Cute Russian Spy was owner of NY Real Estate Firm.
Spy kitbag: everything you need to be a real life James Bond
The FBI investigation that cracked an alleged Russian spy ring in the United States has disclosed the surprisingly low-tech tools deployed by undercover agents.
Intelligence officials have expressed their bemusement at details of the alleged ring following the arrest of eleven alleged secret agents including ‘femme fatale’ Anna Chapman.
Details of their supposed activities, and the ‘tricks’ of their trade, were set out in US Justice Department court papers obtained by the New York Times.
The operations of the group have been described as resembling Enid Blyton’s characters, the Secret Seven, rather than spies from a John Le Carre novel. Frederick Hitz, former inspector general of the CIA, said that the suspected Russian operation was "nutty".
So what do Russian spies keep in their briefcases?
The FBI investigation observed the alleged agents communicating with each other using a private wireless network that exchanged data between designated laptop computers. Anna Chapman was observed in a coffee shop taking a laptop out of her ‘tote bag’, according to the court papers, at the same time as another agent drove past in a minivan so that data could be exchanged wirelessly between two computers.
Most of the alleged agents are accused of having fake passports. Papers suggest one had a false Irish passport while the UK is investigating reports Chapman was married to a UK citizen.
‘Unbugged’ mobile phone
Chapman was observed going into a Verizon shop in Brooklyn, New York and purchasing a mobile phone, supposedly for short-term use in order to ensure it could not have been bugged. Detectives later discovered she had given shop staff the name Irine Kutsov and used the address 99 Fake Street.
Folded newspaper, cash
Two of the alleged agents organised a ‘drop’ at a park in Arlington, near Washington, in which one placed $5,000 in cash in an envelope hidden in a folded newspaper and left it for collection by the other. The package was intercepted by the FBI.
A safe-deposit box searched by US law enforcement agents in New York turned out to contain birth certificates that did not match any municipal records. A copy of a Canadian birth certificate in the purported name of one of the suspects, Donald Heathfield was found but the court papers show the ‘real’ Donald Howard Heathfield is dead.
Software for encrypting text files
The alleged spies used steganography, an encryption method in which text files are converted to seemingly unrelated images that can be safely transmitted or shared.
Radiogram and short-wave radio
Radiograms are coded bursts of data sent by a radio transmitter that can be picked up by a receiver set to the proper frequency. Short-wave radios that could pick up such transmissions were found at the Seattle home of one of the alleged agents.
The alleged agents regularly flew between the United States and Moscow through Italy.
Cynthia Murphy had a day job as a financial planner with an estimated annual income of $135,000 while Anna Chapman owned a property firm in Manhattan valued at $2 million.
List of codenames
In intercepted messages, the alleged agents referred to contacts using codenames including Parrot and Cat.
As part of their apparently normal suburban existence, some of the agents appear to have been keen gardeners according to their surprised neighbours. In Montclair, New Jersey, Richard Murphy was regularly seen mowing the lawn while his co-accused wife, Cynthia, was fond of daffodils. “They couldn’t have been spies,” one teenage neighbour told the New York Post. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”