The case was brought to a swift conclusion before it could complicate U.S. President Obama's campaign to "reset" American relations with the Kremlin, strained by years of tensions over U.S. foreign policy and the 2008 Russian-Georgian war. All 10 of the captured spies were charged with failing to register as foreign agents.
An 11th suspect, Christopher Metsos, who claimed to be a Canadian citizen and was accused of delivering money and equipment to the sleeper agents, vanished after a court in Cyprus freed him on bail. The FBI released surveillance photos of Metsos on Monday.
Figliuzzi said Metsos traveled into the U.S. solely for the purpose of providing the other illegals with money. Security measures after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks meant he could no longer risk carrying large amounts of cash, prompting the Russians to send officials already in the U.S. to meet with the illegals and pay them.
That could have made them more vulnerable to discovery.
He said Chapman and another illegal, Mikhail Semenko, who worked in a D.C.-area travel agency, represented a "new breed" of illegals operating in the U.S. under their own names.
Chapman and Semenko "were very tech savvy, very intellectual and bright," he said, adding that Semenko is fluent in five languages including Chinese.
Both of the new-breed operatives used state-of-the-art wireless computer communications, but the others fell back on techniques that have been used for centuries. With the two different approaches, "the Russians were experimenting," said Figliuzzi.
The FBI official said that Chapman's ring was the largest network of illegals ever seen in the U.S. By working on the case for so long, he said, the FBI penetrated the ring's communications network to the point where FBI officials were playing the part of Russian handlers. "So in a sense we began to own their communications and we became the Russians," Figliuzzi said.
But former Soviet intelligence officials now living in the West scratched their heads over what Russia hoped to gain from its ring.
"In my view this whole operation was a waste of human resources, money and just put Russia in a ridiculous situation," said Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB major general who spied against the U.S. during the Soviet era, in an interview earlier this year. He now lives near Washington.
Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB officer and journalist who has written extensively about Soviet spying in America, said the illegals were supposed to act as talent spotters and scouts, identifying Americans in positions of power who might be recruited to spill secrets for financial reasons or through blackmail.
Spies with the protection of diplomatic credentials would handle the more delicate task of recruiting and handling the agents.
Moscow's ultimate aim, Vassiliev said, was probably to cultivate a source who could provide day-by-day intelligence on what the president's inner circle was thinking and planning in response to the latest international crisis. But he said there was no evidence the Kremlin made any progress toward that goal.
"How are you going to recruit someone like that, on what basis? That's quite a successful person. Why should he spy for the Russians? I can't see any reason, said Vassiliev, who now lives in London.
The 10 Russian illegals included:
— Chapman, the daughter of a Russian diplomat, who worked as a real estate agent in New York City. After she was caught, photos of the redhead's social life and travels were splashed all over the tabloids.
— Vicky Pelaez and Juan Lazaro, of Yonkers, N.Y. Lazaro briefly taught a class on Latin American and Caribbean politics at Baruch College. She wrote pieces highly critical of U.S. policy in Latin America as a columnist for one of the United States' best-known Spanish-language newspapers, El Diario La Prensa.