I love when real life turns out better than a movie script and this one is even better than a Bond film (especially Quantum of Solace. I’m a big Bond fan and I thought that one was lame.)
The US has cracked a Russian spy ring operating right under their noses, though admittedly the yanks have been watching them for over ten years. Ten people were arrested on Sunday on suspicion of spying against the US government, three days after US President Barack Obama described his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev as a “solid and reliable partner” at a White House summit. Obama even quipped that it was time to cut off Cold War-era emergency hotlines. Gotta love that American timing.
The Russians mission was to infiltrate influential US policy-making circles and pass info back to Russian Foreign Intelligence Service headquarter (or Centre) but I’m sure you already knew that – the story has been all over the news for the past day or so.
The part that fascinates me is the way the Russians pulled it off. Extracts from BBC:
– Two suspects pretended to be a married couple from Philadelphia, while another pretended to be a Canadian native but a naturalised US citizen.
– One suspect is accused of using a laptop in a Manhattan coffee shop in January to transfer data to a Russian government official as he passed by in a people-carrier.
– The same suspect was briefed by an undercover agent, posing as a Russian consulate worker, to pass a fake passport to a female spy. The agent explains that the woman “will tell you ‘Excuse me, but haven’t we met in California last year?’ And you will say to her, ‘No, I think it was the Hamptons.'”
– An undercover agent phoned a suspect and said, “could we have met in Beijing in 2004?” The suspect responded, “yes, we might have, but I believe it was in Harbin.”
– A rendezvous on a street corner in Washington DC saw one of the accused handed a folded newspaper containing $5,000 and told to leave it on the following day in a park in nearby Arlington, VA. The FBI recorded him leaving the newspaper with cash in the allotted spot.
– Intercepted messages tell that an accused will recognise a Russian agent in Rome by saying: “Excuse me, could we have met in Malta in 1999?” and look for the way his contact is holding a copy of Time magazine.
– Some of the suspects are accused of using steganography (a method of concealing data in an image) to pass information to Centre by posting pictures on public websites.
– The suspects are accused of using short-wave radios to send and receive radiograms (coded bursts of data) to Moscow Centre. US agents believe they are referred to as “RG”s by the alleged spies.
– One of the accused and a Russian government official “each carrying an all-but identical orange bag” swapped bags at a station in Queens, New York, while passing on a stairway. The bag given to Mr Metsos contained cash, the court papers claim, some of which was buried in upstate New York. It was dug up two years later by two of the suspects from a spot marked by a “partially buried brown beer bottle” that the FBI had under surveillance.
– In another “brush-pass”, a Russian government official is alleged to have dropped a shopping bag into a rucksack carried by suspect Richard Murphy as they passed each other on stairs at White Plains station in New York state.
– A safe deposit box searched by US law enforcement agents in New York City turned out to contain birth certificates that did not match any municipal records.
– A decoded message to a suspect accused of using a fake British passport reads: “Very important: 1. sign your passport on page 32. Train yourself to be able to reproduce your signature when it’s necessary. 2. Pls, be aware that you just visited Russia… If asked, we suggest you use the following story: you flew to Moscow on Mar 16 from London for example flight SU 211 to participate in business talks…” She is told to destroy the memo after reading.
Perhaps I wasn’t as paranoid as I thought when I was living in DC – I really was living in a spy movie!