June 30, 2010
Reporter, Consultant, Housewife, SpyBy Clarice Feldman
Late Monday, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of ten people in the United States who had been planted here by the Russians in the 1990s to blend in and gather information, which they transmitted back to Russia. The defendants are charged with acting as unregistered agents of Russia and with conspiracy to commit money-laundering. There is no charge involving the illegal possession of classified documents.
A number of these people were married to each other. One couple at least had two teenage children living with them. The plants, known as "illegals" because their life stories were completely fictitious ("legends"), lived in Arlington(, Virginia), Boston, New York, and New Jersey, and held a variety of positions.
Today, Reuters reported that the eleventh member of the group, Robert Christopher Metsos, 55, who did not reside in the U.S. but traveled here often, was arrested at Cyprus's Larnaca airport as he tried to leave the island for Budapest. While bail is not normally granted in such cases, the court in Cyprus did grant it for reasons that are not disclosed in the article. The complaint suggests he is a secret SVR (Russian intelligence service) agent stationed abroad who often served as a bagman, providing funds for the illegals here.
Most of the press accounts have dealt with the strange juxtaposition of Obama and Medvedev chomping on hamburgers in Arlington, Virginia as the raids on the Russian agents were taking place, or the details of the spy craft -- largely old hat, John le Carré, low-tech stuff with a few modern updates like payoffs by ATM, wifi communication networks, and internet encryption (steganography). There are two complaints, but references herein to the Complaint are to the second one against the other 8 defendants.
I am focused on how much, in fact, they describe conduct by the foreign intelligence agency of the Russian Federation, the "SVR" which departs from normal spy craft, evinces either extreme carelessness on the part of the SVR or reflects its view that in such an open society as ours they could neglect first principles and get away with it.
What do I mean?
Normally, the work of "illegals" is shepherded in the host country by people with diplomatic immunity. In this case, that would mean embassy or consular officials, officials or employees of the Russian U.N. Mission, or other official representatives who if caught cannot be prosecuted. If they cannot be prosecuted, it is unlikely that they will spill operational details. If caught, they will simply be expelled.
At the fringes of the conduct described in the complaint there are such figures, but at the heart of the charged conspiracy are illegals, often acting in very high-profile positions.
Normally, the work of "illegals" is low-profile. When caught, you can expect the neighbors to talk about how quiet and unobtrusive they were. But here, as least two of the illegals, Donald Heathfield and Vicky Pelaez, were so high-profile that I think their job was to influence policy and public opinion as much as it was to gather useful information. And they were so high-profile that within an hour of reading the complaint, I was able to get a clear picture of their overt activities.
Donald Howard Heathfield was easy to find on Zabasearch, Linkedin, and by his present employment.
According to his Linkedin page, he is CEO of FutureMap.com and was once a partner in Global Partners, which lists several major U.S. corporations as its clients. It mentions no degrees earned but reports he attended a number of well-known institutions: Harvard University, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, and ENPC MBA Paris - ENPC School of International Management.
The Futuremap.com page is the most interesting.
I grant that many firms that advertise themselves as consultants describe their work in vague terms that tell you little of what they do. Even given that, however, FutureMap is (or was) an exquisitely done bit of luftmenschen prose.
According to the site, the firm has offices in Boston, Paris, and Singapore.
Its mission is described as "enabl[ing] governments and businesses to develop comprehensive preparedness systems and build a culture of strategic proactivity and anticipatory leadership."
Monday night when I read its site, the firm bragged of its connections to Harvard, MIT, and private sector specialists in the USA, the U.K., and France. It boasted that "[w]e are in constant dialogue with thought leaders ... at leading research centers." It listed no officers' names, clients, or projects. Today, access to the site is restricted.
It looked to me Monday night when I could access it like an amateur operation or a not very clever front. The most recent activities involved CO2 emission reductions. A trace remains of the company's work on a site respecting a July conference in Chicago last year. My notes show that it advertised that it could help companies and institutions with "strategic preparedness, strategic planning, balanced scorecards, business and corporate intelligence."
We really know very little about Heathfield because his life is, the government claims, a "legend." He arrived here in 1999. He lives with Tracey Lee Ann Foley, whose bio is also a "legend."
The government alleges (para. 44 of the Complaint) that it searched Heathfield's safe deposit box and found what appeared to be a genuine birth certificate for a Canadian-born Donald Howard Graham Heathfield. They learned in 2005 that the man to whom this birth certificate belonged died.
As for Tracey, in the same safe deposit box, the government says it found a series of photographic negatives which appear to be of her in her twenties. "On all the negatives of the younger Foley, save one, the name of the company that produced the film on which the negatives were printed has been excised. On one negative, the name of the film company remains visible. The name on the film is 'TACMA'." Based on law-enforcement research, I know that TACMA was a Soviet film company.
There is also evidence that she traveled under a false British passport supplied for her by the SVR. (Another of this group was given a fake Irish passport in Italy by the SVR. I'm waiting for the Europeans to make the same fuss about this that they did when Israel was charged with using fake passports in Dubai.) Thus, it appears that neither of these people is who they have claimed to be.
The complaint describes the work of this couple in transmitting materials to the SVR headquarters "Moscow Center," or the "Center," and (para. 19) states, "During 2004, Donald Howard Heathfield ... met with an employee of the United States Government with regard to nuclear weapons research." The official is unnamed, and the details are not given.
Among the activities with which this pair was tasked was the following:
*To gather information with regard to the use of the internet by terrorists
*United States policies in Central Asia
*Problems with United States military policy
*"Western estimation of Russian foreign policy"
In responding to this task list, these two passed on information about the turnover at the head of the CIA and the 2008 presidential election, which they said was "received in private conversation" with a "former legislative counsel for U.S. Congress, specialist in [information omitted], member of faculty in economics of [information omitted]."
In another communication, Heathfield said he'd established contact with a "former high-ranking United States Government national security official."
In 2007, the SVR told the pair to use "Farmer" to start building a network of students in D.C.
As the case develops, I look forward to finding out who these contacts were and how deep the relationships with Heathfield were. Moreover, since so many spies seem to have been recruited at Johns Hopkins SAIS, it will be interesting to learn who Farmer is and whether he tried to revive the SAIS recruitment network.
Heathfield's firm bragged of its close relationships with Harvard and MIT as well. It is worth watching to see if those were lies or if there is more to that.
In any event, Heathfield and Tracey seem the big catches at the moment for the U.S. They have teenage children, and the SVR has to be sweating as to whether or not they'll turn, because they seem to have far more information at their disposal than normal "illegals" in the game have.
Almost as high-profile but in entirely different circles is another of the defendants, Vicky Pelaez, who was a columnist for the Spanish-language El Diario/La Prensa. She lives with co-defendant Juan Lazaro in Yonkers, NY. Much of their communications and receipt of Russian funds occurred outside the U.S. in South America. Lazaro purports to be Uruguayan "with Peruvian citizenship," says the complaint (para. 45). But intercepted communications he had with Vicky picked him up saying to her, "[W]e moved to Siberia ... as soon as the war started."
Moscow was apparently unhappy with the caliber of Lazaro's work, but Vicky established a very high profile among native leftist and Hispanic operations.
Clearly she was working to obtain information from and to influence a different tranche of the population than was Don.
Hot Air reported her public record:
I don't mean to suggest that these two defendants were the only ones trolling for information in elite pools of influence-shapers.
The financier appears to be a Clinton fundraiser, Patricof. From Politico:
The complaint notes, for example, that in February of 2009, Cynthia Murphy detailed contacts with a New York financier prominent in politics and a major fundraiser for a major political party and a personal friend of a current Cabinet official. The SVR was anxious for her to recruit among students, to expand potential contacts within the government, and to dig up data on students who apply for or have been hired for a job by the CIA. (She was in New Jersey, but the complaint doesn't specify at which university she was building connections.)
Still, from the complaint, Heathfield and Pelaez were very high-profile -- the others not quite so much.
I discussed the breaking story online with my favorite ex-spook and asked what he thought of this unorthodox operation. He replied:
In the meantime, as this plays out, I suppose it is an unwelcome reminder that the Cold War is not dead, that spies still mine the waters around us, and that universities and public officials need to be more mindful than they have been of the danger in our midst.