He was also trained in other basics such as communicating in code and surveillance. All the training was done on a one-to-one basis: he never met other agents. The programme was the only one of its kind in international espionage. (Many assumed it had been stopped, until the 2010 fbi swoop.) Many intelligence agencies use agents operating without diplomatic cover; some have recruited second-generation immigrants already living abroad, but the russians have been the only ones to train agents to pretend to be foreigners. Canada was a common place for the illegals to go, to build up their legend of being an ordinary western citizen before being deployed to target countries, often the us or Britain. During soviet times, the illegals had two main functions: to aid in communications between embassy kgb officers and their us sources (an illegal would be less likely to be put under surveillance than a diplomat and to be sleeper cells for a potential special period.
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Typical high school identity crisis, right? Alex and Tims father was born Andrei olegovich bezrukov, in Krasnoyarsk region, in the heart of Siberia. Since his return to moscow in 2010, he has given just a handful of interviews to russian media outlets, mainly concerning the more recent work he has done as a geopolitical analyst. Details of his past, or that of his wife, elena vavilova, are scarce. Alex tells me what he knows about his parents recruitment, based on the little they have told him: They got recruited into it together, as a couple. They were promising, young, smart people, they were asked if they wanted to help their country and they said yes. They went through years of training and preparing. None of the 10 deportees has spoken publicly about their mission in the us, or their training by the svr or kgb. Department s, which runs the illegals programme they were on, was the most secretive part of the kgb. One former illegal tells me his training in the late 1970s included two years in Moscow with daily English lessons, taught safety by an American woman who had defected.
They showed us photos of eksempel our parents in their 20s in uniform, photos of them with medals. That was the moment when I thought, ok, this is real. Until that moment, Id refused to believe any of it was true, alex says. He and Tim were taken to an apartment and told to make themselves at home; one of their minders spent the next few days showing them around Moscow; they took them to museums, even the ballet. An uncle and a cousin the brothers had no idea existed paid a visit; a grandmother also dropped by, but she spoke no English and the boys not a word of Russian. It would be a few days before their parents would arrive, having admitted at a court hearing in New York on 8 July that they were russian nationals. An exchange was already in the offing, and they arrived in Moscow, via vienna, on 9 July, still wearing the orange prison jumpsuits they had been given in America. My face must give away some of my amazement: how does a 16-year-old process such an extraordinary turn of events? Alex smirks at me wryly.
They were facing life in prison, and if I was to testify, i would have to completely believe they were innocent. The family had been planning a month-long summer break in Paris, moscow and Turkey; their mother told them to escape the media circus and fly to russia. After a stopover in Paris, Alex and Tim boarded a plane to moscow, unsure of what to expect on arrival. They had never been to russia before. It was a really terrifying moment, Alex recalls. Youre sitting on the plane, you have a few hours to kill and you dont know whats coming. You just sit there and think and think. As the brothers disembarked, they were met at the plane door by a group of people who introduced themselves in English as colleagues of their parents. They told the brothers to trust them, and led them outside the terminal to a van.
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Early next morning Tim snuck out to get online at the public library and try to find a lawyer for his parents. All the family bank accounts had been frozen, leaving the boys with just the money they had in their pockets and whatever they could borrow from friends. Fbi agents drove them to an initial court thesis hearing in Boston, where their parents were informed of the charges. There was a brief meeting with their mother inside jail. Alex tells me he did not ask her what she and his father were accused. This seems surprising, i say: surely he must have been dying to ask?
They were promising, young, essay smart people. They were asked if they wanted to help their country and they said yes. Heres the thing: i knew that if I was going to testify in court, the less i knew, the better. I didnt want to cloud my opinion with anything. I didnt want to ask questions, because it was obvious people were listening, he says. A boisterous group of women are celebrating a birthday at the next table, and he raises his voice. I refused to let myself be convinced they were actually guilty of anything, because i realised the case would probably draw on for a long time.
These days, he speaks enough Russian to order lunch, but is by no means fluent. He is studying in a european city and is here to visit his parents; Tim works in finance in Asia. (In the interests of privacy, both brothers have asked me not to reveal details about their working lives.). Since 2010, they have made a conscious decision to avoid the media. They have agreed to talk to me now, Alex explains, because they are fighting a legal battle to win back their Canadian citizenship, stripped from them six years ago. They believe it is unfair and illegal that they are expected to answer for the sins of their parents, and have decided to tell their story for the first time.
As we eat khachapuri, a georgian bread stuffed with gooey cheese, alex recalls the days after the raid. He and Tim stayed up until the early hours in the hotel room the fbi had provided, trying to understand what was going. When they went home the next day, they found every piece of electronic equipment, every photograph and document had been taken. The fbis search and seizure warrant lists 191 items removed from the foley/Heathfield residence, including computers, mobile phones, photographs and medicines. They even took tim and Alexs PlayStation. News crews held a vigil outside; the brothers sat inside with the blinds drawn, their phones and computers confiscated.
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Anna Chapman, one of two russians arrested not to statement have pretended to be of western origin; she worked as an international estate agent in Manhattan. Russia didnt know whether to be embarrassed or emboldened: its agents had been busted, but what other country would think of mounting such a complex, slow-drip espionage operation in the first place? For Alex and Tim, the geopolitics behind the spy swap was the least of their worries. The pair had grown up as ordinary canadians, and now discovered they were the children of Russian spies. Ahead of them was a long flight to moscow, and an even longer emotional and psychological journey. nearly writers six years since the fbi raid, i meet Alex in a cafe near the kiev railway station in Moscow. He is now officially Alexander vavilov; his brother is Timofei vavilov, though many of their friends still use their old surname, foley. Alex is 21, his still-boyish looks offset by a serious manner and businesslike clothes: black v-neck over a crisp white shirt. A gentle north American lilt and the careful aspiration of final consonants give him the unplaceable accent of those who have been schooled internationally in Paris, singapore and the.
Those were canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys parents. Their real names were Andrei bezrukov and Elena vavilova. They were both born in the soviet Union, had undergone training in the kgb and been dispatched abroad as part of a soviet programme of deep-cover secret agents, known in Russia as the illegals. After a slow-burning career building up an ordinary north American background, the pair were now active agents for the svr, the foreign spy agency of modern. Russia and a successor to the kgb. They, along with eight other agents, had been betrayed by a russian spy who had defected to the Americans. The fbi indictment detailing their misdeeds was a catalogue of espionage cliches: dead drops, brush-pasts, coded messages and plastic bags stuffed with crisp dollar bills. The footage of a plane carrying the 10 touching down at vienna airport, to be swapped for four Russians who had been held in Russian prisons on charges of spying for the west, brought back memories of the cold war. The media had a field day with the bond-girl looks of 28-year-old.
Alex presumed there had been some mistake the wrong house, or a mix-up over his fathers consultancy work. Donald travelled frequently for his job; perhaps this had been confused with espionage. At worst, perhaps he had been tricked by an international client. Even when the brothers heard on the radio a few days later that 10 Russian spies had been rounded up across the us, in an fbi operation dubbed Ghost Stories, they remained sure there had been a terrible mistake. But the fbi had not made a mistake, and the truth was so outlandish, it defied comprehension. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald heathfield and Tracey foley.
There came a knock at the door, and Tims mother called up that his friends must have come early, as a surprise. At the door, she was met by a different kind of surprise altogether: a team of armed, black-clad men holding a battering ram. They streamed into the house, screaming, fbi! Another team entered from the back; men dashed up the stairs, shouting at everyone to put their hands in outsiders the air. Upstairs, tim had heard the knock and the shouting, and his first thought was that the police could be after him for underage drinking: nobody at the party the night before had been 21, and Boston police took alcohol regulations seriously. When he emerged on to the landing, it became clear the. Fbi was here for something far more serious. The two brothers watched, stunned, as their parents were put in handcuffs and driven away in separate black cars. Tim and Alex were left behind with a number of agents, who said they needed to begin a 24-hour forensic search of the home; they had prepared a hotel room for the brothers.
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Tim Foley turned 20 on to celebrate, his parents took him and his younger brother Alex out for lunch at an Indian restaurant not far from their home in Cambridge, massachusetts. Both brothers were born in Canada, but for the nashville past decade the family had lived in the. The boys father, donald heathfield, had studied in Paris and at Harvard, and now had a senior role at a consultancy firm based in Boston. Their mother, Tracey foley, had spent many years focused on raising her children, before taking a job as a real estate agent. To those who knew them, they seemed a very ordinary American family, albeit with Canadian roots and a penchant for foreign travel. Both brothers were fascinated by Asia, a favoured holiday destination, and the parents encouraged their sons to be inquisitive about the world: Alex was only 16, but had just returned from a six-month student exchange in Singapore. After a buffet lunch, the four returned home and opened a bottle of champagne to toast Tim reaching his third decade. The brothers were tired; they had thrown a small house party the night before to mark Alexs return from Singapore, and Tim planned to go out later. After the champagne, he went upstairs to message his friends about the evenings plans.