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Posted at 4:43 PM ET, 07/23/2010

Russian spy pitched private intelligence firm

By Jeff Stein

A lot of ridicule was heaped on the Russian spies ousted this month for not stealing any secrets.

But now the head of a private intelligence-gathering and publishing firm has come forward to say it wasn’t for want of trying.

According to George Friedman, chief executive officer of Stratfor, Inc., an Austin, Tex.-based "global intelligence" firm, one of the Russian agents tried to sell the company a software package that he suspects could have piped the firm’s files back to Moscow.

The pitches began six months ago, Friedman said, and continued right up until shortly before the spy was unmasked.

The spy, who went by the name of Donald Heathfield and lived in Cambridge, Mass. with his spy-wife and two kids, was eventually identified as Russian intelligence agent Andrey Bezrukov. On July 9, “Heathfield” and his family were shipped to Vienna, en route to Moscow with nine others in a prisoner swap.

“Heathfield” first approached a company staffer in Washington, D.C. six months ago.

Friedman said a trade association official had told the company, “you really need to talk to this guy.”

“The guy came on as trying to sell us some software … that would manage our customer base,” Friedman said by phone Friday.

Unfortunately for the spy, however, he was barking up the wrong company tree, Friedman said with a chuckle. The Russian had picked a researcher/writer -- a “subject-matter expert" with no interest in the customer end of the business.

But “Heathfield” was “persistent,” Friedman said, coming back “five times” to make a sale.

“He was very good, very persistent,” Friedman said. He wasn’t asking questions that might have aroused suspicion.

Stratfor's policy requires employees to report any time they are approached by foreigners, but “Heathfield” didn’t appear to be one, Friedman said, so no report was made.

“He was very professional. No red flags were raised,” Friedman said.

In hindsight, the spy was “networking his way through Washington, and doing so very well.”

“Only when the news broke," Friedman said, "did we go, uh-oh.”

As for what the spy was after, he can only guess. Stratfor has no government clients, Friedman said.

But the idea of penetrating a firm that advertises itself as “a global intelligence company that uses human intelligence and geopolitical analysis to produce penetrating explanations of world events,” Friedman said, “must have been alluring to the Russians.”

By Jeff Stein  | July 23, 2010; 4:43 PM ET
Categories:  Financial/business, Intelligence  
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