Russian deep-cover spy speaks to Western media for first time

Elena Vavilova Andrei BezrukovOne of the ten Russian deep-cover spies who were arrested in the United States in 2010, and swapped with American- and British-handled spies held by Moscow, has spoken to Western media for the first time. Elena Vavilova was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in June of 2010 along with her husband, Andrei Bezrukov. In its two decades of operating under deep cover in the US, the married couple used the stolen identities of two dead Canadian citizens, Tracy Foley and Donald Heathfield. Vavilova claimed to be of French-Canadian origin and worked as a real estate agent. The couple never spoke Russian at home and their two sons, Alex and Tim Foley, were unaware of their parents’ secret identities.

Last week, Vavilova, who now works as a private consultant in Moscow, spoke to Shaun Walker, Russia correspondent for British newspaper The Guardian. It was the first face-to-face encounter between a Western news outlet and one of the 10 outed Russian ‘illegals’. The reason for the interview was Vavilova’s upcoming book, A Woman Who Can Keep Secrets (in Russian), which presents a fictionalized account of her career and marriage to Bezrukov. It offers rare insights into the longstanding Russian ‘illegals’ program, which dates back to Soviet times. The book’s two protagonists meet as students in Siberia, where they are eventually recruited by the KGB, and spend several years training in languages and tradecraft. Part of their training includes living in a KGB house modeled after suburban American homes, so that they can get used to domestic life in the West. This account is believed to include true elements of the lives and careers of Vavilova and Bezrukov. The two married in Russia but moved to Canada separately, using fake Canadian identities. They pretended to meet for the first time in Canada, where they ‘dated’ and eventually ‘married’ before moving to the US to begin their espionage work.

Vavilova told Walker that the popular view of the 10 Russian illegals as having achieved little of intelligence value during their time in the US is misguided. “Of course I can’t talk about it”, she said, “but I know what we were doing and it doesn’t matter what others say”. She also said that training for illegals involved learning how to handle guns and using martial arts. But she added that these skills were never used in the field and were mostly good for building self-confidence —especially for missions that took place under cover of night in America, where street crime was far more prevalent than in Russia during the Cold War. Walker said that Vavilova’s English remains perfect, as does her husband’s. Like Vavilova, Bezrukov now works as a consultant and also teaches at a university in Moscow. Vavilova refused to discuss current Russian politics in her interview.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 August 2019 | Permalink

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