DOJ Blows Smoke on Timing of Russian Spy Bust

Earlier Tuesday, I did a post aiming to understand the timing of Monday’s bust of 11 alleged Russian spies. Later in the day, Mark Hosenball did a post–heavily reliant on DOJ press spokesperson Dean Boyd–that doesn’t make any sense.

First, Boyd states on the record that the reason DOJ had to move now on the busts was because someone–who must be the woman posing as Anna Chapman, who was going to go to Russia next week–was about to leave the country.

Several of the reasons remain classified, U.S. officials say, but one contributing factor has now been disclosed: at least one of the suspects was about to leave the country. “These arrests had to be carried out Sunday for several critical law-enforcement and operational reasons,” Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd tells Declassified. “Among these reasons was the fact that one of the suspects was scheduled to depart the United States and had to be arrested before departure. These operational considerations were the only factors that dictated the timing of the arrests.

Either Chapman is a more intriguing arrest than most of the other 10 defendants, or this is a load of bull. After all, the defendant posing as Richard Murphy was allowed to travel to Russia in February. And not only have they had Murphy under surveillance since at least 2004, but he seemed to serve as a bit of a sub-handler for the Seattle couple. By contrast, the FBI agent posing as a Russian handler for Chapman described the task he set her–passing money to another alleged spy ring member, the same role Murphy served with the Seattle couple–as “the next step.”  In other words, Murphy was already doing what Chapman was apparently being falsely tasked to do.

Now granted, maybe Chapman is more important than Murphy. But then that’s the reason they rolled up the network, right?

Then there’s the odd claim–one repeated widely in reporting on this story–that the defendants weren’t charged with a “real” spy charge.

As we previously reported, charges issued so far against the alleged “illegal” long-term Russian penetration agents do not accuse them directly of espionage—stealing or attempting to steal U.S. intelligence or defense secrets. Instead, court documents portray them as talent spotters, alleging that they were assigned to identify and ingratiate themselves with influential Americans who had access to U.S. policymakers or government secrets, the idea being that those individuals could then be targeted for more aggressive recruitment by other Russian spies.

Sure, these defendants appear not to have passed classified information. But they were charged with something that other notable spy defendants have been charged with recently: acting as an unregistered agent for a foreign power. Both the Venezuelan-Americans convicted of carrying a payment from Chavez’ government in Venezuela to Kirchner’s in Argentina and the cousin of Andy Card were charged with the same charge (though in the latter case, the charge was eventually dropped). (There’s also an Israeli alleged spy similarly charged, though I don’t have a ready link for it.)

There’s a narrative evolving about this bust that doesn’t make any sense.

57 replies
  1. wohjr says:

    On top of things as always EW, smells fishy. The timing of everything so soon after the Burger Summit is just strange to me… seems like they almost HAVE to be related somehow?

    ps- Excuse me, but haven’t we met in California last summer?

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Dunno. Medvedev seems to be in a dreadful spot: PM of a nation that seems to have mastered looting, but not mastered the concept of commerce. Pulling Russia into some kind of economy that isn’t in thrall to energy and oiligarchs would be one hell of a tough hill to climb.
      But may I indulge myself by noting that the Guardian has one hell of a nice photo of Medvedev holding up his new iPhone G4 with Steve Jobs looking on. (Okay, I’m a tinge jealous…)

      It’s impossible to imagine Kruschev or Yeltsin in that setting, so the ‘new Russia’ PM has made tech inroads.
      Which leads one to wonder about the Russian laptops…

      At the end of the linked thread, Gitchee has some very intriguing links: Barclay’s Bank links to BAE, which links to Riggs. ‘Ms Chapman’ was said to have worked in ‘investment’ arm of Barclays London. And in IPOs, no less. Then she comes to the US and sells real estate online.

      If you wanted economic intel, an IPO division of an investment bank seems like a good spot to land.
      And if the bank were in London — and had ties to BAE — then all the better, surely?
      If you wanted to launder money, it seems that ‘online real estate’ would hold out ‘opportunities’, eh?

      And what was the Seattle couple doing?
      Between Boeing, Microsoft, biotech… we have no end of ‘opportunities’ for jerks who want info they have no business knowing. Gosh, does that mean we’re almost as important as NYC or DC?
      If feel so ‘honored’ (/s).

      The timing does seem weird.

      Cheney’s being admitted to hospital right before the network was rolled up is another weird timing thing. One wonders whether the FBI had briefed him about this network while he was in office.

      • manys says:

        I wouldn’t be surprised if “Cheney’s in the hospital” is a code phrase for spooks to get clear of anybody dirty until he’s out.

      • Gitcheegumee says:

        Interesting you should bring up Cheney.

        He popped into my head when I was posting the comments about the Turkish and Russian pipelines,involving to some degree the Caspian Sea.

        IIRC, about ten years ago is the same time frame when Cheney had his private Energy Commisiion meetings regarding divvying the gas fields and oil in the Caspian Region.(Seems Blackwater was dispatched later to that area,also. )

        According to the Wiki, the target date of summer 2010 for a decision regarding one of these pipelines is interesting,too,imho.

        Just an observation.

        • Hans says:

          Cheney’s “dark imaginings” could have spawned all sorts of tenuous FBI investigations, and SVR feints, maybe now we’re “turning a page” on lingering Cheney stupidity — no effect on US/Russian relations going forward.

      • Gitcheegumee says:

        Incidentally, if you research BAE and BP,you get some very interesting links-and a roster of some very familiar players in the news of late.

        Although not a site I source much,this link has some exceptional,germane background:

        The BAE Systems Affair and the Anglo-Dutch….. with this BAE-Shell-BP nexus are a number of important investment and commercial banks, other weapons manufacturers, and raw materials companies. … – Cached – Similar

      • mattcarmody says:

        Medvedev is the president; Putin is the PM, a post created just for him when it became evident that the constitution was not going to be changed to give him a third term.

        Concur wholeheartedly with [email protected] AIPAC and the congresspeople it controls should all be made to register as agents of a foreign power.

  2. riffinman says:

    Which couple is not like all the rest?

    The outspoken leftist couple from South America do not look like deep cover white American people. (One a journalist for El Diario and the other a professor whose students complained about his reading list and political views). Just sayin’

  3. harpie says:

    Craig Murray also asks: why now?

    Those Russian Spies; 6/30/10

    […] Of course, for the long term future of their industry, spies are heavily dependent on the perception of an “enemy”. Perhaps there was concern that the perception of a viable enemy was slipping, so anti-Russian public and political sentiment needed to be stoked. Spies, of course, are not the only ones whose livelihood depends upon poor relations with an “enemy”. Obama’s pursuit of arms reduction negotiations with Medvedev is worrying the defence industry, Now what might cause domestic political problems for arms reduction negotiations with Russia? […]

    Comments are also interesting.

    [PS: he also published some new e-mails about why he left the Foreign Service in Uzbekistan [torture]. I’ll link to it in the previous “Russian spy” thread.]

  4. klynn says:


    If you have not read this, it might be worth reading. I personally think it may be playing a role. This was published on March 30th, 2010. (Not that it is a site I read. Do not like it at all. It’s total propaganda. But that is part of my point in posting it. The propaganda angle being played by the arrest timing.)

    • klynn says:

      Let me follow-up, should the content of the above link @ 7 be remotely correct, and it has a fair chance of being correct, that would not be good information to have to face Russia on without a counter espionage issue.

      Let me point out a contact of Hadley’s had a Russian girlfriend.

  5. Mary says:

    or attempting to steal U.S. intelligence or defense secrets

    There are certainly allegations contrary to this in the complaints. They repeatedly reference attempts to worm into positions where they can get such info, as well as to become influential with policy makers. Give the non-crime of letting Russian spies steal your “honest services” ;) that second element isn’t so much, but still.

    There are also the allegations that one was charged with getting info people who had been recruited by CIA. That could well, depending on the whos and for whats, be classified info if some were going to become covert.

    • spanishinquisition says:

      All these point to reasons not to arrest them, but rather to keep the network going and feeding it false information. The US could have let the charade continue on indefinitely. I also wonder if since this was known about the US for a long time that feeding them false info hadn’t been going on. Unless the FBI messed up and exposed themselves, I don’t see a reason to roll up the network as feeding disinformation is better both for foreign relations while also benefiting the US with Russia believing disinformation.

      • MarkH says:

        What if it wasn’t a question of our side feeding them certain information, but of somebody on our side working with somebody on their side to do something they oughtn’t do. Could be embarrassing for somebody. /s

  6. Citizen92 says:

    The Canadian Broadcasting Company added an interesting piece to the story last night on As It Happens.

    Donald Heathfield, the naturalized US Citizen who claimed to have been born in Canada apparently stole his identity. The real Heathfield died as an infant in the early 1960’s.

    David Heathfield, an Ontario resident, said yesterday that the alleged Russian spy known as Donald Heathfield stole the identity of his younger brother who died when he was 6 weeks old.

    “When we first heard about it, we thought it was a joke,’’ David Heathfield said. “Then it was a shock to us. How can somebody get away using our family name as an alias for so long and not be detected?’’

    He said his mother, Shirley, is distressed by the discovery that the child she lost to crib death has had his name stolen.

    David Heathfield, 51, said he has reviewed the FBI affidavit that includes details of a Canadian birth certificate authorities found stashed in a Cambridge safe-deposit box by the alleged spy. The name on the document was Donald Howard Graham Heathfield.

    So we really do not know the true nationality of the Heathfields. Not US because their US Citizenship was falsely obtained. Not Canadian since they appear to have stolen someone’s documents to assume a Canadian identity.

    Which means we probably don’t know the true nationality of the other defendants most of whom the DOJ complaint says proported to be US citizens.

    I’m sure the DOJ could bring everyone up on the lesser charge of falsification of US citizenship.

    • emptywheel says:

      Except for Pelaez, whom the complaint describes with no elaboration as a US citizen.

      I suspect–gut feel only–that any case against Pelaez is going to collapse. She was clearly aware of her husband’s work for the Russians. But she did not, as far as I can tell, engage in it. Thus we may quickly get to an interesting First Amendment position with her.

      • fatster says:

        According to Panetta there are about 50 AQs in Afghanistan, so this should be a short and sweet ironic horse ride, dontcha think?

    • Hugh says:

      US attorney general in Kabul for corruption talks

      This is a waste of time. The Afghans already know how to do corruption. /s

          • eCAHNomics says:

            I’m sure the Afghans could teach GS a thing or two, AND vice versa.

            Besides 21st C USGs are slow learners. Look how long it took W admin to figure out how to torture, a tactic that’s as old as humans.

      • MarkH says:

        US attorney general in Kabul for corruption talks

        This is a waste of time. The Afghans already know how to do corruption. /s

        OMG, ROFLMAO Good one! He he ha ha ho ho.

  7. Scarecrow says:

    If you substitute “lobbyist” for “spies” or whatever, then this paragraph:

    As we previously reported, charges issued so far against the alleged “illegal” long-term Russian penetration agents do not accuse them directly of espionage—stealing or attempting to steal U.S. intelligence or defense secrets. Instead, court documents portray them as talent spotters, alleging that they were assigned to identify and ingratiate themselves with influential Americans who had access to U.S. policymakers or government secrets, the idea being that those individuals could then be targeted for more aggressive recruitment by other Russian spies.

    …becomes an excuse for arresting everyone who works on K-Street. There are worse “crimes” than alleged here committed by lobbyists in DC every day. There is nothing here other than some old farts, doing their little games, who never made it out of the Cold War.

  8. R.H. Green says:

    I thought ,after your first post on the roll-up, that perhaps a problem arose when the woman was about to take the laptop to Russia. If it contained a planted device or software (de-encryption?)that should not be exposed, it would require the laptop being siezed on some pretext.

  9. Gitcheegumee says:

    Ramping up Afghanistan War to Control Caspian Oil and Gas | The …Dec 9, 2009 … Part II – Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful …Mar 21, 2007 … Scahill discusses Blackwater’s role in the Caspian Sea region in …

    Scahill: Prince Is Conducting Graymail | EmptywheelDec 4, 2009 … Scahill discusses Blackwater’s role in the Caspian Sea region in Central … So what they began doing was a program called Caspian Guard, … ……/scahill-prince-is-conducting-graymail/

    The Unseen Factions Shaping the Afghanistan Decision | The SeminalNov 29, 2009 … As a consequence, the region bordering Afghanistan is in …. and Russian – investment in the exploration and production of Caspian oil. …

    NOTE: Intriguing that Halliburton (a Cheney linked enterprise),and Blackwater-very recently- have chosen to make Dubai their headquarters ..not that that has anything to do with Russian imbeds.

  10. fatster says:

    Speaking of spying and national security, I’m sure someone in the Dept of Homeland Security will get right on this. Talk about an open invitation!

    Outsourcing Security: Defense Manufacturing Goes the Way of the Automobile


  11. Hugh says:

    Either Chapman is a more intriguing arrest than most of the other 10 defendants, or this is a load of bull.

    Anytime “load of bull” is an option with something this Administration does, I have to go with it. Most of these people seemed either middle class or fringe trendy. So who were the movers and shakers they were supposed to be targeting? And seriously couldn’t they accomplish any “penetration” much more easily with more standard covers, like student, journalist or diplomatic something or other, or even Russian mafia?

  12. cregan says:

    I agree this is intriguing, but I have not yet seen some alternative explanation that makes compelling sense.

    In absence of that, the default would be that some irreversible transfer of info or some other irreversible event was taking place. The woman’s leaving to Russia does not rise to that level unless she was planning on taking something with her–which would be dangerous, risky and not logical.

  13. fatster says:

    Going back to the BP oil gusher, here is more on the Jones Act. Hope bmaz, scribe and the others who were discussing it a week or so ago see this and will comment.

    GOP’s false talking point: Jones Act blocks Gulf help


    • Gitcheegumee says:

      AMO Currents-
      The Official Online Periodical of American Maritime Officers Posted: June 30, 2010

      This Edition:
      McCain’s ‘Open America’s Waters Act’ would close U.S. seas to U.S. interests
      Posted: June 29, 2010

      U.S. maritime industry rallies in support of Jones Act as Sen. McCain seeks repeal of cornerstone cabotage law
      Posted: June 24, 2010

      Jones Act is not an issue or an obstacle in Gulf of Mexico oil spill response

      NOTE: Tom Bethel,of the AMO,which is the American Maritime Officers Union has issued a withering commentary on McCain’s attempt to repeal the Jones Act.

      AMO Currents – American Maritime Officers online news and bulletinsAMO Currents: the official online periodical of American Maritime Officers. – Cached – Similar

      American Maritime Officers – AMOAMO Currents. Posted: June 24, 2010. American Maritime Officer, AMO Newspaper … AMO is the largest U.S. union of merchant marine officers. … – Cached – Similar

  14. fatster says:

    Thanks, Gitcheegumee. All workers need protections similar to those in the Jones Act–only extended to outsourcing, too. Just imagine a Jones Act for those miners in West Virginia, for example.

    Here’s a brief history of it (which I assume to be accurate). Scroll down to “Law Encyclopedia: Jones Act”, if you’re interested. Fascinating that a law like that could be passed when, during that same time period, it was very tough going getting a child labor law passed.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      You are MORE than welcome,fatster,

      Ya know, McCain is a real piece of…work.

      I remember researching his track record regarding MIA soldiers .Astonishing….and disheartening.

      One of the Vietnam era reporters did quite a long piece about that a year or so ago for the Nation.

      Will attempt to locate.

      • Gitcheegumee says:

        McCain and the POW Cover-up – The Nation InstituteSep 18, 2008 … The sum of the secrets McCain has sought to hide is not small. …. Guy wrote: “John, does this [the insults] include Senator Bob Smith [a New …. That is why we are keeping the number of prisoners of war secret, … – Cached – Similar

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      How much you wanna bet that BP will say that the deceased crew members were technically not sailors,and therefore Jones Act is inapllicable? s/

      Also, in response to #40,

      McCain is a real piece of s-l-o-w idle.

    • fatster says:

      Well, now, that’s a promise that I’m sure is as good as engraved in stone.

      Did you see the story linked in #20 above? We had to slash the Fourth Amendment to allow for eavesdropping on our communications–all in the name of national security. We cannot know too much about what our government is doing since so much of what they are doing is in the interests of national security. We are waging two wars (three if you count what they are doing in Pakistan) all in the interest of protecting “the Homeland”, costing us billions of tax payer dollars as well as American lives. Millions of us are out of work or underemployed since our jobs went overseas. And now we learn that the DOD is contracting out for the stuff they need to wage all these wars–and some of those contracts are going overseas, too, including to China.

      The mind reels.

    • klynn says:

      I would drop the snark tag on that observation.

      Here are some other bits to consider. In 2000, the FBI set up a bureau in Budapest and that led to the capture of a high end Russian Mob leader. The office has been quite successful in other organized crime bust and espionage issues, including money laundering. The latest incident happened earlier in March. here is a link. This is worth looking at folks.

      In a possible sequel to the Dubai assassination, Israeli spy planes flew uninvited and unannounced over Budapest, Hungary, the same day a Syrian man was shot to death in his car, Hungarian media reported Thursday.

      Two Israeli Air Force Gulfstream V-type jets, equipped with sophisticated intelligence gear, flew more than 1,300 miles over Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania on Wednesday before flying over eastern Budapest and then disappearing, the reports said.

      The incident occurred the same day Budapest police said a 52-year-old Syrian was gunned down while stopping his black luxury car at a traffic light on the east side of the capital.

      The attacker fired several shots before stealing a black briefcase from the car and fleeing on foot, authorities said.

      The Russian Mob now holds a significant portion of the EU $$$.

      • Rayne says:

        It’s increasingly difficult to separate truth from snark these days, that’s for sure.

        I wonder how many folks laughed at the Asian news source reporting on Putin’s comment – as if there was no agenda at Xinhua, you know?

      • Gitcheegumee says:

        Tantalizing post,klynn.

        And somewhat synchronistic to a thought that had been lingering in my mind .

        All the talk about the alleged Russian spies and the airplane connection(one sold airplanes for a while)got me to thinking about Viktor Bout-and ,well,whatever happened to him?

        Here’s a very recent update.

        (Samar Airlines is also worth a google.)

        Counterterrorism Blog: A New Indictment for Viktor Bout and his …Feb 17, 2010 … The U.S. Justice Department today handed down a new indictment against Viktor Bout and his Syrian-American partner Richard Chichakli, ……/a_new_indictment_for_viktor_bo.php – Similar

  15. Gitcheegumee says:

    And,coincidentally enough, one of Bout’s clients, Charles Taylor,of Liberia is presently on trial at the Hague for alleged war crimes:

    Naomi Campbell Subpoenaed in War Crimes Trial‎ – 2 hours ago

    … “blood diamonds” she allegedly received as a gift from former Liberian President Charles Taylor, judges for the ex-warlords war crimes trial said today. …
    ABC News – 734 related articles »(This has some really intriguing info).

    Charles Taylor (Liberia) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaCharles McArthur Ghankay Taylor (born 28 January 1948) was the 22nd President of Liberia, serving from 2 August 1997 until his resignation on 11 August 2003 …

    Early years – Rise to power – Relationship with Viktor Bout – Cached – Similar

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      Maybe to deflect somewhat from this?

      First Reported 21 hours ago – Updated 48 mins ago – 33 Documents

      Shin Bet spy granted asylum in US

      Sheikh Hassan Yousef was a founding member of Hamas, but his son, Mosab, worked for Israel [AFP]The son of one of the founding members of Palestinian Hamas, who gathered intelligence on his father’s group for Israel, has been granted asylum by a US immigration … [Published 48 mins ago by Al Jazeera]

  16. Leen says:

    Our MSM was willing to spend plenty of time on these alleged Russian spies who had not accessed or passed on classified intelligence. But when the top officials at Aipac were allegedly caught accessing and passing on highly classified intelligence onto Israeli officials…the MSM was silent..barely a word.

    When Israeli agents posing as college art students allegedly spying here in the states were caught they were quietly sent back to Israel.

    Just when will Aipac be required to sign up under the Foreign Agents Registation Act? Why these continued double standards for foreign countries and their agents influencing our foreign policy often in ways that undermine our national security?

    • klynn says:

      I agree. We would likely snag some double agents too. Russian-Israeli double agents who came to the US or to Israel as Russian Jews.

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