Accused Russian spy Anna Chapman   (Source: Facebook)

Anna Chapman allegedly passed U.S. secrets to a ring of Russian agents operating in the U.S., but was unwittingly being monitored by FBI agents for months.  (Source: Facebook)

Chapman is seen here in Moscow, Russia  (Source: The New York Post)
Seemingly normal citizens caught passing info to Kremlin; 11 arrested thus far

A shocking case of domestic spying is shaping up on the U.S. East Coast.  So far, 11 individuals have been arrested in a spy ring that was looking to pass U.S. state secrets to the Kremlin.  At its center allegedly was the beautiful, yet treacherous Anna Chapman.

The scheme began when Russia selected a group of normal-looking middle-aged professionals to infiltrate the U.S.  Supplied with pseudonyms and bogus documents, the agents were sent on a mission to become "Americanized," infiltrate "policymaking circles" in the United States and send secrets back to the Kremlin.  In total, four such "couples" were planted on the East coast.  Chapman and two other individual spies were also recruited for the effort.

The spies employed a good deal of high tech measures.  They used ad hoc Wi-Fi networks, bespoke software, encryption software during their communications.  The spies used 27-character passwords on their hard drives, as one example of the strong encryption used.  Two agents would often meet at various coffee shop or book shop without acknowledging each other, communicating via ad-hoc networks.  But the FBI was onto them. 

It had detected the spy's activity by spotting computers accessing certain websites and uploading images created by a steganography program originating from SVR's Moscow Center.  To the casual observer these images looked innocent, but they actually contained hidden text, passing secret messages.  Comments the complaint, "These images appear wholly unremarkable to the naked eye.  But these images (and others) have been analyzed using the steganography program. As a result of this analysis, some of the images have been revealed as containing readable text files."

The Russian spies thought they were secure, but in reality the FBI was clued in to the methodology following a series of raids and seizures dating back to 2005.

Chapman, an attractive brunette who frequently dyed her hair red, was among the spies being secretly watched by the FBI.  Reports an FBI agent in the complaint:
Russian Government Official < was across the street from the book store, carrying a briefcase. 

I observed Chapman pull a laptop out of the tote bag. Chapman stayed in the book store for approximately thirty minutes; Russian Government Official < was in the vicinity of the book store (but outside) for approximately twenty of those thirty minutes.
Law enforcement agents were able to detect a particular MAC address - MAC address A - at the time that Chapman was observed powering on her laptop computer.

Law enforcement agents were also able to determine that the electronic device associated with MAC address A created the ad hoc network.
Chapman, clueless that she was being monitored by the FBI, reportedly handed off her laptop to an undercover FBI agent, "so that it could either be fixed, or sent back to Moscow."  Soon after the encounter she allegedly dropped in at a Verizon store to purchase a Motorola phone and international calling card under the name "Irine Kutsov" of "99 Fake Street".

Soon after Chapman and nine of her fellow spies were arrested in a sting, after the Justice Department felt confident enough with its wealth of evidence to pull them in.  Cyprus police arrested an eleventh individual,  Christopher Metsos, at Larnaca Airport, trying to board a flight to Budapest.  He is pending extradition to the U.S.

Despite the variety of high-tech initiative, the spies also used a variety of lower-tech measures like invisible ink, "brush-bys" to pass critical materials, and radio bursts to send data.  At least one Russian official based at the UN in Washington DC was involved with exchange of computers, flash drives, money, and other materials. 

Russia has denied the accusations of spying and says it is seeking more info.

The full U.S. Justice Department complaint can be found here.

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