Monday, June 28, 2010

FBI snares Russian spy ring

Ten alleged Russian spies -- including a Cambridge couple -- were arrested Sunday on charges that they plotted to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation inside the United States.

The US Department of Justice issued a press release this afternoon announcing that the 10 people, who allegedly used fictitious names like Murphy and Foley, were arrested in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Virginia.

All 10, and an additional suspect who is being sought, are charged in criminal complaints filed in US District Court in Manhattan.

A couple who went by the names Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley were arrested on Trowbridge Street in busy Harvard Square around 7:30 pm Sunday by a team of FBI agents.

The pair appeared briefly today in US District Court in Boston. A prosecutor asked to have them moved to New York to face charges, but Heathfield and Foley asked for a detention hearing in Boston.

US Magistrate Judge Jennifer Boal ordered them held without bail pending a hearing Thursday on whether they should be held without bail pending resolution of the charges.

The arrests served as a reminder that over two decades after the end of the Cold War, and despite the Obama administration's declared effort to "reset" relations with Moscow, Russia and the United States remain suspicious rivals.

Spying between the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenals remains a fact of life, said John Pike director of a military information website.
"They're the only other country on the planet that can wipe out civilization," Pike said. "They are one of the few countries on the planet that could pose a military challenge to us."

But while Washington's intelligence effort centers around Russia's military secrets, the Kremlin's spies on US soil are usually after trade secrets.

"Computer chips, pharmaceuticals, the secret formula for Coke," Pike said, adding that industrial espionage has not often brought Moscow intelligence coups.

"Pretty much the last time they were really successful was when they stole the secret for the atomic bomb," he said.

In court papers, federal prosecutors said all of the spies, including the husband and wife team of 'Heathfield' and 'Foley,' were supposed to become as American as they possibly could.

The Cambridge couple and the others are charged with conspiring from the 1990s to the present to serve as agents in the United States of a foreign government.

Nine of those charged, including Heathfield and Foley, are also accused of money laundering.

According to Massachusetts Secretary of State records, "Heathfield'' incorporated a company called Future Map Strategic Advisory Services LLC this February and listed its business as "consulting.''

The FBI alleges that "Heathfield'' and "Foley'' both claimed to be Canadian by birth but who became naturalized Americans. Heathfield, according to the FBI, took his name from a man who died in Canada in 2005.

The FBI suggests they have long suspected both Heathfield and Foley of being someone other than who they claim to be. In 2001, the FBI said, they searched a safe deposit box at a Cambridge bank and found film negatives of 'Foley' that had been prepared by TACMA, a Russian film company.

They also found a Canadian birth certificate that they used to match the dead Canandian man to the Heathfield living in Cambridge, the affidavit said.

The FBI said the ''Boston conspirators'' would get "info tasks'' from their handlers in Moscow. The requests have included information about "United States policy with regard to the use of the internet by terrorists, United States policies in Central America, problems with United States military policy and 'Western estimation of (Russian) foreign policy.''

The alleged Boston spies, in a May 2006 message, reported about the new boss of the CIA and the upcoming 2008 campaign that ended with the election of the nation's first African-American president.

In cryptic references in the FBI affidavit, the government reported that the Boston spies had established ties to former congressional staffers and faculty members of an unidentified university.

Heathfield, the report said, also had ties with a "former high-ranking United States Government national security official'' whose name was not included in the FBI affidavit.


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