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The Globe and Mail

'Canadian' couple in alleged spy ring put down roots in U.S.

The home of accused Russian spies Donald Heathfield and his wife Tracey Foley and their two teenage sons is seen in Cambridge, Mass.

ADAM HUNGER/Adam Hunger/Reuters

He was a well-connected businessman who graduated from Toronto's York University before moving on to Harvard. She was a real estate agent who told people she studied at McGill in Montreal. Since 1999, the couple has lived in the United States together.

If new U.S. allegations are true, the couple's move was less about any brain drain of Canadian citizens than it was a meticulous Russian plot: "Ann Foley" and "Don Heathfield" were instructed to gather intelligence by insinuating themselves into the U.S. intelligentsia, by stealing nuclear secrets and by making friends in "policy-making circles."

Following their arrests this week in their neighbourhood near Harvard, those closest to them expressed shock - and circumspection. "Everyone said she was Canadian," said Glenn Kelman, president of Redfin Realty, in Cambridge, Mass. Then again, "there were some that said her accent didn't quite sound like a French-Canadian accent."

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Regardless, "she was a darn good field agent," he said.

The husband and wife were among 11 alleged "illegal" undercover spies arrested in a stunning bust that amounts to the biggest exposure of an alleged Russian spy ring operating inside the United States since the end of the Cold War.

Washington insists the arrests won't upset improved Russian-American relations. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama was briefed about the ring long before his meeting last week with his Russian counterpart.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has denounced the charges as baseless. The accused face charges of money laundering and failing to properly register as agents of a foreign government. No espionage charges have been laid as the investigation continues.

Many observers suggest Moscow's overseas meddling has only gotten worse since the end of the Cold War, especially since former KGB-agent-turned-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ascended to power. Even in the age of Google and cyber-espionage, Moscow still sticks with some very tried-and-true tradecraft first employed during the Soviet days.

This keeps counterespionage desks in Western democracies busy. "We continue to work with our allies on the issue," said a spokesman for Lawrence Cannon, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister, who declined to go into details about Ottawa's reaction to the alleged spy ring. Last week, Canada's top spymaster did go public with concerns that clandestine foreign agents are present in Canada and are undermining democracy.

"Canada, from time immemorial, has been a favourite place for Russian 'illegals' as a staging ground before moving down south," a former KGB general, Oleg Kalugin, told CTV Tuesday. "... We felt quite safe in Canada."

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So-called "illegals" are covert agents who live undercover for years abroad while painstakingly building a "legend" about who they are supposed to be.

The alleged Russian spy network appears to have been doing this for more than a decade-and-a-half.

Yet the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation was along for much of the ride. The first clue about the spy ring emerged in a Cambridge safety deposit box, where the "Canadian" couple kept pictures of Ms. Foley in her prime. The FBI snooped in on the box to discover one negative was stamped with the name of a Soviet film company.

Astonishingly, the FBI says they learned that in 2001 - meaning the discovery was just the beginning of a very patient game of cat and mouse.

The York University registrar's office confirmed to The Globe and Mail Tuesday that Mr. Heathfield graduated with an economics degree in June, 1995. His Canadian activities before that time are unknown.

He got his degree just a few months before a distinct Russian husband-and-wife team of illegals in Toronto was deported for stealing the identities of dead infants - the very same method he may have employed. After leaving Canada, Mr. Heathfield went on to launch several French and American business ventures, and to study at Harvard's Kennedy School of Governance.

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An impressive intellectual, he has even patented a computer program for "mapping future events." But however forward-looking he may be, his back story has a hole: A 2005 death notice published in a Toronto newspaper blows apart his legend.

The FBI points out that Don Heathfield "predeceased" his father, Howard, a Royal Canadian Legion member who died five years ago. Yet for years after, a Massachusetts man operating under that name was kept under surveillance, and allegedly spotted sending messages to Moscow - via encrypted e-mails and short-wave radio.

McGill University can provide no public or alumni records indicating his wife, Ms. Foley, actually attended. Her public LinkedIn profile says that she did.

The FBI says Ms. Foley was once instructed to get to Moscow on a fake British passport. "Destroy the memo after reading. Be well," reads the intercepted communiqué, according to the FBI.

Craig Sandler, a classmate of Mr. Heathfield's at Harvard, recalled the accused spy as an engaging, intelligent man.

"There's no doubt I thought of him as an international sophisticate," said Mr. Sandler, who runs a wire service that covers Massachusetts state politics. "My only regret about my relationship with Don is that we didn't see each other more often or go for dinner."

Mr. Sandler kept in touch with Mr. Heathfield over the years and would occasionally have a drink with him and other fellow classmates, where they would discuss the technology Mr. Heathfield was developing.

He said his friend spoke with a French accent, but that he didn't know anything about his past.

Among Mr. Heathfield's other Kennedy School classmates are two members of the state legislature.

With reports from Paul Koring, Campbell Clark and Greg McArthur

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