Video: 'Suburban spies': Invisible ink, fake IDs
Transcript of: 'Suburban spies': Invisible ink, fake IDs
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Pensacola Beach, Florida): Now to the latest revelations in the strange case we reported on here last night. It's being branded the spies next door. Ten people arrested here in America , accused of spying for Russia , all the while blending right in with their suburban neighbors. NBC 's Andrea Mitchell picks up the story tonight.
ANDREA MITCHELL reporting: It is a spy story right out of the Cold War , 10 Russian moles living among us, buying homes in typical suburbs like Montclair , New Jersey , and Yonkers , New York , having children all on orders of Moscow central.
Ms. LOUISE SHALLCROSS (Neighbor): I'm just completely in shock. I mean, I didn't know the family that well. But, you know, it was great to have a stay-at-home dad.
MITCHELL: There was even a glamorous divorcee, 28-year-old Anna Chapman . According the FBI , some of the accused spies were first trained and coupled off back in the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin when Vladimir Putin was in the old KGB . Putin today, now prime minister, was shocked, shocked that the Kremlin was spying on America . Scolding Bill Clinton , `You've come to Moscow at an excellent time. Your police force if quite out of hand, putting people in jail like that." The FBI was watching the suspects the whole time. Former officials say they never went after classified information, but it had all the elements of a bad spy novel .
Mr. PAT ROWAN (Former Justice Department Official): Not just the fact that these folks had been inserted into our country under -- with false IDs , fake birth certificates, and they lived for long periods of time, but the trade craft that they used to communicate with their handlers.
MITCHELL: They used brush passes like in " The Thomas Crown Affair ," special passwords, invisible ink. So what about President Obama 's hamburger summit with President Medvedev only last week?
Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): I do not believe that this will affect the reset of our relationship with Russia .
MITCHELL: Experts say the real mystery is why the Russians would spend so much to create false identities for what they could have learned on the Internet . Andrea Mitchell , NBC News , Washington .
Explainer: ‘Such a nice couple’: The spies next door
But for the neighbors of the 10 people arrested throughout the Northeast, it's more of a nightmare. Who are these people who they had come to trust as a professor, a newspaper columnist, and an architect, among other well-respected professions? Video: FBI arrests 10 in alleged Russian spy ring
“They’re such a nice couple,” Susan Coke, a real estate agent who sold a home in Montclair, N.J. to two of the suspects — who called themselves Richard and Cynthia Murphy — told The New Jersey Star-Ledger. “I just hope the FBI got it wrong.”
You can read the the court filing about the alleged spy program here, and the Department of Justice's court complaint against two of the suspects, Mikhael Semenko and Anna Chapman, here.
Information compiled by msnbc.com's Elizabeth Chuck and Ryan McCartney.
Anna Chapman, New York, N.Y.:
Mikhail Vasenkov (a.k.a. 'Juan Lazaro') and Vicky Pelaez, Yonkers, N.Y.:
Lazaro, 66, told people for decades that he was born in Uruguay and was a Peruvian citizen, but he is actually Russian and his real name is Mikhail Vasenkov. Lazaro admitted that he sent letters to the Russian intelligence service and that the Russian government paid for his house. He said that although he loved his son, he would not violate loyalty to the "Service," even for his child.
Neighbors said they knew Lazaro to be an economics professor at a college in New Jersey. An agent for Russia for years, Lazaro brought his wife, Vicky Pelaez, into the conspiracy by having her pass letters to the Russian intelligence service on his behalf.
Pelaez worked as a columnist for one of the United States' best-known Spanish-language newspapers, El Diario La Prensa. She had come to the U.S. after being briefly kidnapped by a leftist guerrilla group in Peru in 1984.
Pelaez, 55, lived under her real name and was an American citizen, but now plans to return to Peru after a brief stay in Russia, according to her attorney.
The couple has two sons: Waldomar Mariscal, 38 (Pelaez's son, Lazaro's stepson), and Juan Jose Lazaro, Jr., 17.
Both sons told reporters shortly after the arrests that they didn't believe the allegations.
"This looks like an Alfred Hitchcock movie with all this stuff from the 1960s. This is preposterous," Mariscal said. Of the charges, he said, "They're all inflated little pieces in the mosaic of unbelievable things."
Vladimir and Lydia Guryev (a.k.a. 'Richard and Cynthia Murphy'), Montclair, N.J.:
Richard was an architect, a neighbor told The New Jersey Star-Ledger, and Cynthia had just gotten an MBA. Richard said he was from Philadelphia; Cynthia said she was from New York.
The couple lived with two young daughters, Katie, 11, and Lisa, 7, in a home on Marquette Road in Montclair that they purchased for $481,000 in the fall of 2008. The two had come to the U.S. in the mid-1990s, first living in an apartment in Hoboken, N.J.
Cynthia, 39, earned $135,000 a year as a vice president at a Manhattan firm, Morea Financial Services. Alan Patricof, a client of the firm and friend of the Clintons', told The Washington Post he believes he may have been targeted by the ring. Prosecutors said one of her assignments had been to network with Columbia University students. Her real name is Lydia Guryev.
Richard, 43, mostly stayed home with the children, neighbors said. His real name is Vladimir Guryev.
Mikhail Kutsik and Natalia Pereverzeva (a.k.a. 'Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills'), Arlington, Va.:
The husband-and-wife pair lived in Seattle before they moved to Arlington, Va. in October 2009. Zottoli, 41, said he was born in Yonkers, N.Y., and Mills, 36, said she was a Canadian citizen. Records show the two moved around several times between 2002 and 2009. Zottoli was an accountant who constantly took personal calls at work, co-workers told the Seattle Times. Mills was a stay-at-home mom for the couple’s toddler, Kenny. There are reports they also have a 1-year-old.
“They were the nicest people,” said John Evans, the couple's former apartment manager. “In fact, I wish they had stayed on as tenants. They were really good tenants.”
When their Seattle apartment was searched in February 2006, FBI agents reportedly found password-protected computer disks that contained a “stenography program employed by the SVR.”
His real name is Mikhail Kutsik. Her real name is Natalia Pereverzeva.
Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova (a.k.a. 'Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley'), Cambridge, Mass.:
The “Boston Conspirators,” as the FBI dubbed them, identified themselves as French-Canadian when they came to the U.S. in 1999.
Heathfield, 49, received a master’s from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2000 and worked as a consultant for a Cambridge-based consulting firm called Global Partners Inc — a job that allegedly enabled him to contact a former high-ranking U.S. government national security official. He also had his own consulting company, Future Map Strategic Advisory Services LLC. His real name is Andrey Bezrukov.
Foley, 47, was a real estate agent who showed houses in the Boston area. She worked on a contract basis for the real estate brokerage Redfin. Her real name is Elena Vavilova.
They spoke to their two sons, ages 20 and 16, in French when they appeared in court in Boston following the arrests.
Craig Sandler, a former classmate of Heathfield, told The Boston Globe the Russian spy was friendly and intelligent. Other classmates told The New York Times he had a taste for Scotch and described him as a “flavorful conversationalist” who was smart and funny.
“It never crossed my mind that he might be a spy,” Sandler said. “But it’s not completely flabbergasting. He seems like a guy who would make a pretty good spy.”
Mikhael Semenko, Arlington, Va.:
Mikhael Semenko, 28, was a travel specialist at Travel All Russia LLC’s in Arlington, Va. He joined the company in 2009 and was described as a friendly and diligent worker who spoke Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, in addition to Russian and English, according to a statement released by the company after his arrest. Semenko’s LinkedIn profile indicates he was particularly interested in non-profits, think tanks, public policy and educational institutions.
Semenko graduated from Seton Hall University with a degree in international relations in 2008, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Arrested at his home in Arlington, he was accused of using sophisticated communications equipment and making incriminating statements to an undercover agent posing as a Russian official. According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, FBI officials met Semenko just blocks from the White House, at the intersection of 10th and H Street. “Could we have met in Beijing in 2004?” the undercover agent asked. “Yes, we might have but I believe it was in Harbin,” Semenko reportedly replied.
See below for other code words and phrases the suspects used.
Christopher R. Metsos, arrested in Cyprus:
Very little is known about Metsos’ background or current whereabouts.
Officials said he arrived in the coastal town of Larnaca in Cyprus on June 17 and was arrested June 29 on an Interpol warrant while he was waiting to board a flight to Hungary. A Cyprus judge decided to release Metsos on $33,000 bail. Metsos failed to show up to a required meeting with Larnaca police following his release, initiating a manhunt for the final member of the group of Russian spies.
Officials fear Metsos could flee to northern Cyprus, which the AP described as a “diplomatic no-mans-land.”
Metsos, age 54 or 55, carries a Canadian passport and is what U.S. prosecutors called the “money man” of the group. He is accused of receiving and distributing money to the group and of conspiracy to commit money laundering. According to the U.S. Justice Department, he was given payments by a Russian official affiliated with Moscow's mission to the United Nations in a spy novel style "brush-pass" handoff and buried money in rural New York that was recovered two years later by another suspect.
Sources: The Associated Press
Code words, phrases suspects used
Following are among the phrases used by the alleged agents, their handlers and, deceptively, by U.S. counter-espionage officials in exchanges designed to verify a contact's identity.
"Excuse me, but haven't we met in California last summer?"
"No, I think it was the Hamptons."
"Could we have met in Beijing in 2004?"
"Yes, we might have, but I believe it was in Harbin"
"Excuse me, did we meet in Bangkok in April last year?."
"I don't know about April, but I was in Thailand in May of that year."
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