Anna Chapman

The National Security Council Was Briefed on Anna Chapman before Her Arrest

I frankly wasn’t all that interested in the news that Russian spy Anna Chapman was setting a honey trap for an Obama cabinet official…

In a documentary broadcast last night, FBI counter-intelligence chief Frank Figliuzzi claimed the glamorous Russian agent got close enough to ‘disturb’ U.S. spy catchers.

He said the fear that Miss Chapman was close to seducing a sitting member of the Obama administration spurred agents to swoop on the 10-strong spy ring of which she was a part.

Mr Figliuzzi told the Channel 4 documentary the auburn-haired spy got ‘closer and closer to higher and higher ranking leadership… she got close enough to disturb us.’

‘We were becoming very concerned,’ he said. ‘They were getting close enough to a sitting US cabinet member that we thought we could no longer allow this to continue.’

Until Laura Rozen noted that Peter Orszag left the White House in July 2010. Since most of the cabinet level officials with some base in NY, where Chapman lived and socialized–like Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice–are female, I simply hadn’t thought that much about who her target could have been. Though Orszag presents an interesting possibility (not least because he was personally involved in our cybersecurity efforts at the time). And an even more interesting date, to me, is the day the White House announced his departure: June 22, just 3 days before they started rolling up the Russian spy network.

Now, whether or not Orszag was the target (I’ve got some other suspicions, and if he was, Chapman would have been targeting Orszag during the period after he got engaged but before he got married), her comment was enough to get me to refer back to my coverage on Chapman’s arrest.

And there are a few interesting details about it. Here’s a timeline I put together:

June 9: Chapman’s laptop chats with Russian Official #1 surveilled

June 11: Obama briefed about Russian spy swap

June 16: Chapman’s laptop chats with Russian Official #1 surveilled

June 18: Obama chairs NSC meeting on Russian spy swap

June 24: Obama and Dmitri Medvedev go to Ray’s Hell Burger

June 25: Complaint against 9 spies dated

June 26: FBI collects evidence against last two remaining spies; FBI agent says to Chapman, “I know you are going back to Moscow in two weeks.”

June 27: Spies arrested

June 29: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complains about timing of arrest; Obama reported to be miffed about timing of arrest; DOJ attributes timing to pending travel–presumably Chapman’s

Week of July 5: White House almost cancels spy swap because names of proposed spies in Russia leaked

July 10: Two weeks after FBI Agent said Chapman would be traveling to Russian in two weeks

Of particular note is the June 18 NSC meeting. Most key cabinet members that would make interesting targets for Russian spies are members of the NSC. Director of OMB attends NSC meetings that pertain to its area of responsibility. They all learned–at least in the abstract–of the looming spy trade on June 18, 2010, a week before the FBI started rolling up the spies.

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Robert Mueller Once Again Claims Anna Chapman a Bigger Threat to US than Lloyd Blankfein

Robert Mueller addressed the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco today. He repeated a familiar theme: the biggest threats to the United States are terrorists (even aspirational ones), spies, and cyber attacks.

Terrorism, espionage, and cyber attacks are the FBI’s top priorities. Terrorists, spies, and hackers are always thinking of new ways to harm us.

As he tends to do when spreading this propaganda, Mueller once again focused on Anna Chapman and her band of suburban spies.

Consider the arrest last year of 10 agents of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. Many of you may have seen TV news stories and videos covering the techniques we used in our investigation, code-named Ghost Stories. It featured the stuff of a John Le Carré novel—dead-drops in train tunnels, brush passes at night, and clandestine meetings in cafés.

Though he did add the example of Kexue Huang, who sent information on organic pesticides and food to Germany and China, to his list of scary spies who threaten our country.

Last month, Kexue Huang, a former scientist for two of America’s largest agricultural companies, pled guilty to charges that he sent trade secrets to his native China.

While working at Dow AgriSciences and later at Cargill, Huang became a research leader in biotechnology and the development of organic pesticides. Although he had signed non-disclosure agreements, he transferred stolen trade secrets from both companies to persons in Germany and China. His criminal conduct cost Dow and Cargill millions of dollars.

Finally, Mueller added a neat new twist to his list of people who pose a big threat to this country. The hackers who hacked into the BART website after BART cops killed the unarmed Oscar Grant and later Charles Blair Hill, and after BART shut down cell service to interrupt free speech will bring anarchy!

And “hacktivist” groups are pioneering their own forms of digital anarchy. Here in the Bay Area, you witnessed their work firsthand when individuals hacked the BART website and released personal data of BART customers.

Because it’s not anarchy when cops shoot unarmed or drunk men. It’s not anarchy when transit companies unilaterally shut down your phone. It’s only anarchy when the hackers get involved.

You’ll note what’s missing, as it always is, from Mueller’s list of scary threats to the country? Not a peep about the banksters whose systematic fraud has done–and continues to do–far more financial damage than 9/11.

It’s anarchy, apparently, when bunch of kids break into a website. But it’s not anarchy when banksters rewrite property law to steal the homes of millions of Americans.

Spooky Timing

I assume this is a coinkydink. But oh what a coinkydink it is.

Sergei Tretyakov, a high-ranking Russian spy whose defection to the United States in 2000 was regarded as one of the most significant coups against the Russian government since the collapse of the Soviet Union, died June 13 at his home in Osprey, Fla.

Mr. Tretyakov’s wife said he died after suffering a heart attack, according to Pete Earley, the author of a book about Mr. Tretyakov. The former Russian spy was 53 and news of his death was withheld at the request of his family pending an investigation into the cause, Earley said.

[snip]

At the time of his defection on Oct. 11, 2000, Mr. Tretyakov allegedly had been working as a double agent for the United States for three years while he was the SVR’s second-in-command in New York. From 1995 to 2000, he oversaw all Russian covert operations in the city and had more than 60 intelligence officers under his command, according to [a book by Pete Earley on Tretyakov].

The intelligence Mr. Tretyakov handed over during his time as a double agent amounted to more than 5,000 top-secret SVR cables and scores of classified Russian intelligence reports. He wrote an estimated 400 papers for the CIA, the FBI, the State Department and the White House.

The WaPo doesn’t say it explicitly, but Tretyakov was, at the time of his defection, the First Secretary at the Russian Mission to the UN in NYC. The Russian handlers of the illegal spy ring just swapped back to Russia served in the same kind of role (Russian Official #2, who is described in most detail in the complaints on the spies, is or was the Second Secretary to the Russian Mission). And the FBI has had the network of illegals under surveillance since at least 2000, suggesting that Tretyakov likely alerted the US of the extent of the ring when he defected (the FBI started surveillance before he defected, but if he was a double agent as has been reported, he may have tipped the US off to the ring).

And look at how it lines up with the discussions of and timing of the bust:

June 5: Mikhail Semenko’s laptop chats with Russian Official #2 surveilled

June 9: Chapman’s laptop chats with Russian Official #1 surveilled

June 11: Obama briefed about Russian spy swap

June 13: Tretyakov dies

June 16: Chapman’s laptop chats with Russian Official #1 surveilled

June 18: Obama chairs NSC meeting on Russian spy swap

June 24: Obama and Dmitri Medvedev go to Ray’s Hell Burger

June 25: Complaint against 9 spies dated

June 26: FBI collects evidence against last two remaining spies; FBI agent says to Chapman, “I know you are going back to Moscow in two weeks.”

June 27: Spies arrested

June 29: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complains about timing of arrest; Obama reported to be miffed about timing of arrest; DOJ attributes timing to pending travel–presumably Chapman’s

Week of July 5: White House almost cancels spy swap because names of proposed spies in Russia leaked

July 8: Spy swap completed

July 10: Two weeks after FBI Agent said Chapman would be traveling to Russian in two weeks; Tretyakov’s death reported

The family may have withheld news of Tretyakov’s death by the heart problem he had had his entire life, but the delay also happened to have delayed news of his death until the spying activity he was originally part of was–at a minimum–exposed as part of this spy sting. And note the meetings involving President Obama on arresting the illegals and conducting the spy swap happened within a week before and after his Tretyakov’s death.

So maybe it’s not such a coinkydink after all…

Was the Real Target of the Spy Sting Russian Official #1?

It appears the White House may have gotten itself caught in the kabuki it played with the press on the Russian spies now swapped for some spies in Russian custody. But the timing of the kabuki suggests the target of the spy sting may not have been the illegals, but two Russian officials working under official cover.

Here’s the relevant chronology:

January 20: Surveillance against Anna Chapman starts

February: NSC, possibly including Obama, briefed on evidence against Russian spies

February 9: On orders from Russia Center, Richard Murphy purchases laptop to bring to Moscow

February 21: Murphy departs for Russia

March 3: Murphy returns from Russia, having swapped laptop for an identical one

March 7: Murphy hands off laptop to Michael Zottoli

April 7: Russian Official #1 aborts laptop chat with Chapman because he identifies surveillance

June 5: Mikhail Semenko’s laptop chats with Russian Official #2 surveilled

June 9: Chapman’s laptop chats with Russian Official #1 surveilled

June 11: Obama briefed about Russian spy swap

June 16: Chapman’s laptop chats with Russian Official #1 surveilled

June 18: Obama chairs NSC meeting on Russian spy swap

June 24: Obama and Dmitri Medvedev go to Ray’s Hell Burger

June 25: Complaint against 9 spies dated

June 26: FBI collects evidence against last two remaining spies; FBI agent says to Chapman, “I know you are going back to Moscow in two weeks.”

June 27: Spies arrested

June 29: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complains about timing of arrest; Obama reported to be miffed about timing of arrest; DOJ attributes timing to pending travel–presumably Chapman’s

Week of July 5: White House almost cancels spy swap because names of proposed spies in Russia leaked

July 10: Two weeks after FBI Agent said Chapman would be traveling to Russian in two weeks

Now, as I noted when the DOJ first pushed the excuse of–presumably–Chapman’s pending travel for the timing of the arrest, the excuse doesn’t seem to make any sense given that FBI had knowingly allowed Murphy to travel to Russia back in February. The excuse is even weirder now given that we know NSC was briefed about the investigation at that time.

Add in the fact that Obama knew of the prisoner swap when he met with Medvedev, and the fact that the complaints against most of the spies were written the day after that meeting, it sure looks like the timing had more to do with Medvedev than anything else.

Now, on Thursday, Rahm pushed back against any indication that Obama might have been involved in the decision to roll up the spies. First, Rahm claims that the decision to arrest the spies now was entirely that of law enforcement and intelligence.

JIM LEHRER: Was the decision on this spy swap the president’s?

RAHM EMANUEL: Well, first of all, what the president does appreciate is the work of the law enforcement community, as well as the intelligence community for their hard work in this case.

It wasn’t the decision of the president. It was the decision, obviously, of the law enforcement community and the intelligence community. But he does appreciate what they did and making America safer and the hard work that they did to get this done.

JIM LEHRER: Did the president — let me rephrase it then. Did the president sign off on this spy swap?

RAHM EMANUEL: The president was briefed about it.

Then when Lehrer presses (sort of), Rahm goes all spooky on his.

JIM LEHRER: Was the president aware that this spy ring existed before it was revealed publicly and these guys — these people were arrested?

RAHM EMANUEL: I think, Jim, it’s important — there will be a lot of postscripts on this.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

RAHM EMANUEL: And I think that what you should take away from this, obviously, the president was informed appropriately, known what was going on.

And they made the decision to go forward on this action. There will be a lot of writing about it, but I think, at this time, let me just say the cautionary note, the less said, the better.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

RAHM EMANUEL: Or how about, as I always like to say, less is more?

JIM LEHRER: Less is more.

RAHM EMANUEL: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir, whatever you say.

Ix-Nay on the Resident-Pay’s involvement in spy Wap-Say!

But the news of the June meetings was revealed in a background briefing to reporters yesterday–which may suggest Rahm was hushing talk of Obama’s involvement until the swap had been completed.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of timing, though, has to do with the surveillance on Russian Official #1. Two times, two days after he conducted a laptop chat with Chapman, the NSC met and discussed a spy swap.

June 5: Mikhail Semenko’s laptop chats with Russian Official #2 surveilled

June 9: Chapman’s laptop chats with Russian Official #1 surveilled

June 11: Obama briefed about Russian spy swap

June 16: Chapman’s laptop chats with Russian Official #1 surveilled

June 18: Obama chairs NSC meeting on Russian spy swap

So the meetings at which NSC first got briefed and then discussed in detail a spy swap occurred just after FBI caught Russians working spies in the US.

And while we’re at it, presumably we’ve not just expelled these 10 minor spies, right? We’ve expelled Russian Official #1 and Russian Official #2, right? The ones who were handling Chapman and Semenko directly (Russian Official #2, official the “second secretary” of the Russian UN Mission, has been involved in handling some of the illegals as far back as 2004)?

That is, was it Russian Official #1–who would be working under official cover and therefore be immune from arrest but would nevertheless be identified as a Russian spy through this investigation–that was the target of this kabuki, and not the illegals?

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.

Why Roll Up the Russian Spy Network Now?

As a number of you have commented, DOJ announced the arrest of 10 alleged Russian spies yesterday (with one person, based in another country, remaining at large). The alleged spies are basically people living under false identities tasked to network with influential Americans to learn specific information.

One of the most interesting questions about the bust is the timing. It’s clear from one of the complaints that the FBI has been tracking some of these alleged spooks for a decade. That suggests the government had been content, up to now, to simply track what Russia was tracking. But then, last week, they decided to roll up these alleged spies.

The timing and content of the two complaints adds to the interest of the question. The complaint describing the long-term surveillance, named Complaint 2 by DOJ, includes the following details from this year (showing the level of activity of the investigation with these longer-term suspects):

  • A March 7 intercept from the Boston couple’s townhouse
  • A search from the female Boston defendant’s safe deposit box conducted in April (one which implied there had been earlier searches of the box)
  • Discussion of the male New Jersey defendant’s travel to Russia in February to pick up a laptop (reflecting intercepts, physical surveillance, and business records)
  • Details describing the New Jersey defendant handing off the laptop he picked up in Moscow to the Seattle male defendant in early March
  • January intercepts capturing discussions of Russian handlers encouraging the New Jersey female defendant to take a job tied to lobbying

In other words, at least from what appears in this complaint, none of the surveillance on these eight long-term alleged spies was all that recent.

The date on this complaint–named Complaint 2 but reflecting the decade of surveillance these defendants have been under–was Friday, June 25.

Then there’s Complaint 1, which pertains to two additional defendants, Anna Chapman and Mikhail Semenko, and which is dated Sunday, June 27. The earliest dates in that complaint date back only to January 2010 (and June 2010 for Semenko), perhaps suggesting the FBI has had these two defendants under surveillance for a much shorter period of time. In addition, unlike the other complaint, this one does not provide details about the cover of the defendants (though there may be a number of reasons why this would be true).

Complaint 1 describes how FBI agents posed as Russian handlers and set up meetings with the two defendants on June 26–that is, the day after the complaint covering the eight other defendants was signed. In Semenko’s case, the FBI agent asked the defendant to carry out a drop which–the complaint explains–he did.

In Chapman’s case, the FBI agent asked her to hand off some money to another person purported to be another member of the same Russian network. Rather than carry out the task, Chapman bought an international cell phone (trying, unsuccessfully, to cover her tracks), suggesting she called overseas for direction. She did not carry out the designated task. All of this suggests, of course, that by late on June 26 (that is, Saturday) the Russians presumably would have known someone pretending to be a Russian agent was onto Chapman.

The way these two complaints work together suggest DOJ decided on or before last Friday to roll up a spy network it had been tracking for a decade. Then, after having set that process into motion, it attempted to implicate two additional members of the network (Chapman and Semenko) in the following days. Doing so with Chapman probably alerted the Russians to FBI pursuit on Saturday.

After the Chapman call, FBI probably had to roll up the network. But the FBI had already made the decision to arrest the others. So why did DOJ decide to roll up this spy network now? Why not continue tracking what the Russians are tracking?

I can think of three potential reasons:

  • To disrupt US-Russian relations
  • Because the Russians had detected US (or third party) sabotage
  • Because of other changes in DOJ personnel

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