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Spy Files: From Russia With Gripes

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Suburban Spy Suspect Didn’t Feel Appreciated by Mother Country Handlers

By Evan Perez and Alkman Granitsas

For years, Richard Murphy lived a seemingly cushy life: a stay-at-home dad living in a suburban house allegedly paid for by the Russian government, and apparently producing remarkably little espionage.

Yet court documents paint Mr. Murphy as a whiny, disgruntled spy-agency employee even while he served as a ringleader, passing cash and computer equipment to his alleged co-conspirators.

Mr. Murphy was set to leave the country Sunday, possibly for good, said people familiar with the investigation. Authorities feared losing Mr. Murphy, triggering the arrest of the alleged “deep cover” spy ring they had been shadowing for at least a decade.

All but one of the 11 members of the alleged ring remain in federal custody. One suspect apparently jumped bail Wednesday. Christopher Metsos, who the Federal Bureau of Investigation said shuttled between Moscow and the U.S. to coordinate the spy network, had been arrested Tuesday in Cyprus while preparing to board a flight to Budapest, Hungary. He posted bail as the U.S. sought extradition on charges of conspiracy to conduct espionage and money laundering.

“After he failed to show up at the police station by 8:00 p.m., we sought him at his hotel to see if he was okay, and there we determined that he had fled,” said a senior Cyprus police official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Murphy’s lawyer declined to comment. Ms. Murphy’s attorney did not respond to messages. Mr. Metsos’ lawyer could not be identified. Mr. Murphy was one of 10 people arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government; nine have bail hearings scheduled for Thursday and the tenth on Monday.

Mr. Metsos was one of those who fielded Mr. Murphy’s complaints. In 2002, for example, the FBI says it recorded a testy exchange between the two suspects. Mr. Murphy let loose with a litany of frustrations, to which Mr. Metsos acidly replied, “Well, I’m so happy I’m not your handler.”

Just three months ago, Mr. Murphy, known to the FBI as “defendant #2” and to his alleged spy handlers as “A,” griped to another suspect that their bosses back home didn’t appreciate the difficulties they faced. “They don’t understand what we go through over here,” Mr. Murphy said during a covert meeting in Brooklyn, according to FBI court papers.

And in the summer of 2009, according to the FBI, Mr. Murphy and his wife, Cynthia Murphy, got into a dispute with their bosses at an intelligence headquarters known as “Center,” over whether they should buy their New Jersey home. Their handlers allegedly insisted the spy agency own the home.

Court documents portray Mr. Murphy as the biggest fish in the group of alleged spies living in the U.S. under false identities.

He met regularly with Mr. Metsos, the group’s contact from Center, taking bundles of cash and splitting it up with other members of the group, according to the FBI.

Earlier this year, Mr. Murphy flew to Moscow for a week with a laptop Center had told him to buy: an Asus EE PC 1005HA-P. He returned to the U.S. with the same model laptop, giving it to one of his alleged co-conspirators to communicate with Center, according to the FBI.

Mr. Murphy and his wife, Cynthia Murphy, appear to have been the operation’s most productive members, according to documents released by authorities. Ms. Murphy, who worked at Morea Financial Services, a firm in lower Manhattan that offered tax advice, allegedly met several times with an unnamed New York financier who was identified by authorities as a political donor and friend of a sitting cabinet official.

Financier Alan Patricof said in a statement Wednesday that he met with Ms. Murphy a few times and spoke with her frequently on the phone since retaining Morea Financial Services 2½ years ago to handle his personal accounting and tax services.

“We never—not once—discussed any matter other than my finances and certainly she never inquired about, nor did we ever discuss, any matters relating to politics, the government, or world affairs,” Mr. Patricof said. “Since I understand she was employed by Morea approximately ten years before I became a client, I highly doubt that I could have been an intended target by her.”

Ms. Murphy’s financial job put her in regular contact with wealthy people. Former employees at her company, and at Morea & Schwartz, a law firm in the same building that was run by the husband of Ms. Murphy’s boss, described her as a sweet, unassuming woman who spoke with an accent; one former co-worker thought she was from Belgium.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about her,” said Aliza Herzberg, 40 years old, who worked at Morea & Schwartz. Another employee, who did not want to be named, said Ms. Murphy was shy when she began working there but gradually opened up.—except when it came to her husband.

Anything having to do with her husband was completely off limits,” this person said.

Ms. Murphy had urged her husband to “improve his information-collection efforts,” according to court documents. Yet both she and their alleged Moscow bosses advised Mr. Murphy against taking a job that would require an extensive background check, according to the FBI.

That reluctance to penetrate the U.S. government epitomizes one of the biggest mysteries of the alleged spy ring: It did not appear to garner many U.S. government secrets.

Indeed, from information released so far, none of the alleged spies worked for the government, though some moved in elite circles.

Accused spy Anna Chapman lived for several years in London, where she attended elite charity balls and worked at places such as Barclays PLC. Another suspect, Donald Howard Healthfield, graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and ran a consulting firm targeting governments and businesses.

One of the Murphys’ neighbors, who asked not to be named, also noticed “unusual” traits. “He clearly was Russian with a name of Murphy—I thought it was weird,” said the neighbor, who lived near their home in Montclair, N.J., which records show the Murphys purchased in August 2008 for $481,000.

When news broke of their arrest, this person said, “I just wasn’t that surprised.”

Source:  The Wall Street Journal


Written by Theophyle

July 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm

4 Responses

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  1. […] Politea Digest puteti citi un articol lamuritor de la The Wall Street Journal in legatura cu acest subiect, urmat de o analiza Starfor care va fi publicata  maine. Aici puteti […]

  2. […] Politea Digest puteti citi un articol lamuritor de la The Wall Street Journal in legatura cu acest subiect, urmat de o analiza Starfor care va fi publicata maine. Aici puteti […]

  3. Spy Files: From Russia With Gripes « Politeía Digest…

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    World Wide News Flash

    July 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm

  4. […] Politea Digest puteti citi un articol lamuritor de la The Wall Street Journal in legatura cu acest subiect, urmat de o analiza Starfor care va fi publicata maine. Aici puteti […]

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