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Alleged Russian agent Anna Chapman could have warmed up any Cold War night

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 1, 2010; C01

There were 11 alleged Russian agents arrested this week, under accusations that they'd been living as Americans while reporting back to the mother country.

But mostly we care about the hot one.

Ever since photos of Anna Chapman began circulating online late Tuesday, the Internet at large has been foaming, frothing, fanatic for details about the reported 28-year-old secret agent/Maxim model look-alike who specialized in sultry-eyed, pouty-lipped, come-hither stares. Da, da, da!

News sites immediately uploaded photo galleries. Someone said "Bond Girl" and we all immediately began casting her biopic in our minds. Scarlett Johansson -- no wait, Jessica Biel!

Someone said that she drank Alma De Agave tequila and almost immediately the company issued an official statement explaining its role in Chapman's drinking habits: "Russell Terlecki, President of the East Coast Operations . . . met her on the Seastreak going to Atlantic Highlands, NJ. She loved Alma De Agave tequila."

She had a Facebook account (and why not? In America, the best way to fly under the radar is to fly over it. Wouldn't it be much more suspect if she weren't on Facebook?), which we immediately began obsessing over.

Unlucky for us: Much of it was written in Cyrillic.

Lucky for us: Chapman's friend list was available for public consumption. Apparently, she didn't understand Facebook's new privacy controls any better than the rest of us.

Phone calls with several of her acquaintances reveal a woman with a head for business (and a bod for sin? Is Anna Chapman the Working Girl of 2010?) -- a woman who single-mindedly pursued her goal of combining real estate with Internet technology.

"She was very modern, energetic, reasonably worldly," says Dan Johnson, the British founder of a real estate Web site, who met Chapman when she suggested a possible partnership between Johnson's site and hers, www.domdot.ru, which focused on Russian listings. They corresponded for several months and met when Chapman was passing through London. "She was flying around the world, setting up businesses. It's not someone with a lazy mind-set who's going to be doing that."

Arthur Welf, a Russian journalist who first met Chapman in 2008 when they both attended a real estate conference, says that Chapman was looking for funding to develop a New York equivalent of her site and was passionately excited about the project. "I would think she would have no time for other things like espionage," Welf says. "She was working 24 hours around the clock." He believes Chapman is innocent.

"She's always brainstorming, always trying to create new ideas," says Alena Popova, a Russian businesswoman who met Chapman at the Global Technology Symposium earlier this year in San Francisco. Popova was so impressed with Chapman's poise that later, when they met up in New York, she filmed an interview with her, Chapman providing tips for creating successful start-ups.

The three-minute video, entirely in Russian, is now going viral on YouTube, with plenty of salivating fans. "That's one hot Russian spy," Assaultman45 offers in the comments section. "Her punishment should be a date with me."

It's so much easier when "From Russia With Love" is a total babe. It's all so Natasha, so Ninotchka, so Cold War retro. The things that Chapman has been accused of doing -- exchanging covert information with a Russian government official -- seem downright quaint when you read the Justice Department's description of the activities. There were code phrases -- Haven't we met in California last summer? -- and there were weekly Wednesday check-ins at a coffee shop. In the Red Scare 1950s, this would have been terrifying, but it sure beats a shoe bomber today.

Maybe this is why we've been treating Chapman more like she's June's Playmate and less like she's a threat to national security -- desperately seeking out her likes and dislikes, her hopes and dreams, as if we plan to take her for a romantic walk on the beach.

International news sites have also gotten in on the action: A profile on the Russian site LifeNews.ru claims that Chapman is the daughter of the former Russian ambassador to Kenya, that she was raised by her grandmother, that she studied economics at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia and once worked in banking.

In a second video interview, shot at New York Entrepreneur Week, Chapman speaks in English to an unseen interviewer, describing how she loves running her own Web site. Her voice is husky, her mannerisms both confident and girlish.

"She's very charming, attractive, very smart," says David Hantman, who works in New York real estate appraising and was introduced to Chapman through mutual friends. "I was surprised at how young she was to be in a position to negotiate with these big companies" that she said she was dealing with. "She had so much business acumen for someone so young."

Any other details you can release, David? Some other illusory detail for us to salivate over? Perhaps something personal?

"She's very social," Hantman says thoughtfully. "She enjoyed having her nails done."

The alleged spy loved manicures!

But throughout Wednesday, Chapman's Facebook friend list decreased, 168 in the morning, 161 in the afternoon, as her acquaintances presumably began to question whether they wanted to be affiliated with her, and how much they really knew about her to begin with.

"She's such a sweet person, I'd hate to see anything happen to her," Hantman says. "But if she's a spy, that's very disturbing."

Staff writer Kevin Sieff contributed to this report.

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