Spy suspects had interests in science, finance (2)

08:16, June 30, 2010      

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The arrests flabbergasted many of the defendants' neighbors. In a case that seemed to have come straight out of a Cold War spy novel, many of the defendants lived what seemed to be utterly ordinary suburban lives — saying goodbye to their kids at the bus stop, taking pride in their well-kept lawns and flower beds, making small talk with the neighbors, even holding Fourth of July parties.

In Montclair, N.J., neighbors of a woman who called herself Cynthia Murphy said that they detected an accent, and when they asked where she was from, she said from Belgium. Chapman, a young redhead, posted a number of pictures of herself on social networking sites, including a photo of her at the Statue of Liberty.

The court papers allege that some of the ring's members were husband and wife and that the spies used invisible ink, coded radio transmissions and encrypted data, and employed Hollywood methods such as swapping bags in passing at a train station.

"We're from a generation where everyone was afraid of the Red Menace, of 007 and hiding under desks during drills — all of that stuff. There was real fear, so it's shocking to see something like this," said Alan Sokolow, a neighbor of Cynthia Murphy and her husband, Richard.

The alleged deep-cover agents are known as "illegals" in the intelligence world because they take civilian jobs instead of operating inside Russian embassies and military missions, the report said.
Federal agents said in court papers that almost all members of the group had been under surveillance for some time.

One suspect, Vicky Pelaez, a reporter and editor for the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario/La Prensa, had been videotaped taking bags of money from a Russian official as early as 2000, the FBI said. Others had their phones tapped, their homes searched and their computer hard drives copied by FBI agents years ago.

All the suspects were allowed to go about their lives, though under close watch.

Donald Heathfield, who worked for a management consulting firm and lived in Cambridge, Mass. — home to Harvard and MIT — had ties to several organizations involved in forecasting emerging technologies. "He hung around the world of futurists," said retired George Washington University professor William Halal.

Another of those arrested, Mikkail Semenko, worked at Travel All Russia, a small travel agency in Arlington, Va., that is in the same building as a U.S. military recruitment center. Colleagues in the office described him as clumsy and quirky, but smart. They said he spoke five languages.

The agency's marketing manager, Slava Shirokov, said he had known Semenko since they were students together at Amur State University in Russia. Shirokov said Semenko had majored in Chinese studies and spent several years in China after graduating. After moving to the U.S., he got two master's degrees from Seton Hall University in 2008, one in diplomacy and international relations and one in Asian studies.

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