Russian Agents Infiltrated U.S. Society, Charges Say

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NEW YORK — They sometimes worked in pairs and pretended to be married so they could blend in as the couple next door while working as spies in a throwback to the Cold War, complete with fake identities, invisible ink, coded radio transmissions and encrypted data to avoid detection, authorities say.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz, speaking Monday in federal court in Manhattan, called the allegations against 10 people living in the Northeast "the tip of the iceberg" of a conspiracy of Russia's intelligence service, the SVR, to collect inside U.S. information, the biggest such bust in recent years.

Each of the 10 was charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. attorney general, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison upon conviction. Two criminal complaints outlining the charges were filed in U.S. District Court in New York.

Police in Cyprus said Tuesday that an 11th defendant, a Canadian citizen wanted by U.S. authorities on suspicion of espionage and money laundering, was arrested in the morning at Larnaca airport while trying to fly to Budapest, Hungary.

Russia angrily denounced the U.S. arrests as an unjustified throwback to the Cold War, and senior lawmakers said some in the U.S. government may be trying to undercut President Barack Obama's warming relations with Moscow.

"These actions are unfounded and pursue unseemly goals," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We don't understand the reasons which prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to make a public statement in the spirit of Cold War-era spy stories."

Intelligence on Obama's foreign policy, particularly toward Russia, appears to have been a top priority for the Russian agents, prosecutors said.

The papers allege the defendants' spying has been going on for years.

One defendant was a reporter and editor for a prominent Spanish-language newspaper videotaped by the FBI contacting a Russian official in 2000 in Latin America, prosecutors said.

And in spring 2009, court documents say, conspirators Richard and Cynthia Murphy, who lived in New Jersey, were asked for information about Obama's impending trip to Russia that summer, the U.S. negotiating position on the START arms reduction treaty, Afghanistan and the approach Washington would take in dealing with Iran's suspect nuclear program. They also were asked to send background on U.S. officials traveling with Obama or involved in foreign policy, the documents say.

"Try to outline their views and most important Obama's goals (sic) which he expects to achieve during summit in July and how does his team plan to do it (arguments, provisions, means of persuasion to 'lure' (Russia) into cooperation in US interests," Moscow asked, according to the documents.

Moscow wanted reports that "should reflect approaches and ideas of" four sub-Cabinet U.S. foreign policy officials, they say.

One intercepted message said Cynthia Murphy "had several work-related personal meetings with" a man the court papers describe as a prominent New York-based financier active in politics.

In response, Moscow Center described the man as a very interesting target and urged the defendants to "try to build up little by little relations. ... Maybe he can provide" Murphy "with remarks re US foreign policy, 'roumors' about White house internal 'kitchen,' invite her to venues (to major political party HQ in NYC, for instance. ... In short, consider carefully all options in regard" to the financier.

The Murphys lived as husband and wife in suburban New Jersey, first Hoboken, then Montclair, with Richard Murphy carrying a fake birth certificate saying he was born in Philadelphia, authorities said.

One defendant in Massachusetts made contact in 2004 with an unidentified man who worked at a U.S. government research facility.

"He works on issues of strategic planning related to nuclear weapon development," the defendant's intelligence report said.