Video: Russia, U.S. forge ahead with spy swap
Transcript of: Russia, U.S. forge ahead with spy swap
WILLIAMS: Good evening.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: The whole idea of spies seems a little dated, going back to when Russia was the USSR and was the arch Cold War enemy of the US. But there they were, those Russian spies arrested a few days back, discovered living in America , having blended into American society . Tonight they're en route out of here, and they're part of a spy swap, 10 of them being exchanged for people in Russia accused of spying for the US. We start off tonight with our justice correspondent Pete Williams in our Washington newsroom. Pete , good evening.
PETE WILLIAMS reporting: Brian , there's never been anything quite like this, from arrest to guilty plea to expulsion from the country in just 11 days. It's the legal system driven to hyperspeed by a US desire to improve relations with Russia . Assembled quickly in a federal courthouse in New York City , all 10 admitted that, while they pretended to be just the folks next door, they were actually sent here to be secret agents for Russia . One by one, they spoke their true Russian names , then pleaded guilty to being unregistered foreign agents. The government dropped a second charge of money laundering. The judge accepted their pleas and sentenced them to time served, less than two weeks, freeing the government to send them to Russia in a Cold War -style prisoner exchange, all 10 for four people in Russia , along with their families, accused of spying for the US.
P. WILLIAMS: The lawyer for one of the 10, Anna Chapman , said it's a good deal for her.
Mr. ROBERT BAUM (Lawyer for Anna Chapman): She is happy to be out of jail. The thought that she would have continued under those conditions of confinement for six months or more while awaiting a trial was something that she was not prepared to do.
P. WILLIAMS: And a good deal for the US government , says the attorney general.
Mr. ERIC HOLDER (Attorney General): Well, we wanted to make sure that we did this as quickly as we could so that we didn't have any kind of ongoing negative impact between the good relationship that is developing between the United States and Russia .
P. WILLIAMS: The US was willing to make the swap, officials say, because the 10 did not steal any valuable secrets, so prosecutors could not push for harsh punishment with long prison sentences. A former FBI counterintelligence official says it's a plus to get people like Igor Sutyagin , a Russian accused of spying for the US and sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison camp.
Mr. JOHN SLATTERY (Former FBI Official): We've demonstrated to these individuals, who may have worked for us on the other side , that we take care of our people if they're going to do that for us.
P. WILLIAMS: Some intelligence experts consider it a good trade, getting something valuable in return for expelling 10 impostors.
Mr. DAVID WISE (Intelligence Expert): What do you do with Anna Chapman , who's like a character out of " From Russia with Love ," the James Bond film ? And, you know, throwing them in jail might not be advantageous to relations with Moscow and Washington .
P. WILLIAMS: US officials plan to fly all 10 out of the country by the end of the day , and they expected that the six minor children of four of the Russian couples would leave with their parents. Brian :
B. WILLIAMS: Just like that. Pete Williams in our Washington newsroom. Pete ,
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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