Nine people charged with operating as Russian spies entrenched in American suburbia were making long-shot bids to be released from jail pending trial Thursday, even as authorities scoured a Mediterranean island for an alleged co-conspirator who disappeared after he was granted bail.
Hearings were set for federal courts in New York, Boston and Alexandria, Va., for all but one of the 10 people arrested over the weekend by federal authorities in the United States.
Police searched airports, ports and yacht marinas Thursday to find an 11th person who was arrested in Cyprus but disappeared after a Cypriot judge freed him on $32,500 bail. The man, who had gone by the name Christopher Metsos, failed to show up Wednesday for a required meeting with police in connection with charges that he supplied money to the spy ring.
Authorities also examined surveillance video from crossing points on the war-divided island, fearing the suspect might have slipped into the breakaway north of the island, a diplomatic no-man’s-land recognized only by Turkey.
In the U.S., Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, of Cambridge, Mass., were scheduled to appear Thursday at a federal court in Boston. Mikhail Semenko, Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills, all of Arlington, Va., were set for a hearing before Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Defendants Richard Murphy, Cynthia Murphy, Juan Lazaro and Vicky Pelaez were to go before a judge in New York.
All have been charged with being foreign agents. Officials said the suspects will all eventually be transferred to New York, where the charges were filed.
Not due in court Thursday was Russian beauty Anna Chapman, the alleged spy whose heavy presence on the Internet and New York party scene has made her a tabloid sensation. She was previously ordered held without bail.
Eight of the suspects were accused by prosectuors of being foreign-born, husband-and-wife teams who were supposed to be Americanizing themselves and gradually developing ties to policymaking circles in the U.S.
Most were living under assumed identities, according to the FBI.
Their true names and citizenship remain unknown, but several are
suspected of being Russians by birth.
Heathfield claimed to be a Canadian but was using a birth certificate of a deceased Canadian boy, agents said in a court filing. His wife, Tracey Foley, purported to be from Canada, too, but investigators said they searched a family safe deposit box found photographs taken of her when she was in her 20s that had been developed by a Soviet film company.
Two, Chapman and Mikhail Semenko, were Russians who didn’t attempt to hide their national origin, FBI agents said, but they had a similar mission: blend in, network and learn what they could.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said the U.K. was investigating whether Foley might have used a forged British passport. The British spy agency MI5 is also investigating the extent to which Foley and Chapman had links to London, and will likely seek to find out whether either attempted to recruit British officials as informants.
There is evidence that at least some of the alleged agents had success cultivating contacts in the business, academic and political worlds.
The criminal complaint alleges that either Heathfield or Foley sent messages to Moscow talking about turnover at the CIA that was supposedly “received in private conversation” with a former congressional aide. Other messages described Heathfield establishing contact with a former high ranking U.S. national security official, and with a U.S. researcher who worked on bunker-busting nuclear warheads.
Moscow thanked Cynthia Murphy for having passed along “very useful” information about the global gold market and instructed her to strengthen ties with students and professors at Columbia University’s business school, where she was getting a degree, according to the FBI.
Among other things, the Russians wanted “detailed personal data and character traits w. preliminary conclusions about their potential to be recruited by Service,” according to one intercepted message.
Clare Lopez, senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy and
a professor at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security and
a former operations officer for the CIA, said the alleged plotters
might have someday been able to produce valuable information, if
left in place long enough.
“Their value is not just in acquiring classified information,” she said. “There’s a lot that goes on that’s not simply stealing secrets and sending them back to Moscow.”
Metsos was charged with supplying funds to the other members of the ring.
Cypriot Justice Minister Loucas Louca on Thursday admitted that a judge’s decision to release him on bail “may have been mistaken” and said authorities were examining leads on his possible whereabouts.
“We have some information and we hope that we will arrest him soon,” Louca told reporters, without elaborating.
More recently, former CIA agent Harold Nicholson, in prison for espionage, recruited his 24-year-old son Nathaniel to meet with Russian agents in cities around the world from 2006 to 2008 to collect money owed by his former handlers. One of those cities was the Cypriot capital, Nicosia.