11 alleged Russian spies indicted in New York: some first thoughts

Yesterday, eleven alleged Russian agents were indicted on charges of military technical espionage, specifically illegally exporting micro-electronics that are on an export control list (which can lead to a sentence of 20 years in prison without parole) through a Texas-based company. I reproduce the text of the FBI’s official release below, after the jump, and obviously we wait to see if the defendants are convicted in court. (Russian deputy foreign minister Ryabkov has said they’re not spies. Of course.)

Nonetheless, if it transpires that the prosecutors’ case is proven it says a few things worth noting:

  • Russian intelligence activity is sustained, aggressive and back to Cold War levels. It has been said before (not least, with great vigor, in Ed Lucas’s book Deception), but is worth saying again. It is striking how, after the decimation of their espionage apparatuses in the late 1980s and then 1990s, the Russians have rebuilt them, and also how much latitude they are granted. To be blunt, while Moscow would rather its operations not get publicly blown and complicate Russia’s international relations, it does not see this as important enough to restrain its activities. Nor does this apply just to the USA, with alarm bells ringing across the West, from Prague and Tallinn to Brussels.
  • Multiple Russian intelligence organizations operate in the USA. The agency involved in this case has not been named, but while most espionage is carried out by the SVR, the Foreign Intelligence Service, the specific purpose of this operation might suggest GRU, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff — military intelligence. The domestic security service, the FSB (Federal Security Service) also operates in a very limited way abroad, though — largely monitoring real and perceived security threats such as supporters of North Caucasus terrorists and, rather less creditably, some allies of the opposition movement at home.
  • Economic and technical espionage is an increasing priority. At a time when the SVR is also investing money into systems to monitor and also influence the internet and social media, this is in many ways the new battleground. The Chinese intelligence community understood this first, but the Russians are renewing an interest in high-tech targets which had slipped somewhat in the closing days of the Cold War and since.
  • Russian intelligence seeks to use naturalized US citizens of Russian descent as agents. Most of the alleged agents were Russian-born, naturalized citizens. Of course, the overwhelming majority are good, loyal US citizens, but nonetheless there is likely to be an increased drive to seek to place or recruit such agents following the 2010 roll-up of a long-term illegals operation in the States.
  • This may have some political fallout back in Moscow. It is another potential intelligence debacle, after several others. If it does turn out to be the GRU, then that will add to the problems of a service already struggling to retain its status and relative autonomy. This may be the last straw and see it demoted to a regular directorate of the General Staff and perhaps lose portions of its networks to the SVR. But the SVR is likewise not in the best odor, especially after the recent arrest of two alleged agents in Germany. Although Mikhail Fradkov’s position as its director is probably not in jeopardy, there may be yet another round of inquests and find-the-scapegoat in its Department S, responsible for illegals — undercover agents abroad — or else its technical intelligence division. There may be another bid by the FSB to take it over, but I still don’t see this as happening. Either way, the spooks don’t seem to be giving great value for money at the moment.

Russian Agent and 10 Other Members of Procurement Network for Russian Military and Intelligence Operating in the U.S. and Russia Indicted in New York
Defendants Also Include Texas- and Russia-Based Corporations; 165 Persons and Companies ‘Designated’ by Commerce Department

U.S. Attorney’s OfficeOctober 03, 2012
  • Eastern District of New York

BROOKLYN, NY—An indictment was unsealed today in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York charging 11 members of a Russian military procurement network operating in the United States and Russia, as well as a Texas-based export company and a Russia-based procurement firm, with illegally exporting high-tech microelectronics from the United States to Russian military and intelligence agencies.

Alexander Fishenko, an owner and executive of the American and Russian companies, is also charged with operating as an unregistered agent of the Russian government inside the United States by illegally procuring the high-tech microelectronics on behalf of the Russian government. The microelectronics allegedly exported to Russia are subject to strict government controls due to their potential use in a wide range of military systems, including radar and surveillance systems, weapons guidance systems, and detonation triggers.

The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Stephen L. Morris, Special Agent in Charge, FBI, Houston Field Office; Under Secretary of Commerce Eric L. Hirschhorn, Department of Commerce; and Timothy W. Reeves, Special Agent in Charge, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Central Field Office.

The defendants arrested yesterday and today will be arraigned this afternoon before U.S. States Magistrate Judge George C. Hanks, Jr., at the U.S. Courthouse in Houston, where the government will seek their removal to the Eastern District of New York.

In addition to the unsealing of the charges, search warrants were executed today at seven residences and business locations associated with the defendants, and seizure warrants were executed on five bank accounts held by Fishenko and defendant Arc Electronics Inc., the Texas-based export company. In conjunction with the unsealing of these charges, the Department of Commerce has added 165 foreign persons and companies who received, transshipped, or otherwise facilitated the export of controlled commodities by the defendants to its “Entity List.” This designation imposes a license requirement before any commodities can be exported from the United States to these persons or companies and establishes a presumption that no such license will be granted.

The Scheme

As alleged in the indictment, between approximately October 2008 and the present, Fishenko and the other defendants engaged in a surreptitious and systematic conspiracy to obtain advanced, technologically cutting-edge microelectronics from manufacturers and suppliers located within the United States and to export those high-tech goods to Russia, while carefully evading the government licensing system set up to control such exports. The microelectronics shipped to Russia included analog-to-digital converters, static random access memory chips, microcontrollers, and microprocessors. These commodities have applications and are frequently used in a wide range of military systems, including radar and surveillance systems, missile guidance systems, and detonation triggers. Russia does not produce many of these sophisticated goods domestically.

According to the indictment and a detention motion filed by the government today, defendant Alexander Fishenko was born in what was, at the time, the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, and graduated from the Leningrad Electro-Technical Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia. He immigrated to the United States in 1994 and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 2003. In 1998, he founded defendant Arc Electronics Inc. in Houston. Between 2002 and the present, Arc has shipped approximately $50,000,000 worth of microelectronics and other technologies to Russia. Fishenko and his wife are the sole owners of Arc, and Fishenko serves as the company’s president and chief executive officer. Fishenko is also a part owner and executive of defendant Apex System LLC, a Moscow, Russia-based procurement firm. Apex, working through subsidiaries, served as a certified supplier of military equipment for the Russian government. Between 1996 and the present, Fishenko has regularly traveled back and forth between the United States and Russia. Defendant Alexander Posobilov entered the United States from Russia in 2001 and became a naturalized citizen in 2008. He joined Arc in 2004 and serves as its director of procurement. Posobilov was arrested at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on his way to Singapore and Moscow.

The defendants allegedly exported many of these high-tech goods, frequently through intermediary procurement firms, to Russian end users, including Russian military and intelligence agencies. To induce manufacturers and suppliers to sell them these high-tech goods and to evade applicable export controls, the defendants often provided false end-user information in connection with the purchase of the goods, concealed the fact that they were exporters, and falsely classified the goods they exported on export records submitted to the Department of Commerce. For example, in order to obtain microelectronics containing controlled, sensitive technologies, Arc claimed to American suppliers that, rather than exporting goods to Russia, it merely manufactured benign products such as traffic lights. Arc also falsely claimed to be a traffic light manufacturer on its website. In fact, Arc manufactured no goods and operated exclusively as an exporter.

According to the court documents, the defendants went to great lengths to conceal their procurement activities for the Russian military. For example, on one occasion, defendants Posobilov and Yuri Savin, the director of marketing at another Russian procurement firm, discussed how best to conceal the fact that certain goods Savin had purchased from Arc were intended for the Russian military. Savin asked Posobilov, “What can we do if a client is military all over?” Posobilov replied, “We can’t be the ones making things up. You should be the ones.” Similarly, on another occasion, defendant Fishenko directed a Russian procurement company that, when the company provided false end-user information, to “make it up pretty, correctly, and make sure it looks good.” On yet another occasion, Posobilov instructed a Russian procurement company to “make sure that” the end-use certificate indicated “fishing boats and not fishing/anti-submarine ones….Then we’ll be able to start working.”

Despite this subterfuge, according to the documents, the investigation revealed that the defendants were supplying Russian government agencies with sophisticated microelectronics. For example, the investigation uncovered a Russian Ministry of Defense document designating an Apex subsidiary as a company “certified” to procure and deliver military equipment and electronics. The FBI recovered a letter sent by a specialized electronics laboratory of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s primary domestic intelligence agency, to an Apex affiliate regarding certain microchips obtained for the FSB by Arc. The letter stated that the microchips were faulty and demanded that the defendants supply replacement parts.

In addition, in anticipation of an inquiry by the Department of Commerce regarding the export of certain controlled microelectronics, defendants Fishenko, Posobilov, and Arc salesperson Viktoria Klebanova allegedly directed Apex executives Sergey Klinov and Dmitriy Shegurov, as well as other Apex employees, to alter Apex’s website and forge documents regarding certain transactions to hide Apex’s connections to the Russian military. In connection with the cover-up, Apex removed images of Russian military aircraft and missiles and other links to the Russian Ministry of Defense from its website.

The Arc Defendants

In addition to Fishenko, Posobilov, and Klebanova, the indictment charges Arc salespersons Lyudmila Bagdikian, Anastasia Diatlova, Sevinj Taghiyeva, and Svetalina Zagon, as well as Arc shipping manager Shavkat Abdullaev, with one count of conspiring to violate and 21 counts of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and with conspiring to commit wire fraud. According to the indictment, these defendants obtained controlled microelectronics by lying and submitting false information regarding the true nature, users, and intended uses of the high-tech goods, then exporting the goods, without the required licenses, to procurement firms in Russia. The defendants’ principal port of export for these goods was John F. Kennedy International Airport in the Eastern District of New York.

The Foreign Defendants

According to the indictment, in addition to owning and controlling Arc, Fishenko is also a controlling principal of the Russian procurement firm Apex, the defendant Sergey Klinov is the chief executive officer of Apex, and the defendant Dmitriy Shegurov is an employee of Apex. Apex and its affiliates supplied microelectronics to Russian government agencies, including Russian military and intelligence agencies. The defendant Yuri Savin was the director of marketing at Atrilor Ltd., another Russian procurement firm. Klinov, Shegurov, and Savin conspired with Fishenko and the Arc defendants to obtain controlled U.S.-origin microelectronics and to export those technologically sensitive goods to Russia without the required export licenses by falsifying information to hide the true nature, users, and intended uses of the goods. In addition, Fishenko, Posobilov, Klebanova, Klinov, and Shegurov were charged with obstruction of justice, and Fishenko and Arc were charged with conspiring to commit money laundering.

The individual defendants face maximum terms of incarceration of five years for the conspiracy charge, 20 years for each of the substantive IEEPA and AECA charges, and 20 years for the obstruction of justice charge. In addition, Fishenko faces a maximum term of incarceration of 20 years for conspiring to commit money laundering and 10 years for acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. The corporate defendants face fines of up to $500,000 for the conspiracy count and $1 million for each of the substantive IEEPA and AECA counts.

“As alleged in the indictment, the defendants spun an elaborate web of lies to evade the laws that protect our national security. The defendants tried to take advantage of America’s free markets to steal American technologies for the Russian government. But U.S. law enforcement detected, disrupted, and dismantled the defendants’ network,” stated United States Attorney Loretta E. Lynch. “We will not rest in our efforts to protect the technological advantage produced by American ingenuity. And, we will expose and hold responsible all who break our counter-proliferation laws, particularly those, like Fishenko, who serve foreign governments.” Ms. Lynch thanked the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas for its assistance in this matter.

“Today’s case underscores the importance of safeguarding America’s sensitive technology and our commitment to disrupt and prosecute networks that attempt to illegally export these goods,” said Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “I applaud the many agents, analysts, and prosecutors who worked on this extensive investigation.”

“In this day and time, the ability of foreign countries to illegally acquire sensitive and sophisticated U.S. technology poses a significant threat to both the economic and national security of our nation,” said Houston FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen L. Morris. “While some countries may leverage our technology for financial gain, many countries hostile to the United States seek to improve their defense capabilities and to modernize their weapons systems at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. The FBI will continue to work aggressively with our partners in the U.S. Intelligence Community to protect this technology and hold accountable those companies that willfully choose to violate our U.S. export laws.”

“Today’s action is a perfect example of two of the core benefits of the administration’s export control reform effort—higher enforcement walls around controlled items and extensive coordination and cooperation among the enforcement agencies. I applaud our special agents who worked with the Justice Department in the interagency effort that led to today’s actions,” said Under Secretary of Commerce Eric L. Hirschhorn.

“The receipt of U.S.-made, cutting-edge microelectronics has advanced Russia’s military technological capabilities. NCIS and the Department of the Navy have worked closely with the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Commerce in this investigation due to the potential for significant enhancement of Russian naval weapons systems that would result from the illegal acquisition of these export-controlled technologies,” said Special Agent in Charge Timothy W. Reeves, NCIS Central Field Office.

As a result of this case, there may be victims and witnesses who need to contact the agencies involved in the investigation. If your business has been approached by one of the defendants or by someone trying to obtain export-protected, sensitive technology who appeared not to be legitimate, please report that information to businessoutreach@leo.gov. The information will remain confidential and will be handled by the appropriate authorities.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Silver, Hilary Jager, and Claire Kedeshian, as well as Trial Attorney David Recker of the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants have not yet been convicted of these offenses.

The Defendants:

Arc Electronics Inc.
Principal Place of Business: Houston, Texas

Apex System LLC
Principal Place of Business: Moscow, Russia

Alexander Fishenko, age 46

Shavkat Abdullaev, age 34

Lyudmila Bagdikian, age 58

Anastasia Diatlova, age 38

Viktoria Klebanova, age 37

Sergey Klinov, age 44

Alexander Posobilov, age 58

Yuri Savin, age 36

Dmitriy Shegurov, age unknown

Sevinj Taghiyeva, age 32

Svetalina Zagon, age 31

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4 Comments

  1. I know nothing about this case, but the timing does strike me as curious. One of Obama’s few foreign policy successes over the past four years has been the ‘reset’ with Russia, where Kremlin leaders were apparently working with Washington to advance mutual interests. That the FBI should make this criminal revelation known a month before the presidential election certainly plays well for candidate Romney (who has labeled Russia as America’s number one foe). Again, I know nothing about the details of the equipment that was supposedly shipped to Russia, but would remind readers that the ‘business of America is business,’ and that economic considerations have often trumped any national security concerns.

    Reply
  1. Accused Spies Charged With Smuggling Semiconductors for Russian Military | File Managers Blog
  2. Accused Spies Charged With Smuggling Semiconductors for Russian Military | Political Punch
  3. The F.B.I. arrested an alleged cell of Russian spies last week, accusing the group of procuring 50 million worth of commercially available high tech equipment for the Russian military. Eight members of the group including the alleged leader Fishenko were

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