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Spy games: The Cold War heats back up and Texas becomes a key espionage battleground

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, government building
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Photo by Sailko/Wikipedia
Alexander Fishenko, Russian spy
Alexander Fishenko The Moscow Times
spying, spy
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, government building
Alexander Fishenko, Russian spy

The Cold War has gotten pretty hot up in here lately.

Authorities arrested 10 Russians from a New York-area sleeper cell in 2010, including newly crowned sex symbol Anna Chapman, sending them back to Russia in a spy swap. The same year another Texan with Eastern European roots, Anna Fermanova, was caught trying to smuggle night vision scopes to Russia inside her Ugg boots. After a brief career as the "Sexy Russian" on Dallas television, she was sentenced to four months in jail last year.

 "The defendants tried to take advantage of America's free markets to steal American technologies for the Russian government." 

Compared to the intrigues of Chapman and Fermanova, the alleged Houston-based spy ring that was charged in federal court on Wednesday is decidedly less sexy — and potentially much more dangerous.

Authorities say Kazakhstan native and Houston resident Alexender Fishenko, the CEO of ARC Electronics, was working as an agent of the Russian government, secretly shipping sensitive microelectronics for use by Moscow's military and intelligence agencies. Fishenko and seven others were arrested in Houston on Wednesday after a two-year investigation by the Houston branch of the FBI, with three other alleged members of the smuggling ring currently in Russia.

According to the indictment, Arc Electronics has shipped $50 million in microelectronics to Russia since 2002, including analog-to-digital converters, static random access memory chips, microcontrollers, and microprocessors, lying to manufacturers and suppliers and submitting fake export records to the Department of Commerce. Exports of those products are subject to licensing by the U.S. government because of their potential military uses, which include radar and surveillance systems, missile guidance systems and detonation triggers.

"The defendants spun an elaborate web of lies to evade the laws that protect our national security. The defendants tried to take advantage of America's free markets to steal American technologies for the Russian government," U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta E. Lynch said in a press release.

The indictments against Fishenko and Arc employees Alexander Posobilov, Alexander Posobilov, Lyudmila Bagdikian, Anastasia Diatlova, Sevinj Taghiyeva, Svetalina Zagon and Shavkat Abdullaev do not include espionage, but the group is collectively charged with one count of conspiring to violate and 21 counts of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Arms Export Control Act as well as with conspiring to commit wire fraud.

Fishenko faces up to 12 years in jail if convicted of the charges.

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