FBI Releases Surveillance Video of Russian Spy Ring Broken Up in 2010

Posted October 31st, 2011 at 1:35 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has released surveillance video from an operation that broke up a Russian spy ring in the United States last year and led to the biggest spy swap between the two sides since the Cold War.

The FBI released the videos and other materials including photos and documents Monday, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by several U.S. news agencies. The materials were part of the FBI's decade-long surveillance of the Russian spy ring that ended with the arrest of 10 Russian undercover agents on June 27, 2010.

The FBI named its surveillance program “Operation Ghost Stories” – a reference to the spies' mission of living and working in the United States under false identities while secretly working on long-term assignments to infiltrate U.S. policymaking circles.

The FBI videos show the spies exchanging documents and money in public places, unaware they are being monitored. Days after arresting the 10 Russians, U.S. authorities deported them as part of a spy swap with Moscow, which released four people convicted of spying for the West. The exchange took place at an airport in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2010.

The 10 expelled spies included Anna Chapman, now age 29, whose role in the case turned her into an international celebrity. She worked in New York as a real estate agent before she was caught. Since returning to Russia, Chapman has worked as a lingerie model, television personality and a youth leader of Russia's main pro-Kremlin political party.

U.S. officials say the Russian spy ring never managed to steal any secrets. The ring's suspected Russian handler, Christopher Metsos, was detained in Cyprus on June 29, 2010, but he later vanished after a court freed him on bail. U.S. authorities say Metsos operated as a Canadian citizen and delivered money and equipment to the sleeper agents.

Russia later tried a senior intelligence official in absentia for allegedly exposing the spy ring and convicted him of treason and desertion. The official, Alexander Poteyev, fled Russia days before the United States detained the spies.