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'Spy, get out': five high-profile stories exposing Russian spies in the US

Against the background of an investigation into Russia's interference in the US presidential election, the non-related scandal with Maria Butina, which managed to get to America on a student visa, is gaining momentum. She is suspected of illegally promoting the interests of Russia in the United States. The woman was one of many Russian spies exposed in the United States. We have collected the most vivid stories in recent years.

Maria Butina - espionage under the guise of the fight for the legalization of weapons

16 July, the day Vladimir Putin met with Donald Trump, Russian citizen Maria Butina was detained in Washington, DC, on suspicion of unregistered activity in the United States as an agent acting in the interests of Russia.

She was officially charged on two counts. - in collusion with the aim of working as a foreign agent and in activity as a foreign agent without appropriate registration.

The Russian woman used personal relationships as a means for introducing American organizations into interests to Butinu and acquaintances with influential politicians, the investigation says.

“During the investigation, the FBI determined that Butina had gained access to a wide range of people in the United States who could influence political activities through 1 Persona. Butina's 29-year-old and 56-year-old Persona 1 were allegedly cohabitants and had personal relationships during Butina’s actions in the United States, ”the prosecutor’s office concluded.

Butina herself did not take these relationships seriously, but took them as a necessary part of her activities, the investigators suggest.

“At least once, Butina offered another person, not 1 Person, sex in exchange for a position in the organization of interest. In addition, in the documents seized by the FBI, Butina complained about her life with “1 Person” and wrote with disdain about further cohabitation with “1 Person”, the documents state.

The court documents indicate that Butina acted under the leadership of a high-ranking Russian official and tried to arrange meetings with "US residents with influence on American politics, including an organization that promotes gun ownership <...> in order to advance the interests of the Russian Federation."

Most likely, this high-ranking Russian official is ex-senator Alexander Torshin. Butina worked before his assistant. She and Torshin are members of the US National Rifle Association. Since 2016, Butina has been residing in the United States on a student visa. She was one of the members of the Russian delegation at the National Prayer Breakfast in the United States, at which Donald Trump spoke.

The 29-year-old native of Barnaul Butina is best known in her home country as the founder of the public organization Right to Arms, which advocates the expansion of the rights to own a short-barreled rifle in Russia.

In the year of 2010, Butina graduated from the Faculty of Mass Communications, Philology and Political Science at Altai State University, then she enrolled in graduate school there. While still a student, she became a member of the Public Chamber of the Altai Territory, in 21, she set up a furniture store chain in the region, and in 2011, when she was 22, she founded Right to Arms and moved to Moscow. Butina sold almost all the stores and opened an advertising agency.

By 2014, the “Right to Arms” has grown throughout the country, has entered into cooperation with the United States National Rifting Association (NRA) and engaged in human rights and legislative activities.

In the same years, Butina met Paul Erickson, an American Republican lawyer and an active member of the NRA. In 2013, “The Right to Arms” published a video message by John Bolton (then the US representative to the UN), in which he supports the right of Russians to bear arms; Bolton is now the national security adviser to the US president.

What did Butina do in the USA

In the year 2015, Butina entered the American University in Washington for a master's program in international relations and began to spend a lot of time in the United States. She attended many NRA events; In the documents of the Ministry of Justice it is said that a certain American helped her to get acquainted with influential politicians.

The patron of Butina, Alexander Torshin, maintained close ties with the NRA and the Republicans even before the relocation of the founder of The Rights to Arms to the United States. The official repeatedly visited the association’s events and brought its leaders to Moscow, where he was introduced to the “Rights to Arms” activities.

After entering American University with Torshin, I began to ride Butina in America. In 2015 – 2016 - during the presidential campaign in the United States - she regularly appeared at NRA conferences and other events where she met prominent representatives of the Republican Party, for example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who was trying to run for president.

In June 2015 of the year, a few days before Donald Trump announced his candidacy, Butina published an article titled “Bear and Elephant” (an elephant is a symbol of the Republican Party) in a conservative edition of the National Interest. In it, she stated that in order to improve relations between the United States and Russia, it is necessary to elect a Republican president.

A month later, Butina found herself at the same event as Trump in Las Vegas. There, she managed to ask the future president whether he was going to continue the policy of sanctions against Russia in the event of a victory. Trump replied that he "knows Putin and gets along with him" and opposes sanctions.

As described in The Daily Beast, in November 2016 - shortly after Donald Trump won the presidential election - Boutin held a costume party in Washington for her birthday party where the Trump campaign staff arrived, as well as Paul Ericson.

Erickson dressed for the party as Rasputin, and Butina as the “Empress Alexandra” (obviously, it was about the wife of Nicholas II Alexander Fedorovna, on whom Rasputin had a great influence). At the party, Butina, according to two sources, announced that she was helping representatives of Trump's staff in communication with Russia. Former teacher Butyna at American University Svetlana Savranskaya told The Daily Beast that she said this several times in the classroom.

As a result, the federal court refused to release Butina on bail, during the investigation and the trial the woman will be detained.

During the court hearing, prosecutors said that the detainee had connections with Russian intelligence and that there was a serious risk that she would leave the United States. As a result, the judge supported the prosecution.

Judge Deborah Robinson said she did not see a situation in which Butina’s return to court, where she would face the two charges against her, is guaranteed. Especially considering that on one of the charges she faces up to 10 years in prison. Therefore, the court made a decision on keeping the suspect in custody.

Lawyer Robert Driscoll, who represents the interests of Butina, said that his client did not admit her guilt, and also denied the suspicion that a woman might try to leave the country.

Anna Chapman

Anna Chapman.
Photo: Wikipedia

In July, 2010, a few convicts for treason against Russians, including Sergei Skrypal, poisoned in Britain, were exchanged for a group of Russian intelligence agents exposed in the United States. Among them were Major General of the SVR, Mikhail Vasenkov and Anna Chapman.

American intelligence agencies exposed Chapman and other Russian spies thanks to information from the ex-Colonel of the SVR, Alexander Poteev, who fled to the United States. Poteev led the US Department of Management "C" (illegal intelligence). In 2010, he surrendered a network of Russian intelligence officers to the US authorities.

The most popular among them was Anna Chapman - an uncovered agent of Russian intelligence, acting in the USA under the legend of an entrepreneur of Russian origin. In June, 2010 was arrested in the United States on charges that she did not inform the US authorities about her collaboration with a foreign government. 8 July 2010, Chapman pleaded guilty to illegal cooperation with Russia and was sent home with nine other defendants in this case in exchange for four Russian citizens previously accused of spying for the United States and the United Kingdom.

Regular family from New Jersey

Vladimir and Lydia Guriev.
Photo: FBI

Regular married couple Richard and Cynthia Murphy and their two daughters lived in a beige two-story house in Moncler, New Jersey. They led a normal life - carefully chose a school for their daughters and grew hydrangeas.

Neighbors knew that Cynthia worked as a financial planner for an accounting company in Manhattan, and Richard remained on the farm and raised 9-year-old Lisa and 11-year-old Kate.

The shocking truth surfaced in 2010, when the FBI searched the house of Murphy and found out that their real names are Vladimir and Lydia Guriev.

“You could tell me that they were Martians, and I would have been less surprised,” said Elizabeth Lapin, a poetry professor who lived in a nearby house.

Since 1990-ies, the Guryevs have been collecting information for the Russian foreign intelligence service. 27 June 2010, the FBI arrested the Guryevs.

Neighbors say that the Guryev family was not too socially active, but they sometimes attended local city holidays and were quite benevolent. They were hard to suspect that they were not Americans, much less spies.

How were they caught?

At the beginning of 2000, the FBI and the CIA had information that spies from the Russian intelligence service were working in the United States. The operation, called the "Illegals", was launched before the end of the Cold War. And under the cover of American intelligence services, the Russians who had been working under the cover for quite a long time came when Bill Clinton was still the president of the United States. They conducted surveillance of the Guryevs, and also somehow conducted a secret search in their house. Employees of the FBI reported that the Guryevs did their best to integrate into American society and did not even speak Russian at home.

In 2009, Lydia made connections in the financial circles of New York to get information about the global gold market. Tried to make friends with Alan Patricof, an investor specializing in venture capital investments. The couple’s responsibilities also included collecting information about US policy in Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear program, and the latest agreement on reducing strategic offensive arms.

In the end, the FBI was able to crack the cipher that the spies used to communicate with Moscow, and found out about their secret activities. In 2009, the American special services were able to make a video showing how Vladimir met with one of the Russian officials. The authorities decided it was time to arrest the espionage nest.

What happened to the kids?

After an exchange in 2010, the daughters of a pair of Kate and Lisa, born in the USA, were returned to their parents in Russia. US Attorney General Eric Holder said that the children of the Guryevs and all the other children of Russian agents were “repatriated.”

What happened to the spy house?

The house of spies confiscated by the American authorities, whose images inspired the authors of the television series Americans, was put up for sale for 444 900 dollars. The house has four bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, an upgraded kitchen and a backyard. The house was built in 1950 year. The Guryevs / Murphy had a total of three properties at different addresses - in New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York. The fate of the other two houses is unknown.

The life of spy kids after “repatriation”

After US citizens Donald Heathfield and his wife Tracy Foley were exposed by FBI agents, not only the life of the agents themselves, but also their sons, Tim and Alex, have changed.

The special group raid day - 7 June 2010 of the year - coincided with Tim's 20 birthday, which he celebrated not far from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Shortly after the guys returned home, a group of black-clad armed men rushed in with a shout of “FBI!”, After which they were handcuffed to their parents and taken away in different cars.

To the shocked brothers, an FBI official said that parents were arrested on suspicion of being illegal agents of a foreign government.

Alex, the youngest of the brothers, suggested that there was some kind of mistake, perhaps the FBI representatives entered the wrong house, or there was confusion because of his father’s consulting work.

Donald Heathfield, who studied in Paris and Harvard, at that time worked as a senior employee of a consulting firm in Boston. Their mother, Tracy Foley, was engaged in raising her children for a long time, and then began working as a real estate agent.

The brothers were born in Canada, but at that time 10 had lived in the USA for years. Acquaintances considered Hitfield-Foley to be an ordinary American family, albeit with Canadian roots and attraction to foreign travel.

New Names

However, a few days later, the brothers heard on the radio that the FBI had uncovered the 10 Russian agents, and it soon became clear that the real names of their parents, Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova.

The names of Donald Heathfield and Tracy Foley belonged to Canadians who died in childhood many years ago. Their identities were stolen and used by the brothers' parents.

Both were born in the USSR and underwent training in the KGB, after which they went abroad on the program of introducing deeply disguised secret agents, known in Russia as “illegals.” They and eight other agents, including Anna Chapman, were handed over to the American authorities by a Russian spy defector.

After reaching an exchange agreement, Alex and Tim also waited for a long trip to Russia, and almost 6 years later, after a memorable raid by the FBI, a British newspaper correspondent Guardian met in Moscow with Alex, now officially named Alexander Vavilov, and his brother Timofey Vavilov.

Alex can already order a Russian dinner, but he cannot speak fluently yet. He studies in Europe and came to Moscow to his parents. Tim works as a financier in Asia, and in the interests of protecting privacy, the brothers asked not to disclose details of their studies and work.

In addition, the brothers are in legal litigation for the restoration of Canadian citizenship, which they were deprived of after the arrest of their parents. The brothers believe that this is unjust and illegal.

Moving to Russia

During the FBI raid, as Alex recalls, they seized all computers, mobile phones, photos, and more. All bank accounts of the family were frozen, and the brothers only had cash in their pockets.

The mother, with whom they were able to meet in prison, ordered her sons to go to Moscow, although they had never been to Russia before. At the airport, the brothers were met by several people who called themselves colleagues of their parents and asked the brothers to trust them.

“They showed us photographs of parents in their youth, who wore uniforms and medals. At that moment I realized that it was true. Until then, I refused to believe the charges were fair, ”said Alex.

In Russia, the brothers met with their uncle and cousin, whose existence had not previously been suspected, and also with their grandmother.

Alex and Tim say they don’t feel much discomfort when they talk about their experiences, but they don’t rejoice in it either. The brothers doubt that parents were once going to tell them about their true personalities.

In 2010, spies were met in Russia as heroes. First they were interviewed at the SVR headquarters, and then Bezrukov, Vavilova and the rest met with President Dmitry Medvedev, who presented them with medals for service.

Identity crisis

Tim replied that they sometimes meet with other spy families, although he and Alex were the only teenagers among these families. Of the four married couples detained, one had two small children, and the other had older sons.

Tim and Alex received Russian passports at the end of December 2010. Unexpectedly, they turned out to be Timofey and Alexander Vavilov.

“The names were completely new, alien and impenetrable. The real identity crisis, ”said Tim.

Unable to return to the university where he enrolled, Tim transferred to a Russian university and graduated from it, and then graduated from the MBA in London.

Alex completed his secondary education at the British International School in Moscow. He did not want to stay in Russia and applied to a Canadian university, but he was told that he must first obtain a new Canadian birth certificate, then apply for citizenship, and only after that would he be able to renew his Canadian passport.

In 2012, he entered the University of Toronto and applied for a four-year student visa on a Russian passport. He was issued a visa, and he was going on September 2 to go to Canada. But four days before his departure, when he collected his things and corresponded by e-mail with his future roommate, Alex was unexpectedly called from the Canadian embassy and called for an urgent interview.

The meeting was unpleasant. He was asked many questions about his parents and his life. A visa was canceled before his eyes, and he lost his place at the university. After that, he was denied a French and British visa. Alex entered the London School of Economics twice and did not get a visa twice. Tim often travels to Asia, where many countries maintain a visa-free regime with Russia.

Canadian identity

The brothers are fighting for the restoration of Canadian citizenship, not only for the convenience of travel. Moscow is not the most benevolent city to the new arrivals, and not one of the brothers feels Russian. Both are ready to work in Asia for the time being, but are interested in returning to Canada to create families there.

Their Canadian identity remains the last straw for which they clutch, having lost most of the past reality.

"I lived 20 for years, considering myself a Canadian, and I am still a Canadian, in this respect nothing has changed," Tim wrote in a statement to the court of Toronto. “I have nothing to do with Russia, I don’t speak their language, I don’t have friends there, I have never lived there for a long time and I don’t want to live there.”

In the end, Alex Vavilov obtained in court the restoration of Canadian citizenship. But the government of Canada is successful appealed this decision, it insists that Alex Vavilov cannot be considered a citizen of the country, so the authorities appealed to the Supreme Court with a request to revoke his passport.

Canada grants citizenship under the "right of the soil", that is, those who were born on the territory of the country. The exception is the children of civil servants. The authorities insist that Vavilov’s parents, as intelligence officers, were civil servants, representatives of a foreign state. Consequently, their children were given citizenship illegally.

Tim and Alex have been asking questions about themselves for several months and who they are and whether they should be angry with their parents. They do not want their childhood to determine their adult life.

Although they do not want to live in Russia, the brothers visit Moscow every few months to see their parents. Tim finds it sad that, although now he can finally spend time with his grandparents, the language barrier will not allow him to know them properly.

“By choosing this path, it’s very difficult for you to keep your family and keep everything together,” he said.

Alex said that sometimes he wondered why his parents decided to have children at all.

“They lived a normal life and made their choice. I am glad that they had something to believe in, but this meant that I would have nothing to do with the country for which they risked their lives. I would like the world not to punish me for their choices and actions. This will be completely unfair, ”Alex believes.

In the end, he came to the conclusion that his parents were the same people who raised him with love, and no matter what secrets they kept.

In addition to the 2010 spy scandal of the year, 5 years later, there was another equally loud process to expose Russian spies in the United States.

Spying through the bank


In 2015, the federal prosecutor's office of the Southern District of New York announced the exposure of the “Russian spy organization”, consisting of 39-year-old Yevgeny Buryakov, 40-year-old Igor Sporyshev and 27-year-old Viktor Sotoi. Buryakov, working in the Foreign Intelligence Service, was in New York as an employee of a Russian bank and was engaged in collecting intelligence information. The journalists immediately established that this was Vnesheconombank, whose representative office is located at No. 777 on Third Avenue, almost opposite the New York TASS bureau. The list of his employees includes the deputy representative of the bank Evgeny Evgenievich Buryakov.

Since he officially did not have a relationship with the Russian government, Buryakov could not visit the New York office of the SVR, located at one of the Russian facilities in Manhattan, and leave the collected information there. For this purpose, the staff of the SVR Sporyshev and Vodka who worked under the official roof were assigned to him.

From 22 in November 2010 of the year to 21 in November of 2014, Sporyshev served as trade representative of the Russian Federation in New York. From 13 December 2012 of the Year. Similar was the attache of the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the UN. They have already left the United States and are outside of US jurisdiction.

As official representatives of Russia, they should not have been separately registered as its agents. But they had no right to collude with Buryakov and promote his activities as an unregistered agent of Russia in the United States.

In contrast, Buryakov remained in the United States and was arrested on January 26 2015 in the Bronx. Like 10, the Russians arrested in 2010, of which only Anna Chapman, Buryakov, Sporyshev and the Like were remembered by the public, were not accused of spying, but in collusion, during which Buryakov, in violation of the law, did not register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent, but two others he was assisted.

Sporyshev and Similar carried out communication between Buryakov and the Moscow center, using the equipment which was at them in residency. From March 2012 to the middle of 2014, the FBI carried out external and electronic surveillance of Buryakov and Sporyshev and recorded approximately 45 meetings between them, in part of which Buryakov handed over packets, magazines or sheets of paper to his colleague.

These meetings usually took place on the street, and not in the room where it would be easier to watch them.

Each meeting was preceded by a short telephone conversation between Buryakov and Sporyshev, in which one said to the other that he should give something to him. Usually a ticket, a book, a list, an umbrella, a hat or other prosaic item appeared.

As the prosecutor's office notes, the conversation about the ticket was never accompanied by a discussion of a sports match or a concert.

As can be seen from court documents, the FBI recorded conversations in the New York residency office of the SVR and secretly searched Buryakov’s computer in his bank.

Sporyshev and Vokhozhny not only received intelligence information from Buryakov, but also collected them themselves. In particular, they allegedly tried to recruit female students, graduates and graduate students of a New York university.

In the end, Buryakov was sentenced to 30 months of imprisonment and $ 10 000 fine. Buryakov made a deal with the prosecutor's office, pleading guilty of conspiracy to work in the United States as an agent of a foreign state, specifically the Russian Federation, without proper registration with the US Justice Department.

In return, the prosecution promised not to demand for Buryakova punishment of more than 2,5 years of imprisonment, although she could have asked for 5 years. In April 2017, after the completion of his sentence, he was deported to Russia.

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