WASHINGTON — Unaware the FBI has her under surveillance, Russian spy Anna Chapman buys leggings and tries on hats at Macy's. A few months later, cameras watch her in a New York coffee shop where she meets with someone she thinks is her Russian handler. It's really an undercover FBI agent.
Tapes, documents and photos released Monday describe and sometimes show how Chapman, now a celebrity back in Russia, and other members of a ring of sleeper spies passed instructions, information and cash. The ring was shut down in June 2010 after a decade-long counterintelligence probe that led to the biggest spy swap since the Cold War.
The FBI released the material to The Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The investigation was code-named "Ghost Stories," the release of documents on Halloween a coincidence.
While the deep-cover agents didn't steal any secrets, an FBI counterintelligence official told the AP they were making progress.
They "were getting very close to penetrating U.S. policymaking circles" through a friend of a U.S. Cabinet official, said C. Frank Figliuzzi, FBI assistant director for counterintelligence.
He did not name names, but Russian spy Cynthia Murphy of Montclair, N.J., provided financial planning for venture capitalist Alan Patricof, a political fundraiser with close ties to Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The linchpin in cracking the case, apparently, was Col. Alexander Poteyev, a highly placed U.S. mole in Russian foreign intelligence, who betrayed the spy ring even as he ran it.
He abruptly fled Moscow just days before the FBI rolled up the operation. Poteyev's role emerged when a Russian military court convicted him in absentia for high treason and desertion.
The materials released Monday show Chapman and the other members of Moscow's 11-member ring of sleeper spies — deep-cover agents assigned to blend into American society — shopping in New York City, sightseeing, hanging around coffee shops or apparently just out for a stroll. While she shops at one department store, a Russian diplomat waits outside.
The FBI says seemingly mundane pursuits often served as cover for the exchange of encrypted messages or the transfer of cash, all with the long-range goal of penetrating the highest levels of U.S. policymaking.
What appears to be a family photo of one spy, Donald Heathfield of Cambridge, Mass., shows him graduating from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2000. The school revoked the degree a month after the FBI rolled up the spy ring.
Other spies are seen in video and photos meeting in Columbus Circle, on Brooklyn street corners and at a pay phone in Queens.
Called "illegals" because they took civilian jobs instead of operating with diplomatic immunity inside Russian embassies and military missions, the spies settled into quiet lives in middle-class neighborhoods and set about trying to network their way into the worlds of finance, technology and government.
The operation's codename, Ghost Stories, stems from a number of the spies using a technique known among counter-intelligence investigators as "dead doubles" — taking the identities of people who have died. Tracey Lee Ann Foley, Michael Zottoli, Donald Heathfield and Patricia Mills all used the technique, Figliuzzi said.
The U.S. traded the 10 "Ghost Stories" spies arrested by federal 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 have kept a low profile after their return to Moscow, Chapman became a model, corporate spokeswoman and television personality. 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.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev awarded the 10 freed spies Russia's highest honors at a Kremlin ceremony.