A Russian spy who was kicked out of the U.S. has now been accused of trying to recruit his son into the espionage business. And the son reportedly went along with the plan.
According to anonymous U.S. officials cited by the Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett, the plot stemmed from a group of infamous Russian sleeper spies who were unmasked and deported back to Moscow two years ago. Before they were kicked out, they allegedly attempted to use their children as intelligence agents to bypass security clearances. Peter Krupp, the attorney who represented one of the accused spies, declined to answer the accusations on-the-record. But he told the Journal that his client said the U.S. officials are ”crap.” The attorney relayed that his client would never have taken the risk of revealing his secret identity.
The story focuses heavily on one alleged spy kid, Tim Foley. According to the Journal, his parents revealed to him sometime before their June 2010 arrest by the FBI that they were spies. Foley then agreed to join his parents in their pursuit of espionage. U.S. officials said Foley then “stood up and saluted ‘Mother Russia,’” and said he was willing to return to Russia for spy training, Barrett writes. This moment was reportedly captured by federal agents who had bugged their home.
Foley is now believed to live in Russia, leaving the U.S. at the age of 20. It’s not known whether he left before or after his parents were arrested and deported. Foley also hasn’t been formally accused of espionage and reportedly wants to return to the United States.
But it had a certain logic, if exploitative and dangerous. The parents, being Russian expatriates, did not have close access to the centers of power in Washington — a tough job for a spy. They were more on the distant periphery, if even that. Foley’s father, Andrey Bezrukov (also known as “Donald Heathfield”) was a member of the World Future Society, a futurist think tank. The CIA, it ain’t. Foley’s mother, Yelena Vavilova (or “Tracey Foley”) worked for a real estate company.
But kids, growing up within American culture and speaking in fluent American accents, would be more likely to successfully pass the background checks needed to access state secrets — once they got older, of course. And with Russian background and language skills, it stands to reason the U.S. government might have considered them to be potential candidates for a sensitive job. But in reality, they’d actually be working as assets for Russia.
Another purpose for the plan, the Journal notes, would be to use the spy kids as intermediaries for more entrenched Russian spies operating deeper within the government, and who risked being monitored by U.S. counterintelligence agents. The theory is that the kids wouldn’t attract much attention.
The sleeper cell, also known as the “Illegals Program” after the espionage term to refer to spies operating with minimal support, sought to build ties with the American elite. The agents were accused of working under the direction of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, the successor organization for the KGB’s international spy section. The accused spies were later kicked out of the country and traded for the release of three Russian nationals convicted of spying for the West. The most famous of the lot, spy babe Anna Chapman, went on to become an international celebrity.
Coincidentally, today in spy news, the Russian Supreme Court upheld the treason conviction for Vladimir Lazov, a Russian ex-army colonel who was accused of selling thousands of classified military maps to a U.S. intelligence agent. The ex-colonel is facing 12 years in prison.
There was also an amateurish feel to the spies’ work. Their secret spy computers were apparently junk. They reportedly didn’t bother to change up their Media Access Control address when communicating over the group’s wireless network, which helped the FBI trace them. They also made a series of classic blunders including betraying a cash drop site and leaving a password written down inside one of their homes.
It’s worth wondering just how dumb the effort to recruit their kids really was, and a lesson for parents out there: Please don’t recruit your kids as spies. But had it worked, and had more kids gone along, they might have been more successful than their parents were. But then again, that depends on your parents not blowing their cover because of a bunch of stupid mistakes.
Updated: The article incorrectly attributed statements to Andrey Bezrukov’s attorney, Peter Krupp. Krupp was in fact relaying a statement from Bezrukov.