Friday, August 26, 2016


Is This Espionage 2.0?

Anna Chapman on the front page of the "New York Post" on June 30.
Anna Chapman on the front page of the "New York Post" on June 30.
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The media following the intriguing story of the FBI’s roll-up of a network of alleged Russian spies have been obsessed with the Facebook pictures of one of the accused, Anna Chapman -- a striking redhead who posted numerous sexy poses of herself taken against the Manhattan skyline.

Yet few have bothered to look past the sensational shots to her list of friends -- perhaps because many of the names were unfamiliar and Russian -- to see the kind of network a would-be spy might create using today’s free and easy social media tools.

To be sure, the number of Chapman’s Facebook friends has been dwindling by the hour. When some people woke up the other day to learn they had friended a suspected spy, they deleted her quickly. As a Russian translator and blogger about new media, I was not surprised to find I was only one degree of Facebook-friend separation from the startupshchitsa, as Chapman has been called by her online friends (her last wall posting was about attending a Moscow event on how to find venture capital for start-ups).

I could see that out of some 175 friends on her list, her concentric connections reached to the highest levels of the Silicon Valley replication effort now going on between the United States and Russia – a project so crucial to the "reset" of bilateral relations.

"The New York Times” downplayed the sensational case, saying there were no secrets involved, and all over the blogosphere, people are calling the Russian network the gang that couldn’t spy straight.

Anna Chapman
Lightweight, Portable Network

Yet far from uncovering a band of bumbling agents ineptly run by aging Cold Warriors, the FBI has stumbled upon a lightweight and portable network -- not destroyed by these arrests at all -- of young, connected, tech-savvy, affluent Russians and Americans in Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley (as tech start-ups in Brooklyn are called), enthusiastically involved in Skolkovo, Russia’s new Silicon Valley.

Skolkovo is Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s pet project, and it attracted a $1 billion investment from Cisco last week and other commitments from American IT giants. Trawling such an open network is a piece of cake for Spy 2.0.

Chapman has been portrayed in the tabloids as a party girl with a Victoria’s Secret body working in real estate. However, by starting her own online business and hanging out at the right events, she acquired influential ties to tech start-ups and venture-capital circles in the United States and Russia.

She was Facebook friends with Ilya Ponomaryov, the 34-year-old former CIO of the ill-fated Yukos and a former adviser to Russia’s telecommunications minister who is currently the chairman of the Russian Duma’s Information Technology and Communications Sub-Committee and on the Skolkovo Foundation.

Chapman was also Facebook friends with Alyona Popova, CEO of, the first social-shopping network in Russia, a venture capitalist, and founder of a number of other new-media projects.

Also on Chapman’s Facebook list was Max Skibinsky, director of business development for Playdom, one of the hottest social-gaming networks on Facebook.

Yet another Facebook friend was Anna Dvornikova, founder and CEO of Entana Corp., a venture advisory firm, and a leading angel investor. Dvornikova was instrumental in organizing Medvedev's meeting last week in Palo Alto with eager young Russian entrepreneurs now living in the United States. Dvornikova is president of the American Business Association of Russian-Speaking Professionals (AMBAR), a prestigious organization of transplanted Russian entrepreneurs with a Facebook group who led an American venture capitalists' trip to Russia in May. On June 28, an AMBAR member posted a warning to others in the group to delete a relative newcomer, Anna Chapman, as their Facebook friend so that they would not be seen as “illegals’ by the FBI.

Popova had posted a fascinating video in this group in May of Chapman talking about her own start-up, a real-estate finding service called and plans to start a venture fund called TIME Venchures that she claimed attracted six investors. Yet judging from the shocked and angry responses on various walls, Chapman’s new Facebook friends, even though they appeared only casually related to her -- as Facebook friends often are -- were not inclined to believe she and others were guilty, nor did they believe that an old-fashioned intelligence work was even relevant in the age of smart phones and Google.

Intriguing Story

Chapman came to the United States in February after working in investment banking in London for some years and was quickly able to find her way to friends and friends of friends of influence in the tech world. I spoke to one of her Facebook friends who was also in my own friends’ list, and he told me he had friended her after seeing her impressive video. Another friend of several of Anna Chapman’s Facebook friends is Michael McFaul, director for Russian and Eurasian affairs at the White House National Security Council.

These Facebook connections and wall postings tell an intriguing story of two Russian communities trying to form a human bridge of technology start-ups across the old Cold-War divide -- except now Chapman's list has been hidden from view. Late on June 30, her pictures began to disappear one by one, and then the friends’ list went out of sight and is now no longer publicly viewable -- or even viewable by other friends.

While Facebook management may have intervened after complaints of invasion of privacy, it’s also conceivable that a friend or even the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) got into her account to remove traces of her influence.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick is a freelance writer specializing in human rights in Eurasia and she blogs about Russia
here. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Johann from: USA
July 02, 2010 12:48
She is for sure a "hot" redhead and I will immediately make her a Face book friend !!!

by: Jorjo from: Florida
July 02, 2010 15:44
Watching her "investment" video is appalling, she clearly leaves the impression of being dumb and 'advising' general, nonsense things about investment and networking which mean nothing. One has to wonder how such a person can really 'penetrate' certain circles, may be looks help. And her statement that it is almost impossible to meet successful entrepreneurs in Moscow as opposed to New York is a bullshit, in brief - AC is a fake.

by: Mikhail Tsypkin from: Pacific Grove, CA
July 02, 2010 18:51
Use of social networking for espionage is obviously a fascinating topic. So is the use of data found on social network for projecting guilt by association.
In Response

by: Catherine Fitzpatrick from: New York City
July 03, 2010 09:36

Anna Chapman is a public figure. So are the people named in this article. She is a suspect in a spy case. Her connections can and should be reviewed by the media. That's not "projection of guilt by association" but legitimate journalistic investigation and legitimate blogging commentary.

I'm confident Chapman and the others have good legal defense and will get a fair trial, unlike people in Russia. I'm more concerned at this time with those working overtime to project innocence and distract from some of the disturbing issues raised here.

I'm also concerned that someone -- Facebook management? The family or lawyer? The SVR? -- has removed Chapman's list of friends from view and also scrubbed her LinkedIn account removing connections from view. This hasn't been done with the other suspects whose connections remain visible. That suggests in fact that it isn't Facebook or Linkedin management or the FBI, but some other force operating just on her case. I hope the media will pursue this.

ABC has this to say about one of the friends that cut her from his Facebook list:

"Chapman and Roubini were Facebook friends until this morning, when the former Director of the Office of Policy Development and Review at the U.S. Treasury Department removed her from his friend's list."

In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
July 04, 2010 02:36
The FBI has been on top of these spys for 10 years. Anna's Facebook friends were recorded ages ago. Communication to Russia was intercepted by various means. I expect this spy case to be ten times more embarassing to Russia than the Vancouver Olympics and I have no sympathy for them. The logical reason the FBI held out for so long is because they were hoping to catch them commiting espionage (a more serous offense) before sweeping in to arrest them. It didn't happen. So they will be tried for money laundering instead. Also, there have been indications that this is only the tip of the iceburg....there will probably be many more arrests in the near future due to the huge amount of data collected over the years. Other agents and conspirators, both American and Russian, will be brought to trial in the next year...time to watch and enjoy the show.

by: Johann from: USA
July 02, 2010 21:10
Anna, ( I know how to write her name in Russian) is no longer on Face book
So, good world citizens !!!, let make friends with SVR ( Russian Foreign Intelligence Service) on the net or Face Book and ask about Anna.
If I remember correct, I am friend with our intelligent CIA on Face Book !!!

by: Mary Holland
July 02, 2010 22:55
Thanks, Cathy -- very insightful, as usual.

by: Paul from: London
July 03, 2010 09:36
She looks more like Jennifer Aniston to me, new version of Friends must due out any day.

by: Brittany Gardner
July 05, 2010 09:33
Insightful. I find it difficult to determine what exactly it is she has supposedly done wrong. Referenced and Blogged here:

by: Catherine Fitzpatrick from: New York, NY
July 06, 2010 01:55
I'm puzzled when bloggers (like Brittany Gardner) say they "don't see what these spies did that was wrong" and "they could only pass on what was available from open sources". They have a curious unwillingness to accept the fact that the FBI has gathered -- over the course of many years -- sufficient evidence to warrant arrest, and detention without bail. That's certainly not trivial. The judge found the evidence "compelling". We will see what comes out at trial. It's possible the contents of the communications can't be revealed because it may turn out they are classified.

The FBI complaint on Anna Chapman submitted to a judge says that she routinely went to a coffee shop every Wednesday where a Russian government official also went and sent clandestine messages to him on a wireless network. There are a number of British media reports indicating Chapman received money from the Russian government for her business. Novaya Gazeta's Julia Latynina is advancing the hypothesis that this case is one of corruption and money-laundering and an effort to hoodwink Russian authorities, rather than one of espionage, and an effort to deceive American authorities.

If you are just a start-up entrepreneur, you wouldn't need to be doing things like sending clandestine messages to Russian government officials.

by: Snapple from: US
July 06, 2010 09:07
Maybe these arrests will have something to do with the hacking and kompromat of the climate scientists known as "Climategate." The most important thing for the Russians is the success of their fossil fuel companies.

by: Snapple from: US
July 06, 2010 09:11
The FBI complaint says that they only gave enough information to get an arrest for probable cause. I don't think we know too much yet.

The FBI is probably not telling much because it would compromise an ongoing investigation.