US arrests alleged Russian spies days after Medvedev visit

US said, have broken up a alleged spy ring to recruit political sources and gather information for the Russia.

US arrests alleged Russian spies days after Medvedev visit

U.S. authorities said on Monday they have broken up a alleged spy ring that carried out deep-cover work in the United States to recruit political sources and gather information for the Russian government.

The allegations come just days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Washington.

Authorities charged 11 individuals with the plot, 10 of whom were arrested on Sunday in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Virginia on charges including conspiracy to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation and money laundering.

The group, dubbed the "Illegals," was accused of being tasked by the Russian intelligence agency SVR to enter the United States, assume false identities and become "deep-cover" Americans, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Their goal was to "become sufficiently 'Americanized' such that they could gather information about the United States for Russia and can successfully recruit sources who are in, or are able to infiltrate, United States policy-making circles," according to criminal complaints filed in U.S. federal court.

However, they were not assigned to collect classified, secret information, a Justice Department official said.

The criminal complaints said the individuals in the "Illegals" program received extensive training in coded communications, how to make brush passes and how to evade detection.

One was acused of sending back information about leadership changes at the Central Intelligence Agency.

"After reset ties"

Washington's allegations that a Russian spy ring had been arrested come amid attempts to "reset" ties between the former Cold War foes.

The arrests are the culmination of a multi-year investigation that used extensive surveillance of communications and wiretaps, including putting listening devices into the homes of the accused individuals.

Those charged include: Christopher Metsos, Richard Murphy, Cynthia Murphy, Donald Heathfield, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills, Juan Lazaro, Vicky Pelaez, Anna Chapman and Mikhail Semenko. All but Metsos were arrested on Sunday.

The FBI decrypted a coded message in 2009 sent to two of the individuals accused of being part of the ring. The message instructed them to "search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels" back to Moscow, according to court papers.

The individuals were accused of collecting information ranging from research programs on small yield, high penetration nuclear warheads and the global gold market to trying to obtain background information about people who applied for jobs at the Central Intelligence Agency, according to court papers.

One of the individuals charged, Metsos who is still at large, was accused of receiving and doling out money to the group, including getting payments during a brush-pass with a Russian government official who was affiliated with the Russian Mission to the United Nations in New York, according to the Justice Department.

Metsos also buried some money in rural New York that was later recovered about two years later by two others in the group who had traveled from Seattle.

Nine of the individuals were accused of conspiracy to commit money laundering related to their activities.

In another instance, one defendant was accused of receiving $80,000 for some of the group from a representative of the Russian government while in an unnamed South American country, according to the criminal complaints.

Russia's Foreign Minister said Moscow is awaiting an explanation from the United States on its arrest of what it says is a Russian spy ring, Russian news agencies reported.

"The subject was not explained to us. I hope they will explain," Interfax quoted Sergei Lavrov as telling reporters in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

"The choice of timing was particularly graceful," he said.

While some of the activities dated back to 2000, one of the complaints said that undercover FBI agents met two of the accused individuals on Saturday, Mikhail Semenko and Anna Chapman. She had apparently been planning to go to Moscow in two weeks, according to one of the criminal complaints.

The charges of acting as an agent of a foreign government carry a maximum of five years in prison, while the conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars.

The arrest came only three days after Obama quipped it was time to cut off Cold War-era emergency hotlines at a cordial Washington summit with Medvedev as the pair sought to cement their "reset" in national security ties.

Obama and Medvedev munched burgers and strolled outside the White House together in images carefully choreographed for the cameras.


Agencies

 

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Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Haziran 2010, 17:29

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