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FBI Releases Detailed Documents on Russian Spy Ring

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FBI Releases Detailed Documents on Russian Spy Ring

On October 31st, the FBI released a collection of documents related to the investigation surrounding the Russian spy ring that the Agency busted in 2010.

The documents add further weight to the idea that Anna Chapman was nothing more than a low-level amateur hoping to make it into the “big-leagues” as a real Russian spy.

This new evidence flies in the face of the “national hero spy” persona that Chapman is attempting to create throughout the media in Russia.

Many of the documents are heavily redacted, but enough is revealed to show that the “spies” were not very sophisticated in their activities and in their collaboration with Russian handlers.

Details Revealed in New FBI Documents

The first documents show initial complaints against ten alleged spies, including seven people using aliases, and three people not using aliases.

The three spies using their real names included Vicky Pelaez, Anna Chapman and Mikhail Anatolievich Semenko. Mikhail and Anna were roughly the same age, about 28 years old, when these complaints were filed.

In order to determine whether the individuals were spies, the Agency conducted a full investigation into official identification records, financial records including bank accounts and credit records, as well as employment, means of communication, and contact that each individual had with eachother.

Documents also include declarations from unnamed Special Agents (names redacted) that detail crimes committed by each of the spies.

In one humorous example of just how amateur even the real Russian Spies in the ring were, during a covert search in the New Jersey area homes of Richard and Cynthia Murphy, FBI agents discovered “electronic media” with a hidden password-protected computer program.


Use of Steganography in Communications

During their search of the home, agents discovered a piece of paper with “alt-control-e” and a 27 character password written on it. Using the password, Agents were easily able to access the steganography program.

Most of the text communications used by the spies involved the use of images with encrypted messages embedded into them. To the general bystander or anyone intercepting email communications, they would only see a picture. Nothing remarkeable would stand out to the naked eye.

Such steganography programs are unsophisticated and available to the general public, including open source applications that are free to download.

Interestingly, FBI agents also discovered that the spy ring used such “encoded” images stored on websites to communicate with eachother as well.

One message from Russian conspirators to the spies regarded creating a cover story for one trip to Moscow, and read:

“If asked, we suggest you use the following story: you flew to Moscow on Mar 16 from London for example flight SU211 to participate in business talks (your business is international consultancy seminars – pls, copy sample of your husband) on invitation by Russian Chamber of Commerce.”

Agents also found evidence of a payment made from Moscow Center to the “Boston Conspirators” – the real Russian secret agents – totaling $64,500 for items including rent, a car lease and expenses, education and even medical and lawyer fees.

The court-statement included in the documents from Special Agent Amit Kachhia-Patel reveal that Anna Chapman and Mikhail Semenko were not actual Russian spies, but instead were acting as agents for a foreign government.

spy ring

Anna Chapman – The Wanna-Be Spy

Anna Chapman first met with a Russian contact on June 26th, 2010, when she received a fraudulent passport.

A 2009 message from Moscow Center to Anna and Mikhail read:

“You were sent to USA for long-term service trip. 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 in US and send intels (intelligence reports) to C[enter].”

The Special Agent’s report details how he was able to detect and monitor communications between Anna and Mikhail with their Russian handlers over private “ad-hoc” wireless networks.

In another monitored conversation between Anna and Russian handler named “Roman” who claimed to work in the consulate, the handler told Anna that, “This is not like the Wednesdays with the notebooks, this is different it is, it is the next step.”

This comment implies that Chapman was no more than a new recruit – an amateur – getting strung along by Russian intelligence to perform low-level intelligence tasks required for the actual Russian secret agents to accomplish their missions on U.S. soil.

In the conversation, “Roman” wanted Chapman to transfer documents between himself and a Russian secret agent that was operating on U.S. soil under an alias.

At the end of the meeting, “Roman” told Anna that her “colleagues” back in Moscow know that she is doing a good job and that when she sees them in Moscow they would tell her so.

That statement implies that Anna was being strung along, and she was doing so in hopes of working her way up the food chain and becoming a real Russian spy at some point.

You can read all of the released FBI documents in the FBI Vault.

Originally published on

Government Intelligence

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