The trio may have been “deep cover” spies. But the alleged Russian agents operating in New York City were hardly masterminds—more Elmore Leonard stumblebums than Ian Fleming supermen. Over the past two years, they spent their time fantasizing about wooing coeds—and sometimes working in cahoots with a Russian state-owned news organization. But the accused operatives got into trouble when they cozied up to an FBI informant who posed as a deep-pocketed developer keen on building casinos in Russia.
The bust-up of an alleged Russian spy ring, detailed in a federal criminal complaint released Monday, is the first in the United States since a gang of 10 agents was arrested in 2010 and shipped back to Russia in a spy-swap reminiscent of the heady days of the Cold War. And as was the case with that earlier crew, the odd, sometimes lame, behavior of the accused agents raised almost as many questions as it answered.
The 2010 ring, which worked in several states and had assimilated into American middle-class life, tried to gather intelligence on a range of topics, from U.S. foreign policy to lobbying to minerals mining. One of its members, who went by the name Anna Chapman, became a minor celebrity upon her return to Russia and was given a TV show.