Nightly News   |  November 12, 2010

Plot twist in real-life Russian spy drama

In a twist right out of a John LeCarre thriller, the spymaster in charge of Anna Chapman and nine other Russian secret agents has reportedly defected to the West. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> as we mentioned, we're back with a new twist in a story that got a lot of attention this past summer. the real-life ring of russian spies, one of them a high profile redhead who had been living right here in the united states among us. they were thrown out of here, sent back to moscow. but tonight, there's more. a reported russian double agent who blew their cover and is now on the run. the whole story from our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell .

>> reporter: his bond girl was anna chapman , hardly undercover anymore. most recently featured in the russian edition of "maxim" magazine. now in a real-life thriller, the spy master in charge of chapman and nine other russian secret agents has reportedly defected to the west. identified in the russian press only as colonel sherbakov.

>> that suggests to me that if the story is true, he was what's called an agent in place. that is to say he was working for the cia and perhaps the fbi, as well, for many years. but nobody knew it. and finally he decided the time was to get out while the getting was good.

>> reporter: the ten moles he reportedly planted in the u.s. war traded back to the russians in a spy swap last july. ever since, chapman has been a moscow sensation, posing for photo spreads, even marketed as an action figure. a former spy himself, prime minister putin told him the spies were caught as a result of a russian traitor. he said sellouts always end up in a ditch, adding the other day one such traitor kicked the bucket. if true, it's an intelligence bonanza.

>> he was in a position to know everything that was going on here that the russians were doing.

>> reporter: despite talk tonight of russian threats to assassinate the director, the cia and fbi have a long track record of creating new identities for people who come in from the cold. andrea mitchell , nbc news, washington.