kremlin made any progress toward that goal.
“How are you going to recruit someone like that, on what basis? That’s quite a successful person. Why should he spy for the Russians? I can’t see any reason.”
He said Russia’s intelligence services seem unable to shake their Soviet-era habits. “The current practice of the Russian espionage agency is based on the practices which existed before 1945,” said Vassiliev, who now lives in London. “It’s so outdated.”
The 10 Russian illegals included:
• Chapman, the daughter of a Russian diplomat, who worked as a real estate agent in New York. After she was caught, photos of the redhead’s social life and travels were splashed all over the tabloids. Following her return to Russia, Chapman worked as a model, became the celebrity face of a Moscow bank and joined the leadership of the youth wing of the main pro-Kremlin party.
• Vicky Pelaez and Juan Lazaro of Yonkers, N.Y. He briefly taught a class on Latin American and Caribbean politics at Baruch College. She wrote pieces highly critical of U.S. policy in Latin America as a columnist for one of the United States’ best-known Spanish-language newspapers, El Diario La Prensa.
• Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills of Arlington, Va. He worked at a telecommunications firm. The couple raised a young son and toddler in their high-rise apartment.
• Richard and Cynthia Murphy of Montclair, N.J. He mostly stayed home with their two pre-teen children while she worked for a lower-Manhattan-based accounting firm that offered tax advice. As part of her job, she provided financial planning for a venture capitalist with close ties to Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
• Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley of Cambridge, Mass. He worked in sales for an international management consulting firm and peddled strategic planning software to U.S. corporations, and graduated from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. She was a real estate agent.
• Mikhail Semenko of Arlington, Va., who spoke Russian, English, Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese. He worked at the Travel All Russia travel agency, where co-workers described him as “clumsy” and “quirky.”
In return for the return of the illegals, Moscow freed four Russians after they signed statements admitting to spying for the U.S. or Britain.
The U.S. spies included Alexander Zaporozhsky, a former colonel and deputy chief of Russian foreign intelligence’s American section, who had retired in 1997 and moved to suburban Baltimore in 2001. He was arrested after he returned to Moscow for what he thought was a reunion with KGB colleagues and was sentenced in 2003 to 18 years in prison for espionage.
By Michael P. Orsi
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