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Authorities in the US say they have broken up a spy ring that carried out deep-cover work in the United States to recruit political sources and gather information for the Russian government.
They have charged 11 people with the plot, 10 of whom were arrested on Sunday in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Virginia on charges including conspiracy to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation and money laundering.
Five of the accused, Anna Chapman, Vicky Palaez, Cynthia Murphy, Richard Murphy and Juan Lazaro appeared in a New York courtroom late on Monday. Others charged include Christopher Metsos, Donald Heathfield, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills and Mikhail Semenko. All but Metsos were arrested on Sunday.
The group, dubbed the "Illegals," is accused of being tasked by the Russian intelligence agency SVR to enter the United States, assume false identities and become "deep-cover" Americans, according to the US Justice Department.
Their goal was to "become sufficiently 'Americanized' such that they could 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," according to criminal complaints filed in US federal court.
However a Justice Department official said they they were not assigned to collect classified, secret information. Most are believed to be originally from Russia and trained to secretly infiltrate the United States.
News of the bust comes just days after President Barack Obama met with Russian Dmitry Medvedev to continue repairing a relationship between the two nations that has been fractured over diverging foreign policies and business matters.