Operation Ghost Stories: The Russian Spy Case

2943 words (12 pages) Essay in International Law

05/08/19 International Law Reference this

Last modified: 05/08/19 Author: Law student

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Operation Ghost Stories

The case that I chose and would like to address further is  “Operation Ghost Stories: Inside the Russian Spy Case”.  On June 27, 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested 10 illegal agents of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). The long-running foreign counterintelligence investigation went on for close to over a decade and was given the code name Ghost Stories within the FBI (Operation Ghost Stories: Inside the Russian Spy Case, 2011, October 31). The ten Russian illegals were charged with collecting information and transmitting it back to Russia. They were actively engaged in what is known in the spy business as “spotting and assessing” (Ghost Stories: Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Illegals, 2011, October 31). The Russian spies would try to identify colleagues, friends, and others who might be vulnerable targets.  It was possible they were seeking to designate people they encountered in the academic environment who might one day hold positions of power and influence. Although the Russian spies or the SVR “illegals,” as they were called, never obtained any classified documents, their intent from the start was serious, well-funded by the SVR, and they were in it for the long-haul. A FBI counterintelligence agent who worked on the case said, “The Russian government spent significant funds and many years training and deploying these operatives. No government does that without expecting a return on its investment.” (Operation Ghost Stories: Inside the Russian Spy Case, 2011, October 31). The SVR illegals were willing to wait decades to obtain their objective, which was to develop sources of information in U.S. policymaking circles. After years of intelligence and making sure the FBI knew all the personal involved, they arrested the SVR illegals. Weeks after the arrest on June 27, 2010, the SVR illegals pled guilty in federal court to conspiring to serve as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation within the U.S.

The implications of the procedural laws when mitigating both domestic and international crime vary. For domestic procedural laws within the U.S., the conclusion that can be drawn is that it is broken up into municipalities, states, and the federal government. Each of these branches has their own criminal codes, defining types of conduct that constitutes crime. State and municipalities follow the criminal procedure code of the individual state, but many states choose to mimic the Federal rules. Federal prosecutions follow the federal rules of criminal procedure which is what the Supreme Court propagated and Congress passed. Domestic procedural laws revolve heavily around due process laws which is basically the fair treatment through normal judicial system, especially as a citizen’s right.

For International procedural laws, it isn’t as set in stone as domestic procedural laws. In the case of Operation Ghost Stories, the New York Times reported that political leaders of the U.S. and Russia made a deal even before the indictment of the 10 SVR illegals. U.S. prosecutors and the defendants’ lawyers played a minimal role (Weiser, B. 2010, July 16). International criminal courts pursue several objectives including retribution, deterrence, creating a historical record and giving a voice to the victims while the rights of the accused are protected (Klamberg, M., 2010, March 20). International law consists of treaties and customs. International law lacks a common executive, which means that there is no power which can make a state or nation accept a court decision (International Law VS Domestic Law, n.d.). Because international law does not have 3 branches of government that bases their decision making off a checks and balances system like domestic law, it is nearly impossible for the decision-making power to be spread out evenly, usually causing one group or nation to come up with the punishment.

The legal requirements involved in processing a case impacts the ability to combat criminal activity because, in a nut shell, domestic law governs the behavior and actions of individuals within the United States, while international law governs the behavior and actions of bodies of government: states or countries.

According to procedural laws, American citizens have several rights and responsibilities. Some of the rights include, right to a fair trial by jury, safeguard from unreasonable searches and seizures, and other due process rights that are listed in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution. Some of the responsibilities that American citizens have according to procedural laws include, respecting and obeying federal, state and local laws, serve on jury when called upon, supporting and defending the Constitution and several more.

The Bill of Rights applies to everyone, including illegal immigrants. An immigrant that is prosecuted under criminal code has the right to due process, a speedy and public trial, and other rights protected by the fifth and sixth amendments (Do Noncitizens Have Constitutional Rights? 2001, September 27). The enforcement of procedural laws differs when applied to people who are not U.S. citizens because immigration proceedings are matters of administrative laws, not criminal laws. The consequence for violating the law as an immigrant is deportation rather than jail. Congress has full authority to regulate immigration without the interference of the courts. Congress can make rules and laws for illegal immigrants that would be unacceptable if applied to citizens of the U.S. This is what happened in the case of Operation Ghost. The 10 agents that were charged with violating Title 18, United States Code, Section 951 which is conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government were tried and deported (Weiser, B. 2010, July 16). In this case not only were the agents deported back to Russia but some were exchanged for individuals who were convicted of espionage by Russia.

According to the American Justice system, people who are not U.S. citizens also have rights. If facing deportation, most immigrants are entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge. They have the right to a lawyer but not one that is paid by the government. They also have the right for an interpretation for non-English speaking people. The government must provide clear and convincing evidence to deport someone which is a lower standard than “beyond reasonable doubt” (Do Noncitizens Have Constitutional Rights? 2001, September 27). In Operation Ghost Stories, the 10 Russian illegals charged, went through a rapid conclusion to the case, to avoid a lengthy trial that might disclose sensitive information about information-gathering techniques used by the FBI (Weiser, B. 2010, July 16).

In the case of Operation Ghost Stories, the FBI arrested ten individuals in the United States in which they were charged with carrying-out long term, deep cover assignments on behalf of the Russian Federation. The main objective for these ten individuals were to adopt American identities and gather an array of intelligence, from information about nuclear weapons to the gold market and personnel changes in the CIA (Epstein, A. 2017, March 07). The citizenship status of these criminals impacted the ability to adhere to procedural due process. One out of the ten arrested had an U.S. citizenship, the majority were Russian citizens with cover passports from Canada or the U.K. The fact that almost all of the Russian agents in this case were not U.S. citizens affected the ability to charge them as normal U.S. criminals. All ten of the Russian agents pleaded guilty to a single charge each of secretly conspiring to act as agents of the Russian government. The Russian agents didn’t have the same procedural due process rights that a U.S. citizen would have because of their citizenship, therefore after being found guilty, they were deported back to Russia and their passports revoked (Ferris-Rotman, A. A., Anishchuk, A., Geest, H. V., Westall, S., Gardner, T., Faulconbridge, G., & Gutterman; S. 2010, July 09). According to the U.S. Code title 18 an U.S. citizen charged with spying or espionage would have been sentenced to possibly the death sentence, at least five years in prison, and no less than 10,000 dollars in fines if found guilty (18 U.S. Code § 2381 – Treason, n.d.).

The Russian agents resided all over the United States during the investigation. Anna Chapman, Makhail Anatoleyvich Vasenkov), and Vicky Pelaez all resided and were ultimately arrested in New York. Vladimir Guryeva and his cover wife Lidiya were residing in New Jersey. Andrey Bezrukov and Yelena Vavilova resided and were apprehended by the FBI in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Russian agents Mikhail Kutsik and Nataliya Pereverseva lived in Seattle, Washington but moved to Arlington Virginia where they were eventually arrested. The tenth Russian agent that was arrested and charged was named Mikhail Semenko and he was also arrested in Arlington Virginia (Illegals Program, 2017, November 16). The fact that the ten Russian agents resided in the United States made it possible for the FBI to track and ultimately stop the agents from getting their hands on any classified information.

According to Title 18 of the United States Code, section 951 (conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government) the ten Russian agents were criminally charged with and pleaded guilty to secretly conspiring to act as agents of the Russian government. None of the agents were charged with espionage because they all failed to access and pass along any classified information (Epstein, A. 2017, March 07). The associated consequences in violating these laws were that all ten Russian agents were deported back to Russia and their U.S. and other countries’ passports were revoked. This deportation came with a cost of course, the United States of America decided to make a deal with the Russian government, and with deportation of all ten Russian agents; the U.S. gained four of their own agents back that where held captive in Russia for the same type of crimes. On July 7-8, 2010, the U.S. and Russia reached a deal under which the ten individuals arrested in that country would be deported to Russia in exchange for individuals who were convicted of espionage by Russia. This was called the Illegals Program (Vicini, A. J., Pelofsky, J., & Katz, B. 2010, July 07).

In the case of Operation Ghost Stories most of the ten spies that were arrested, charged and deported were originally from Russia. Since most of the illegals were not U.S. Citizens and because of this it made it a fairly different judicial process. The law regarding espionage in the United States is listed under Title 18, United States Code, section 951 which is conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government (18 U.S. Code § 951 – Agents of foreign governments, n.d.). This law aided in the investigation and apprehension of the illegal Russian agents because it allowed accouple things. First, it allowed the FBI to gather years of evidence making it possible to obtain the arrest warrants needed to charge the spies. Second, this law aided in the rapid conclusion of the case to avoid a trial that could have potentially disclosed sensitive information about information-gathering techniques used by the FBI (Weiser, B. 2010, July 06).

There were indeed political factors that influenced the facilitation of the crimes committed in Operation Ghost Stories. The 10 spies were accused of trying to gather information for the Russian Federation, and Russia has a long history with the United States when regarding espionage. Since the Cold War which started around 1945 right after WWII, the United States and Russia have been in a state of political hostility. Both countries haves used threats, propaganda, and other measures of short open warfare’s in order to one-up each other (Cold War Timeline, n.d.). Both countries have also used spies in order to secretly gather classified information from each other. When regarding Operation Ghost Stories it is clear that political factors influenced the crime committed by the 10 Russian agents.

The ability level of law enforcement agencies to effectively mitigate the crimes committed in Operation Ghost Stories were functioning. FBI agents used surveillance and sophisticated techniques, aided by support from intelligence analysts. Investigators also gathered information to understand the threat posed by the spies as well as their methods and tradecraft (Operation Ghost Stories: Inside the Russian Spy Case, 2011, October 31). Law enforcement aided in the investigation in multiple ways.  One way includes the investigation on one of the spies named Mikhail Semenko. Makhail was first distinguished by the FBI when he used a computer in a restaurant to send encrypted messages, presumably to a car parked in the restaurant parking lot that had Russian diplomatic plates and was driven by a Russian official who was known to have transferred money to other Russian sleeper agents in 2004. On June 26, 2010 Semenko met with an undercover FBI agent purporting to be a Russian agent and accepted $5,000 (Sources: Call by Russian spy Anna Chapman to dad in Moscow led U.S. to hasten arrests, 2010, July 12). No international law enforcement was involved in this case. The United States took matters into their own hands since the crimes took place within their borders. The only time they dealt with an international party was for the prisoner exchange, which was also known as the Illegals Program. The U.S. and Russia agreed to conduct a prisoner exchange in which the 10 spies would be deported back to Russia in exchange for individuals who were convicted of espionage by Russia (Vicini, A. J., Pelofsky, J., & Katz, B., 2010, July 07).

In this case the U.S. law enforcement agencies had a cooperative relationship between them and Russia. There is a lot of grey area with this cooperative relationship between these two power countries because even though they agreed to this deal of exchanging prisoners, there are still both on high alert. The fact that all ten spies plead guilty is a testament of the work that law enforcement put in. The United States goes above and beyond to aid in apprehending and enforcing justice for foreign organizations, and in this case the Russian spies. A FBI agent said, “Operation Ghost Stories sends a message to foreign intelligence services that espionage threats to the U.S. will not be tolerated. The FBI’s counterintelligence mission is to identify, disrupt, and defeat the activities of foreign espionage agents, and we take that job very seriously” (Operation Ghost Stories: Inside the Russian Spy Case, 2011, October 31). It is necessary to coordinate and cooperate with these agencies to protect the security of the United States. There are several foreign services who want what the U.S. has, and that’s the FBI has agents and analysts across the country working with other intelligence community partners every day to address these threats.

Based on the analysis of the Operation Ghost Stories case, I believe the investigation and prosecution performed by the FBI and other law enforcement were performed effectively. Not only did the FBI obtain an abundance of evidence, they were also able to obtain four U.S. spies that were held captive in Russia via the Illegals Program. To produce a more desirable outcome, I believe the FBI should have waited a little longer to start making their arrest. Although I know they had to rush the operation due to one of the illegals trying to leave the U.S. I believe that if they had waited longer and obtained more evidence and the arrests; the FBI could have potentially seen the exact role of the Russian Federation. Since the FBI had to rush to make the arrest the Russian Federation was able to deny any involvement with no hard evidence proving otherwise.

Work Cited

  • 18 U.S. Code § 951 – Agents of foreign governments. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2017, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/951
  • 18 U.S. Code § 2381 – Treason. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2017, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2381
  • Cold War Timeline. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2017, from http://www.datesandevents.org/events-timelines/03-cold-war-timeline.htm
  • Do Noncitizens Have Constitutional Rights? (2001, September 27). Retrieved November 10, 2017, from http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2001/09/do_noncitizens_have_constitutional_rights.html
  • Epstein, A. (2017, March 07). The stranger-than-fiction story of the real Russian spies who inspired “The Americans”. Retrieved November 17, 2017, from https://qz.com/926553/what-happened-to-the-real-russian-spies-who-inspired-the-americans/
  • Ferris-Rotman, A. A., Anishchuk, A., Geest, H. V., Westall, S., Gardner, T., Faulconbridge, G., & Gutterman; S. (2010, July 09). Russia, U.S. swap 14 in Cold War-style spy exchange. Retrieved November 17, 2017, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-usa-spies/russia-u-s-swap-14-in-cold-war-style-spy-exchange-idUSLDE6680KB20100709
  • Ghost Stories: Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Illegals. (2011, October 31). Retrieved November 10, 2017, from https://vault.fbi.gov/ghost-stories-russian-foreign-intelligence-service-illegals
  • Illegals Program. (2017, November 16). Retrieved November 17, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegals_Program#cite_note-107
  • International Law VS Domestic Law. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2017, from http://www.slayerment.com/international-law-vs-domestic-law
  • Klamberg, M. (2010, March 20). What are the Objectives of International Criminal Procedure? – Reflections on the Fragmentation of a Legal Regime. Retrieved November 10, 2017, from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1574969
  • Operation Ghost Stories: Inside the Russian Spy Case. (2011, October 31). Retrieved November 10, 2017, from https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/operation-ghost-stories-inside-the-russian-spy-case
  • Sources: Call by Russian spy Anna Chapman to dad in Moscow led U.S. to hasten arrests. (2010, July 12). Retrieved November 24, 2017, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/11/AR2010071102416_2.html?sid=ST2010070702502
  • Vicini, A. J., Pelofsky, J., & Katz, B. (2010, July 07). U.S.-Russia may seek spy swap to free agents. Retrieved November 17, 2017, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-usa-spy/u-s-russia-may-seek-spy-swap-to-free-agents-idUSTRE66618Y20100707
  • Weiser, B. (2010, July 16). Spy Swap Forced Prosecutors into Balancing Act. Retrieved November 10, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/17/nyregion/17spies.html
  • Weiser, B. (2010, July 06). Talks on a Rapid End to Russian Spy Case. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/nyregion/07agents.html
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