Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Anna Chapman and Mikhail Semenko vs. the FBI: Wireless Ad Hoc Networks and the SVR

The warrant for the arrest of Anna Chapman and Mikhail Semenko has been said to read "like a John LeCarre novel". Much has been made of 28 year old Anna Chapman, who is variously headlined as "Anna Chapman: Hot Russian Spy", "Flame-haired beauty", and "Glamorous Anna Chapman" in today's news stories. You can search for those elsewhere, though I suppose my favorite picture of her so far is this one that MSNBC found on her Odnoklassniki page (the Russian version of Classmates.com?): (click image for MSNBC story)

Here is an interview, in Russian, with a young entrepreneur named "Анной Чапман" (Anna Chapman) who has started a venture fund called "TIME Ventures" for Russian entrepreneurs in New York. Interesting . . .

(Click for YouTube video)

Here the only thing we'll be peeking at are the facts laid out in the warrant. Tomorrow we'll look at the other nine "illegals".

From the Warrant:

Violation of 18 USC § 371

Anna Chapman
Mikhail Semenko

From the 1990s until the present the defendants "did combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other to commit an offense against the US to violate section 951 of Title 18.

They acted as agents of a foreign government, the Russian Federation, including:

- June 26, 2010 - Anna Chapman met with a Russian government official in Manhattan from which she received a fraudulent passport.

- June 26, 2010 - Mikhail Semenko met with a Russian government official in Washington DC.

The "Illegals" Program

The FBI has conducted a multi-year investigation of a network
of US-based agents of the foreign intelligence organ of the
Russian Federation (the "SVR").

There are two types of SVR agents, which the Bureau refers to as "Illegals". The first type are SVR agents who have assumed false
identities, and lived in the US under the direction and control of the SVR. They receive extensive training in various forms of "tradecraft", including:
agent-to-agent communications
invisible writing
use of a cover profession

The SVR also maintains a network of illegals who do similar work but operate under their true names. This network of illegals are trained in the same trade-craft of the others, but receive shorter training in tradecraft. While the "false identity" illegals are usually paired together as part of their cover, the "true identity" illegals usually work independently.

The goal of the "Illegals" is to have long-term agents who become sufficiently "Americanized" to gather information about the US for Russia, and to be able to recruit sources in, or possibly to infiltrate, US policy-making circles.

This was spelled out clearly in an intercepted and decrypted communication from Moscow to Anna and Mikhail, they were told:

You were sent to USA for long-term service trip. Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc. — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i. e. to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels to C.

Means and Methods of the Conspiracy

The modern age has created new forms of "drops" not seen in the movies. One of these techniques is a private Wireless network. In this form of communication, the handler and the agent exchange MAC addresses for their laptop computers, and configure their machines so that they will create an encrypted network connection only if they see the MAC address of the Wireless network card of the other device.

Anna Chapman

Between January 2010 and June 2010, defendant Anna Chapman, on at least ten Wednesdays, entered the United Nations building in Manhattan and seated herself in order to exchange files with her Russian government handlers via this technique. Some other examples are given in the Affadavit that forms part of the complaint, including:

January 20, 2010 -- Anna Chapman enters a coffee shop on the corner of 47th street and 8th avenue in Manhattan. A minivan, being driven by unnamed Russian government official #1, pulled up to the curb outside the window, and created an "Ad Hoc" Wireless Network with Chapman's laptop, allowing them to communicate via an encrypted network.

March 17, 2010 -- Chapman enters a bookstore in the vicinity of Greenwich and Warren streets in Manhattan. While inside, Russian Government Official #1 was observed loitering outside the bookstore. Three minutes after Chapman powered on her laptop, the same MAC Address observed on January 20th created an Ad Hoc wireless network and data flowed between the devices for at least twenty minutes.

April 7, 2010 -- Russian Government Official #1 was observed leaving his office. Although the MAC Address for Chapman's laptop was observed in the vicinity, it is believed Russian Government Official #1 detected surveillance and aborted his attempts to contact Chapman.

Similar exchanges were observed on April 21, 2010, May 5, 2010, June 9, 2010, and June 16, 2010, on each time, the same pair of MAC addresses created an Ad Hoc private wireless network.

Mikhail Semenko

On June 5, 2010, Mikhail Semenko was seen entering a restaurant in DC, carrying a bag. Russian Government Official #2 arrived at the restaurant in a car with diplomatic license plates and sat in the car in the parking lot for twenty minutes before driving away. An Ad Hoc private wireless network was established shortly after the arrival of the car, and dismantled shortly after the departure of the car. It is believed that SEMENKO performed communications from a laptop in the bag he was carrying during this time.

(Russian Government Official #2 was involved with a "brush-pass", exchanging identical packages with a co-conspirator, back in 2004 at a train station in Forest Hills, New York.)

Anna Chapman gets an FBI Handler

On June 26, 2010, Anna Chapman met with an undercover FBI agent in Manhattan, who had arranged a meeting with her to discuss her "Wednesday" covert laptop sessions. Apparently Chapman had been having technical difficulties with her laptop, and the FBI took the opportunity to reach out to her, suggesting that she was ready "for the next step". Although the telephone calls with UnderCover-1 were in Russian, when they met in person, UC-1 suggested they speak in English "to not draw attention to themselves". A transcript of their conversation is part of the court documents.

UC-1 says that Chapman has done well with the laptop, but now it was time to the next step. The subject of her broken laptop came up in the course of conversation. UC-1 mentions that he would be happy to take it and have it repaired, or she can take it to the Consulate herself. Chapman told UC-1 "It would be more convenient if I gave you it." To avoid blowing cover, UC-1 continued with the task, which was providing a fake passport to Chapman which she was supposed to convey to another agent.

UC-1 tells her that she is to sit on a certain park bench, holding a magazine in a certain way. The other agent will approach and say "excuse me, but haven't we met in California last summer?" Chapman was to reply "No, I think it was the Hamptons," which would be the signal that everything was ok. The other person would then take the magazine, with the passport. If the pass was successful, Chapman was to return to a city map on an outside display and place a postage stamp on the map. That would be the way UC-1 would know everything went well.

An hour after this meeting, Chapman entered a CVS pharmacy, then a Verizon store, then went to a Rite Aid pharmacy, then back to the Verizon store. When she exited the Verizon store the second time, she discarded a bag. The receipts and packaging in the bag indicated she had bought a Motorola cell phone and a "TracFone" calling card. The customer agreement was for "Irine Kutsov" who lived at "99 Fake Street". She discarded the charger that came with the phone, indicating that she probably didn't intend to use it for more than that day.

Mikhail Semenko gets an FBI Handler

Using a very similar method, and on the same day, Semenko meets with an Undercover FBI Agent (UC-2). UC-2 also has a "next step" task for Semenko. He provides an envelope with $5,000 and a map indicating a drop spot beneath a bridge in a park in Arlington between 11 and 11:30 AM the following day. During the same conversation, UC-2 indicates that there were problems receiving the file from the Wireless network at the restaurant, and tries to elicit more information from Semenko about what the problem may have been. Semenko says that he did everything right - he made the file and zipped it - and the computer turned itself off after the file was sent, which is the sign that the transfer was successful.

Based on the information above, FBI Special Agent Amit Kachhia-Patel requests a warrant for the arrest of Chapman and Semenko, which was signed on June 27, 2010 by US Magistrate Judge, the Honorable Ronald L. Ellis, of the Southern District of New York.

For some interesting reading, flip up Google Translate and start following the Comments sections on some of the Russian coverage on this story:



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