The FBI on Monday released surveillance tapes, photos and hundreds of pages of documents that shed new light on operation "Ghost Stories," the bureau's investigation of a ring of Russian sleeper agents that ended after more than a decade in the biggest spy swap since the Cold War.
Called illegals because they took civilian jobs instead of operating inside Russian embassies and military missions, the spies, including New York real estate agent Anna Chapman, mostly settled into quiet lives in middle-class neighborhoods.
Their long-range assignment from Moscow: burrow deep into U.S. society and cultivate contacts with academics, entrepreneurs and government policymakers on subjects from defense to finance.
The heavily-edited files provide a glimpse into the intensive surveillance the deep cover agents were under, in some cases for almost a decade, showing the middle-class spies with their children, shopping or in one case attending a graduation ceremony.
The code name Ghost Stories appears to refer to the ring's efforts to blend invisibly into the fabric of American society. An FBI spokesman said the decision to release the material on Halloween was coincidental.
The U.S. swapped the 10 deep cover agents for four Russians imprisoned for spying for the West at a remote corner of a Vienna airport on July 9, in a scene reminiscent of the carefully-choreographed exchange of spies at Berlin's Glienicke Bridge during the Cold War.
While freed Soviet spies typically kept a low profile after their return to Moscow, Chapman became a lingerie model, corporate spokeswoman and television personality. Donald Heathfield, whose real name is Andrey Bezrukov, lists himself as an adviser to the president of a major Russian oil company on his LinkedIn account. President Dmitry Medvedev awarded all 10 of the freed deep-cover operatives Russia's highest honors at a Kremlin ceremony.
FBI: Operation Ghost Stories - Inside the Russian Spy Case
The arrests of 10 Russian spies last year provided a chilling reminder that espionage on U.S. soil did not disappear when the Cold War ended. The highly publicized case also offered a rare glimpse into the sensitive world of counterintelligence and the FBI’s efforts to safeguard the nation from those who would steal our vital secrets.
Our case against the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) operatives—dubbed Operation Ghost Stories—went on for more than a decade. Today we are releasing dozens of still images, surveillance video clips, and documents related to the investigation as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.