The FBI released Monday dozens of still images, surveillance video clips, and documents related to a decade-long investigation of deep-cover Russian spies. The FBI said it was releasing the images as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.
“The arrests of 10 Russian spies last year provided a chilling reminder that espionage on U.S. soil did not disappear when the Cold War ended. The highly publicized case also offered a rare glimpse into the sensitive world of counterintelligence and the FBI’s efforts to safeguard the nation from those who would steal our vital secrets,” the FBI said.
The FBI said its case against the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) operatives—dubbed Operation Ghost Stories—went on for more than a decade.
According to the FBI, although the SVR “illegals,” as they were called, never got their hands on any classified documents, their intent from the start was serious, well-funded by the SVR, and far-ranging.
The FBI said the spies “collected information and transmitted it back to Russia, and they were actively engaged in what is known in the spy business as ‘spotting and assessing,'” which included identifying colleagues, friends, and others who might be vulnerable targets, and it is possible they were seeking to co-opt people they encountered in the academic environment who might one day hold positions of power and influence.
According to the FBI, perhaps the most famous example of this tactic—the Cambridge Five—took place in Great Britain. Soviet intelligence “talent spotters” were able to recruit Cambridge University students in the 1930s—including future spy Kim Philby—who would later rise to power in the British government and become Soviet operatives during World War II and into the 1950s.
“We believe the SVR illegals may well have hoped to do the same thing here,” said a counterintelligence agent.
“The Russian government spent significant funds and many years training and deploying these operatives,” said one of our counterintelligence agents who worked on the case. “No government does that without expecting a return on its investment.”
FBI agents and analysts watched the deep-cover operatives as they established themselves in the U.S. (some by using stolen identities) and went about leading seemingly normal lives—getting married, buying homes, raising children, and assimilating into American society.
Although they didn’t achieve that objective, the agent said, “without us there to stop them, given enough time they would have eventually become successful.”
“After years of gathering intelligence and making sure we knew who all the players were, we arrested the illegals on June 27, 2010. Weeks later, they pled guilty in federal court to conspiring to serve as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation within the U.S,” the FBI said.