The Russian Foreign Ministry said the arrests by the FBI were "deplorable" at
a time when the two countries' leaders were trying to improve relations.
The defendants are accused of being so-called "illegals", working for the
Russian foreign secret service under false identities to penetrate US
government policy-making circles.
It is alleged that they were tasked with gleaning intelligence on nuclear
weapons, foreign policy and Congressional politics.
The scandal comes just days after a bilateral summit between President Dmitry
Medvedev and US President Barack Obama that was designed to underscore
warming ties between the two Cold War adversaries.
In a statement, Russia's Foreign Ministry said: "Such actions are baseless and
"It is highly deplorable that all of this is happening against the background
of the reset in Russia-US ties announced by the US administration itself."
During a visit to Jerusalem, Mr Lavrov said: "The subject was not
explained to us. I hope they will explain."
He added: "The only thing I can say today is that the moment for doing that
(making the arrests) has been chosen with special elegance."
The FBI accuses the SVR, the successor organisation to the Soviet Union's KGB,
of running a network of "illegals", described in court documents
as Russians who received training in languages, codes and ciphers, invisible
writing and counter-surveillance before living in the United States under
Each of the 10 was charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign
government, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison on
They were alleged to have met US government officials given codenames such as "Farmer",
"Parrot" and "Cat" as well as engaging such tried and
tested espionage methods as dead drops and brush passes.
As well as the 10 arrested in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Virginia
over the weekend, the FBI identified an eleventh suspect, known as "Christopher
R. Metsos" who remains at large.
The nature of their work was said to have been outlined in a secret message to
two of those arrested: "You were sent to USA for long-term service
"Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc - all those serve one
goal: fulfil your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in
policy-making circles in US ..."
Many of the details of the criminal complains read
like an outline of a John LeCarre novel.
A defendant known as "Anna Chapman" allegedly communicated with a
Russian official in Manhattan in January as she sat in a coffee shop and he
pulled up outside in a van. The FBI alleges that they used a wireless
network via paired computers.
Two months later, a similar communication allegedly took place when she was in
a bookshop and the Russian official, based at Russia's mission to the United
Nations, was outside with a briefcase.
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Chapman was later approached by an FBI agent posing as a Russian who told her: "My
name is Roman, I work in the consulate."
He told her to give a false passport to another agent and that she was to
introduce herself her by saying: "Excuse me but haven't we met in
California last summer?" The other agent was to reply: "No, I
think it was in the Hamptons."
A message from alleged conspirators in Boston gave details about a new head of
the CIA and the 2008 presidential election gained from a "former
legislative counsel for US Congress".
The complaint also detailed how one of the accused known as "Donald
Howard Heathfield" met a former high-ranking US government official to
discuss "research programmes on small yield high penetration nuclear
An accused known as "Cynthia Murphy" allegedly sent back a number of
reports about the global gold market.
Court papers allege that the defendants led ordinary suburban
lives, "deepening" their false identities by taking
ordinary jobs, living as married couples, having children and even trying to
buy homes in the US.
Prosecutors claim: "Illegals will sometimes pursue degrees at target-country
universities, obtain employment, and join relevant professional
associations; these activities deepen an illegal's ‘legend'.
"Illegals often operate in pairs - being placed together by Moscow Centre
while in Russia, so that they can live together and work together in a host
country, under the guise of a married couple.
"Illegals who are placed together and cohabit in the country to which they are
assigned will often have children together; this further deepens an
Experts have expressed their astonishment at the scale and dedication of the
scheme allegedly undertaken by SVR.
Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general who was a Soviet spy in the United States
in the 1960s and 1970s under "legal" cover as a diplomat and Radio Moscow
correspondent, said he believed the project
was more ambitious than similar attempts by spies
during the cold war.
He told the New
York Times: "It's a return to the old days, but even in the worst
years of the cold war, I think there were no more than 10 illegals in the
U.S., probably fewer."
Vladimir Kolesnikov, deputy chairman of the security affairs committee in the
lower house of Russia's parliament, said the arrests signalled that some
quarters of Washington opposed warmer ties with Russia.
"Regrettably, there are people in America burdened by the legacy of the
Cold War, the legacy of double standards," he said. "And they
react improperly to the warming of relations spearheaded by the presidents.
It's a blow to President Obama."
He said that US secret agents were active in Russia and suggested that Moscow
might respond in kind to Washington's round-up.
"Previously we have quietly evicted some of them," he said. "Now
I think we should more actively apply criminal legislation against them."