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Superspy Anna was part of a new breed in US

ANNA Chapman wasn't just a member of one of the largest rings of Russian sleeper agents ever rolled up by the FBI, officials say. The 29-year-old former real estate agent, who became a lingerie model and corporate spokeswoman back in Moscow, represented a new breed of Russian spies adapted to the post-Cold War world.

Chapman and fellow ring member Mikhail Semenko, another young deep-cover agent who worked in a DC-area travel agency, were technically skilled, able to work comfortably in a Western culture and did so using their own names, said C Frank Figliuzzi, FBI assistant director for counterintelligence.

They "were very tech savvy, very intellectual," Figliuzzi said, adding that Semenko is fluent in five languages including Chinese.

Both of the new-breed operatives used state-of-the-art wireless computer communications, including burst transmitters that sent encrypted messages by radio in a fraction of a second.

Meanwhile, the older spies in the 11-member ring fell back on techniques that have been used for centuries: invisible ink, handoffs of money called "brush passes", and forged documents.

Like Soviet sleeper agents before them, they worked under false identities, called legends, some of them stolen from dead people.

All the veteran operatives had undergone years of intensive training in Russia to pass as ordinary Americans. But with the fall of the Iron Curtain and with open borders, someone in Moscow seems to have realised that training may no longer be necessary.



Experimenting

With the two different approaches, one time tested and one state of the art, "the Russians were experimenting", said Figliuzzi.

Figliuzzi's comments came yesterday as the FBI released tapes, video and documents that offered a window into the bureau's surveillance, which stretched over about a decade.

According to a written surveillance report, an FBI agent watched Chapman buy leggings and hats at Macy's. Later, cameras caught her roaming a department store while a Russian diplomat waited outside.

A surveillance video taken the day before her arrest shows Chapman sitting in a coffee shop with an FBI agent posing as her Russian handler.

Other ring members were shadowed during meetings by a pay phone in the New York City borough of Queens, in a park or during a stroll around New York's Columbus Circle.

The FBI says seemingly mundane pursuits often served as cover for the exchange of encrypted messages or the transfer of cash, all with the long-range goal of penetrating the highest levels of US policymaking.

The FBI watched the ring operate so intensively for so long, Figliuzzi said, that the bureau was able to penetrate the ring's communications network to the point where US agents were able to pose as Russian intelligence officers.

"So in a sense we began to own their communications," and Chapman and Semenko came to believe that the undercover FBI agents were their Russian handlers.

The investigation was code-named 'Ghost Stories', the release of documents on the Halloween holiday a coincidence.

hnews@herald.ie


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