The Russian spies next door are gone but not forgotten.
More than a year after the FBI busted a Russian spy ring, the bureau is releasing surveillance videos, documents and photographs from the investigation that led to one of the biggest spy scandals since the end of the Cold War. The trove, the bureau says, provides a “rare glimpse” into the world of counterintelligence.
That glimpse includes video of Anna Chapman, one of the members of the “sleeper cell,” meeting with an undercover FBI agent at a coffee shop in New York, and video of Michael Zottoli, another member, recovering a package from a dead drop. There’s also footage of one of the Russians giving what the bureau described as a “brush pass” to an official from Moscow’s mission in New York.
The documents in the cache, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Associated Press and other news outlets, are heavily redacted, with the contents of entire pages withheld.
In June 2010, the FBI arrested 10 Russian operatives who had been living in the United States for years but secretly reporting to Moscow’s Foreign Intelligence Agency. Known as “illegals” — because they were deep-cover agents without diplomatic immunity — they had sought to “hide all connections between themselves and Russia,” the bureau said at the time.
Within days of the agents’ arrest, they were swapped with Moscow for four men being held by Russia. U.S. officials insisted the “illegals” never obtained classified documents, and experts said their chief role was probably to work as “spotters,” selecting individuals who could be recruited to work for Moscow.
On Monday, in releasing the documents and video, the FBI said its case had been dubbed “Operation Ghost Stories.” The reason: Six of the 10 agents had assumed the identities of dead people.
At one point, Chapman asks the undercover agent: “You’re positive no one is watching?”
The agent replies: “You know how long it took me to get here? Three hours. So here I am comfortable. But when you go, you know, be careful.”
Anna Chapman meets with an undercover FBI agent in a New York coffee shop.