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Alleged Spies Mixed New Technology With 'Old-Fashioned' Trade Craft

On Monday, when the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced ten people -- allegedly secret agents -- were arrested in four states, following a multi-year investigation, the criminal complaints indicated another suspect, known as "Christopher R. Metsos," was at large.

It didn't take long for authorities to track him down. He was in Cyprus.

According to the Associated Press, a police spokesman said Metsos "failed to report to police in the southern coastal town of Larnaca between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. local time Wednesday according to the terms of release imposed on him Tuesday by a Cypriot court."

A lawyer for Metsos claims he hasn't heard from his client.

Earlier today, NPR's Melissa Block spoke with John Earl Haynes, the author of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America.

He said Russian spies are divided into two categories: "legals" and "illegals."

Spies in the legal program are generally professional intelligence officers, working out of embassies and consulates, or with the country's United Nations delegation. They openly identify themselves as Russians, and they have diplomatic status, which offers them a lot of protection. If they were ever caught, they'd be expelled from the U.S.

Allegedly, the men and women in this case were "illegals," meaning they entered the U.S. under false pretenses, assuming fake identities.

According to Haynes, very few espionage operations used "deep-penetration" agents -- men and women who spent long periods of time undercover.

"While they're common in spy literature, in actual spy history, they're very rare," he said, adding that it is "almost unprecedented ... to have these kinds of long-term commitments."

Having reviewed the criminal complaints, Haynes said the plan the alleged spies followed was "a mixture of the latest cutting edge espionage technology -- in terms of encryption and covert communications -- mixed with quite old-fashioned but really quite usually reliable old-style espionage trade craft."

Much more from the interview with him will be on today’s All Things ConsideredClick here to find an NPR station near you that broadcasts or streams ATC. Later, the as-aired version of his report will be posted here.

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David Gura
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.