U.S., Russia to swap spies after 10 plead guilty

NEW YORK,  (Reuters) – Ten people pleaded guilty yesterday to being agents for Russia while living undercover in  the United States as part of a spy swap between the U.S. and  Russian governments that revived Cold War-era intrigue.

The suspects agreed in court to be deported to Russia. In  turn, Russia agreed to release four people imprisoned for  suspected contact with Western intelligence agencies, the U.S.  Justice Department said.

The swap helped resolve a scandal that threatened to strain  U.S.-Russian relations and revealed shocking details about 10  people living double lives as ordinary citizens while trying to  infiltrate U.S. policymaking circles.

Such swaps are not unprecedented but were more a fixture of  the Cold War, when the United States and the former Soviet  Union were sworn enemies competing for world domination.

Both the Kremlin and the administration of President Barack  Obama sought to prevent the arrests from affecting relations  that had been improving after hitting lows with Russia’s 2008  war against Georgia.

Obama, who hosted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the  White House last month, needs Moscow’s help for efforts to rein  in Iran’s nuclear program and keep supply lines open for the  war in Afghanistan. Russia wants U.S. support to gain entry to  the World Trade Organization.

Obama “was fully informed” about the swap and endorsed it,  White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on the “PBS  NewsHour” program, stressing that the case was pursued by  intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Five of the suspects revealed their real names for the  first time publicly and all but one — Peruvian journalist  Vicky Pelaez — said they were Russian citizens.

The couple known as Richard and Cynthia Murphy said their  names were Vladimir and Lydia Guryev, 44 and 39 years old.

Donald Howard Heathfield was actually Andrey Bezrukov, 49,  Tracey Lee Ann Foley was Elena Vavilova, 47, and Juan Lazaro  was really Mikhail Anatonoljevich Vasemkov, 66. Vladimir Guryev told the court he had been in the United  States since the early 1990s.

“I resided here under an assumed name and took direction  from the Russian Federation and met with Russian officials and  I did not register as a diplomat or foreign agent,” he said.

Russian officials promised Pelaez she could go to any  country, including her native Peru, with a monthly stipend of  $2,000 for life plus visas for her children, her lawyer told  the court.

The 10 suspects were sentenced to time already served — 11  days since their arrests on June 27 — and had separate charges  of money-laundering dropped.

One of them, Anna Chapman, became a staple of the New York  tabloid press, which splashed pictures of her across their  pages and labeled her a party-hopping “sexy redhead” and a  “Manhattan beauty.”

Also known as Anya Kushchenko, the 28-year-old was arrested  in Manhattan, where she ran a $2 million real estate business.

WAITING FOR SUTYAGIN

In Moscow, relatives anxiously awaited word from a jailed  Russian scholar they said was to be sent to Vienna on Thursday  in the first stage of the swap.

It was unclear whether Igor Sutyagin, convicted in 2004 of  passing secrets to the West, had arrived in Austria as part of  what his lawyer said Sutyagin was told would be a exchange for  Russian agents arrested in the United States.

Sutyagin, a respected nuclear expert, was convicted in 2004  of passing classified military information to a British firm  that Russian prosecutors said was a front for the CIA.

He said the information was available from open sources and  his conviction cast a chill on Russian scientists.

Three of the prisoners Russia agreed to release were  convicted of treason and serving long prison terms, Justice  Department prosecutors said. Some were in poor health, and the  Russian government agreed to release them and their family  members for resettlement.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the investigation was not  done to gain a “bargaining chip” with Russia.

“With the arrests and guilty pleas in this case it would  appear that the Russian Federation is unlikely to engage in  this methodology in the future, and that is a good thing,”  Bharara told reporters. “These arrests and prosecution send a message to every  other intelligence agency that if you come to America and spy  on Americans in America, you will be exposed and arrested.”

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