Gumshoes Gone Wrong

Jillian Bandes
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Posted: Jun 29, 2010 8:46 AM
A fascinating tale of modern gumshoery has emerged on from the streets of Boston, New York, and Virginia, as ten Russian agents were arrested after nearly a decade of living in the United States. During that time, they tried to recruit agents to work on behalf of the Russian government, with their official directive "to search and develop ties in policymaking circles and send intels [intelligence reports] to C[enter].” It was not clear how much information they actually succeeded in transmitting.

The most interesting part of this shenanigans was the method by which these agents carried out their work. They took up residence in everyday neighborhoods, took care of their flowers, and interacted with their neighbors. They used disappearing ink and coded messages, and made anonymous exchanges by passing bags to each other as they bumped in the street. It's straight out of a spy museum. From the New York Times:

Neighbors in Montclair, N.J., of the couple who called themselves Richard and Cynthia Murphy were flabbergasted when a team of F.B.I. agents turned up Sunday night and led the couple away in handcuffs. One person who lives nearby called them “suburbia personified,” saying that they had asked people for advice about the local schools. Others worried about the Murphys’ elementary-age daughters.

None of those who are captured were charged with espionage, because the FBI probably couldn't get them booked on that specific charge. Instead, its failing to register as agents of a foreign government, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. There is still one additional spy at large.