Diary

Russian Spies, Part 2: The Mysterious Case of the Illegals

(U.S. Marshals via AP, File)

It is not as if the United States has ceased spying operations on Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.  The only time we know of these spy operations is when they go wrong and mistakes are made.  The question becomes, then, what does the story of the illegals here in the United States who were arrested in 2010 and became the impetus for the FX series, “The Americans,” have to do with Spygate?  The answer is twofold.  First, it shows that despite the end of the Cold War, there was no end to the spy game, especially on the part of the Russians.  Even while in the midst of an economic and political crisis, the Russian intelligence apparatus was busy.  The United States may not have been an ideological threat to communism in Russia anymore, but the national paranoia and distrust that runs deep in the Russian psyche never goes away.  Putin’s distrust of the United States runs perhaps deeper than any Communist ever did.  

The second aspect of the story unfolds at the end and shows how the Obama administration reacted to what could have been, or may possibly be, an embarrassing situation for his Secretary of State who everyone knew was thinking of being his successor in 2016.

The story begins with the people involved- 11 arrested in all.  The story of Mikhail Vasenkov (a/k/a Juan Lazaro) shows how the illegals operated.  Vasenkov had flown into Peru under the name Juan Lazaro from Madrid on a passport from Uruguay.  It was later determined that the real Juan Lazaro had died at age 3 in 1947 in Uruguay and that Vasenkov had, through the SVR, stolen the identity.  While in Peru, he met and married Vicky Palaez, a journalist critical of US policies in Latin America.  In 1985, the couple moved to New York where she continued to pen articles and he became an adjunct professor for one semester at Baruch College, often making negative comments about American foreign policy.

Andrey Bezrukov (a/k/a Donald Heathfield) was married to Yelena Yavilova (a/k/a Tracey Lee Ann Foley) and they had two sons together.  Living in the Boston area, Heathfield was a graduate of the John Kennedy School of Government.  Classmates remember him being a “joiner” and having close ties with certain other classmates, namely Felipe Calderon who went on to become the president of Mexico.  He was a professional member of the World Future Society, a think tank dedicated to future technologies that often holds conferences with leading scientists.  Some of Al Gore’s people came into contact with Bezrukov although they insist that any information shared was already in the public domain.  Interesting side note: the lead investigator in this case was Peter Strozk.

Mikhail Kutzik (a/k/a Michael Zottoli) and Natalia Pereverzeva (Patricia Mills) were agents in Seattle, Washington where they both received degrees from the University of Washington in business administration.  Kutzik arrived in the United States in 2001 and Mills in 2003.  They later moved to Arlington, Virginia allegedly to be nearer to people in government.  They are accused of spying for the SVR since 2004.

Mikhail Semenko was fluent in several languages and received a degree from Seton Hall University.  He eventually moved to Arlington to work for a travel agency assisting Russian customers.

Anya Kuschenko married Alex Chapman, the son of a British business executive, in Moscow after they met at a party in London.  She was apparently recruited by the SVR sometime while in London and entered the United States after 9/11 since she had a British passport and Anglicized name.  Airport security was beefed up after 9/11 and the SVR thought it better to send people to the United States not under assumed or stolen identities lest they be caught at customs.  While in New York, Chapman identified herself as the CEO of PropertyFinder, Ltd., a company specializing in international real estate.  She became the face of the spying given her model good looks.

Pavel Kapustin (a/k/a Christopher Metsos) was allegedly the money handler of the operation and go-between with the SVR.  He was arrested in Cyprus, but disappeared after posting bail.

Finally, there is Vladimir Guryev and Lidya Guryeva.  He went by the name Richard Murphy, a name stolen from a deceased child, while she went by Cynthia Murphy.  She developed ties in New York financial circles as Vice President of Morea Financial Services.

How the FBI got on their trail is the work of the best Cold War era spy novel.  They first became aware of the spies from a mole buried in the Russian intelligence services.  This led to a decade-long investigation where they tracked the people named.  From redacted FBI documents, it becomes obvious that although Chapman was the face of the whole spy effort, it was Cynthia Mills who was the most important.  By 2008, on orders from the SVR, Hillary Clinton became the key target of the operation.  Mills worked for a tax consultancy firm in lower Manhattan. 

 Initially, while a student at Columbia University, she was tasked with developing profiles on possible CIA recruits at the school since it was well known that the CIA recruits candidates on college campuses, particularly Ivy League campuses.  Later as a tax consultant, Mills had drawn close to Alan Patricof, a high ranking DNC fundraiser and close confidante of Hillary Clinton.  In her 2008 presidential run, he was her national finance chairman.  Owning one of the world’s richest venture capital funds, he was instrumental in the formation of businesses like Amazon, Apple, AOL and Office Depot.

In encrypted messages, she notified Moscow that she had several work-related meetings with a New York financier who was prominent in American politics and an active fundraiser for an “Obama cabinet official.”  She intended to use this source for inside information on US foreign policy regarding the incoming Obama administration.  On October 18, 2009 Moscow sent a message to target publicly unknown sources close to State Department officials.  Initially, Murphy considered infiltrating the State Department herself, but her husband talked her out of it since he believed she would not pass a background check.  Specifically, Russia was seeking information on a new strategic arms treaty, US policy in Afghanistan, and US policy towards Iran’s nuclear program.  The list of targets became obvious in 2009: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, four of her deputies, one of her fundraisers, and influential foreign policy people in DC.

It pays to see what Hillary Clinton was doing at this time.  Blaming the former Bush administration for the bad feelings between the US and Russia, she promised a reset in relations.  To the Kremlin’s relief, she said she opposed the proposed Magnitsky Act.  She personally authorized the State Department to facilitate a meeting between 28 American tech companies and venture capitalists (17 of them were Clinton Foundation donors) to visit a Russian high-tech hub known as Skolkovo, their equivalent of Silicon Valley.

Next: Getting too close to Hillary