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Blow for Vlad Putin´s “neo cold war”: FBI arrested 11 Russian “sleeping” Spies in U.S.A.

MONTCLAIR, N.J. F.B.I. agents arrested Richard and Cynthia Murphy at their suburban home on Sunday night. Photo Daniel Barry for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — They had lived for more than a decade in American cities and suburbs from Seattle to New York, where they seemed to be ordinary couples working ordinary jobs, chatting to the neighbors about schools and apologizing for noisy teenagers.

But on Monday, federal prosecutors accused 11 people of being part of a Russian espionage ring, living under false names and deep cover in a patient scheme to penetrate what one coded message called American “policy making circles.”

An F.B.I. investigation that began at least seven years ago culminated with the arrest on Sunday of 10 people in Yonkers, Boston and northern Virginia. The documents detailed what the authorities called the “Illegals Program,” an ambitious, long-term effort by the S.V.R., the successor to the Soviet K.G.B., to plant Russian spies in the United States to gather information and recruit more agents.

The alleged agents were directed to gather information on nuclear weapons, American policy toward Iran, C.I.A. leadership, Congressional politics and many other topics, prosecutors say. The Russian spies made contact with a former high-ranking American national security official and a nuclear weapons researcher, among others. But the charges did not include espionage, and it was unclear what secrets the suspected spy ring — which included five couples — actually managed to collect.

Experts on Russian intelligence expressed astonishment at the scale, longevity and dedication of the program. They noted that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister and former president and spy chief, had worked to restore the prestige and funding of Russian espionage after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dark image of the K.G.B.

“The magnitude, and the fact that so many illegals were involved, was a shock to me,” said Oleg D. Kalugin, a former K.G.B. general who was a Soviet spy in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s under “legal” cover as a diplomat and Radio Moscow correspondent. “It’s a return to the old days, but even in the worst years of the cold war, I think there were no more than 10 illegals in the U.S., probably fewer.” READ MORE HERE.