In a world where the Internet is so pervasive and content flows so freely in such massive quantities, you would imagine encrypted information can be sent undetected between spy agencies and spies. Why, you may wonder would anyone transfer covert in any other manner? Still, this is exactly what happened when a gang of alleged Russian spies communicated via ad-hoc network between coffee shops and a nearby van. In addition, the ring made use of prepaid phones.
Other surprising developments - the alleged spies had children together to further their "deep cover" which was used in conjunction with false identities to enable the operatives to enter policymaking circles and subsequently report information back to Russia. At least one time the spies communicated with Russian diplomats who drove in cars with diplomatic plates. In addition, the gang was seen using a "brush pass" to share documents such as a fake passport.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz on Monday called the allegations against the other 10 people living in the Northeast "the tip of the iceberg" of a conspiracy of Russia's intelligence service, the SVR, to collect inside U.S. information.
Each of the 10 was charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. attorney general, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison upon conviction. Two criminal complaints outlining the charges were filed in U.S. District Court in New York.
Most of the suspects were accused of using fake names and claims of U.S. citizenship while really being Russian. It was unclear how and where they were recruited, but court papers say the operation goes back as far as the 1990s.
Russia angrily denounced the U.S. arrests as an unjustified throwback to the Cold War, and senior lawmakers said some in the U.S. government may be trying to undercut President Barack Obama's warming relations with Moscow.
"These actions are unfounded and pursue unseemly goals," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We don't understand the reasons which prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to make a public statement in the spirit of Cold War-era spy stories." Intelligence on Obama's foreign policy, particularly toward Russia, appears to have been a top priority for the Russian agents, prosecutors said.
A trailer for the movie The Jackal
Without a doubt this incident reminds me of the movie The Jackal which btw is one of my favorites. In the movie, the Russian Police (or KGB I can't recall) cooperate with the FBI to catch The Jackal played by Bruce Willis. At one point a Russian diplomat is found to be leaking information about the case to the Jackal. He complains that he has diplomatic immunity and his phone shouldn't have been tapped - he then learns that the Russian police officer authorized the tap.
But getting back to reality this situation is surprising because if you are going to have spies in the US you probably shouldn't be meeting with them or going nearby in vehicles with diplomatic plates. Moreover, one wonders if spies are not using the Internet to send covert information and are instead opting for point-to-point communications, does this mean the US is doing an incredible job monitoring the Net for such information?
Or is it a case of thinking the US will never catch you ... You have to wonder, did they fear the US so little that they used methods which could be picked up by anyone following cars with diplomatic plates? Or is it a case of being technological novices?
Whatever it is, in light of this news, the fact that the Russian president was just here last week trying to woo US companies to set up shop in Russia to build a new Silicon Valley may be cause for alarm.