Russian spy case didn't take a holiday
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev marked the Fourth of July holiday with an upbeat message to President Obama -- and without reference to last week’s espionage arrests -- while one of the accused spies at the center of the scandal sent a message from jail saying she was embarrassed by the photos that ignited such sensational coverage.
Over the holiday weekend, American news media, seemingly exhausted by the espionage eruption, gave scant attention to new developments involving the 11 accused here and abroad. But British newspapers were full of new revelations, particularly in regard to Anna Kushchenko Chapman, 28, the Russian-born New York real estate entrepreneur accused of being a deep-cover spy.
Medvedev’s failure to mention the arrests in his Independence Day salute spoke volumes, but for good measure he added that U.S.-Russian relations "meet the true interests of the people of our countries. This in itself makes hopeless and groundless the attempts to downplay the importance of our achievements." His predecessor, Vladimir Putin, a former Russian spymaster himself, reportedly expressed similar views to former president Bill Clinton earlier in the week.
The White House, too, showed it wanted to return to improving ties with Moscow by refraining from expelling any Russian spies under diplomatic cover here, even those identified by the FBI as collaborating with the accused spies.
The absence of diplomatic fireworks, along with the long holiday weekend, no doubt dampened the American media's coverage of the unprecedented espionage affair.
But in London, where Anna Chapman worked for Barclays Bank before moving to New York last year, British tabloids ignited a new round of coverage by printing suggestive of Chapman, taken by her-ex-husband. The erstwhile husband, Alex, was also quoted describing their sex life in lurid terms.
According to a leading conservative paper, however, the London Telegraph, Anna Chapman was distressed by the press clippings her lawyer showed her over the weekend.
“She was embarrassed by some of the photos that were obviously taken from her Facebook pages,” Robert Baum said, according to the newspaper.
“The truth is she is probably no different than your typical single 28-year-old woman in New York City,” Baum added. “She runs a successful business, goes out at night. She dates men, enjoys a social life.”
Chapman’s social life today is pretty much limited to visits from Baum, since she is being held in solitary confinement, he said.
She is “very frightened,” he said.
Meanwhile, while millions of Americans were heading to the beaches or getting ready for backyard barbecues and baseball, little notice was given to the development that FBI agents were chiseling new cracks in the alleged spy ring.
According to prosecutors in Alexandria ,Va., the defendants known as Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills have confessed that their real names were Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva. They and a third Virginia defendant, Mikhail Semenko (thought to be his real name) remain jailed.
A fourth defendant, known as Juan Lazaro, has already confessed to working for “the Service” -- Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency -- under a false identity, authorities said last week. His wife, a Spanish-language newspaper columnist who prosecutors said did not appear to be a Russian intelligence agent, was released to home detention.
Two other of the accused spies remain in jail in Boston, two more in New York. In Cyprus, officials said they had little hope of locating an eleventh defendant who was released on bail.
According to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, "U.S. intelligence officials believe that during the 1990s, one member of the spy ring may have serviced dead drops for Robert Hanssen, the notorious FBI agent who was arrested in 2001 for spying for the Russians."
In Montclair, N.J., meanwhile, the FBI feared that the accused spy known as Richard Murphy, might have been preparing to flee.
“When they arrested him, they also seized two maps of Costa Rica,” the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden reported.
In canvassing the neighborhood, Harnden also discovered that the FBI may have been monitoring “Murphy” and his wife “Cynthia,” also charged with spying under a false identity for Russia, from a house next door for the past two years.
“The couple had moved into the house at the same time as the Murphys, had children the same ages and seemed to have gone out of their way to befriend them,” Harnden wrote.
“The scuttlebutt among the neighbors was that the FBI had been using Number 29 as a listening post -- a consensus solidified on Friday by the presence of several taciturn men drilling and sanding in upper rooms and taking bags of items away. One smiled wryly and refused to utter a word when asked if he had known the Murphys.”
| July 6, 2010; 10:51 AM ET
Categories: Foreign policy, Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Media
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