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Signs suggest spy swap is in the works

Cold War-style deal could free accused Cambridge couple

Federal prosecutors could be negotiating a plea agreement with lawyers for 10 accused spies, including Foley and Heathfield. Federal prosecutors could be negotiating a plea agreement with lawyers for 10 accused spies, including Foley and Heathfield.
By Jonathan Saltzman and Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / July 8, 2010

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A Cambridge couple who allegedly spent the past decade spying for Russia could become part of a spy swap between the United States and Russia reminiscent of the Cold War, according to news reports yesterday from Moscow.

Federal prosecutors were negotiating a plea agreement with lawyers for 10 accused spies, including Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley of Cambridge, according to sources with knowledge of the case. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Such a plea agreement suggests that a swap is in the works, with Russia releasing accused spies for the West in exchange for return of the 10 alleged Russian spies recently arrested in the United States.

Also, the Cambridge couple’s two sons left the United States in the past few days and are in Russia, according to one source. Tim Foley, 20, is a student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and his brother, Alex Foley, 16, attends the International School of Boston.

Yesterday, Heathfield and Foley waived their right to fight a transfer to a New York court and were then whisked to Manhattan in what appeared to be the first step toward arranging an exchange of prisoners.

“My client would like to go to New York to face the charges which are pending against them there; he’d like to do that as fast as he can,’’ Heathfield’s lawyer, Peter B. Krupp of Boston, told US Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler in a surprise hearing in District Court in Boston that lasted about a minute. His client sat next to him at a wooden table.

“We’re in the identical position here,’’ added Foley’s lawyer, Robert L. Sheketoff of Boston, who flanked his client at another table a few feet away.

Neither lawyer would comment afterward on reports of a swap that could lead to their clients’ freedom. Krupp said the couple’s top priority is the welfare of the couple’s sons.

Among the people believed involved in the swap is a Russian scientist convicted of spying for the United States. The mother of Igor Sutyagin said yesterday that her son had been moved to Moscow from a penal colony in preparation for a possible trade involving the Russian spy suspects, according to The New York Times.

The transfer to New York of the accused Cambridge spies along with three others from Virginia fueled talk yesterday of a swap. In Alexandria, Va., a US magistrate judge abruptly canceled a pretrial hearing yesterday morning for three suspects who were arrested in Virginia. The judge signed orders directing that they be transported immediately to New York.

As a result of the court action in Boston and Virginia, all 10 of the alleged spies in custody will be in New York. An 11th suspect was arrested in Cyprus last week, but disappeared after being released on bail.

The 10 defendants are scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon before US District Court Judge Kimba M. Wood in New York.

Dean Boyd, a US Justice Department spokesman in Washington, declined to say whether a spy trade was in the works. The State Department referred all inquires to the Justice Department.

A trade would evoke memories of the Cold War era during which the United States and the Soviet Union exchanged operatives at a time of heightened tensions between the governments.

Perhaps the most famous of the swaps took place on Feb. 10, 1962, when the Soviets exchanged Francis Gary Powers, pilot of a U-2 spy plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, for Soviet Colonel Rudolf Abel, who had been arrested by the FBI in New York in 1957. The dramatic East-West swap took place on Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge, spanning the River Havel.

Arthur Hulnick — a professor of international relations at Boston University and a 35-year intelligence veteran, mostly with the CIA — said he hoped reports of an exchange of prisoners are true.

“These spies, as people have been calling them, really didn’t commit espionage,’’ he said. “They would have liked to, but they never got there. This is sort of an embarrassment for the Russian government, and the best way to ameliorate any problem with US-Russian relations is to let them go home.’’

Assuming the alleged spies underwent years of training before they began working in the United States, he said, it is possible they were commissioned by the KGB before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In another development yesterday, the Justice Department announced that prosecutors in New York had obtained indictments against all 11 suspects, typically the next step in a standard criminal prosecution. The indictment alleged that they violated federal money-laundering laws and failed to register as agents of a foreign government.

The charging document specifically alleged that Heathfield, as part of his duties for the Russian government, met in 2004 with a US government employee about nuclear weapons research. The indictment, which did not name the employee, alleged that Foley discussed how to send secret messages to Moscow Center with her husband.

Heathfield, who obtained a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2000, and his wife allegedly fabricated identities in an effort to infiltrate American society. But the FBI had them under close surveillance for a decade, even secretly searching their safe deposit box in Cambridge in January 2001 and photographing evidence in an attempt to learn more about the couple, according to prosecutors.

In contrast to their court appearance last week, during which they wore jail jumpsuits, Healthfield and Foley wore street clothes yesterday. Heathfield wore an olive-colored Lacoste polo shirt with the collar turned up, white pants, and deck shoes. Foley wore a sleeveless gray blouse, with a black-and-white print skirt and gold loafers. Marshals removed their handcuffs but kept shackles on their ankles.

The couple’s “number one concern is being able to support their kids and to be there for their kids,’’ Krupp said.

Globe correspondent Alex Katz contributed to this report. Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com; Murphy at shmurphy@globe.com.

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