Alleged Russian Agents Arrested, Charged with Conspiracy, Money Laundering

The Justice Department made a startling announcement recently, when it said that federal agents had arrested 10 people suspected of being Russian agents who had been sent to the United States to gather intelligence.

According to the Justice Department, the suspects, who were arrested in Yonkers, Boston and northern Virginia, were “trained Russian intelligence operatives.” Court documents alleged that the “deep-cover” agents used false identities, including those of dead Americans and dead Canadians, and posed as married couples. Among them was a journalist who has covered politics, immigration and other issues for the Spanish-language newspaper “El Diario” over the past 20 years. Her husband was also arrested.

The FBI had been conducting surveillance on the suspects for years, through secret audio and videotapes, communications monitoring, surreptitious searches and other technologies, as part of an investigation in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Justice Department’s National Security Division also played roles.

The alleged agents had been instructed to infiltrate American “policy making circles,” according to one coded message intercepted by federal officials, to gather information on nuclear weapons, CIA leadership, Congressional politics and American policy regarding Iran, among other subjects. The spies purportedly made contact with a former high-ranking American national security official and a researcher in the field of nuclear weapons, although it is not yet know what kind of intelligence they might have actually gleaned.

Criminal complaints filed in Manhattan’s Federal District Court detailed how agents exchanged information through old-fashioned means—notes written in invisible ink, messages transmitted by shortwave bursts, identical bags exchanged by two passing spies—as well as through modern technology. They coded texts in Internet images, used laptops and special software to exchange messages, and took advantage of the Wi-fi at a New York Starbucks to sent intel back to Russia.

The suspects have been charged with acting as agents of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. attorney general, rather than with espionage, a lesser charge which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Nine of them were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum of 20 years. None were charged with obtaining classified materials.

Five of the alleged spies appeared in a New York courtroom, were advised of their rights and ordered held due to flight risk, pending hearings in July. Separate hearings for others of the suspects were to be held in other states, as well. An eleventh suspect is still being sought.

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