Two alleged femmes fatales are among a group of 10 people arrested in the US over their involvement in a suspected Russian spying operation, it emerged today.
One was a redhead called Anna Chapman who worked in the financial district of Manhattan. The other, known as Tracey Lee Ann Foley, allegedly held a fake British passport, forged by Russian intelligence, to help her travel to and from Russia without attracting suspicion.
Chapman was among those accused of being a spy today after she allegedly passed information to her handlers at locations around Manhattan.
As they appeared in court, assistant US attorney Michael Farbiarz singled out Chapman, saying: “This is a Russian agent.”
The 28-year-old lived in a luxury financial district apartment and ran a $2 million online real-estate business.
An 11th man was today arrested in Cyprus as he tried to travel to Budapest.
US authorities claim Chapman’s real goal was to infiltrate political circles and channel information back to Russia, according to reports. It is claimed she engaged in clandestine communication tactics fit for a Cold War era spy film. On one occasion, Chapman is accused of sharing computer files from a Barnes & Noble bookshop in New York.
She allegedly transmitted the data over a secret wireless network to another spy who was parked in a van outside, according to the complaint.
The 11th suspect, named as Christopher R Metsos, was arrested at Larnaca airport. He was released on bail pending US extradition proceedings.
The other 10 suspects, who were detained on Sunday, all appeared in court last night, five in Manhattan and the others elsewhere, charged with conspiring to act as unlawful agents of a foreign government. Some have also been charged with money laundering.
The US justice department said that the “deep cover” espionage was aimed at obtaining information about US nuclear policy and other inside information on the orders of Russian intelligence chiefs.
But Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov demanded an explanation from the US government, claiming the details about the arrests were “contradictory”.
American prosecutors say the suspects posed as US couples living ordinary suburban lives — two described themselves as Mr and Mrs Murphy of New Jersey — while secretly gathering information for their masters in Russian intelligence.
This afternoon details emerged of how secret money drops, invisible ink and messages hidden in pictures on the internet were used by the alleged Russian spy ring arrested at the weekend.
Margo Sokolow, the Murhpys’ astonished neighbour in Marquette Road, said: “I didn’t realise Russia still did that. With a name like Murphy who’s going to think they’re Russian spies?”
The suspects were detained after a massive FBI investigation dating back to the Clinton administration which used hidden microphones and video surveillance and covertly searched their homes.
The arrests, carried out in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Virginia, followed a fake “drop” the day before in Arlington County, during which one of the suspects left $5,000 in an envelope hidden inside a newspaper.
The 10 arrested appeared in court charged with conspiring to act as unlawful agents of a foreign government, with nine of them also accused of money laundering.
The US department of justice said those responsible had been instructed by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.
Although Russian officials claimed the information about the suspects was “contradictory”, US investigators provided extensive details about the alleged spying in revelations which revived memories of the Cold War.
Documents described how the suspects had used methods such as burying money next to a beer bottle marker and “brush pasts” in parks, where agents swap identical bags as they pass each other.
According to the US department of justice, the group, dubbed the “Illegals”, were to become sufficiently Americanised so that they could gather information about the US for Russia.
The FBI decrypted a coded message last year which instructed them to “search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels” back to Moscow, according to court papers.
The individuals were accused of collecting information ranging from research programmes on nuclear warheads and the global gold market to trying to obtain background information about people who applied for jobs at the CIA.
Two of those arrested, a couple from New Jersey known as “Richard Murphy” and “Cynthia Murphy”, had been told to obtain information about America’s policy on a new strategic arms reduction treaty and Iran’s nuclear programme before President Obama’s visit to Russia last year.
Metsos was accused of receiving and distributing money to the group, including payments from a Russian official affiliated with the Russian Mission to the UN in New York.
One, whose alias was “Donald Howard Heathfield”, is said in court documents to have made contact with a government official at a seminar and discussed “research programs on small yield, high penetration nuclear warheads”, although there was no indication that any data he obtained was secret or classified.
Others were told to obtain jobs with think-tanks so that they could obtain inside information. It is not yet known what, if any, useful information was passed on.
As well as Foley, Chapman, Metsos, the Murphys and Heathfield, the others were Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills, Juan Lazaro, Vicky Pelaez and Mikhail Semenko.