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Ten arrested, accused of spying for Russia

President Obama, cheeseburgers in tow, stressed last week during his meetings with the Russian president that there had been a real thaw in relations with the United States' former Cold War adversary.

Less than a week later, the Department of Justice announced today the arrests of 10 men and women, from Virginia to Boston, accused of spying for Russia.

NBC's Robert Windrem reports that the complaint in today's indictment and round up of the suspected agents details a spy novel-like operation that includes false identities, secret communications, money and document handoffs in heavily trafficked areas of New York City like Grand Central Station and Central Park. Some of those arrested have lived undercover in the United States for 20 years.

Those arrested were described by the Justice Department as "deep cover" agents operating on behalf of the SVR, the successor to the KGB.


One law enforcement official described today's takedown as "historic", the rounding up of the SVR's entire "illegals" program.

The complaint does not allege they were involved in espionage but imply they had been set up to carry out intelligence gathering.

They were sent to the United States and told not to get government jobs but to set themselves up as "normal citizens," the official said. They were tasked to get in touch with "influential" Americans -- college professors, contractors, congressional staffers.

The Russians, trained and directed from "Moscow Center," were given Americanized names. The defendants known as "Richard Murphy" and "Cynthia Murphy" from Montclair, N.J., Vicky Pelaez and the defendant known as "Juan Lazaro" were living in Yonkers, N.Y., Anna Chapman was living in Manhattan. In addition, other defendants were known as "Donald Howard Heathfield" and "Tracey Lee Ann Foley" lived in Boston. A defendant known as "Christopher R. Metsos" remains at large.

Eight of the ten arrested posed as married couples.

WNBC's Jonathan Dienst reports, at least some of them are expected to face arraignment this afternoon in federal court in New York City and Alexandria, Va.

*** UPDATE *** More from Windrem: How do Russian spies identify each other?

According the complaint, one way sounds a lot like it was stolen from a BAD spy novel.

As part of an elaborate plan to hand-off a phony passport on a New York park bench, one party was supposed to ask the other, "Excuse me, but haven't we met in California, last summer." To that the second party was to respond, "No, I think it was the Hamptons."

At that point, the passport was to be turned over.

The complaint also details how the group was provided tens of thousands of dollars to carry out its mission. In addition, the SVR approved the purchase of a house in Montclair, NJ that was used by the key couple named in the complaint.