Cold War-style swap sends se­cret agents to Rus­sia, with haste

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Beth Sheri­dan, Jerry Markon and Karen De Young

WASHINGTON — In a rapidly ar­ranged spy swap rem­i­nis­cent of Cold War in­trigues, the U.S. govern­ment Thurs­day night sent to Rus­sia 10 agents who had bur­rowed into Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, and in re­turn won the re­lease of four jailed Rus­sians ac­cused of pass­ing in­for­ma­tion to the West.

The Rus­sian spies — who pleaded guilty Thurs­day to act­ing as un­reg­is­tered for­eign agents and were or­dered de­ported — had en­dured only a few days of jail time since their ar­rests in the United States last month. In prior cases, spies spent years be­hind bars be­fore be­ing ex­changed.

U.S. of­fi­cials said there was no point in hold­ing on to the Rus­sian agents, be­cause au­thor­i­ties had mon­i­tored their ac­tiv­i­ties for years

and had un­rav­eled their net­work. Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said they had been ea­ger to win the re­lease of the four Rus­sians held by Moscow, some of whom had spent long stretches in prison and were in poor health.

The deal was ex­pected to re­move an ir­ri­tant from the U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tion­ship. But one se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, ac­knowl­edged that “ves­tiges of an old Rus­sia” were ev­i­dent in the spying case. “Frankly, that’s why we were as ag­gres­sive in rolling up this op­er­a­tion as we were,” the of­fi­cial said.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama hasn’t spo­ken to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev about the spy swap, but he has been “fully briefed and en­gaged in the mat­ter,” said the ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial. “It did come to the (U.S.) pres­i­dent for his au­tho­riza­tion,” the of­fi­cial said of the spies’ ar­rests. “And he gave it.”

An­other se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said the tim­ing of the spies’ ar­rests, just days af­ter the two pres­i­dents hap­pily munched cheese­burg­ers dur­ing a visit to Washington by Medvedev, was co­in­ci­den­tal. It was driven “by our knowl­edge that one in­di­vid­ual in­tended to de­part the United States” im­mi­nently, the of­fi­cial said.

The U.S. govern­ment de­clined to iden­tify the four Rus­sians be­ing sent to the United States. But a Krem­lin state­ment iden­ti­fied them as Alexan­der Za­porozh­sky, Sergei Skri­pal and Gen­nady Vasilenko, all for­mer Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers; and Igor Sutya­gin, a nu­clear ex­pert at a think tank.

The 10 U.S.-based spies were ex­pelled from the coun­try af­ter ap­pear­ing Thurs­day af­ter­noon in fed­eral court in Man­hat­tan. One by one, they en­tered their pleas. The court­room was silent as the judge asked the de­fen­dants to re­veal their iden­ti­ties.

The man known as “Richard Mur­phy” hes­i­tated, ap­par­ently un­sure which name to use. “Your true iden­tity,” said Judge Kimba Wood. Then he gave his name as Vladimir Guryev.

His wife rose and said, “My true name is Ly­dia Guryev.”

All but three — Anna Chap­man, Mikhail Se­menko and Vicky Pe­laez — had as­sumed false

iden­ti­ties in the United States.

Peru­vian-born Pe­laez, the only non-Rus­sian among the agents, burst into tears as she spot­ted a loved one among the on­look­ers.

Her at­tor­ney, John Ro­driguez, said in court that the Rus­sian govern­ment had promised Pe­laez $2,000 a month for life, hous­ing and doc­u­ments to al­low her chil­dren to visit Rus­sia and have all their ex­penses paid. But she said the prom­ises didn’t in­duce her to plead guilty.

Chap­man, a Rus­sian diplo­mat’s daugh­ter whose pho­tos have be­come an In­ter­net sen­sa­tion, played with her red hair dur­ing the hear­ing, at­tempt­ing to tie it back. But most of the de­fen­dants were stony-faced.

Chap­man looked baf­fled when the judge asked if her se­cret lap­top ex­changed with a Rus­sian of­fi­cial was “in fur­ther­ance of the con­spir­acy.” She fi­nally looked at her lawyer, shrugged and replied, “Yes.” Asked by the judge if she re­al­ized at the time that her ac­tions were crim­i­nal, she said, “Yes, I did, your honor.”

The hear­ing brought an abrupt con­clu­sion to one of the more un­usual spy cases in U.S. his­tory. The 11 agents — one is still at large af­ter dis­ap­pear­ing in Cyprus — were sleep­ers whose job was to blend in at high-pow­ered in­sti­tu­tions such as the John F. Kennedy School of Govern­ment at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity or in Man­hat­tan fi­nan­cial cir­cles, of­fi­cials said. Their mis­sion was to gather in­for­ma­tion and iden­tify po­ten­tial fu­ture govern­ment em­ploy­ees who could be help­ful, of­fi­cials said.

Tales emerged of their seem­ingly or­di­nary lives in the sub­urbs, where they raised chil­dren to­gether, even though the four cou­ples weren’t re­ally mar­ried, U.S. of­fi­cials said. The agents passed on in­for­ma­tion to a shad­owy Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ap­pa­ra­tus known as “Moscow Cen­ter,” us­ing in­vis­i­ble ink and so­phis­ti­cated com­puter net­works.

Asked about the fu­ture of the spies’ Amer­i­can-born chil­dren, of­fi­cials said that was up to their par­ents, in­di­cat­ing they were likely to ac­com­pany them to Rus­sia.

De­spite the ben­e­fits promised at least to Pe­laez, the group is un­likely to be greeted as he­roes in Rus­sia.

In­de­pen­dent news­pa­pers and lib­eral com­men­ta­tors in Rus­sia have chafed at the ob­vi­ous lack of re­sults of the spy ring work and ridiculed the low level of their train­ing.

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