Video: Spy swap is ‘throwback to Cold War’

  1. Closed captioning of: Spy swap is ‘throwback to Cold War’

    >>> journalist david wise has written a dozen books on the subject with one on chinese spies coming out next year. david, good morning to you.

    >> good morning, meredith.

    >> although there is no official confirmati confirmation, assuming the trade goes through, there are reports it could take place today. what does that say to you?

    >> well, it says to me it's a throwback to the cold war . there were famous exchanges during that period. the most famous was a man named rudolph abel who was posing as a photographer in brooklyn. he was traded for gary powers , the pilot flying a cia spy plane over russia . they were traded on a bridge in berlin in 1962 .

    >> does it suggest that the u.s. doesn't believe the alleged spies have much information?

    >> well, it doesn't appear that they did get very much. the fact that they were not charged with espionage suggests that nobody in the fbi saw them receiving a classified document from some government official .

    >> there was a lawyer who negotiated for the state department in the 1970s and '80s. he said the u.s. never would have negotiated this back then unless the suspects had been convicted or served time. what has changed since then?

    >> what has changed is that the obama administration wants to, what they call, reset relations with russia and this is just an irritant. what do you do with these people? what do you do with anna chapman who's like a character out of "from russia with love" a james bond fan. throwing them in jail may not be an advantage with relations.

    >> you talk about anna chapman and a throwback to '50s. the fact that the russian spies didn't seem to pose a threat suggests a question of why were they here in the first place.

    >> you know, it's like fishing. if you put out the line behind the boat and you troll you may get nothing but sunburn, but you may get a strike, a big fish . i'm sure that's what they were hoping for.

    >> yeah. as pete williams reported, for this swap to take place all would have to plead guilty and at least two say they have no intention of making a deal. could that potentially throw this up in the air?

    >> well, the deal isn't set. sometimes the prospect of going to jail clears the mind very quickly. they could change their mind.

    >> also, finally, you know, this whole notion of the fake names, fake passports, secret code words, invisible ink , is that how undercover operations are run these days? it sounds like such a throwback.

    >> well, the russians have done illegals for years. what's new is the size, the scope. maybe two or three were sent. but 10 or 11 is unusual. they have always done it. why stop now just because the cold war is over?

    >> thank you for your perspective this morning.

    >> thank you.

Image: Soviet Jewish dissident Anatoly B. Shcharansky, left, is escorted by U.S. Ambassador Richard Burt
AP
Soviet Jewish dissident Anatoly B. Shcharansky, left, is escorted by U.S. Ambassador Richard Burt after Shcharansky crossed the border between East Germany and West Berlin at Glienicke Bridge during an East-West spy and prisoner exchange on Feb. 11, 1986.
By AP Special Correspondent
updated 7/8/2010 6:40:32 PM ET 2010-07-08T22:40:32

The spy exchange unfolding in Moscow, New York and points between evokes a bygone era when cold war teetered on the verge of hot, superpowers sniffed out each other's deadliest secrets, and the swaps even had a ringmaster in a dapper German communist.

A Russian freed in a 1976 exchange expressed surprise Thursday at the Cold War rerun. Trading prisoners should be a thing of the past, said Vladimir Bukovsky.

"It's a bit sad that everything in the world seems to end up like a blind donkey going around in circles," the 67-year-old former Soviet dissident told The Associated Press in London.

But the parallels go only so far. Espionage's new wave doesn't quite measure up to the old.

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Where the Kremlin's daring agents of earlier generations ferreted out atomic bomb blueprints and infiltrated NATO planning councils, the hapless 10 of 2010 are accused of foraging for White House "kitchen rumors" and U.S. policy chatter.

And where the current swap candidates are obscure U.S. suburbanites and ineffectual operatives, the trades of that earlier time involved notorious spymasters and celebrated political prisoners.

In the last of those headline-making swaps, in a divided Berlin on a gray Tuesday in February 24 years ago, one of the Soviet Union's best-known dissidents, Anatoly Shcharansky, emerged from nine years' imprisonment to walk across the snow-covered Glienicke Bridge to freedom — and eventually, as Natan Sharansky, to a life as an Israeli politician.

The human rights activist was part of a trade also involving five alleged Soviet-bloc spies and three Westerners held in the East. During the 45-minute exchange on the green steel bridge over the Havel River, separating West Berlin from East Germany, a balding, bespectacled man in a stylish suit and a white Mercedes drove up from the eastern side and met with the prisoners.

That affluent intermediary was the late Wolfgang Vogel, a lawyer from communist East Germany who over three decades was instrumental in brokering both spy swaps and the larger-scale exit of ordinary people from East Germany, in exchange for West German government payments.

Twenty-four years earlier, in 1962, Vogel had engineered an even more spectacular — and secret — swap on the same bridge: The exchange of U.S. spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers, shot down over the heart of the Soviet Union, for a Soviet spy known as Rudolf Abel, who for more than a decade posed as a New York artist while running an undercover ring of spies who passed on U.S. atom-bomb secrets.

Over the years, Vogel was the go-between for the exchange of more than 150 spies and alleged spies. In 1985, the year before Shcharansky's release, he negotiated a mass swap of 23 alleged spies held by his own government for four East German agents convicted in the U.S.

Through the decades of Cold War, through the ups and downs of detente and crisis, such prisoner exchanges became almost routine.

In 1964, at West Berlin's Heerstrasse crossing to East Germany, British businessman Greville Maynard Wynne, who was at the heart of a sensational Moscow spy case, was exchanged for Konon Trofimovich Molody, whose spy ring had collected data on British submarines. Wynne was the conduit for Oleg Penkovsky, a key Russian agent for Britain's MI6 who later was executed.

When Bukovsky was released in 1976 and flown in handcuffs to Switzerland, it was in exchange for Chilean communist leader Luis Corvalan, imprisoned by dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet after Chile's right-wing military coup of 1973.

In 1981, in another Vogel-engineered deal, West Germany released convicted East German spy Guenter Guillaume in exchange for eight captured West German, American and British spies.

The lopsided nature of that trade pointed up Guillaume's importance: As a top aide to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, he had purloined documents relating to the NATO alliance's nuclear strategy. Brandt resigned because of the scandal.

The collapse two decades ago of the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union and the entire Cold War ushered in a time of East-West unity in Europe, friendlier U.S.-Russian ties and, until now, a scarcity of old-fashioned spy swaps. But although swaps are fewer, the spying goes on — to obtain confidential information about diplomatic moves, trade negotiations, advanced technology and other economic and political areas, as well as the traditional defense intelligence.

Soon after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the newly branded Russian Intelligence Service established an economic intelligence unit to study U.S. economic policy via publicly available databases and "traditional intelligence methods" — that is, spies.

"Everybody steals everybody's secrets," spokesman Yuri Kobaladze told the AP at the time. "There are friendly states, but not friendly intelligence services."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: ‘Such a nice couple’: The spies next door

  • Image: US-RUSSIA-SPY-ARREST
    SHIRELEY SHEPARD  /  AFP - Getty Images
    This drawing dated June 28, 2010 shows five of the 10 arrested Russian spy suspects in a New York courtroom.
    It’s a tabloid editor’s dream come true: Ten people are accused of being undercover Russian spies, and one of them is even photogenic enough to deserve her own slideshow (see The New York Post’s tribute to what they are calling "Sexy Russian Spy Anna Chapman" here).

    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.:

    Image: Anna Chapman
    AP
    Anna Chapman
    Dubbed the “femme fatale” of the Russian spy ring, Chapman, 28, said she was the founder of an online real estate company worth $2 million. The daughter of a Russian diplomat (whom her ex-husband dubbed "scary"), she said she had a master's in economics, was divorced and lived a socialite’s life in Manhattan’s Financial District. According to the New York Daily News, Chapman is the one who figured out the spy network was being monitored on Saturday, prompting the FBI to make the arrests Monday. Photographs and videos of her have popped all over the Internet (See a wrap-up on The Washington Post).

    Sources: New York Daily News, New York Post

  • Mikhail Vasenkov (a.k.a. 'Juan Lazaro') and Vicky Pelaez, Yonkers, N.Y.:

    Image: Vicky Pelaez
    AFP - Getty Images
    Vicky Pelaez

    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."

    Source: New York Daily News, The Associated Press, The New York Times

  • Vladimir and Lydia Guryev (a.k.a. 'Richard and Cynthia Murphy'), Montclair, N.J.:

    Image: Alleged Russian Spies Live "Regular" Life In Suburban America
    Getty Images  /  Getty Images
    Richard and Cynthia Murphy

    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.

    Sources: Star-Ledger, New York Daily News, Politico, The Washington Post

  • Mikhail Kutsik and Natalia Pereverzeva (a.k.a. 'Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills'), Arlington, Va.:

    Image: A view of River House Apartments, where suspected Russian spies Michael Zottoli and his wife Patricia Mills lived in Arlington
    Molly Riley  /  Reuters
    River House Apartments, where Zottoli and Mills lived in 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.

    Sources: KOMO-TV, Washington Post, The Seattle Times

  • Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova (a.k.a. 'Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley'), Cambridge, Mass.:

    Image:Residence owned by Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, who were arrested Sunday by the FBI on allegations of being Russian spies.
    Russell Contreras  /  AP
    Heathfield and Foley's home

    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.”

    Sources: Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Harvard Crimson, New York Times

  • 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 also has a Twitter account, a Facebook profile, and a blog called “Chinese Economy Today.

    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.

    Sources: Daily Telegraph, LinkedIn, Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press

  • Christopher R. Metsos, arrested in Cyprus:

    Image: Photo of Robert Christopher Metsos Russian spy
    Cyprus Police / Handout  /  EPA
    Christopher Metsos

    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."

    Source: Reuters

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