WASHINGTON – The FBI arrested 10 Russian secret agents on June 27 after learning weeks before that one of them, Donald Heathfield of Cambridge, Mass., would soon be traveling abroad with a college-age son and might not return, a U.S. law enforcement official said Monday.
Heathfield’s planned departure was, in the official’s words, the catalyst in deciding to take down a spy network that had been under surveillance for more than a decade.
The FBI had reason to believe Heathfield, whose real name is Andrey Bezrukov, might not be coming back, said the official, who spoke about the matter on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized by the government to discuss it.
Two White House officials said Friday it became clear in early June that at least two of the Russians were making plans to leave the U.S. The officials did not identify the two, but the law enforcement official said one of them was Heathfield. According to one of the two criminal complaints in the case, another of the Russian agents, Anna Chapman, was planning to leave in mid-July for Moscow.
The FBI spent weeks preparing a 37-page complaint that a federal magistrate signed June 25, two days before the arrests.
It charged Heathfield, his wife and seven others with acting as unregistered foreign agents and money laundering.
A second complaint, dated June 27, charged two people, including Chapman, the daughter of a Russian diplomat.
Adding to the sense of urgency surrounding the arrests was Chapman’s behavior on June 26. She became suspicious when meeting that Saturday with an undercover FBI agent who posed as a Russian consulate employee. The undercover agent asked Chapman to deliver a phony passport to another deep cover Russian agent, but Chapman did not do that.
The court documents show that right after meeting the undercover agent, Chapman bought a one-time-use cell phone under an assumed name.
Then, authorities say, Chapman made a “flurry of calls” to Russia. In one of the intercepted calls, a man advised her she may have been uncovered, should turn in the passport to police and get out of the country. She was arrested the next day at the police station where she tried to turn in the fake passport.