We are all familiar with the general ghost story – those spooky tales of the macabre told around campfires or on Halloween night.
We have hall heard a ghost story of some sort in our lives. We might even have a few to tell ourselves. However, when the FBI tells their ghost story, it is unlike anything you might have heard around a campfire.
It’s more like something out of the Cold War, with tales of espionage and clandestine activities on American soil, perpetrated by Russian spies.
Yet, this particular ghost story is not set in the 1960s or the 1970s. This ghost story happened in 2010, just last month on May 17th, the FBI released several images from what was termed “Operation Ghost Stories”.
The FBI and Operation Ghost Stories
Operation Ghost Stories was the FBI’s internal name for the investigation into several Russian spies that were believed to be planted in the United States.
The investigation came to a head when the FBI made 10 arrests in the case – most famous probably being Anna Chapman. The young redhead is allegedly the daughter of a former senior officer of the KGB.
She, along with nine others were arrested in June of 2010. The Justice Department dubbed the spy ring “The Illegals program.” The Justice department charged the spies with:
“…carrying out long-term, ‘deep-cover’ assignments in the United States on behalf of the Russian Federation.”
As a result, the 10 arrested were deported back to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange.
Starting in October 2011, the FBI began posting videos, images, and documents about the investigation on the FBI “Vault” page. The postings are the result of various FOIA requests, and are comprised of a series of surveillance materials.
Surveillance of Russian Spies
The earliest posting is that of a June 2010 video of Anna Chapman unknowingly meeting with an undercover FBI agent in a New York coffee shop. Another video from the October 2011 release was a May 2004 surveillance video capturing a brush pass being made by Christopher Metsos’ with an official from the Russian Mission in New York.
Another video, from 2006, shows Michael Zottoli recovering a hidden package from a dead drop.
The second posting to the FBI Vault concerning Operation Ghost Stories was a series of documents that the FBI had in their possession as a result of the investigation. However, not much information can be gleaned from the materials since most of them are either heavily or even completely redacted.
Yet, one document stands out in particular. Not because of what it contains, but because it seems so out of place. As part of the collection posted to The Vault, the FBI included the obituary of Heathfield’s father.
The most recent posting to the FBI Vault was made this past May. The posting consists of a series of images that were either collected during surveillance, or images of various pieces of documentation that the FBI acquired throughout their investigation.
Codes and Dead Drops
Many of the images are of other brush passes and dead drops, but there others that seem to have been torn from the pages of a John le Carré novel.
One such document was a sheet of graph paper with a checkerboard code drawn on one side. The FBI states that this code was used by Juan Lazaro to encrypt messages to Russian Intelligence.
There are also images of a dead drop marker; which is simply just an overturned beer bottle stuck in the ground. However, further investigation revealed that a package was partially buried in the ground. The FBI contends that this package was left by Christopher Metsos.
These images and documents, along with others, are available at the FBI Vault.
Operation Ghost Stories provides evidence that Cold War-styled espionage is alive and well in modern times. However, these recent postings by the FBI are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to global intelligence and counter-intelligence.