Russian Spies Like Us Plead Guilty, Prepare For Old-Fashioned Spy Swap

The members of the Russian spy ring broken up last week by the FBI are headed back to Mother Russia.

Their methods may have resembled a Chevy Chase movie, but the case of the Russian “spy ring” is being resolved by methods straight out of the height of the Cold War:

Ten men and women suspected of being Russian secret agents pleaded guilty before a judge in Manhattan on Thursday, the latest step in an expected prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia.

The defendants — after each saying, “I plead guilty, your honor” — were sentenced to time served and were expected to be quickly removed from the country.

The pleas — to a single charge of conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent — brought to an abrupt end the prosecution of the 10 defendants, who were accused of being part of a Russian espionage ring and whose members had lived for years in the United States under false identities and sought to penetrate American policy making and political circles.

They agreed to never return to the United States without permission from the attorney general, and to turn over any proceeds generated from the publication of information about their tenure as Russian spies. Several of the suspects also agreed to forfeit assets, including real property, to the United States.

As the defendants stood before the judge, Kimba M. Wood of United States District Court in Manhattan, each said he had had enough time to discuss the charges with lawyers, was satisfied with his legal representation and had discussed the implications of pleading guilty in the highly unusual case.

The defendants also revealed their true names; all but three — Mikhail Semenko, Vicky Pelaez and Anna Chapman — had assumed false identities while in the United States.


The intrigue followed reports from Washington on Wednesday that just days after the F.B.I.’s sensational dismantling of a Russian spy ring, the American and Russian authorities were negotiating an exchange of some or all of the 10 suspects for prisoners held in Russia, including Igor Sutyagin.

This comes after Russian officials originally denied that the Defendants had any ties to their government, but of course those types of statements are de rigueur in these types of situations.

It’s still unclear what, if anything, this “spy ring” actually accomplished during the ten years they were in the United States, or even what their goals were. Something tells me we’ll be hearing from at least one of them at some point in the future, though.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    Sounds like we get the best of the deal. These people were a joke for godsake, a bit lke our man in havana, whereas the alleged swaps are ex Colonels and scientists

  2. sam says:

    Well, any thoughts on the fate of the children?

  3. john personna says:

    I’d think the kids are having a blast. “Dude, my parents are spies!

  4. sam says:

    Yeah, but JP they’ll have to learn that in Russian. My question really concerns their status. They are American citizens and were duped by their parents as the rest of us were. What happens now?

  5. DC Loser says:

    The parents still have custody of their minor children. Those will be reunited with their parents in Russia. My guess is that their parents will renounce their US citizenship and take up Russian citizenship. Those who are now adults can stay here if they are US citizens.

  6. JKB says:

    So the DOJ is so eager to make this go away, one has to wonder who exactly in government were sharing with these spies. Perhaps nothing critical but this smacks of a little black book that madams often have that makes DC squirm. Was little Anna Chapman hopping beds inside the beltway?

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Now, this is more like it: spy swaps at Checkpoint Charlie.

    Okay, at the Checkpoint Charlie Starbucks.

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    JKB says:
    Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 22:46
    “So the DOJ is so eager to make this go away,”

    The reason the DOJ is making this go away quickly is exactly because the folks achieved nothing. Had they actually come into possession of any “secrets” then the DOJ would have been forced to bring more serious charges. Or is your contention that the FBI who have had these people under surveillance for years are also part of some wider conspiracy?

  9. sam says:

    “My guess is that their parents will renounce their US citizenship and take up Russian citizenship.”

    But the parents cannot renounce the American citizenship of the children. Here’s my question. The 14th amendment says all persons born in the United States are citizens of the United States. Now, there are exceptions to this, eg, children born to foreign diplomats stationed in the US. But in these cases, the parents were passing themselves off as Americans even to the children. These kids were not “anchor babies” as we understand that term. The parents were perpetrating a fraud. Does that fraud taint the citizenship of the children born to them? I would say not, but I don’t really know.

  10. We’re confusing two different issues here.

    The children may well be US citizens, but I think the question that was being asked about pertained to custody issues.

    The parents would be entitled to primary custody and I haven’t read anything yet this morning that says the children were not returned to Russia along with their parents

  11. sam says:

    I was asking about their citizenship status. My bad for not being clearer in my first comment.