Putin’s Sleeper Agents

Europe has kicked out around 400 Russian diplomats since 2022 and caught at least 15 suspected spies. Some of these spies are rumored to be “ghosts” – agents using fake identities of deceased people.

In August 2023, Britain shocked its neighbors by charging three Bulgarians with spying for Moscow. These seemingly ordinary people were allegedly hiding fake passports and building secret networks in the suburbs. “It is a bit freaky,” said a barber from northwest London.

While tabloids sensationalize the issue, hinting at “thousands” of Russian sleeper agents among us, former MI6 officer Harry Ferguson urges caution: “When someone mentions ‘spy,’ people tend to overreact.”

So, what’s really happening?

Operation Ghost Stories

After the 1917 revolution, Moscow developed the ‘illegals’ program, creating sleeper agents with fake identities and stolen birth certificates. These agents, crafted by the KGB’s Directorate S, could wait for years or decades for their mission.

In the 1950s, Britain uncovered the Portland Spy Ring, led by KGB sleeper agent Konon Molody, who posed as Canadian businessman Gordon Lonsdale. Molody managed British spies with naval intelligence access and trained Americans Lona and Morris Cohen, who prepared the next wave of US sleeper agents, including former KGB officer Jack Barsky.

Anna Chapman, one of 10 Kremlin operatives traded in a US-Russia spy swap in 2010

Fast forward to 2010, when the FBI’s Operation Ghost Stories exposed over 10 Moscow spies deeply embedded in US society. Among them was Anna Chapman, who worked undercover as a New York real estate agent. Their mission? Climb the social ladder, get close to influential people, and send intel back to Moscow.

Given Russia’s history of long-term espionage, could Putin be using the same tactics today? Former CIA officer Doug Patteson comments, “I don’t know if there are more of them, but I do think we’re getting better at catching them.”

The Americans TV series focuses on Russian sleeper agents – the ‘spies next door’

The Americans – The Spies Next Door

The Russia-Ukraine War since 2022 feels like a real-life version of The Americans TV series, with undercover spies living next door.

Maria Adela, a Peruvian ‘jewelry designer,’ infiltrated NATO circles before fleeing to Moscow. José Assis Giammaria, a ‘Brazilian academic,’ studied Arctic security in Canada before being arrested in Norway. Marina Sologub, originally from Kyrgyzstan, was active in Irish politics and aerospace until her arrest in Australia.

These individuals are suspected of spying for Russia’s GRU military intelligence, though they all deny the charges or have escaped. They join a diverse group of suspects: a 20-year-old Polish ice hockey player, a ‘Greek’ photographer using a dead child’s birth certificate, a couple arrested in Slovenia, and three Bulgarians caught with multiple passports and press cards.

“This isn’t just a win for MI5 but part of a larger sweep likely led by the CIA over the past two years,” said Professor Anthony Glees, a security and intelligence expert at the University of Buckingham. He noted that the GRU appears to be managing these operatives, who often aren’t Russian nationals but come from countries with pro-Russian sentiments. Most were spying on NATO members and one on the NATO Mediterranean base in Naples.

The accused spies are believed to be building networks in countries that are part of NATO or the Five Eyes alliance (the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). Despite these activities, some doubt that Vladimir Putin’s GRU is outsmarting the West.

UK suspects Dzhambazov (L) and Ivanova organized ex-pat events and helped Bulgarians vote

Spies Like Us?

Jack Barsky, a former KGB sleeper agent who operated in New York during the ’80s, is skeptical about the current suspects: “These illegals don’t seem very capable. The Bulgarians, organizing events for Bulgarian exiles, won’t get close to people with secrets. Their lower middle-class status and accents make it hard for them to access key information.”

Harry Ferguson of MI6 highlights that the Bulgarian suspects were investigated by MI5 and counterintelligence officers for six months but only charged with possessing forged documents: “In espionage terms, that’s like speeding in a 30-mile-an-hour zone.”

So, are these 15 individuals just forgettable minnows and innocents? Not necessarily.

Kevin Riehle, author of Russian Intelligence, notes, “Illegals often operate as couples and being Bulgarian, not Russian, fits their profile. There isn’t much information about them yet, so it’s hard to draw firm conclusions.”

The tales of the other dozen or so suspected spies are equally fascinating and raise more questions than answers.

‘Maria Adela’ sought access to Nato’s Allied Joint Force Command in Italy

Invisible Threats in the Shadows

Maria Adela, a ‘jewelry designer’ from Lima, applied for a Peruvian passport using a baptism certificate from a non-existent church. Instead, she traveled on a Russian passport numbered 643258050, close to that of ‘Sergey Fedotov’, a senior officer in GRU black-ops unit 29155, according to Bellingcat investigators. “This likely marks the seeding phase of a long-term plan by the GRU to deploy her as a self-sufficient businesswoman and socialite.”

Spanish-Russian freelance journalist Pablo González, who has reported for Voice of America and TV channel La Sexta, was accused of espionage by the Polish counterintelligence service, the Internal Security Agency. He has been in custody since February 2022, with evidence against him remaining undisclosed.

Sergey Cherkasov allegedly posed as Brazilian citizen Victor Muller and tried to infiltrate the International Criminal Court in The Hague, per a US indictment. Dutch intelligence deported Cherkasov to Brazil, where he was convicted of using false documents and sentenced to 15 years. The US seeks his extradition.

A Russian-born Swedish man in his 60s was dramatically arrested by elite police who rappelled into his home from two Black Hawk helicopters. He is accused of passing high-tech equipment to Moscow and denies any wrongdoing.

Professor Anthony Glees highlighted the arrest of Marina Sologub, a Kyrgyzstan-born woman who grew up in Cork, Ireland. “Perhaps the most technically proficient of these agents was Marina Sologub, a Kazakh with Irish citizenship, who worked for Irish politicians and later in the space industry in Australia.”

These cases reveal the shadowy presence of suspected spies and raise the question: How many more invisible threats are lurking in our midst?

Cork, Ireland, known as the ‘Rebel Country’

Russian Spy or Suburban Mom?

Ireland’s picturesque landscape hides a shadowy world of espionage. During the Cold War, the Russian Embassy on Dublin’s Orwell Road served as a cover for KGB operatives, with spies stationed around the island to monitor US submarines.

In recent years, Moscow has scaled down its diplomatic presence in Dublin from 30 to 13 diplomats, especially after expelling four senior diplomats in 2022 for activities “not in accordance with international standards” (diplomat-speak for suspected espionage). This reduction has limited Moscow’s intelligence capabilities in Ireland.

Across Europe, a similar trend has emerged, with around 400 Russian diplomats expelled since the Ukraine war began in February 2022, significantly depleting Moscow’s intelligence ranks. Some experts suggest that Moscow is now turning to civilian spies and activating long-dormant sleeper agents to fill the gap. But are Western counterintelligence officers chasing real threats or mere phantoms?

Marina Sologub, 39, an ethnic Russian raised in Cork, Ireland, worked with Irish politicians and the National Space Center before moving to the Australian Space Agency in Adelaide. Detained in 2023 and fighting deportation, Sologub admits to speaking with a “Kremlin mystery man”—a suspected intelligence officer working under diplomatic cover—but denies all spying allegations.

“I am starting to lose my patience,” Sologub snapped during an interview with 60 Minutes in Australia. “Do you know how many friends I have on Facebook? I have people from America with whom I worked as well. From Europe. We exchange ‘Happy Birthdays’. That’s it. This is a normal working relationship. It’s not a friend.”

Is Marina Sologub a cunning Russian spy or just a suburban mom caught in a web of suspicion? The line between espionage and everyday life has never been more blurred.

Stealing Secrets

The effectiveness and goals of the new wave of suspected Russian spies remain uncertain. Are they actually delivering intelligence to the Kremlin, or is their mission something else entirely? If they’re after state secrets, it won’t be easy, according to former KGB agent Jack Barsky.

“Even the best intelligence services struggle under a dictatorship where the spy agencies are scared to deliver bad news to the top,” Barsky told SPYSCAPE. “I don’t think the Russians have improved in HUMINT (human intelligence) since my days. However, they have become very skilled at social media-based misinformation, especially through sophisticated deepfakes.”

Deepfakes are videos manipulated by artificial intelligence, and tech analysts warn that state-orchestrated disinformation, foreign interference, fraud, and conspiracy will become more rampant as these digital forgeries become indistinguishable from real footage.

Gordon Corera, a BBC journalist and author of Russians Among Us, noted that the FBI was initially slow to recognize the shift towards tech sleeper spies. These operatives use technology and social media deepfakes to post fake profiles and influence events like the US elections. “It was only looking back after 2016 that US intelligence officials understood the extent of Russian ambition and put all the pieces together.”

“Matt Skiber was one of the new illegals,” Corera writes. “He got involved in politics in May 2016 even though he didn’t exist—he was a ghost controlled by a person in a computer in St. Petersburg.”

As the line between reality and digital forgery blurs, the threat from these tech-savvy spies becomes increasingly complex and insidious.

How China Stole F-35 Jet Tech From The Swiss Alps

This is an intriguing case of the Hotel Rössli in Unterbach, a serene village in the Swiss Alps. This century-old lodge, known for its picturesque views and rustic charm, became the unlikely center of an international espionage controversy involving the United States, China, and Switzerland.

The hotel’s proximity to a Swiss military airstrip, which will house advanced F-35 fighter jets, piqued the interest of U.S. intelligence. The airstrip, only partially fenced and frequently crossed by local farmers, was seen as a potential security vulnerability. The arrival of the Wang family, Chinese nationals who purchased the hotel in 2018, further raised suspicions. The U.S. and British intelligence agencies speculated that the hotel could serve as a covert observation post for Chinese espionage, particularly focused on the F-35 jets, which represent one of America’s most advanced and closely guarded military technologies.

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    What’s this Nazi propaganda!?
    The “israeli” Nazis are trying to get Whitey to go to war for them again!
    To fight their White Christian brothers in Russia so that the “israeli” Nazis
    can steal another country to destroy in Satan’s name!

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