Friday, July 09, 2010

U.S. - Russian Spy Exchange

On July 9, 2010, the sensational case of the 10 Russian illegal agents, arrested in the United States, has come to an end with the largest spy exchange since the end of the Cold War.

During the July 8 Southern District of New York court hearings they all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government. Under the plea agreements, they had to disclose their real identities, all their assets were confiscated and they were expelled immediately from the United States. They are transferred to the Russia. In exchange, Russia agreed to release four individuals that were jailed for their alleged contact with Western intelligence services. This solution to the spy case was arranged after extensive negotiations between the U.S. and Russia to avoid any tensions in relations between the two countries.

Andrey Bezrukov (a.k.a. Donald Howard Heathfield) and Elena Vavilova (a.k.a. Tracey Lee Ann Foley), the couple with two sons age 16 and 20, Mikhail Anatonoljevich (a.k.a. Juan Lazaro) and Peruvian born Vicky Pelaez who have a son together, Vladimir Guryev (a.k.a. Richard Murphy) and Lydia Guryev (a.k.a. Cynthia Murphy) who have two daughters age 9 and 11, Mikhail Kutsik (a.k.a. Michael Zottoli) and Natalia Pereverzeva (a.k.a. Patricia Mills), Mikhail Semenko (who operated under his real name) and Anya Kushchenko (a.k.a. Anna Chapman) were all deported by airplane on July 9. Christopher Metsos, whose real name remains unknown, disappeared in Cyprus after being bailed. The spy exchange took place at the tarmac of the Vienna's Schwechat airport in Austria, with the Russian and U.S. airplanes next to each other (photo AP).

Another airplane, coming from Moscow, carried the four men who were released by the Russian Federation. They are all Russian citizens who allegedly cooperated with intelligence services in the West: Igor Sutyagin, a Russian arms control and nuclear weapons specialist was sentenced to 15 years in 2004 for passing information on nuclear submarines and other weapons systems to a British firm that, according to Russia, was a CIA cover. Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence colonel was serving a 13 years sentence since 2006 for passing the names of dozens of Russian agents to the British Foreign Intelligence Service MI6. Alexander Zaporozhsky, a former colonel in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki) was convicted for passing information on Russian agents that operated in the US. He served an 18 years sentence since 2001. The last one is Gennady Vasilenko. His background is unclear but he appears to be a former KGB officer who had contact with the CIA. He was arrested in 2005, while working as security officer at NTV television, and charged with illegal possession of arms and resistance to arrest. Apparently, he was not convicted for espionage.

After the exchange, the Russian airplane returned to Moscow’s Domodedovo airport with the 10 expelled SVR agents. The other airplane flew from Vienna to the RAF base in Brize Norton, United Kingdom, to drop off Igor Sutyagin and Sergei Skripal, and then continued to Washington Dulles International with Andrey Bezrukov and Alexander Zaporozhsky. The exchanged spies will surely undergo extensive debriefing in Russia, the UK and the United States.

The big spy swap was announced officially by a US Department of Justice statement. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that "this was an extraordinary case, developed through years of work by investigators, intelligence lawyers, and prosecutors, and the agreement we reached today provides a successful resolution for the United States and its interests."

More details and court documents are found in my blog on the Russian Spy Ring in the United States. As part of the plea agreement the 10 agents are not allowed to release any information on the spy case in the media, although this is stuff for many books and movies. Nevertheless, we will undoubtedly learn more details later on. The investigation and the extensive surveillance took 10 years and not all of the results were disclosed in court. Who were their contacts? Did they recruit people? Are U.S. citizens involved? Case not closed...

Update November 12, 2010: Case obviously not closed. Four months after uncovering this spy ring, the true reason of its failiure surfaces: the 10 agents were betrayed from the inside. More to read in U.S. Spy Ring betrayed by Defecting SVR Colonel.

Update: on a more frivolous note, Anya Kushchenko (a.k.a. Chapman) has some difficulty to keep herself out of the media, as seen on English Russia. Well, it's hard to live up to you Bond-girl status.

Update November 3, 2011: The FBI release a large number of documents, photos and videos from operation Ghost stories, the investigation and arrests of the ten illegal SVR agents. All information is released through the FBI records webpage The Vault.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gennadi Vasilenko was indeed a Major in KGB, and at that time was dangerous to build a friendship with an CIA agent
There are some facts I know personally from him, but Im sure there are some well hidden secrets.
It is really a 'movie' story, and soon probably we'll get one produced by Robert de Niro.
In present days, Mr Gennadi colaborates with a screenplayer