Vocabulary > War > Intelligence, spies
Salt Lake Tribune
20 July 2010
Cambridge spy ring
double agent > Harold Adrian Russell Philby / Kim Philby
private spy ring
men of the underground
coded Web images
Federal Bureau of Investigation
National Security Agency NSA
pass on information
GCHQ, the government eavesdropping centre
Joint Intelligence Committee JIC
military intelligence agent
Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg (1915-1953) and Julius Rosenberg
The Denver Post
18 June 2009
Offers Look at Efforts by U.S.
to Spy on Israel
The New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE
— When Shamai K. Leibowitz, an F.B.I. translator, was sentenced to 20 months in
prison last year for leaking classified information to a blogger, prosecutors
revealed little about the case. They identified the blogger in court papers only
as “Recipient A.” After Mr. Leibowitz pleaded guilty, even the judge said he did
not know exactly what Mr. Leibowitz had disclosed.
“All I know is that it’s a serious case,” Judge Alexander Williams Jr., of
United States District Court in Maryland, said at the sentencing in May 2010. “I
don’t know what was divulged other than some documents, and how it compromised
things, I have no idea.”
Now the reason for the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the Obama
administration’s first prosecution for leaking information to the news media
seems clear: Mr. Leibowitz, a contract Hebrew translator, passed on secret
transcripts of conversations caught on F.B.I. wiretaps of the Israeli Embassy in
Washington. Those overheard by the eavesdroppers included American supporters of
Israel and at least one member of Congress, according to the blogger, Richard
In his first interview about the case, Mr. Silverstein offered a rare glimpse of
American spying on a close ally.
He said he had burned the secret documents in his Seattle backyard after Mr.
Leibowitz came under investigation in mid-2009, but he recalled that there were
about 200 pages of verbatim records of telephone calls and what seemed to be
embassy conversations. He said that in one transcript, Israeli officials
discussed their worry that their exchanges might be monitored.
Mr. Leibowitz, who declined to comment for this article, released the documents
because of concerns about Israel’s aggressive efforts to influence Congress and
public opinion, and fears that Israel might strike nuclear facilities in Iran, a
move he saw as potentially disastrous, according to Mr. Silverstein.
While the American government routinely eavesdrops on some embassies inside the
United States, intelligence collection against allies is always politically
delicate, especially one as close as Israel.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation listens in on foreign embassies and
officials in the United States chiefly to track foreign spies, though any
intelligence it obtains on other matters is passed on to the C.I.A. and other
agencies. The intercepts are carried out by the F.B.I.’s Operational Technology
Division, based in Quantico, Va., according to Matthew M. Aid, an intelligence
writer who describes the bureau’s monitoring in a book, “Intel Wars,” scheduled
for publication in January. Translators like Mr. Leibowitz work at an F.B.I.
office in Calverton, Md.
Former counterintelligence officials describe Israeli intelligence operations in
the United States as quite extensive, ranking just below those of China and
Russia, and F.B.I. counterintelligence agents have long kept an eye on Israeli
For most eavesdropping on embassies in Washington, federal law requires the
F.B.I. to obtain an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,
which meets in secret at the Justice Department. If an American visiting or
calling an embassy turns up on a recording, the F.B.I. is required by law to
remove the American’s name from intelligence reports, substituting the words
“U.S. person.” But raw transcripts would not necessarily have undergone such
editing, called “minimization.”
Mr. Silverstein’s account could not be fully corroborated, but it fits the
publicly known facts about the case. Spokesmen for the F.B.I., the Justice
Department and the Israeli Embassy declined to comment on either eavesdropping
on the embassy or Mr. Leibowitz’s crime. He admitted disclosing “classified
information concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United
States,” standard language for the interception of phone calls, e-mails and
other messages by the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency, which generally
focuses on international communications.
Mr. Leibowitz, now in a Federal Bureau of Prisons halfway house in Maryland, is
prohibited by his plea agreement from discussing anything he learned at the
F.B.I. Two lawyers who represented Mr. Leibowitz, Cary M. Feldman and Robert C.
Bonsib, also would not comment.
Mr. Silverstein, 59, writes a blog called Tikun Olam, named after a Hebrew
phrase that he said means “repairing the world.” The blog gives a liberal
perspective on Israel and Israeli-American relations. He said he had decided to
speak out to make clear that Mr. Leibowitz, though charged under the Espionage
Act, was acting out of noble motives. The Espionage Act has been used by the
Justice Department in nearly all prosecutions of government employees for
disclosing classified information to the news media, including the
record-setting five such cases under President Obama.
Mr. Silverstein said he got to know Mr. Leibowitz, a lawyer with a history of
political activism, after noticing that he, too, had a liberal-minded blog,
called Pursuing Justice. The men shared a concern about repercussions from a
possible Israeli airstrike on nuclear facilities in Iran. From his F.B.I. work
from January to August of 2009, Mr. Leibowitz also believed that Israeli
diplomats’ efforts to influence Congress and shape American public opinion were
excessive and improper, Mr. Silverstein said.
“I see him as an American patriot and a whistle-blower, and I’d like his actions
to be seen in that context,” Mr. Silverstein said. “What really concerned Shamai
at the time was the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, which he thought
would be damaging to both Israel and the United States.”
Mr. Silverstein took the blog posts he had written based on Mr. Leibowitz’s
material off his site after the criminal investigation two years ago. But he was
able to retrieve three posts from April 2009 from his computer and provided them
to The New York Times.
The blog posts make no reference to eavesdropping, but describe information from
“a confidential source,” wording Mr. Silverstein said was his attempt to
disguise the material’s origin.
One post reports that the Israeli Embassy provided “regular written briefings”
on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza to President Obama in the weeks between his
election and inauguration. Another describes calls involving Israeli officials
in Jerusalem, Chicago and Washington to discuss the views of members of Congress
on Israel. A third describes a call between an unnamed Jewish activist in
Minnesota and the Israeli Embassy about an embassy official’s meeting with
Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, who was planning an
official trip to Gaza.
Mr. Silverstein said he remembered that embassy officials talked about drafting
opinion articles to be published under the names of American supporters. He said
the transcripts also included a three-way conversation between a congressman
from Texas, an American supporter of the congressman and an embassy official;
Mr. Silverstein said he could not recall any of the names.
At his sentencing, Mr. Leibowitz described what he had done as “a one-time
mistake that happened to me when I worked at the F.B.I. and saw things which I
considered were violation of the law, and I should not have told a reporter
That was a reference to Israeli diplomats’ attempts to influence Congress, Mr.
Silverstein said, though nothing Mr. Leibowitz described to him appeared to be
beyond the bounds of ordinary lobbying.
Mr. Leibowitz, 40, the father of 6-year-old twins at the time of sentencing,
seems an unlikely choice for an F.B.I. translation job. He was born in Israel to
a family prominent in academic circles. He practiced law in Israel for several
years, representing several controversial clients, including Marwan Barghouti, a
Palestinian leader convicted of directing terrorist attacks on Israelis, who Mr.
Leibowitz once said reminded him of Moses.
In 2004, Mr. Leibowitz moved to Silver Spring, Md., outside Washington, where he
was a leader in his synagogue. Mr. Silverstein said Mr. Leibowitz holds dual
American and Israeli citizenship.
In court, Mr. Leibowitz expressed anguish about the impact of the case on his
marriage and family, which he said was “destitute.” He expressed particular
sorrow about leaving his children. “At the formative time of their life, when
they’re 6 years old and they’re just finishing first grade, I’ll be absent from
their life, and that is the most terrible thing about this case,” he said.
While treated as highly classified by the F.B.I., the fact that the United
States spies on Israel is taken for granted by experts on intelligence. “We
started spying on Israel even before the state of Israel was formally founded in
1948, and Israel has always spied on us,” said Mr. Aid, the author. “Israeli
intercepts have always been one of the most sensitive categories,” designated
with the code word Gamma to indicate their protected status, he said.
Douglas M. Bloomfield, an American columnist for several Jewish publications,
said that when he worked in the 1980s for the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee, a lobbying group, he assumed that communications with the embassy
were not private.
“I am not surprised at all to learn that the F.B.I. was listening to the
Israelis,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a wise use of resources because I
don’t see Israel as a threat to American security.”
Leak Offers Look at Efforts by U.S. to Spy on Israel, NYT,
Spy and Iran-Contra Figure,
Dies at 81
August 20, 2011
The New York Times
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Clair E. George, a consummate spymaster who moved the chess
pieces in the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine games of intrigue before
being convicted of lying to Congress about the Iran-contra affair, died Aug. 11
in Bethesda, Md. He was 81.
The cause was cardiac arrest, said his sister, Gail Marshall. Before Mr. George
was sentenced, the first President George Bush granted a full and unconditional
pardon to him and five other Iran-contra defendants.
As the C.I.A.’s deputy director of operations for three years of the Reagan
administration, the third-highest post in the spy agency, Mr. George was
responsible for cloak-and-dagger activities worldwide. He reached this pinnacle
after three decades of working as a spy around the world, specializing in
recruiting foreign agents to spy on their own countries for the United States.
The Washington Post Magazine in 1992 quoted a colleague as calling Mr. George “a
top-notch street man” who operated in what spies call the “night soil circuit” —
the less desirable posts of the world. He worked in Africa, Asia, Europe and the
Middle East. He was the C.I.A.’s station chief in Beirut when civil war erupted
there in 1975. He then volunteered to replace the Athens station chief, who had
just been assassinated by terrorists.
Bob Woodward, in his 1987 book, “Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987,”
said veteran spies regarded Mr. George as “an old warhorse symbol of the C.I.A.
at its best and proudest.”
In The Post, Richard Viets, a Foreign Service officer who was in India at the
same time as Mr. George and who went on to become an ambassador, said Mr. George
had the perfect personality for the agency. “He exudes trust and friendliness,”
he said, “but in fact is duplicitous as hell.”
Mr. George’s loyalty to the C.I.A., however, was unshakable — and ultimately
wrecked his career. He was convicted in 1992 of lying to Congressional
committees and a grand jury to keep from disclosing what he knew about the
agency’s participation in the Reagan administration’s illegal scheme to sell
arms to Iran and divert profits from the sales to help the contra rebels in
Mr. George was the highest-ranking C.I.A. officer prosecuted by the independent
counsel Lawrence E. Walsh in what came to be known as the Iran-contra affair.
After a mistrial caused by a hung jury, Mr. George was convicted of two charges
of false statements and perjury before Congress. He faced a maximum penalty of
five years in prison and $250,000 in fines on each count.
Mr. George said that his conscience was clear and that he felt like “a pawn in a
continuous drama of political exploitation.” Earlier, he had explained that he
had been “almost megalomaniacal” in striving to use his testimony to Congress to
“protect the agency.”
Mr. Walsh wrote that the verdict refuted the view that the illegal operation had
been confined to the White House and showed that it in fact extended to various
agencies, like the Defense and State Departments, as well as the C.I.A. He said
that if Mr. George had told the truth to Congress, the wrongdoing could have
been stopped years sooner. Suspicions had been raised in October 1986, when an
American cargo plane ferrying arms to Nicaraguan rebels was shot down.
“George chose to evade, mislead and lie,” Mr. Walsh said.
Mr. George had been indicted in September 1991, partly on the strength of the
testimony of an aide who told prosecutors that Mr. George had told him to
withhold information from Congress.
However, his devotion to the C.I.A. was appreciated by agency employees and
retirees, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his defense and came
to his trial to show support. Some volunteered to pore through mountains of
classified material assembled for the trial in search of useful evidence. Some
suggested that President Ronald Reagan should have been the one on trial, saying
that in professing ignorance of Iran-contra, the president was either lying or
admitting that he had been asleep at the switch. But investigations by Mr.
Walsh, Congress and an independent commission could not pin responsibility on
Clair Elroy George was born in Pittsburgh on Aug. 3, 1930. His family moved
several times, ending up in Beaver Falls, Pa., when he was 9. His father was a
dairy chemist who worked for the federal Department of Agriculture. As a youth,
Mr. George was a drummer in local dance bands and president of the high school
student council and worked in a steel mill.
He majored in political science and debated at Pennsylvania State University,
graduating in 1952. He enrolled in Columbia Law School, but joined the Army
instead. He learned Chinese and worked in counterintelligence in the Army in
Japan. He joined the C.I.A. after being impressed by agency officers he met in
the Far East.
After numerous assignments, in Washington and abroad, he returned to Washington
for good in 1979. He placed first out of 100 candidates in a promotions ranking
and was put in charge of the agency’s African division. William J. Casey, whom
Reagan had named director of central intelligence, appointed Mr. George to
successively higher positions. He served as deputy director from 1984 until his
retirement in 1987. He then worked as a consultant.
Mr. George’s wife, the former Mary Atkinson, died in 2008. In addition to his
sister, he is survived by his daughters, Leslie George and Ann Davies, and three
During Mr. George’s trial, the defense repeatedly tried to inform the jury of
his espionage achievements, which prosecutors tried to quash because they might
impress jurors. Finally, Judge Royce C. Lamberth told prosecutors they could
admit “something equivalent to war-hero status” and leave it at that.
Clair George, Spy and
Iran-Contra Figure, Dies at 81, NYT, 20.8.2011,
U.S. intelligence and the wisdom of crowds
Apr 1, 2011
After a string of world-shaking events America’s spies failed
to predict, most recently the turmoil sweeping the Arab world, a vast project is
taking shape to improve forecasting. It involves thousands of volunteers and the
wisdom of crowds.
It’s officially known as the Forecasting World Events Project and is sponsored
by the Intelligence Advanced Research Activity (IARPA), a little-known agency
run by a woman, Lisa Porter, who is occasionally described as America’s answer
to the fictional Agent Q who designs cutting edge gadgets for James Bond. Much
of IARPA’s work is classified, as is its budget. But the forecasting project is
not classified. Invitations to participate are now on the Internet.
The idea is to raise five large competing teams of people of diverse backgrounds
who will be asked to make predictions on fields that range from politics and
global security to business and economics, public health, social and cultural
change and science and technology. The project is expected to run for four years
and stems from the recognition that expert forecasts are very often wrong.
One of the teams is being put together by University of Pennsylvania professor
Philip Tetlock, whose ground-breaking 2005 book (Expert Political Judgment: How
Good is It? How Can We Know?) analysed 27,450 predictions from a variety of
experts and found they were no more accurate than random guesses or, as he put
it, “a dart-throwing chimpanzee”.
“To test various hypotheses,” Tetlock said in an interview, “we want a large
number on my team, 2,500 or so, which would make it almost ten times bigger than
the number I analysed in my book.” There are no firm numbers yet on how big the
other four teams will be. But Dan Gardner, the author of a just-published book
that also highlights the shortcomings of expert predictions, believes the
IARPA-sponsored project will be the biggest of its kind. It is expected to start
The title of Gardner’s book, “Future Babble. Why expert predictions are next to
worthless and you can do better,” leaves no doubts over his conclusion. The book
is an entertaining, well researched guide to decades of totally wrong
predictions from eminent figures. There was the British writer H.N. Norman, for
example, who, in the peaceful early days of 1914, predicted there would be no
more wars between the big powers of the time. World War I started a few months
There was the Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, whose best-selling 1968 book The
Population Bomb predicted that hundreds of millions of people would starve to
death in famines in the 1970s. There was an entire library of books in the 1980s
that predicted Japan would overtake the United States as the world’s leading
Not to forget the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s September 1978 prediction
that the Shah of Iran “is expected to remain actively involved in power over the
next ten years.” The Shah fled into exile three months later, forced out by
increasingly violent demonstrations against his autocratic rule.
In a similar vein, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on January 25
that “our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking
for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian
Seventeeen days later, the leader of that stable government, Hosni Mubarak,
stepped down in the face of mass protests.
“We are not clairvoyant,” America’s intelligence czar, James Clapper, told a
hearing of the House Intelligence Committee where criticism of the sprawling
U.S. intelligence community was aired. “Specific triggers for how and when
instability would lead to the collapse of various regimes cannot always be known
True enough. Who could have predicted that the assassination of an archduke in
Sarajevo in 1914 would lead to the deaths of 16 million people in World War I?
Who could have predicted Japan’s recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor
disaster? On the other hand, there were accurate predictions that U.S. troops
invading Iraq in 2003 would not be showered with flowers, as Washington
officials had so confidently predicted.
IARPA’s Forecasting Project is not the first American attempt at peering into
the future with novel methods. The agency’s richer, bigger and older military
sibling, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), caused outrage
in 2003 with a plan to set up an online market where investors would have traded
futures in Middle East developments including coups, assassinations and
The man who ran DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, at the time, John
Poindexter, resigned and the project was killed so we’ll never know whether that
market might have been a better indicator of the future than the usual, often
And the IARPA teams? The aim of the program, as explained in an online
invitation to participate, is to “dramatically enhance the accuracy, precision
and timeliness” of forecasts. Gardner, the forecast sceptic, thinks they will
remind us that there are things that simply can’t be predicted.
U.S. intelligence and the wisdom of
crowds, R, 1.4.2011,
of Passing Nuclear Arms Secrets
September 17, 2010
The New York Times
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
A physicist and his wife, who both once worked at the Los
Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, were arrested Friday and charged with
a criminal conspiracy to help Venezuela build an atom bomb.
The arrests of P. Leonardo Mascheroni and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni and a
22-count indictment came after a sting operation by the Federal Bureau of
Investigation from 2008 to 2009. A raid on the couple’s home in Los Alamos last
October hauled away cameras, computers and hundreds of files.
“If I were a real spy,” Dr. Mascheroni told a reporter at the time, declaring
his innocence, “I would have left the country a long time ago.”
After their arrests on Friday, the couple appeared in federal court in
Albuquerque. They were charged with handing over secret weapons information to
an F.B.I. agent posing as a Venezuelan spy. The government did not accuse the
Venezuelan government, or anyone working for it, of seeking weapons secrets.
Venezuela has begun exploring for uranium, but its president, Hugo Chávez, has
denied interest in developing nuclear arms.
The defendants, if convicted of all the charges, face potential life sentences
in prison. Dr. Mascheroni worked for Los Alamos, the nuclear laboratory, from
1979 to 1988, and his wife from 1981 until the raid on their home last year.
Dr. Mascheroni has long criticized the government’s nuclear policies as
misguided and has repeatedly accused federal agents of harassing him for his
“Leo is a gullible nut,” said Hugh E. DeWitt, a California physicist, in a
telephone interview on Friday. He knows Dr. Mascheroni and had testified before
a grand jury. “He is a nut, but he has dug his own grave,” Dr. DeWitt said.
The indictment says that Dr. Mascheroni, 75, a naturalized citizen from
Argentina, and Ms. Mascheroni, 67, an American citizen, handed over weapons
secrets in exchange for $20,000 in cash and the promise of nearly $800,000 in
“The conduct alleged in this indictment is serious and should serve as a warning
to anyone who would consider compromising our nation’s nuclear secrets for
profit,” David Kris, the assistant attorney general for national security, said
in a statement.
According to the indictment, Dr. Mascheroni told an undercover agent in March
2008, that he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years and
that under his program, the country would use a secret, underground nuclear
reactor to make plutonium, a type of bomb fuel.
In July of that year, the F.B.I. agent provided Dr. Mascheroni with 12 questions
supposedly from Venezuelan military and scientific personnel.
According to the charges, the physicist delivered to a post office box that
November a computer disk holding a 132-page document, written in code, that
contained “restricted data” related to nuclear weapons.
Written by Dr. Mascheroni and edited by his wife, the document was titled “A
Deterrence Program for Venezuela,” and officials say it laid out the physicist’s
weapons plan for Venezuela.
Dr. Mascheroni stated that the information he was providing was worth millions
of dollars, but that his fee for producing the document was a mere $793,000,
according to the indictment.
Earlier in the sting operation, the authorities say, Dr. Mascheroni asked the
F.B.I. agent about obtaining Venezuelan citizenship. In June 2009, Dr.
Mascheroni received from the box another list of questions, supposedly from
Venezuelan officials, and $20,000 in cash as a first payment.
On his way to pick up these materials, according to the indictment, he told his
wife he was doing the transaction for the money and was no longer an American.
Couple Accused of
Passing Nuclear Arms Secrets, NYT, 17.9.2010,
Couples Accused as Spies
Were the Suburbs Personified
June 29, 2010
The New York Times
By MANNY FERNANDEZ and FERNANDA SANTOS
They raised children, went to work in the city each day,
talked the small talk with neighbors about yard work and overpriced contractors.
In short, they could have been any family in any suburb in America.
In Montclair, N.J., a woman who lived next to the Murphy family described them
as “suburbia personified.” They asked their neighbors for advice about the best
middle schools to send their two young daughters. Richard Murphy mowed the lawn;
Cynthia Murphy would come home from her job as a financial-services executive,
daffodils and French bread in her hands.
“We would talk about gardening and dogs and kids,” said one neighbor, Corine
Miles away in Yonkers, there lived another ordinary couple, Vicky Peláez and her
husband, Juan Jose Lázaro Sr. They doted on their two pet schnauzers and their
teenage son, Juan Jose Lázaro Jr., a classical pianist.
The elder Mr. Lázaro had been known among his students at Baruch College for his
outspoken left-leaning politics, and his comments in class offended some but
earned respect from others, just as Ms. Peláez’s columns for El Diario La
Prensa, one of the country’s most popular Spanish-language newspapers, had
earned her a following of both fans and critics.
And in Cambridge, Mass., there was Donald Heathfield and his wife, Tracey Lee
Ann Foley. He received his master’s degree in public administration from
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2000; she worked for a real estate
company, passing a background check before she was hired.
Movies, books and television shows have taken to depicting suburbia as a place
where not all is as it seems, where people with decent jobs and decent homes
mask their secret double lives, and that seemed to be the case here: The three
couples were among 11 people arrested as part of a ring that prosecutors said
spied for the Russians under deep cover inside the United States.
Relatives, friends, classmates, neighbors and co-workers of the three couples
expressed shock at the arrests, and they searched their memories for signs that
something was amiss, but mostly came up blank.
“I didn’t know they were spies, but I know what they weren’t,” said Stanley
Skolnik, 67, a neighbor of the Murphys. “They weren’t unusual.”
Some of those who knew the couples said there might have been clues, too subtle
to cause concern. A neighbor asked Ms. Murphy, who received her M.B.A. from
Columbia Business School last month, if she was from Russia, after hearing her
accent. Ms. Murphy said that no, she was from Belgium.
Classmates of Mr. Heathfield at Harvard thought highly of him, but “his work was
a little bit mysterious,” said Craig Sandler, a classmate who is the president
of State House News Service, a news organization in Boston.
But there were also those who were skeptical that federal investigators had
arrested the right individuals, saying that they did not believe the accusations
and, in the case of Ms. Peláez and Mr. Lázaro, that their pro-Communist
political views made them targets of the investigation.
On Tuesday afternoon, as Waldo Mariscal, Ms. Peláez’s son from a previous
marriage, walked out of the family’s house in Yonkers, he was asked if Ms.
Peláez and Mr. Lázaro had any connection to Russia.
“Yes,” Mr. Mariscal said. “Russian music. Tchaikovsky.”
Unlike other Americans accused of spying over the decades, the three couples did
not shy from leading private lives that were in many ways quite public. Ms.
Murphy kept a page on the networking Web site LinkedIn. Another of the 11
arrested, Anna Chapman, ran a real estate Web site and said she wanted to start
a venture fund to broker partnerships between American and Russian businessmen.
In her native country, Peru, Ms. Peláez had earned acclaim as a television
reporter for Frecuencia Latina, and was briefly kidnapped in 1984 by a group of
At El Diario, where she had worked for more than 20 years, Ms. Peláez’s columns
had a following, broaching topics that were openly sympathetic to Cuba, Haiti
and Venezuela and that were critical of the Bush and Obama administrations. Her
work was reprinted on leftist Web sites, including some sponsored by the Cuban
“It’s not like I’m defending Vicky just for the sake of defending her, but I
know her as a dedicated mother and a compassionate woman who would take food out
of her mouth to give to someone who needs it,” Mónica Chang, a friend of Ms.
Peláez’s who worked with her at Frecuencia Latina, said in a telephone interview
The authorities said that of the three couples, all but Ms. Peláez had assumed
false identities. And while neighbors and relatives detailed all the ways that
they were typical families, the criminal complaint filed in Federal District
Court in Manhattan detailed their alleged work as secret agents.
Ms. Chapman had met regularly with a Russian government official since January,
the complaint said. On Saturday, after a meeting with an F.B.I. undercover agent
posing as a Russian consulate employee, she bought a cellphone and provided a
false name and address: 99 Fake Street.
Ms. Peláez and Mr. Lázaro were accused of receiving packages of money from
representatives of the Russian government. Surveillance of their Yonkers home in
2003 revealed “the irregular electronic clicking sounds associated with the
receipt of coded radio transmissions,” according to federal court papers.
In the summer of 2009, the Murphys argued with the S.V.R., one of the successors
to the Soviet K.G.B., in a series of encrypted messages, according to the
complaint. The argument centered on their new home in Montclair. The Murphys
contended that they should be permitted to own the house, but S.V.R.
headquarters determined that headquarters, known as Moscow Center, would own it
and permit the Murphys to live in it, the complaint read. In one message, the
Murphys wrote, according to the complaint: “From our perspective, purchase of
the house was solely a natural progression of our prolonged stay here. It was a
convenient way to solve the housing issue, plus to ‘do as the Romans do’ in a
society that values home ownership.”
The Murphys lived in a beige two-story house in the Fieldstone neighborhood in
Montclair, moving there more than a year ago from an apartment in Hoboken. F.
Thomas Senior and his wife, Nancy Senior, sold their house in Montclair to the
couple in 2008 for $481,000, records show. The Murphys wrote in their message to
Moscow Center in 2009 that they did not forget “that the house was bought under
fictitious names,” according to the complaint.
Mr. Senior said the Murphys seemed “anxious to get in the house so the girls
could start school in September – that was our impression.”
In Yonkers, Ms. Peláez and Mr. Lázaro lived with their son Juan Jose Lázaro Jr.
in a stately neighborhood with twisting, hilly streets.
In fall 2008, the elder Mr. Lázaro taught a class on Latin American politics at
Baruch College. Students said he denounced the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and
praised the health and educational systems in Cuba; among the required reading
was “The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals and
the Truth About Global Corruption.”
Thomas Halper, chairman of the political science department at Baruch College,
said that Mr. Lázaro taught for only a single semester. “We had someone observe
his class and that person didn’t think he did a very good job,” said Dr. Halper,
pointing out that all new adjuncts are monitored. “It wasn’t terrible. He just
didn’t do a good job and I didn’t reappoint him. My recollection, to the extent
that I knew him, is that he was quite pleasant. He was charming and very proud
of his son, who was a pianist.”
At El Diario, Mr. Lázaro’s wife was known for calling her co-workers over, to
have them look at the slideshows of Peruvian mountain scenes on her computer
screen. She had been a columnist at the paper since 2000. Ms. Peláez’s sister
Elvira Peláez Ocampo, 51, said by telephone from Peru that the family believed
that the allegations against her were fabricated by the United States
“It was the way they found to shut her up,” said Ms. Ocampo, a lawyer. “Vicky
has always been very transparent about what she believes in, very strong about
her convictions, and she wasn’t afraid to reveal them in her writings.”
Reporting was contributed by Lisa W. Foderaro,
Scott Shane and Benjamin Weiser.
Couples Accused as
Spies Were the Suburbs Personified, 29.6.2010,
In Ordinary Lives,
U.S. Sees the Work of Russian Agents
June 28, 2010
The New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE and CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — They had lived for more than a decade in American
cities and suburbs from Seattle to New York, where they seemed to be ordinary
couples working ordinary jobs, chatting to the neighbors about schools and
apologizing for noisy teenagers.
But on Monday, federal prosecutors accused 11 people of being part of a Russian
espionage ring, living under false names and deep cover in a patient scheme to
penetrate what one coded message called American “policy making circles.”
An F.B.I. investigation that began at least seven years ago culminated with the
arrest on Sunday of 10 people in Yonkers, Boston and northern Virginia. The
documents detailed what the authorities called the “Illegals Program,” an
ambitious, long-term effort by the S.V.R., the successor to the Soviet K.G.B.,
to plant Russian spies in the United States to gather information and recruit
The alleged agents were directed to gather information on nuclear weapons,
American policy toward Iran, C.I.A. leadership, Congressional politics and many
other topics, prosecutors say. The Russian spies made contact with a former
high-ranking American national security official and a nuclear weapons
researcher, among others. But the charges did not include espionage, and it was
unclear what secrets the suspected spy ring — which included five couples —
actually managed to collect.
After years of F.B.I. surveillance, investigators decided to make the arrests
last weekend, just after an upbeat visit to President Obama by the Russian
president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, said one administration official. Mr. Obama was
not happy about the timing, but investigators feared some of their targets might
flee, the official said.
Criminal complaints filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday read
like an old-fashioned cold war thriller: Spies swapping identical orange bags as
they brushed past one another in a train station stairway. An identity borrowed
from a dead Canadian, forged passports, messages sent by shortwave burst
transmission or in invisible ink. A money cache buried for years in a field in
upstate New York.
But the network of so-called illegals — spies operating under false names
outside of diplomatic cover — also used cyber-age technology, according to the
charges. They embedded coded texts in ordinary-looking images posted on the
Internet, and they communicated by having two agents with laptops containing
special software pass casually as messages flashed between them.
Neighbors in Montclair, N.J., of the couple who called themselves Richard and
Cynthia Murphy were flabbergasted when a team of F.B.I. agents turned up Sunday
night and led the couple away in handcuffs. One person who lives nearby called
them “suburbia personified,” saying that they had asked people for advice about
the local schools. Others worried about the Murphys’ elementary-age daughters.
Jessie Gugig, 15, said she could not believe the charges, especially against
Mrs. Murphy. “They couldn’t have been spies,” she said jokingly. “Look what she
did with the hydrangeas.”
Experts on Russian intelligence expressed astonishment at the scale, longevity
and dedication of the program. They noted that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian
prime minister and former president and spy chief, had worked to restore the
prestige and funding of Russian espionage after the collapse of the Soviet Union
and the dark image of the K.G.B.
“The magnitude, and the fact that so many illegals were involved, was a shock to
me,” said Oleg D. Kalugin, a former K.G.B. general who was a Soviet spy in the
United States in the 1960s and 1970s under “legal” cover as a diplomat and Radio
Moscow correspondent. “It’s a return to the old days, but even in the worst
years of the cold war, I think there were no more than 10 illegals in the U.S.,
Mr. Kalugin, now an American citizen living outside Washington, said he was
impressed with the F.B.I.’s penetration of the spy ring. The criminal complaints
are packed with vivid details gathered in years of covert surveillance —
including monitoring phones and e-mail, placing secret microphones in the
alleged Russian agents’ homes, and numerous surreptitious searches.
The authorities also tracked one set of agents based in Yonkers on trips to an
unidentified South American country, where they were videotaped receiving bags
of cash and passing messages written in invisible ink to Russian handlers in a
public park, according to the charges.
Prosecutors said the “Illegals Program” extended to other countries around the
world. Using fraudulent documents, the charges said, the spies would “assume
identities as citizens or legal residents of the countries to which they are
deployed, including the United States.
Illegals will sometimes pursue degrees at target-country universities, obtain
employment, and join relevant professional associations” to deepen false
One message from bosses in Moscow, in awkward English, gave the most revealing
account of the agents’ assignment. “You were sent to USA for long-term service
trip,” it said. “Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc. — all these
serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in
policymaking circles and send intels [intelligence reports] to C[enter].”
It was not clear what the intelligence reports were about, though one agent was
described as meeting an American government employee working in a nuclear
program. The defendants were charged with conspiracy, not to commit espionage,
but to fail to register as agents of a foreign government, which carries a
maximum sentence of 5 years in prison; 9 were also charged with conspiracy to
commit money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years. They are
not accused of obtaining classified materials.
There were also hints that Russian spy bosses feared their agents, ordered to go
native in prosperous America, might be losing track of their official purpose.
Agents in Boston submitted an expense report with such vague items as “trip to
meeting” for $1,125 and “education,” $3,600.
In Montclair, when the Murphys wanted to buy a house under their names, “Moscow
Center,” or “C.,” the S.V.R. headquarters, objected.
“We are under an impression that C. views our ownership of the house as a
deviation from the original purpose of our mission here,” the New Jersey couple
wrote in a coded message. “From our perspective purchase of the house was solely
a natural progression of our prolonged stay here. It was a convenient way to
solving the housing issue, plus ‘to do as the Romans do’ in a society that
values home ownership.”
Much of the ring’s activity — and the F.B.I. investigators’ surveillance — took
place in and around New York. The alleged agents were spotted in a bookstore in
Lower Manhattan, a bench near the entrance to Central Park and a restaurant in
Secret exchanges were made at busy locations like the Long Island Rail Road’s
station in Forest Hills, where F.B.I. watchers in 2004 spotted one defendant who
is not in custody, Christopher R. Metsos, the charging papers say.
The arrests made a splash in neighborhoods around the country, as F.B.I. teams
spent all Sunday night hunting through houses and cars, shining flashlights and
carting away evidence.
In Cambridge, Mass., the couple known as Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, who
appeared to be in their 40s and had two teenage sons, lived in an apartment
building on a residential street where some Harvard professors and students
“She was very courteous; she was very nice,” Montse Monne-Corbero, who lives
next door, said of Ms. Foley. The sons shoveled snow for her in the winter, Ms.
Monne-Corbero said, but they also had “very loud” parties.
Lila Hexner, who lives in the building next door, said Ms. Foley told her she
was in the real estate business. “She said they were from Canada,” Ms. Hexner
Another of those charged, Mikhail Semenko, was a stylish man in his late 20s who
drove a Mercedes S-500, said Tatyana Day, who lives across the street from him
in Arlington, Va. He had a brunette girlfriend and the young couple spoke to one
another in Russian and “kept to themselves,” Ms. Day said.
Reporting was contributed by Benjamin Weiser,
Nate Schweber, Kenneth Chang,
Andy Newman and Colin Moynihan from New York;
and Yeganeh June
Torbati from Washington;
and Abby Goodnough from Boston.
In Ordinary Lives,
U.S. Sees the Work of Russian Agents, 28.6.2010,
Related > Anglonautes > Vocapedia
> soldiers > action
soldiers > British army
war > soldiers > U.S. army ranks
war > veterans
war > weapons, arms sales
war > weapons >
aircraft, missiles, rockets
weapons > robots
war > weapons > nuclear weapons
war > weapons
> prisoners / abuse / torture
war > casualties >
war > burials
war > remembrance
Terrorism > C.I.A.
History > USA > 20th century > Cold War