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Travel agencies, fake marriage and ensnaring Ernest Hemingway: Russian agents’ long history in the United States

Maria Butina in U.S. federal court on Dec. 13. (Press Service of Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE)
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On Wednesday, Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Russia. Working for the Russian government, she infiltrated the National Rifle Association, forging relationships with conservative activists and leading Republican politicians.

As a student at American University’s School of International Service, Butina didn’t keep a low profile. She was an outspoken conservative, known for buying friends vodka shots at Dupont Circle’s Russia House and toting a phone case with a photo of a shirtless Vladimir Putin riding a horse.

Butina joins a long list of Russian agents who have gone undercover in the United States. Here are a few of the most notorious:

Jacob Golos

From the late 1920s to the early 1940s, Golos lived in the United States, where he helped run the Communist Party USA.

The Russian emigre and Bolshevist lived on the Lower East Side of New York City, where he ran a travel agency called World Tourists. It was the perfect cover, allowing him to funnel money between the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and the United States. Golos built a wide network of party allies in the United States and even recruited his American secretary for the cause.

But he may be best known for his most famous recruit: Ernest Hemingway. In January 1941, Golos reported to the NKVD (an older version of the KGB) that he had successfully enlisted the American author. “I am sure that he will cooperate with us and will do everything he can” to help the NKVD, Golos reported, according to a CIA report.

Hemingway was given the code name “Argo,” though it’s not clear how much work — if any — he did for the Soviets.

Oleg Kalugin

Kalugin moved to New York in the 1950s to study journalism at Columbia University. There, as he wrote in his book, he learned the art of spreading disinformation and “stirring up trouble.” He also learned how to recruit agents.

Kalugin went on to become a journalist working in New York while spying for the KGB. Eventually, he ended up in Washington, D.C., at the Soviet Embassy, becoming the KGB’s youngest general in 1974, when he turned 40. At one point, he served as boss to a young recruit named Vladimir Putin, who would go on to become Russia’s president.

When he returned the Russia, Kalugin wrote that he became disillusioned with corruption in the KGB. He moved back to the United States after opposing a 1991 attempted coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Kalugin has lived in America ever since.

Anna Chapman

Chapman is probably Russia’s most beloved present-day spy. The daughter of a KGB agent, Chapman married for British citizenship, then used that citizenship to become a resident in the United States. She was living in New York working undercover in real estate when, in 2010, the FBI arrested her and nine other Russians. It was the biggest hit to Russian intelligence on U.S. soil since the Cold War. It’s unclear, however, whether Chapman and her colleagues gathered any information of substance.

The United States sent Chapman and the others back to Russia as part of a prisoner swap. Since returning, Chapman has used her striking red hair and model-like features to become a media figure. She posed on the cover of Maxim Russia as a spy just months after her return.

More recently, Chapman has become an Instagram model and ardent supporter of President Trump.

Andrei Bezrukob and Elena Vavilova

Bezrukob and Vavilova — or Donald Heathfield and Tracey Ann Foley, their aliases in the United States — were captured along with Chapman. They are best known as the spies on which the hit FX series “The Americans” is based. The pair, acting as a married couple, went to Toronto, where they had two sons, then moved to France before settling in Cambridge, Mass., in 1999.

When the FBI came knocking on their door, their sons said they had no idea what was going on. Even so, they were given Russian passports and returned to Russia with their parents. Now, one works in finance in Asia and the other attends school in Europe. They claim they have no ties to Russia and are fighting to get their Canadian citizenship back.

Read more:

‘She was like a novelty’: How alleged Russian agent Maria Butina gained access to elite conservative circles

Russian agent’s guilty plea intensifies spotlight on relationship with NRA

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