In their newly released book, Spy Sites of New York; A Guide to the Region’s Secret History, intelligence historians H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace with Hnry Schlesinger document the tradecraft used by Anna Chapman and other Russian spies to create identities and covers that enable them blend seamlessly into the U.S. urban environment. These spies inspired the hit television series, The Americans.
Spy Sites of New York: A Guide to the Region’s Secret History is available from Strandmag and from local book sellers.
THE SPY NEXT DOOR — WHO KNEW?
By Henry Schlesinger and Robert Wallace
A spy’s most valuable piece of tradecraft is a well-established cover. Cover shields spies from counterintelligence attention, puts them in proximity to their targets, and very often supports critical elements related to clandestine tasks, such as locations of dead drops, signal sites, and personal meetings. For illegals, Soviet and Russian intelligence officers operating in the U.S. without benefit of official cover, there is no more challenging assignment. Everything depends on the credibility of the cover they create and sustain.
From its earliest days, New York City, with its myriad of subcultures, professions, and communities, offered a spy an abundance of choices for establishing a credible cover. As an international city of commerce, art, culture, academia, and entertainment, spies in New York were never at a loss for options.
Karl and Hana Koecher moved into this high-rise in the Carnegie Hill section of New York when they “defected ” to the West from Czechoslovakia. Their nothing-out-of-the ordinary apartment was part of the cover for the two spies who played the part of hip 1970s swingers.
Twenty-something Russian illegal, Anna Vasil’yevna Kushchyenko, using her married name Anna Chapman, arrived in the U.S. in 2009 establishing a multi-layer cover of real estate entrepreneur, party-girl, and nimble social climber. Her social media presence and lifestyle portrayed youth, ambition, and rapidly rising status. Among her first acts in New York, Chapman leased a $4,800-a-month downtown apartment at 20 Exchange Place. Paying a full year’s rent in advance, the location announced her upscale lifestyle and offered sufficient office space for her online real estate company, PropertyFinder LLC. Her operational directive: identify men with the potential of serving Russian interests.
Artist, craftsman and spy Rudolph Abel with his tools of espionage is illustrated here in his apartment when stood on the site of what is now Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza.
Before New York, Chapman lived in London where she led an active nightlife, joining the British upper class at the Berkeley Hotel’s Blue Bar in Knightsbridge, and becoming a regular in other London night spots such as Movida, Tramp, Nobu, Anabel’s, and Cipriani. She befriended the manager of the upscale nightspot Boujis, thereby gaining entrance to a club frequented by Prince Harry and Prince William.
Like Broadway show dress rehearsals performed in part to judge audience reactions and smooth rough parts, Chapman’s time in London proved valuable in New York. There she had dabbled in real estate, developed an on-line social media presence and learned to move comfortably in Western high society. Once in the U.S., Chapman refined her nightlife approach. Rather than forming a friendship with a single club manager or take in a roommate with established contacts, as she had in London, Chapman engaged with club promoters. Operating in a gray area of nightlife world, promoters range from those with email lists and informal networks that can fill a club with free-spending patrons or act as social advisor and late-night tour guide for the wealthy in search of a good time.
Anna Chapman’s cover life style was enhanced with glamorous accessories such as a signature $2300 Channel designer handbag. (Image was once on Chapman’s facebook page.)
Introductions by these nightlife gurus gave Chapman entrance into the VIP section of clubs like Marquee, 289 10th Avenue; Juliet Supper Club, 539 West 21st Street (closed); and the Greenhouse, 150 Varick Street (closed). A presence in this rarified and roped off environment, where a bill for the night could exceed $10,00, enhanced her cover and provided access to the top tiers of Wall Street, the legal profession, and corporate executives. A flirtatious, attractive woman with a real estate business introduced by a promoter, meant Chapman was welcomed at the serious tables of serious people.
Chapman was among the latest in a long list dating back decades of Soviet spies to operate in New York with an unlikely cover. In the 1950s, Rudolph Abel, whose story is portrayed in the Steven Spielberg film Bridge of Spies, created a cover for himself in New York’s bohemian artistic community. By renting studio space in Brooklyn’s Ovington Studios Building on Fulton Street (now gone), mixing with younger artists, and frequenting smokey jazz joints, such as the Five Spot Café, 5 Cooper Square (since closed). Learning of Abel’s arrest, the famed cartoonist Jules Feiffer expressed disbelief, “If he was a Red spy, what the hell was he doing hanging out with a bunch of loudmouth Brooklyn lefties?”
Abel, like Chapman and other illegals, mastered the art of hiding in plain sight. Arthur Adams, a Soviet spy tasked penetrating America’s research into nuclear weapons during World War II, worked as an electronics engineer for a small New York company. One of his key agents,Victoria Stone, owned an upscale jewelry store at 510 Madison Avenue. Among the more flamboyant covers were those of Czech spies Karl and Hana Koecher, who as swingers during the 1970s frequented now defunct clubs like Plato’s Retreat, located in the Ansonia Hotel, 230 West 74th Street, and the Hellfire club, 29 Ninth Avenue.
Much was made of Chapman’s sexual appetites following her arrest and return to Russia in 2010. Provocative photos released to the press by her ex-husband and photo spreads in magazine also fueled the sexpionage image. But the Mata Hari narrative, although titillating, misses the mark. She was in New York for serious espionage and her intimate relationships were purposeful. Chapman’s pattern of activity enhanced her cover and access, while her seemingly frenetic networking, not out of place in the club scene, was the work of an ambitious spy fulfilling a clandestine mission of “spotting and assessing” potential assets for the Russian service.
Chapman’s cover required she dressed the part, creating a persona worthy of designer clothing and fashion accessories. Notable among these was a distinctive black, white, and red $2,300 handbag – part of Chanel’s 2009 Cruise Collection – which served as concealment for an Alfa Range Extender – Model AWUS036H and 8-inch antenna. The device, when linked to her laptop, provided an undetectable covert communications system. From a window seat at the Starbucks on Eighth Avenue and West 47th Street, Chapman communicated with her handler in a passing minivan. Chapman’s six-month covert life unraveled at the Starbucks on Hanover Square at a meeting with an undercover FBI special agent she believed was a fellow Russian intelligence officer. Shortly thereafter, on June 27, 2010, she was arrested at the NYPD’s First Precinct, 16 Ericsson Place. Several days later, in a highly publicized spy swap between the US and Russia, the unmasked illegal returned to Russia without her prized handbag which the U.S. government had seized for evidence.