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Arrests in 4 states reveal era of Russians and US spying on each other is not over

In an F.B.I. investigation straight out of a Cold Wart time capsule, an alleged Russian spy ring has infiltrated America using aliases and encrypted messages and was directed by higher ups in the Kremlin.

According to a 37-page affidavit prepared by the Counterespionage Section of the Department of Justice, 10 Russian-born defendants operating under Americanized names like Foley, Murphy and Heathfield have been operating a “deep cover” espionage mission dating back to at least the 1990s.

The defendants allegedly used “brush passes,” or clandestine hand-to-hand delivery of information and cash in public places, as well as invisible writing, ciphers, short-wave radio communications and other trade craft as dated as bell bottoms and disco.

The case revealed that the era of Washington and the Kremlin spying on each other is not over.

While the U.S. clandestine efforts in Russia are believed to focus on military secrets, the Russian spies here tend to be zeroed in on trade secrets and the theft of technology.

The breathless language and conspiratorial tone in the affidavit seemed to be from another era: “The FBI’s investigation has revealed that a network of illegals (the “illegals”) is now living and operating in the United States in the service of one primary, long-term goal: to become sufficiently “Americanized” such that they can gather information about the United States for Russia, and can successfully recruit sources who are in, or are able to infiltrate, United States policy-making circles.”

A recently retired F.B.I. agent here in Boston said that for years there was knowledge of Russian spies working in Massachusetts and that that information had been passed up to Washington. He said that he did not know why the arrests were suddenly made this week and was not sure if this spy ring was the same as the one that had been under surveillance in the past.

The arrests were made in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Virginia. The couple arrested in Massachusetts — going under the name Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley — was picked up F.B.I. agents Sunday night near Harvard Square. The criminal complaints on laws against espionage that date back to the 1930s were filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.