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Alleged Russian Spy Ring Exposed In US 279

Posted by kdawson
from the bad-enough dept.
Several readers sent in the story of an alleged Russian spy ring busted yesterday by the FBI after a decade-long investigation. The FBI says that Moscow trained and planted long-term "moles" in the US in order to infiltrate the upper echelons of US government and business circles and pass back intelligence to the Russians. Twelve people have been charged; ten were arrested in the US (one is at large) and one in Cyprus. Wired and the New York Post have colorful coverage. Wired's leans on the tradecraft and discusses steganography, while the Post favors the femme fatale angle (alleged spy Anna Chapman). The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the US actions were unfounded and pursued "unseemly" goals. One of many choice quotes from copious coverage: "They couldn't have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas." From the WSJ report: "Officials said no secrets were compromised or revealed in the alleged plot, and the spy operation seems to have yielded little of value given some of the elaborate methods deployed. None of the 11 charged by US prosecutors was accused of accessing any classified or sensitive US government information."
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Alleged Russian Spy Ring Exposed In US

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  • Hmmm are we sure (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @03:56PM (#32736594)

    that this is real and not some kind of stunt to promote a certain crystalline-flavoring movie?

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @03:57PM (#32736626)

    I would expect that we get some wonderful counterespionage out of Russia itself nowadays.

    It seems pretty wasteful for Russia to spend so much money on such an elaborate operation when it could be destroyed by one disaffected Russian official who dreams of a CIA payoff.

    Madness!

  • Re:Did they? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elucido (870205) * on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:02PM (#32736692)

    They were acting as "agents of Russia" which is against the law in itself since they aren't registered. Why the FBI chose to arrest them now is the mystery because the FBI knew for over a decade.

  • Typical (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:03PM (#32736698)

    "Officials said no secrets were compromised or revealed in the alleged plot, and the spy operation seems to have yielded little of value given some of the elaborate methods deployed. None of the 11 charged by US prosecutors was accused of accessing any classified or sensitive US government information."

    This is typical of Russian intelligence activity. The book The Sword and the Shield: Mitrokhin Archive details most of the Soviet operations up until the mid 80s. This sounds like more of the same techniques: Attempting to attract young, impressionable, college-educated people to their cause and then trying to guide them into positions where they can gain intel. Unfortunately, the Russians still do not really understand american culture and so they find it difficult to penetrate deeply into any establishment domestically.

    Historically, their most successful intelligence gathering operations were either through signals intelligence or from defectors who wanted monentary compensation. Their recruiting efforts have been laughably under-planned. This is just another example. Their resources would be better spent in open source intelligence to identify vulnerable individuals who could be blackmailed than attempting to sway them on idealistic grounds. Communism just isn't that sexy. Sadly for them, I don't think they have the resources anymore to do much more than the French -- industrial espionage is as far as they get too. But at least the French make money on their intelligence operations...

  • Spy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:05PM (#32736750)

    New job posting! Live in the USA. Get an absurdly high salary. Hobnob with politicians. Raise hydrangeas. Provide nearly useless tidbits of information. Pick your job title from the following list:

    1) Journalist
    2) Spy
    3) Lobbyist
    4) Politician running for office
    5) Lawyer
    6) Wealthy old money parasite
    7) Failed CEO of HP/Compaq, Microsoft, Enron or any Hedge fund.
    8) Oprah (or generic talk show host)

  • Re:Did they? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Koby77 (992785) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:16PM (#32736916)
    Last week Obama met with Russian President Medvedev and is going to start pushing for an arms control treaty which will need ratification by the U.S. Senate. The timing of the arrests could have been an FBI signal that they don't trust the Russians in an effort to scuttle the treaty.
  • Re:finish this (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mmaniaci (1200061) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:22PM (#32737038)
    Torture will yield the quickest answer to make the pain stop, not the truth. Threat of murder means no one talks because, well, even if they do talk they will die. Every human being, spy, terrorist, murderer and rapist alike, deserves a trial. There is always a chance that the authorities are wrong, and without trials the Gov can execute anyone on the grounds that they may be (spy|terrorist|etc).

    Sadly, 99% of America would probably still agree with you.
  • by rwa2 (4391) * on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:22PM (#32737046) Homepage Journal

    I think a lot of the reason behind secrecy is to shroud what we don't have as capabilities. If other countries knew about our failings in pervasive monitoring and command, control, coordination, and communications, and sharks with lasers on their heads or the ability to educate youths and keep old decrepit folks happy and sane, then they'd just have to assume we were awesome at all of those things.

    But until then, we can charge admission for the illusion!

  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:23PM (#32737056)

    Hardly in the upper echelons but based on the security briefings I've received the answer is tiny, insignificant bits and pieces that you would tell anyone in passing but which can be put together to see the bigger picture. Of course, this was during a briefing about how important it was to keep secret things secret so that might be an exageration to instil a sense that the little things are important but the techniques they warned against backed up their statements. Engineers in particular are apparently susceptible to minor insults against a project they are working on. They will jump to devend it even if it means leaking non-trivial details.

    As an example:
    Spy - "I heard that the Air Force's new radios can't even do X"
    Engineer - "What!? of course it can do X, we can even do X with Y and Z!"

    Where X, Y, and Z are small details that are never the less classified information.

  • Re:finish this (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:37PM (#32737262)

    Don't feed the trolls, I know.

    But...

    What your scenario doesn't take into account is V may not actually know anything and is telling the truth regarding X in this context. Now you have a completely innocent person who is dead on your hands, you murderer.

  • Re:finish this (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mikael_j (106439) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:40PM (#32737310)

    Possible problem identified: V doesn't know about X since his/her organization is highly compartmentalized and V only knows about his/her little part of the organization.

    Second possible problem: Torture has been anticipated and V has a "cover story" for such an occasion (perhaps a clever lie about X which makes sense and which when investigated by T will seem like it's true).

    Third possible problem: Torture has been anticipated and V has been trained not to give up information.

    Fourth possible problem: Torture and murder of operatives by T's organization is well-known by V's organization and every operative in V's organization has been trained to commit suicide to avoid capture.

    But hey, "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" is a lot more fun, right?

  • Re:finish this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Omestes (471991) <omestes @ g m a il.com> on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:44PM (#32737372) Homepage Journal

    ... : O.k., we'll be back in a few days. If you are telling the truth, we'll set you free. If you are not, the torture continues. ...
    Repeat until
    a. V is dead.
    b. V gives credible information

    On problem, torture isn't conducive to rational decision making. You want the torture to stop NOW, and you also probably would find an immediate (if temporary) break to be just as good as a permanent one. Also if the country who has you is of the torturing type, I doubt you trust them to actually set you free, since no country with torture really has much honor.

  • Re:finish this (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:46PM (#32737398)

    Sadly, 99% of America would probably still agree with you.

    What sort of country is this?

  • Tradecraft 101 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TiggertheMad (556308) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @05:29PM (#32737882) Homepage Journal
    Why the FBI chose to arrest them now is the mystery because the FBI knew for over a decade.

    Part of the spy game is not letting on that you know what is going on. By letting them conduct operations in against non-critical assets, you get to see how they operate, who they work with, and who they answer to. You can unravel their network to watch and catch other agents. You can set them up to pass false information. You can collect vast amounts of incriminating evidence to use to force them to become double agents. You can find out what they think you are doing and what they are worried about, and use that to play on their fears.
  • Re:Typical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @05:46PM (#32738078)

    Yeah, the Ruskis are laughable at penetrating US institutions!

    Wiki quotes:
    "By 1985, Aldrich was heavily in debt. He owed money because of the divorce, and Maria was spending freely. After exceeding his credit limit on different credit cards, Aldrich considered robbing a bank. Realising he had no experience in performing such a caper, he instead decided to pursue the less hazardous option of selling information to the Soviets."

    "Hanssen never indicated any political or ideological motive for his activities, telling the FBI after he was caught that his only motivation was the money." ... Rather proves my point: They both approached the KGB, not the other way around.

  • Re:Did they? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NotBornYesterday (1093817) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @05:59PM (#32738224) Journal

    If I got to another country as an 'Agent of America' - aka one of its citizens

    Citizen != "Agent of country X". We know we have Russian intelligence agents here in the US ... they work at their embassy and consulate locations, and they register with us.

    wouldn't I just get deported back to the US?

    If you were suspected/arrested/tried/convicted of spying on a foreign country, you might well be imprisoned.

    Seems to me deportation and no-fly listing would be sufficient.

    More likely it seems like they are US Citizens who have nothing to do with Russia, and they did/saw/know something the government no longer wants floating out there, so they are being taken prisoner as 'spies' to make sure they STFU.

    I think your tinfoil hat is showing. It remains to be seen what happens at trial, but apparently they were engaging in encrypted communication with their handlers (which were decoded), and they were filmed making contact and exchanging items with their handlers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @07:04PM (#32738820)
  • Re:Steganography? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by goodmanj (234846) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @07:05PM (#32738836)

    Cryptography is for people don't want others to learn their secrets.
    Steganography is for people who don't want others to know there *is* a secret.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @07:09PM (#32738866)

    And not just from 1955, but from where in the world? You could throw a rock in New York, maybe on the subway, and hit such a woman with >1% probability. Maybe that was less true in 1955 in the sense that fewer women had master's degrees, but certainly not less true re. how smart they were, and your average woman on the street in New York looks pretty damn good. And is not a spy.

    And if you're actually looking for such a woman (smart non-spy), you look at NYU or Columbia or whatever, rather than throwing rocks on the subway, and they are everywhere.

    Or in the college town of your choice anywhere in the world, pretty much.

    I live out in the sticks, so I can sympathize with the idea that there aren't many smart, beautiful women around your particular location. But no spies, either, I imagine. There certainly aren't any out here.

  • Re:Typical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by schwaang (667808) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @09:48PM (#32739928)

    From your OP:

    Unfortunately, the Russians still do not really understand american culture and so they find it difficult to penetrate deeply into any establishment domestically.

    Yet the Russians ended up with moles in the CIA and FBI who were placed highly enough to accomplish shamefully *epic* damage to the US. Knock them for style points all you want, but dangling the $$ just plain worked. We got our @sses handed to us.

  • Re:Typical (Score:3, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @01:19AM (#32741038)

    Yet the Russians ended up with moles in the CIA and FBI who were placed highly enough to accomplish shamefully *epic* damage to the US. Knock them for style points all you want, but dangling the $$ just plain worked. We got our @sses handed to us.

    Hardly a systemic problem on our part. We've recruited quite a bit more spies than they have, quite a few for idealistic motives or dissatisfaction with their government. They come despite the low pay, dangerous extractions, etc., because frankly the US is a good place to live. We don't pay people who turn coat a lot of money, but what we offer them is a chance to start fresh, anonymously, on a big slab of rock that has the best economy and chance for personal wealth and success anywhere in the world.

    In short; We usually only offer citizenship. And often, that's enough incentive all by itself.

"If that makes any sense to you, you have a big problem." -- C. Durance, Computer Science 234

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