FBI Russian Spy Videos Released
ABC News’ Jason Ryan, Pierre Thomas and Jack Cloherty report:
The FBI video is remarkable: Russian spies digging up payoff money in New Jersey, handing off a bag in a New York train station and passing information in furtive meetings and “brush bys.”
It’s all part of the surveillance video released today of a decade-long FBI undercover operation that brought down Anna Chapman and the Russian spy ring operating in the United States.
The videos were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by ABC News and other news outlets .
In conjunction with the release of the videos, the FBI has also released more than 1,000 pages of highly redacted documents from the case that was dubbed Operation Ghost Stories because it was reminiscent of the Cold War’s cloak-and-dagger spy games.
The FBI tracked the spy ring known as the “Illegals” program across the United States with FBI agents and the Justice Department arresting the 10 spies June 27, 2010.
The case captured international attention with Russian bombshell Chapman providing an undercurrent of sex appeal and international intrigue in one of the biggest spy cases since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Chapman covertly communicated with Russian government officials from the Russian Mission to the United Nations by using private wireless networks sent from her laptop computer.
One of the videos shows Chapman days before she was arrested interacting with an undercover FBI agent who approached her when she was having computer problems. The FBI agent was posing as a Russian consulate employee.
Captured from multiple angles in another video, Chapman appears in the FBI surveillance videos being monitored in an unnamed department store in New York City.
Also released is a video of Russian spy Mikhail Semenko dropping off $5,000 in cash at a park in Arlington, Va. According to court papers in the case prior to the June 26, 2010 video, an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian agent had handed Semenko the cash during a meeting in downtown Washington, D.C.
Besides Chapman and Semenko, the case involved four couples living in the United States under assumed false identities while secretly working as covert Russian spies on long-term, “deep-cover” assignments to try to infiltrate U.S .policy-making circles.
The Russian spies used the fake name of Richard and Cynthia Murphy and lived in Montclair, N.J., Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley lived in Boston, Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills lived together in Arlington, Va., and Seattle, and Juan Lazaro and Vicky Pelaez lived in Yonkers, N.Y.
The couples even had children together to add to their cover stories.
Also, Christopher Metsos – the Russian handler and alleged paymaster at the center of the spy ring who facilitated meetings and cash for the 10 Russian spies - posed as a Canadian citizen and regularly traveled to U.S. locations to meet with the spies, including numerous meetings in New York City in places such as coffee shops and book stores.
The videos show a brush pass between Metsos and an unidentified Russian government official at the Forest Hills, Queens, train station on the Long Island Rail Road May 16, 2004. Metsos received an orange bag stuffed with cash from the man who the FBI alleged worked at the United Nations Russia Mission.
Metsos drove to Wurtsboro, N.Y., the next day and buried the cash wrapped in duct tape in the ground. The FBI dug up the cash weeks later and photographed the evidence and reburied the package.
Another of the videos released shows the same location more than two years later and Russian spies Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills digging up the money left by Metsos.
Metsos remains a fugitive and is believed to be in Russia. After the spies were arrested in the United States, Metsos was detained in Cyprus but mysteriously disappeared and failed to show up at a bail hearing a day later.
The agents operated at the direction of the Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, the successor agency to Soviet Union’s KGB.
In a 2009 encrypted message deciphered by the FBI, the SVR provided two of the spies, Richard and Cynthia Murphy, with a communication that noted, “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),”
After the agents were arrested, the spy saga lasted almost two weeks in late June and July 2010 with the United States and Russia exchanging spies on the tarmac of an airport in Vienna, Austria on July 9. The spy swap occurred after the 10 spies admitted in New York federal court that they were Russian agents.
They were sentenced to 11 days of time served and expelled from the United States under the terms of the spy swap, which released four people who had been convicted of spying for the West.
Another suspected agent, Alexey Karetnikov, was deported from the United States in July 2010. He was arrested June 28, 2010, when the story broke but was only charged with immigration violations after the FBI could not find solid evidence that he was connected to the spy ring. Karetnikov had been working at Microsoft in Seattle before he was arrested.
Since the spy saga ended, Chapman has become a celebrity in Russia, posing in Maxim magazine and Russia’s Playboy. She has also taken a role in Vladimir Putin’s United Russia political party.
Earlier this year Alexander Poteyev, a former senior Russian intelligence officer, was tried in absentia in Moscow for allegedly exposing the spy ring. Poteyev left Moscow as the arrests were unfolding and is believed to be living in the West.
Although it operated with Cold War stealth and tactics, the spy network never obtained any classified information, FBI officials say.