Sometime in 2001 or 2002 the FBI began a decade-long investigation formally known as “Ghost Stories.” Over the course of the investigation, agents tracked an infamous group of hardened criminals, who later became known to those involved in the case as ‘the illegals.’
The investigation ultimately led to the arrests of ten Russian operatives, in June of 2010.
While much of the information about the investigation remains sealed, sifting through the FBI archives (here) a chilling, albeit abstract picture of Russia’s motives and methods begins to emerge.
Public documents reveal that the majority of these Russian operatives had been living inside the United States, under false identities, for decades. Some were in possession of fake documents purporting to show that they were natural-born citizens of the US. Others had “identification papers” supposedly issued in Canada, Peru and Uruguay. Only two of the ten were thought to be using their actual names; Anna Chapman, a former employee of Barclay’s Bank and Mikhail Semenko, a political consultant with direct links to Putin.
The FBI described these “illegals” as “a network of United-States based agents of the foreign intelligence organ of the Russian Federation (the SVR).”
According to the charging documents:
“The targets of the FBI’s investigation include covert SVR agents who assume false identities and who are living in the United States on long-term, “deep-cover” assignments. These Russian secret agents work to hide all connections between themselves and Russia, even as they act at the direction and under the control of the SVR; these secret agents are typically called “illegals. “
The indictment goes on to state: “the illegals receive extensive training by the SVR before being assigned to a foreign country under a false identity to operate on behalf of Russia.”
Over the course of the Ghost Stories investigation, FBI agents intercepted messages and phone calls. They also gained access to the computer used by Anna Chapman to communicate with her higher-ups in the US and Moscow. The value of the intelligence gathered by the Ghost Stories team of investigators and undercover agents cannot be overstated.
While much of the content gathered during the course of the Ghost Stories investigation remains secret, the following message was intercepted by agents working on the case in 2009. Sent from Moscow Center to US-based Russian agents, the message provides insight into the purpose of Russia’s espionage activities in the United States.
“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 policy making circles in US and send intels [intelligence reports ] to C[enter].”
Over the course of ten years, agents were able to identify and infiltrate Russian sleeper cells in Boston, New York, New Jersey and elsewhere. Investigators working on the case gathered invaluable information on Russia’s methods for sending covert communications. One section of the indictment describes in detail how the Russian operatives used temporary, private wireless network connections to exchange encrypted data and covert messages.
“In general terms, covert communication via a private wireless network is a form of electronic communication through paired laptop computers. Such covert communication utilizes temporary wireless networks that spring up between two computers and can be used to transmit data between them.”
As explained in greater detail in these documents:
Once the two laptop computers are both on the private wireless network, they can communicate with each other by exchanging data. The data can be encrypted so that it can only be read with the aid of specialized decryption software, similar to that used to decrypt messages hidden through steganography.”
Steganography is the process of hiding data in an image. Through their work on the Ghost Stories investigation, agents were able to discover how Russia uses steganography to transmit hidden messages in photos and images posted publicly to the Internet.
According to one set of indictments:
“Moscow Center uses steganographic software that is not commercially available. The software package permits the SVR clandestinely to insert encrypted data in images that are located on publicly-available websites without the data being visible. The encrypted data can be removed from the image, and then decrypted, using SVR-provided software. Similarly, SVR-provided software can be used to encrypt data, and then clandestinely to embed the data in images on publicly-available websites.”
The same documents also describe Russia’s use of Radiogram technology to communicate covertly with sleeper agents in the US. According to the FBI:
“Radiograms are coded burst s of data sent by a radio transmitter that can be picked up by a radio receiver that h as been set to the proper frequency . As transmitted, radiograms generally sound like the transmission of Morse code. As is set forth below, the Illegals have communicated with Moscow Center by means o f radiograms.”
Once in possession of Russia’s secret-decryption tool, the FBI was able to decrypt many of Moscow Center’s covert communications. This allowed agents to gather a wealth of information on Russia’s global criminal activities.
Barely a month after their arrests on June 27, 2010, Chapman, Semenko and their fellow conspirators became part of a spy swap between the United States and Russia. In return for the ten sleeper agents, Russia released four citizens whom had been accused of spying for the west. One of the four was Sergei Skripal. (Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Russian nerve agent in the UK last year.)
Meanwhile, at some point in the midst of these events, on an undisclosed date in 2011, the FBI obtained a warrant to place a wiretap in unit 63a in Trump Tower III, Miami. That wiretap remained in place for another two years.
On or around April 16th, 2013, the FBI arrested 34 individuals associated with the Russian mob. These 34 Russians are referred to in charging documents as “the Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization.” The organization is described as “a nationwide criminal enterprise with strong ties to Russia and Ukraine.”
The conspirators were indicted on a host of charges, ranging from conspiracy and money-laundering to extortion and illegal gambling. According to the criminal complaint:
“The Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization laundered tens of millions of dollars in proceeds from the gambling operation from Russia and the Ukraine through shell companies and bank accounts in Cyprus and from Cyprus into the U.S. Once the money arrived in the U.S., it was either laundered through additional shell companies or invested in seemingly legitimate investments, such as hedge funds or real estate.”
We know those arrests were the direct result of the wiretap on Trump Tower in Miami. What we still do not know is what prompted the FBI to obtain a wiretap in Trump Tower to begin with. We can certainly speculate that the Ghost Stories investigation had something, if not everything, to do with it.
The Ghost Stories investigation was one of the biggest counterintelligence investigations in US history, yet many Americans and many in the media even, appear to be oblivious as to how that investigation might tie into the ongoing Trump-Russia probe.
But in the media’s defense, if they missed the story or failed to make a connection, it could be because those Trump-Tower mob arrests happened just one day after the Boston-Marathon bombing. The bombers, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were from Russia. Is it just coincidence that the Ghost Stories indictments specifically identify ‘the Boston cell’ of Russian sleepers? Is it also just coincidence that the attack on the Boston Marathon and the arrests of 34 members of the Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization happened within 24 hours of each other?
If the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon wasn’t enough to distract the media from the Russian mob arrests, one day after those arrests, on April 17, 2013, an as-yet-unidentified arsonist turned a fertilizer plant in West Texas into a weapon of mass destruction. Footage of the blast can be seen in the video below, via HLN on YouTube.
The FBI later arrested a self-identified paramedic, 24-year-old Bryce Reed, in what was said to be an unrelated incident. Reed plead guilty to conspiracy to possess a destructive device as well as to attempted obstruction of justice. As it turns out, much of Reed’s professional background appears to have been falsified. He also controlled at least two shell companies, Silentium Group Inc and Bare Fruit Ministries. Reed was also connected to a ‘tee-shirt fundraiser‘ which he claims brought in more than $33K.
Whether the people and events of April 15 – 17, 2013, described above, are related in any way still remains to be seen.
But Donald Trump’s response to those events is a part of recorded history. In the aftermath of the FBI’s investigation into the activities of the Russian mob in unit 63a of Trump Tower, Miami, Donald Trump held a press conference on June 17, 2013. During a live telecast of that year’s Miss USA pageant, Trump and Aras Agalarov announced that the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant would be held in Moscow.
In front of a press corps of international media, Trump announced that he is thrilled that the contest will be staged in the magnificent city of Moscow and thanked Crocus Group for hosting it. “This will be one of the biggest and most beautiful Miss Universe events ever,” said Trump. “It is only fitting that the world’s most iconic and premier beauty contest will take place in Russia’s most premier venue, Crocus City Hall,” he added.
Donald Trump may not be lying when he says that ‘illegals’ are infiltrating the US. He may not be lying when he says they are coming here with the intent of disrupting our society and destroying our way of life. The real threat is not coming from illegal immigrants entering the country through the southern border. Instead the threat is coming from ‘illegals’ like those described in the Ghost Stories indictments. The question is, why doesn’t our president want us to know that?
Featured image credit: Wikipedia, public domain images